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Trump facing new investigation from House. TRANSCRIPT: 2/6/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Mieke Eoyang, Harry Litman, Aaron Blake, Tom Nichols, Errin Haines Whack, Walter Isaacson

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Just as long as everyone pretends that they`re not socialism.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight Democrats unleash an investigation into the President`s finances and Russia.  Two hours later Trump says he didn`t know the House Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff but goes on to call him a political hack and then claims presidential harassment.

Michael Cohen`s testimony has been delayed on Capitol Hill in, "the interest of the investigation."

More new details on the President`s lack of interest in the Intel from his own Intel community, including a report that he stopped reading it.

And Elizabeth Warren is apologizing again for a newly surfaced claim of American Indian heritage.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York, day 748 of the Trump administration.  The President`s battle to fend off the investigations threatening his office have taken a whole new level of urgency while Robert Mueller has had Trump and his associates under scrutiny for the better part of two years now.  Democrats in the House just started their investigation in the main today.

In fact just hours after Trump`s warning at last night State of the Union address.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.

If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.  It just doesn`t work that way.


WILLIAMS:  Aaron Blake of the "Washington Post" captures the Dems` new approach to Trump in his latest piece.  Blake who will join us in just a moment writes, "House Democrats are clearly not cowed, in fact, quite the opposite."

The quite the opposite part came to life in his comment today from Speaker Pelosi who told reporters, "The President should not bring threats to the floor of the House."

The chairs of three powerful House committees now investigating Trump have also weighed in insisting they have no intention of backing off.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, CHAIRMAN INTELLIGENCE CMTE.:  Well, I want to address the President`s remarks last night.  His effort to discourage any meaningful oversight of the administration, that`s a nonstarter.  We are not going to be intimidated or threatened by the President.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND, CHAIRMAN OVERSIGHT CMTE.:  We are doing what is demanded by our Constitution.  That is to be a check and balance on the executive branch.  As a matter of fact, we`re sworn to do that, and we`re going to do that.

REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, CHAIRMAN JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  To say that we can`t do that is to say we shouldn`t do our constitutional duty.  It`s to assert an executive preeminence that one would think he might want to be a dictator.  He cannot escape nor should any President escape congressional oversight.


WILLIAMS:  Well, you heard him earlier, the new chairman of House Intel Adam Schiff made his big move today.  He has announced he is starting and broadening the committee`s Russia investigation, which had been effectively put to bed by Trump-friendly Republican Devin Nunez of California.

Schiff laid out five key areas of inquiry.  These are big and broad.  One, the Russian government`s ongoing efforts to influence the U.S. political process.  Two, any links or coordination between Russia and Trump world.  Three, whether any foreign actor holds financial or other leverage over the President or has sought to compromise him.  Four, whether the President or anyone in his orbit has been vulnerable to foreign pressure or tried to shape U.S. policy in service of foreign interests.  And, five, whether any actors, foreign or domestic, have tried to influence investigations into these matters, including those in the Congress.

Again, when the President went after investigations in his speech last night, an extraordinary moment, this is the kind of thing he was talking about.  And today he was asked about all of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said he was going to launch a deep investigation into not only Russia, but your --

TRUMP:  Did you say Adam Schiff?


TRUMP:  Never heard of him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He said that --

TRUMP:  That wouldn`t be partisan, would it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not only partisan.  Not only --

TRUMP:  On what basis would he do that?  He has no basis to do that.  He is just a political hack who is trying to build a name for himself.

It`s called presidential harassment, and it`s unfortunate, and it really does hurt our country.


WILLIAMS:  Also today in his first act in the new era of Democratic control, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release dozens of transcripts from witness interviews to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Again, all of this overseen by Schiff, al in all, over 7,000 pages of transcripts.

That includes testimony from a number of big names, key witnesses, including but not limited to the President`s son, son-in-law, his first attorney general, his former communications director, former senior advisor, and the manager of his re-election campaign.  Mueller has already charged two people who appeared before the House Intel Committee, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen, with lying during their congressional testimony.  Cohen was scheduled to return to the committee for a closed door hearing on Friday.  Today that was moved to later in the month.

