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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, I mean, you see it, but so much stronger that people can`t even believe it.
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LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: You`re absolutely right, Mr. President, people can`t even believe it. That`s "tonight`s Last Word," "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams" starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, new details on what Paul Manafort tried to conceal from Mueller and the Feds, including a Russian who Manafort was allegedly trying to protect.
Plus, after threats back and forth, we learn tonight that the acting attorney general will appear before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow. Just hours from now, one of his last days on the job.
A new inside look tonight at the Trump inauguration and why it is of interest to the Feds of the Southern District of New York.
And Jeff Bezos says he`s getting blackmailed and extorted by a long time friend of the President.
"The 11th Hour" on a Thursday begins now.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 749 of the Trump administration and there is brand new information coming out of the Mueller investigation about one of the big names, the big targets, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The revelations are coming from the transcript of a closed door court hearing that took place earlier this week. Kind of thing that`s published all the time but not quite like this.
During that hearing, Mueller`s prosecutors explained in detail why they`re accusing Manafort of lying to investigators while he was under a cooperation agreement with the Feds. The document has more than its share of redactions, those lines blacked out to protect secrecy. But even so, there are clues throughout.
Mueller`s team appears to be very focused on repeated contact between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik. He`s a long time Manafort business associate with ties to Russian intelligence. According to this 143 page transcript, prosecutors accuse Manafort of lying about several of their meetings and contacts. That includes one meeting, August 2nd, 2016, which would have been just weeks after the GOP convention in Cleveland.
Prosecutors say the meeting, "Goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think the motive here is. This goes very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel`s Office is investigating. That meeting, and what happened at that meeting is of significance to the Special Counsel." We get it.
Any indication of the topic of that meeting has been blacked out. The document does indicate that ex-Manafort business partner, Rick Gates, who served on the Trump campaign, who was also cooperating with the Feds was at that meeting as well and that he and Manafort left separately. The document also says it was Gates who told prosecutors about Manafort sharing that 2016 polling data, with of all people, Kilimnik.
And it says that Kilimnik met with Manafort and we quote, "in January 2017 in person in Washington, D.C., when Kilimnik was here for the inauguration."
We`ve also learned from these new documents that even after Trump had won the White House, Manafort went back to working for politicians in the Ukraine in 2017, "as a consultant for a potential candidate." That work continued even after he was indicted in that same year.
Within these transcripts, there`s also a reference to sanctions against Russia, as the issue of sanctions appears to impart some of the meetings between Trump campaign associates and the Russians, there continue to be questions about the President`s willingness to enforce sanctions while in office. It`s a lot to get to. we have a terrific big three to start us off on a Thursday night.
Berit Berger a veteran federal prosecutor and former assistant U.S. attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York. Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Price Winning Washington Correspondent for the "New York Times." And Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and the Pentagon, former counsel to House Intel Committee.
Michael, I`d like to begin with you, after reading this quote from this transcript about the lies. This is the feds talking. "The defendant, Paul Manafort, coming into this, had lied to the Department of Justice, had lied to banks, had lied to his own defense counsel, had violated court orders, had lied to his tax preparers, had lied to his bookkeepers, in other words, there were so many lies."
Michael, you among others always talk about the rolling slow motion story that Mueller is telling in court documents, in each court appearance. What`s the takeaway for you tonight, stuff that you didn`t know as of this morning?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the lying is the central question of the entire story. Are the folks around the President, people that just lie because that`s what they`ve done their entire lives. Were they lying to cover up and conceal something? And we continue to get clues, like the clue we got today about the meeting and about Rick Gates` cooperation.
And it`s taken a long time for this to suss itself out and get a bigger and larger picture of it. We still don`t know the full extent of it, though. There`s still a lot here, even from the things that we learned tonight about why was it that Manafort who was running the campaign, was taking this polling data to these folks to share it with them? What would actually motivate that? What was truly behind that?
And that is the frustrating thing about this story or the intriguing thing, is that we get these little clues, but we don`t get the full picture. But still, the central question so unanswered, why is it that they`re lying.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, these ubiquitous Russians, all over the place, starting with Russians at the GOP convention in Cleveland, Ohio. This is not something we have seen before in American politics. It`s not normal, quoting from one of the prosecutors, "I think Mr. Manafort went out of his way to not provide any evidence that could be used with respect to Mr. Kilimnik."
Jeremy, why would Manafort want to be protecting a guy like Kilimnik?