Meanwhile, attorney general, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.  Chairman of that body, Jerry Nadler is preparing a subpoena just in case Whitaker doesn`t show.  Nadler says his committee wants to ask Whitaker about his supervision of the Mueller investigation and his decision not to take himself out of it despite his prejudgment`s, his criticisms of the inquiry.

Well, with that a lot to talk about.  Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night.  Mieke Eoyang, veteran Washington attorney and former staffer for the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.  Harry Litman is here with us, a DOJ veteran who is both a former U.S. attorney and former deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton.  And the aforementioned Aaron Blake, senior political reporter at the "Washington Post."

Mica, let`s start with you.  Given your experience on the hill, by how much is Donald Trump`s life going to change again effective today?

MIEKE EOYANG, FMR. HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE STAFFER:  It`s going to change quite dramatically.  You have many committees who are very serious about getting to the bottom of a whole variety of issues with the Trump administration, their policies, but more particularly with the President and his personal financial entanglements.

There are things that are fine if you are a private citizen or private businessperson to have overseas financial connections.   They`re not OK if you are running the government and the President of the United States.  If you don`t want to give up those connections, you should not be running the government, and he was unwilling to give up those connections, so it is completely reasonable for Congress to be looking into the leverage that foreign countries may have over the most senior decision maker our country has.

WILLIAMS:  Harry, you, too, are a man of the law.  Help us understand this.  Folks who watch us every night hear us talking about the Mueller investigation in the main.  They are now zeroing in on something called the Southern District of New York, and now this third front, and it seems formidable.  How does this change the President`s legal exposure?  By how much should he worry about this by percentage compared to all the others?

HARRY LITMAN, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY WESTERN DISTRICT OF PA:  Well, so Congress the word -- the operative word, as you put it, really is broadening.  Relative to Mueller, who, remember, has had a specific commission of what he had to pursue, the subject matters announced by Schiff today are broader chronologically.  They go back in time, and, also, by -- there`s a whole geographic angle.  There could be any kind of foreign country at all and maybe the whole kind of mess in the sea shells and others that we`ve heard just tangentially from Mueller.  So in that sense they`re broader because Congress has less power other than impeachment to really wield great penalties against him.  That leaves the Southern District of New York, which both has the breadth because it`s not limited, and I would say both the power and the sort of culture of aggressiveness to go after him without any holds barred.

WILLIAMS:  And, Aaron, indeed, to make his point -- to Harry`s points, this could have a depth to it.  A reach to it into places the President really doesn`t want to have examined.  Family and business often linked together as the same thing.  That these other investigations have not as of yet.

AARON BLAKE, "THE WASHINGTON POST" SR. POLITICAL REPORTER:  Yes.  And I think that`s always been the big question with SDNY is how much would they really be probing not just the Trump charity, not just the Trump foundation, not just Trump university or collusion or the people around the President, but the Trump organization itself.  There hasn`t been necessarily investigation focused deliberately on that.

I think that the House is now also expanding into this territory.  If you look at the verbiage in Adam Schiff`s release today, points three and four refers specifically to the idea that the President of the United States could be compromised.

It also makes specific reference to the Trump organization, to the Trump`s family.  All of these things are now fair game, and all of them play into these five points that you laid out.  Pretty much everything that we are talking about as far as Mueller goes, as far as SDNY goes, could also come into play with these House investigations now.

WILLIAMS:  Now, Harry, when you say 7,000 pages of transcripts, that gets our attention.  To hear the Democrats say it, these transcripts were kind of in boxes in the basement.  They`re going to because they are nor encharge, they`re going to take them.  Mueller has not asked for this.  Am I correct?  And is there anything likely to be in these transcripts that Mueller wouldn`t know yet was said in front of that committee?

LITMAN:  There may not be, but the important point is in order to show perjury, the legal requirement is that they have the official transcript.  So I think he does have a good idea of what Donald Trump Jr., Cory Lowandowski, Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon, a lot of the main players have said, but if he wants to build cases, and pretty easy cases, as he did with Manafort and Stone, here is what they said, here`s the e-mails that I already had, remember what the witnesses said, they differ.  False statement case.

So, now the first day that they could give them to him, they gave them to him, and there`s a handful of people starting top of the list, Donald Trump Jr., who have to be shaking in their boots as a result.

WILLIAMS:  Does it matter that they weren`t, as far as we know, requested?  Is this unusual to just kind of drive them across town and say you didn`t ask for some of these specifically, but we`re giving you our work product?

LITMAN:  Well, the short answer is no, it doesn`t matter.  But it does indicate, as does perhaps the postponement of the Cohen testimony, a real degree of both solicitude and coordination.  They want Mueller to be able to do his work, and there are different ways that Congress could impede or present obstacles down the road.  So they`re being really focused on a synergy between their work and Mueller`s work.

WILLIAMS:  Mieke, we have the acting attorney general headed to Capitol Hill, or so we think.  Can he not show?  Can he say no?  And provided he shows up, what do you want to know from him, first and foremost?

EOYANG:  So he could try not to show up, but it`s very clear that Chairman Nadler will compel him to come if he doesn`t come on time.  We used to do this a lot on the Intelligence Committee.  We would say we want you to come in voluntarily, but if you don`t, we have a subpoena with your name on it.  That usually gets people to show up so you don`t have to invoke that.

What you want to hear from Whitaker, what Nadler has said he wants to hear from Whitaker, is what are the limits of executive privilege that this administration is going to assert?  What are they trying to hold back from both Congress and from investigators, and then they can evaluate whether or not those claims are reasonable.  Because under the republicans, they would make broad claims of not -- witnesses will make broad claims of not wanting to answer, and the Republicans wouldn`t challenge them on that, and so Nadler is going to challenge them and say, "No, no, only the narrowest of assertions of executive privilege will do here."

WILLIAMS:  And Mieke, will it matter to anyone that he may really just have days left in the job that everyone is expecting the next Attorney General Barr who has already had the job once, to be confirmed and sworn in?  Are they still going to want to freeze time and ask him what he knows and what he believes?

EOYANG:  Well, I think that there are some questions until Barr gets voted on that they don`t know how long Whitaker will be on the job.  And it`s worth hearing from him what his point of view is on this and what he would say with Trump administration that can obviously be revisited with a new attorney general, but it`s worth asking the question now and what it means for witnesses in this moment.

WILLIAMS:  And, Aaron, I try not to call for a judgment on your part, but was it in your view, inevitable that Donald Trump would put in a reference in the State of the Union address to the ongoing investigations becoming only the second president in our history to do so?

BLAKE:  Yes.  I think if you look at his rhetoric in the past couple of months, even the past few weeks here, there have been times where he has talked about the idea how if Democrats start investigating him and his administration, how he might actually get the justice department to start investigating them.  This has been something that he has been chipping away at for a while.  I don`t think there was any question that Democrats were just going to, you know, lay down and say, "OK, fine, we`re not going to investigate you."

But I think if you look at a couple of developments today, it shows how serious they are, how much they`re leaning into this.  One is the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, really emphasizing that Matthew Whitaker is not going to be allowed to walk in there and assert executive privilege.  The other is Schiff, including those points in his list of five things about the idea that the President might be compromised.  This is something that Democrats have kind of danced around a little bit.

Now this is officially part of an investigation.  This is something that he has focussing on.  I think that if anything the Democrats send a message today that they are not going to shirk their responsibilities.  They`re not going to be intimidated by the President.  Now we see how far they`re willing to go with this.

WILLIAMS:  We are greatly obliged to our big three for starting us off on a Wednesday night, the post-State of the Union night.  To Mieke Eoyang, to Harry Litman, to Aaron Blake, our thanks.

And coming up for us, new reporting on the President`s, shall we call it, unorthodoxed approach to intel which suddenly really matters again given his announcement of his next North Korea summit.

And later, the deepening controversies several Democrats now face, including one potential presidential candidate.  Then there is the entire leadership structure in the Commonwealth of Virginia. A lot still to get to as we`re just getting started on a Wednesday night.



TRUMP:  Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one.  Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27th and 28th in Vietnam.


WILLIAMS:  So the dates are set for that next summit, but a new report from NBC News reveals the President may not be fully informed on the latest U.S. Intel, and "Trump does not regularly read the written intelligence briefing sent over each day to the White House, U.S. officials tell NBC News, and in private he frequently questions the integrity and judgment of the intel officials who are giving him secret information."