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, previous to this, Brian, Manafort had been accused of, and, of course, stood trial and was convicted of financial impropriety, tax evasion, money laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent for the Russian federation for his work on behalf of the Ukrainian pro-Putin elements.
But what I think this hearing today, we saw the transcript off for the first time really unveiled, is that Manafort could have also played a central role during the 2016 campaign as a go between the Trump inner circle and the Russian federation. That`s the way that in some ways the Russian federation exerted influence because someone who they controlled, someone who they paid was a potential agent of influence inside the Russian -- excuse me, inside the Trump inner circle. But also it`s the way that they were able to coordinate their efforts during the election season.
Now, this is a very long hearing. It was an evidentiary presentation. The judge actually invited the attorneys to sit down, the hearing was so long. So this in effect was sort of a second trial for Manafort on these factual charges.
WILLIAMS: Berit, you mentioned to one of our producers today, let`s not lose track of the fact that this -- to Manafort, will make the difference between a death sentence in jail, potentially and not. The judge has to decide, was this guy truly trying to cooperate and just having memory issues? Or is it as the Feds paint it, that he was a serial liar?
BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Yes. I mean, for Manafort, the stakes really couldn`t be any higher. I mean, we know he is now a convicted felon. He was convicted after trial, and then he pled guilty to additional charges. So there`s no question that he`s going to jail. The question right now for the judge is just, how long.
And the key issue for this that, you know, this judge was trying to wrestle with today, is exactly as you framed it. All of these lies that the government is pointing to, were they actually, you know, well crafted intentional lies that were meant to deceive the Special Counsel`s Office investigation, and derail it to some extent. Or were these just instances where somebody was misremembering something that it happened a long time ago. The government presented a pretty compelling case in this hearing as to why these were not just, you know, memory lapses.
WILLIAMS: You also bored in on the word intelligence in this document. That that was perhaps the initial attractiveness toward doing a deal with Manafort for the Feds. Talk about that.
BERGER: Yes. Something that the prosecutors mentioned in the beginning of the hearing, they were trying to put a little context into why they had even entertained through these proffer sessions or these pre-cooperation meetings with Manafort. And then ultimately why they decided to sign him up to a cooperation agreement.
And one of the things that the prosecutor said, was even though they might not be able to use him as sort of a traditional cooperating witness, they were intrigued by some of the potential intelligence value that Manafort could offer. And as I read that, it`s, you know, the government, we may not have other people we would be bringing to trial or because of Manafort`s shady history with lying, we may not be able to put him on the stand, but this is somebody that has valuable information about Russia, about the Ukraine, and so I think they saw him as a potential source of real intel.
WILLIAMS: And based on your reading, your experience as a Fed, all of it, do you think it`s really possible that Manafort had reason or has reason to fear for his safety or the members of his family?
BERGER: He may. I mean, look, at this point, Manafort is in jail right now, so the prisons do a pretty good job of protecting his safety.
BERGER: But certainly there is the safety of his family out there. This is something the government deals with all the time. He`s not unique in the, you know, sense that he would have a security threat, were very used to having to protect people that have been cooperating witnesses. And they certainly have ways of doing that if in fact it`s a real threat.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Michael Schmidt, one of the larger stories you`ve broken in recent memory, had to do with the questions the Feds wanted to ask President Trump. There was one in there about Paul Manafort, can you refresh our memory and how today may have filled in some of those blanks?
SCHMIDT: Well there were questions about what the President knew about Manafort`s efforts to communicate with these Russians during the campaign. And what that was all about. But I think another part of this that we`re all sort of missing, is that when Manafort was telling these lies to Mueller`s team, there was a back channel between Manafort`s lawyers and the President`s lawyers. and it was giving the President`s lawyers a peak into what Mueller`s team was interested in.
And now we see that the consequence of that, Manafort`s lying of it, is so important that it`s this issue in court and it`s basically going to determine whether Manafort spends the rest of his life in prison. But it was such an advantage to the President`s lawyers because they could see everything that was going on. And that really, really bothered and helped deteriorate the relationship between Mueller and Manafort, and gets us to where we are today.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, we also saw mention of the P word, pardon. First time in my memory from any kind of Mueller court appearance or filing, I`ll put it on the screen, "prosecutors put forward why Manafort may have lied, because telling the truth about an unnamed sensitive issue would have negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have. Which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon."
And Jeremy, when a pardon is a part of this, that can confuse everything.