The President has been alone, among U.S. officials with a benevolent, often affectionate impression of Kim Jong-un.  In the past he has jokingly talked about falling in love with him.  He has talked glowingly about the beautiful letters he has received from Kim.

Here is what Donald Trump`s Director of National Intelligence and CIA Director said about Kim just a week ago.


DAN COATS, DIR. OF NATL. INTELLIGENCE:  North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.

GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR:  The regime is committed to developing a long range nuclear armed missile that would pose a direct threat to the United States.


WILLIAMS:  We are awfully happy to have back on the broadcast with us tonight Tom Nichols.  He is a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and a specialist on Russian affairs.

Hey, Tom, how alarmed should people be?  The difference between Donald Trump, civilian, and Donald Trump as President, of course, is he is playing with House money now, and he is playing with our national security.  Seventeen security briefings in 85 days.  Should people be alarmed?

TOM NICHOLS, U.S. NAVAL WAR COLLEGE NATL. SECURITY AFFAIRS PROFESSOR:  I think it`s always something to be concerned about when the President is not listening to his own intelligence experts.  He has no other source of information really.  He has the best sources of information in the entire world at his finger tips, and if he is not using those, then you have to question where is he getting his information?

When he contradicts Dan Coats or Gina Haspel, how does he know what he is saying?  How -- where is he getting that information?  So, yes, it`s very concerning.  It`s very worrisome.

WILLIAMS:  I also have to play for you a snippet from last night`s speech.  I actually thought of you and what your reaction might be to this because you and I have discussed this subject before.  Here is Donald Trump on North Korea.


TRUMP:  If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.


WILLIAMS:  Tom, what a sweeping thing to say that ignores the rigor that went into keeping the peace for decades of our lifetime.

NICHOLS:  Important to note here that I don`t speak for the government on any of this.  I was pretty stunned by that comment.  Not least because one of the reasons that we were heading toward a conflict with North Korea, in my opinion, is that the President was creating a conflict with North Korea that he now wants credit for getting out of.  He was ratcheting up the rhetoric, talking about how big his button was and American military might.

We`ve had a tense, uneasy relationship with North Korea since the last time we went to war with them in the 1950s.  And that situation isn`t getting any better.  And for the President to claim that but for his presence in the Oval Office there would have been a war, I think is just irresponsible.  It doesn`t make any sense.  But as is often the case, I think the President because of his career on television and in business, I think the President thinks that you make things true by saying them often enough, but I don`t think that that was at all the case, and there are a lot of other very responsible people in the government who were making sure that we didn`t end up in a shooting war with the North Koreans.

WILLIAMS:  Now to a lot of your life`s work, for those of us that lived through the Cold War, this felt a little back to the future today.  Here`s the "New York Times" about Putin`s new invincible missiles.  "Alarmed by the Trump administration`s scrapping of a Cold War-era arms control treaty, the INF, Putin has ramped up warnings that his country is developing new hypersonic missiles that will travel at more than five times the speed of sound and will be for good measure, invincible."

Tom, please reassure the folks watching tonight that their children can sleep safely in their beds.

NICHOLS:  Your children can sleep just as safely tonight as they did the night before or a year ago.  Hypersonic weapons are a real thing.  Countries are trying to develop them.  It`s a new technology on the horizon, but this is just a lot of gas from Putin.

I mean, Putin talks about this kind of stuff a lot.  Even ten, 12, 15 years ago he talked about invulnerable Russian warheads that could evade any American defenses.  A lot of this is just for domestic consumption in Russia to keep his image alive as a strong, tough leader who keeps Russia on the bleeding edge of nuclear technology.  But those weapons don`t exist, they`re not going to exist tomorrow, they`re not going to exist for several years, so I think people should -- on that one I think people can sleep a little more soundly.

WILLIAMS:  Always happy to have you on the broadcast, Tom.  Thank you very much for your time in taking our questions tonight.

Coming up, Elizabeth Warren spends another day not talking about her differences with Donald Trump, but rather, her own roots.  The subject that will not go away.  Our report from the reporters coming up.


WILLIAMS:  Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts is again apologizing today for her past claims of Native American ancestry as the controversy continues to follow her and loom over her presidential aspirations.

It was just yesterday, the "Washington Post" published a copy of Senator Warren`s registration card for the state Bar of Texas.  She filled it out in 86 in her own hand writing, Warren there listed her ethnicity as American Indian

 "Washington Post" points out in their report and we quote, "Texas Bar registration card is significant among other reasons because it removes any doubt that Warren directly claimed the identity.  In other instances Warren has declined to say whether she or an assistant filled out forms."

Well, earlier today, our own Garrett Haake ask Senator Warren about the registration card.


GARRETT HAAKE, NBC NEWS:  Why did you list yourself as an American Indian on this Texas Bar application?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS:  So, this was about 30 years ago, and I am not a tribal citizen.  Tribes and only tribes determine citizenship.  When I was growing up in Oklahoma, I learned about my family the same way most people do.  My brothers and I learned from our mom and our dad and our brothers and our sisters, and those were our family stories.


WILLIAMS:  Here`s the problem.  As they`re fond of saying in political campaigns, if you are explaining, you`re losing, and all this does, of course, is further offer ammunition to a President who has already attached an indelible label to the senator from Massachusetts.


TRUMP: Pocahontas that`s Elizabeth Warren.  I call her goofy.

We have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago.  They call her Pocahontas.  But, what I like you because you are special.

She of the great tribal heritage.  What tribe is it?  Um, let me think about that one.  Meantime, she`s based her life on being a minority.

I`ve got more Indian blood in me than Pocahontas, and I have none.  I mean, sadly, I have none.  But I have more than she does.


WILLIAMS:  Well, let`s talk about this tonight, from Boston this evening Kimberly Atkins, who happens to be the newly-minted Senior Washington correspondent for WBUR, Boston`s NPR News Station.

And in Washington tonight our own Garrett Haake, who we just heard from earlier.  Hey, Garrett, I`d like to begin with you.  In the parliaments of your native state of Texas, is this still really a candidate who is fixing to run for president?

GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely.  Elizabeth Warren is not getting out of this race.  She wants to get back to talking about her issues.  She`s got unimpeachable credentials as a progressive.  Her roll- out aside from this issue has so far been pretty good.  She got good crowds in Iowa when she first came out here.

But this issue has dogged her really for as long as she`s been a national figure.  Her team has always been very sensitive about talking about it.  So has she.  For a long time she wouldn`t discuss this question at all, wouldn`t discuss the racist way that the President talked about it.

Then they lean into this with the slickly produced web video they put together after she took a DNA test, and today they finally decided to appear to throw in the towel on this, a complete mea culpa in the hope of this issue will once and for all just go away so they can talk about something.  Anything else as she start up this run for president.

WILLIAMS:  Kimberly Atkins, is this a case where the President has whatever you make of his tactics, straight up defined her, and even though she`s looking for a national audience to run for President, what are the folks back home saying about their senator?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, SENIOR NEWS CORRESPONDENT, WBUR:  Yes.  I mean, look, the papers, the front pages of the papers in Boston here won`t be kind to the senator tomorrow.  I think the Boston Herald already has its cover out.

This has been a persistent problem.  Think about this.  This came out in 2012 with respect to her directory listing at Harvard.  She`s had seven years to try to come up with a message, an explanation whether it includes a mea culpa, which it probably should have from the beginning, and she could have moved on from this.

But here we are all these years later, and just days before she is set to launch a presidential campaign, and this keeps coming up.  Absolutely, the President is going to keep pounding on this.  I don`t think that`s her biggest political liability, though, because the President`s message is going to resonate with people who would never vote for her anyway.

She is apologizing not only to Native Americans about conflating tribal citizenship with DNA results, but this is bigger than that.  She has to -- if she`s going to be the Democratic nominee, she needs people of color, voters of color, behind her if she`s going to have any chance of winning, and seeing this registration form where she`s clearly claiming to be a person of color when, by any definition she is not, is a huge liability.  It`s going to turn off people.

I`ve heard Democrats tell me for a while that that`s going to be one of her biggest problems moving forward if she cannot convince people of color of all stripes that she was trying to claim something that she was not.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Garrett, am I correct that in that hallway, pull aside that gaggle, there were questions to her that went unanswered today, and everyone always comes away from a moment like that saying I wonder if there`s anything more, I wonder if they`ve been tipped off on anything more?

HAAKE:  Yes, that was the question that didn`t get answered.  Whether would be other forms like this, other instances of Warren claiming Native American ancestry that might come out, she didn`t answer that question directly, in part, because I think her team doesn`t really know, but the answer to the question I asked her, I think, is important.

She says that she wrote this down on this form and potentially others.  I think we should prepare for the possibility that there are others because she fundamentally believed this about herself.  That this was something that she was raised in, sort of traditionally growing up.  This is what she and her brothers believed their family history to be.

She is trying to play this off as though were an honest mistake, and there`s been substantial reporting on this.  The Boston Globe really led the way on reporting out whether or not her claims of heritage here did her any favors in their case explicitly at Harvard, but that will be the question, I think, to see how much more legs this really gets in a Democratic primary.

Are there instances where claiming Native American heritage really did help Elizabeth Warren in her career, or is this just, as she said, a case of the family lore not keeping up with objective reality.

WILLIAMS:  And, Kim, for the party, it becomes interesting.  Yes, we get that the Democrats have a -- they`ve got the big apple circus of tents this time around, but do they really have any room for error among what are supposed to be their top tier candidates?

ATKINS:  Well, I think that`s a big point right there.  You have a lot of people competing.  Even the smallest of gaffes, particularly early on, can really knock someone off.  Now, Senator Warren has gotten far out ahead of a lot of her potential challengers by declaring early, by getting a lot of fundraising, getting a lot of organization.

And so she still is probably considered a frontrunner, but as you have a number of people in the days ahead even, planning on entering this race as well, every misstep can be really detrimental.

WILLIAMS:  And every day seems to bring a new Democrat to this race.  Two of our good friends around here, Kimberly Atkins and Garrett Haake.  Really appreciate you guys staying up to join us tonight.

And coming up, how a name picked from a ceramic bowl could conceivably make the guy on the right there the next governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  When we come back.



DERRICK JOHNSON, NAACP PRESIDENT & CEO:  On the page on the yearbook for Northam.  It was individual dress up in clan uniform.  For African- Americans that is domestic terrorism.  That is the symbol of domestic terrorism is premier to those of us who live in South is something that should not be tolerated.

And for both Northam and Ag (ph) they have a minute to participate in this activity.  And for that reason we standby our position.  They should resign.


WILLIAMS:  Head of the NAACP tonight on this network talking about the growing crisis in the Virginia capital where the top three Democrats are at risk of losing their jobs.  Democratic Governor Ralph Northam is refusing to resign over the racist photos on his medical school year back page after that surfaced.  He said he is not in the photo, but then admitted he wore black face for a 1984 dance contest.

The next two men inline for governor are dealing with their own controversies tonight.  Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is denying sexual assault accusations even as his accuser is speaking publicly for the first time.

Here`s reporting tonight about that from NBC News correspondent Geoff Bennett down at Richmond.


GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Dr. Vanessa Tyson, a college professor, saying in a statement that a 2004 encounter with Fairfax, which she says started as consensual kissing, turned into a sexual assault.

Tyson says Fairfax has tried to brand me as a liar to a national audience in service to his political ambitions.  Fairfax releasing a statement of his own, saying I cannot agree with the description of event that I know is not true.


WILLIAMS:  That reporting brings us to the third in line, Attorney General Mark Herring who has just come out with his own admission that he, too, wore black face when he was in college in 1980.  Next in line, if the top three Democrats fall, would be the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Kirk Cox.

He is a Republican and only secured his leadership position after a tied election for leadership resulted in a name being randomly drawn from a bowl.  It was his.  With us tonight to talk about it, we welcome to our broadcast Errin Haines Whack.  She`s a national writer covering race and ethnicity for the Associated Press.

Errin talk to us about the reckoning that`s happening in the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

ERRIN HAINES WHACK, NATIOANL WRITER ON RACE & ETHNICITY:  Good evening, Brian.  It`s good to be with you.  Indeed, there is a reckoning going on in Virginia tonight, and while the consequences are unclear for Governor Northam, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax or Attorney General Herring.

What is clear is that there have been consequences for the voters of Virginia, and for the many Americans who are hurt by these offensive images that have surfaced in recent days.  What we really have to think about here in their individual instances, any one of these would have been a lot to bear politically, but taken together, these triple incidences are really leaving the Commonwealth of Virginia reeling tonight.

WILLIAMS:  And while we shutter for parents of children who have had to have the conversations of the pictures that have been on television at perhaps ages where they weren`t yet expecting to have to have that conversation, I guess the polite thing to do is ask if there is a teachable moment to emerge from this awfulness?

WHACK:  Well, yes.  I think that there probably is.  Listen, I think that what we understand we cannot just limit these instances to, the Jim Crow era or even the 1980s when these images of Attorney General Herring and governor Northam surfaced.  You were said to have taken and published.

What we`re talking about a simple Google search will turn up any number of incidences detailing racist black face instances happening on college campuses across America today right now.  And so what that really suggests is images like this or yearbooks being turned up, are just proof of permissive, pervasive, and persistent culture in the south, but not just limited to the south, I would say, that black face has lingered with our society.

And until we really reckon with that systemic issue, instead of talking about whether we`re just going to punish individuals like Governor Northam or Lieutenant Governor Herring, I think that we really do a disservice to really dealing with this issue as a society.

WILLIAMS:  Well, the whole world, as they say, is watching Virginia now.  Is there anything you want to hear from Virginians as they deal with this as a Commonwealth?

WHACK:  Oh, absolutely.  I`ll tell you, Brian, as a matter of fact, I`m headed down to Richmond tomorrow to hear from Virginians about this because really, Governor Northam, as we know, is a doctor.  He is a pediatric neurologist, and as such, he is somebody who is familiar with asking for the public trust, which is also something that he did with voters as he was a candidate for governor of Virginia.

And so, when you consider that and thinking about really how he can continue to governor.  The governor of Virginia is somebody who is going to need to navigate racial tensions, especially in a state with such a racially fraught legacy.

And so, the issue is really, can -- for Democrats, but for these two in particular, can they hold on to the moral high ground while also holding on to power, and while Attorney General Mark Herring said we`ll have to see, Governor Northam has said yes.  In fact, he believes that he should be given a second chance, but I guess that remains to be seen as well.

WILLIAMS:  Again, welcome to our broadcast.  I want to thank you for coming on.  I hope you`ll come back to Errin Haines Whack, thank you, of the Associated Press joining us tonight.  Safe travels tomorrow.

And coming up, 24 hours ago the President spoke of bridging old divisions.  Tonight a progress report on that call for unity.



TRUMP:  We must reject the politics or revenge, resistance and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation compromise and the common good.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump`s State of the Union speech was meant to be a moment to unite if you ask the White House.  The reality is, though, Trump is more often than not in attack mode.  As the "New York Times" reported at a lunch with reporters before his speech, Trump went after Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and the late Senator John McCain.

And as we mentioned, just this morning he went after for good measure, Adam Schiff of California.  The Times editorial board writes, "Mr. Trump`s soothing message, in short, was wholly at odds with the awkward reality of how he has governed.  In that way the entire spectacle reflected in the vibrating hostility between the two sides trapped together in the House chamber, evinced the true state of the union, fractured, fractious, painfully dysfunctional."

It`s a perfect night to be able it talk to Walter Isaacson, distinguished fellow with the Aspen Institute.  Former editor of "Time" magazine, veteran and journalist, author, biographer of Franklin, Einstein, Kissinger, Jobs, and da Vinci, also happens to be a professor at the jewel of New Orleans Tulane University.

Walter, we`re not above using a club around here to make a point, and with that I`m going to ask you to listen to something along with me.  This is the only two presidents to mention ongoing investigations before a joint session of Congress.  Here`s a hint.  One of them rhymes with Nick Dixon.  The other one was last night.


TRUMP:  If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.  It just doesn`t work that way.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end.  One year of Watergate is enough.


WILLIAMS:  Richard Nixon, of course, was gone by August of that year, Walter.  What do these two men, what do these two investigations these times have in common, if anything?

WALTER ISAACSON, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, ASPEN INSTITUTE:  Well, one of the things they have in common besides what you just mention is that if you remember, Nixon kept calling himself a healer, a uniter, not a divider.  Thanks for bringing us together, Mr. President, were the signs that they printed up for him when he went traveling.

And once again, as with Trump, that speech last night, especially if you read it as I did this morning, read it line by line, was very much saying I`m a unifier.  I know how to compromise.  And yet like Nixon and Trump, behind closed doors they just have that very divisive, very spiteful and somewhat resentful chip on the shoulder, and it`s so weird that they try to project themselves as healers and compromisers when it`s just so alien to what`s in their DNA.

WILLIAMS:  Walter, all you have done in your adult life is chronicle our times.  Sometimes by tracing the lives we`ve seen come and go as signposts.  Will we see norms ever come this way again? How will these times be written up, do you think?

ISAACSON:  Well, I think we`ll see norms again because there`s something, as Albert Einstein once said about America`s democracy that`s reassuring, it`s like a gyroscope.  Just when you think it tips over, it rights itself.

After Richard Nixon, by pure luck we got Gerald Ford.  I say luck, meaning he had not been elected vice president.  And then Jimmy Carter.  And likewise I think we`re yearning as a nation for somebody with a certain decency, somebody you don`t have to be embarrassed to explain to your children what they just did that day, and so I think, that maybe the next president, certainly in the next few years.

I think we`ll see a righting of the American gyroscope, not just in terms of ideology, because that`s not the big thing here, but in terms of decency, compassion, empathy, civility and the norms, the norms of just what we do and don`t do, especially if you`re a leader.

WILLIAMS:  And about that speech last night, since you did go through it line by line, the last page, while not quite Aaron Sorkin was an attempt to be soaring and lofty, but given what proceed it, did it have a kind of cut and paste quality to you?

ISAACSON:  Well, they were two speeches in some ways.  It was almost like an unstable molecule where there was, one atom that was trying to reach out and bond with other side and another that seemed almost radioactive.

That said, I keep thinking, and then keep getting proven wrong, that Trump will realize or just feel that it`s in his interest to do the better angels part of that speech, but then he does a speech like that, it has a lot of better angels of our nature, calls for compromise and calls for things that could unify us, but then by the morning he`s tweeting again, being a reality TV star, sort of wrestling comedy act, which is just so at odds.

And I think it`s just not in his nature to just personally be the way most of that speech was written for him last night.

WILLIAMS:  It`s a treat to be able to have you on.  Thank you for coming on and good to see you again, my friend.

ISAACSON:  Good to see you and from the city that still loves you Brian. 

WILLIAMS:  Thank you very much.  It`s mutual.  Great city of New Orleans, Louisiana.  Walter Isaacson with us tonight.  Another break for us.

And coming up, something else was missing from last night necessary event as a tradition quietly fell to the wayside.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight, there aren`t that many government tradition that remain unbroken or not even bent in this current era, but one of them we witnessed falling last night.  The President, no matter who the president is, gets a hearty welcome when arriving to deliver the State of the Union.

We`ve had some skunks and scoundrels and lame ducks and just plain uninteresting, uninspiring presidents over the years, and yet when they enter that chamber there is usually enough sustained applause to cover their walk all the way up to the lectern.

Indeed, the applause for the president last night was suitably polite and genuinely sustained, and, yes, driven in large part by Republicans, but then once the President reaches the lectern, something else is supposed to happen.  Something Speakers of the House have done for generations.



THOMAS O`NEILL JR., FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I have the great and personal pleasure --

JAMES WRIGHT, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  And the high personal honor --

THOMAS FOLEY, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Of presenting to you and wishing to him a happy birthday. 




JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  The president of the United States.

PAUL RYAN, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  The president of the United States.


WILLIAMS:  So usually if you caught on there, the speaker of the house usually introduces the president of the United States.

Last night, as history and protocol buffs noted in real-time, that didn`t happen.  Whatever plans Nancy Pelosi might have had, whatever is normally done, the President just started in, and while Pelosi later insisted it wasn`t a snub and that she did introduce him at one point, we think she was playing with us.  We sure couldn`t find any evidence of it.


TRUMP:  Thank you very much.  Madam speaker, Mr. Vice President.


WILLIAMS:  Everybody sat down and kind of went on from there.  Just another chapter in the never-dull relationship between this president and this speaker.  That is our broadcast for this Wednesday night.  Thank you so much for being with us.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. 

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