BASH: Yes, because, of course, Manafort is probably playing for a pardon given the exposure he has. And he wants to show the President directly in the same way that Roger Stone has been posturing that, hey, I`m tough, I`m not bending or yielding to the prosecutorial pressure here.
But, of course, that`s a dangerous game because if the President engages in a pardon, that could be more fodder for the Mueller team to think about the pardon as a tool of obstruction. And of course it hands on a silver platter to the House of Representatives, an issue to explore as an oversight mechanism the way that pardon power was used in the same way that Congress has overseen other presidential pardons.
But also, if we get to the point down the road, and obviously, we`re not there yet, where impeachment is discussed. Impeachment under our constitutional system is the one thing that can Trump unintended -- Trump a pardon.
WILLIAMS: And Berit, when you`re a prosecutor, when you`re a Fed, bumping up against a possible pardon must be very frustrating?
BERGER: Yes, I mean, it throws the whole incentive system, you know, on its head. So in a cooperation agreement, you know, the cooperating witness has a real incentive to tell the truth, because, you know, there are these huge penalties associated with them. And this is really, you know, the carrot, they have to tell everything, the good, the bad, and if they do all of that, they do that dirty work, ultimately they could try to get a reduced sentenced.
Here, where you also have this competing element here of well, maybe you`ll get a reduced sentence from the court. But then the Mueller had maybe you`ll, you know, a pardon from the President, everything is kind of turned on its head. And the prosecutors mentioned that in this hearing, and they said that this is one of the reasons they felt that Manafort had been holding back, had not been telling the whole truth, is because he was trying to sort of, you know, play his odds and trying to keep the possibility of a pardon open, which is dangerous for a cooperating witness, and absolutely infuriating for the government.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Michael Schmidt, do we -- please engage in rampant speculation if you wish. When do you think we will next hear from the Mueller effort? Did the grand jury sit today for example in Washington? When do you think the next utterance will be?
SCHMIDT: You sound like my editor. Look, we don`t know, and speculating about it is hard, it`s been very hard to get inside of Mueller`s head and what they`re going to do. This clearly looks like something that`s still very active, there clearly are still trying to get to the bottom and answer the central questions of this entire thing. As observers that can be frustrating as we sit here and wait on indictments, and wait on developments, and is it going to be Friday`s coming, does that mean there`s an indictment and such.
But whatever it is, they are moving traditional hardcore white collar investigators, flipping people, gaining their cooperation and moving along. And there`s a momentum to this that is obviously very clear. And look, if you are the President or the people around him, this is still something that you really, really, really don`t like.
WILLIAMS: Couldn`t ask for three better guests on this night of this news coverage. Jeremy Bash, Berit Berger, Michael Schmidt, our great thanks to all three of you.
And coming up, the acting attorney general hours away from taking on tough questions from lawmakers on the Hill, as Democrats storm across what the president ones call his red line for investigations.
And later, revealing new details about the Trump inauguration from an insider, said to be disgusted with how chaotic and costly it all was. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on this Thursday night.
WILLIAMS: After a stand-off, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee confirmed tonight Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will indeed testify before his committee tomorrow. Earlier today, Whitaker said he would not show up, unless the Democrats assured him he wouldn`t be subpoenaed. This all started after the Democrats on the committee voted to authorize but not issue a subpoena in case Whitaker refused to answer questions about his conversations with the President.
It looked, in plain English, like the Democrats may have overplayed their hand by issuing that threat. Whitaker slammed the move as unprecedented. White House said Democrats were playing pointless political games. Chairman Nadler responded to Whitaker saying if he answered questions there would be no need for a subpoena. And added his concerns over questions could be addressed on a case by case basis.
Earlier today the President was asked if Whitaker should testify.
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TRUMP: He`s an outstanding person. I would say if he did testify, he`d do very well. He`s an outstanding person, a very, very fine man.
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WILLIAMS: Now Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Best reports Whitaker has been preparing extensively for this testimony. She writes, "A person familiar with Whitaker`s preparation told The Daily Beast he has been gearing up for an intense few hours. They hate this guy so much, the source said," referring to the aggressive Democrats on the committee. "Whitaker has gone through multiple practice committee hearings, known as moots, where justice Department officials pepper him with questions, the committee Democrats may lob."
Also important here, the committee better hurry, because Whitaker, in fact, has just days left on the job. Bill Barr has passed now through the Senate Judiciary Committee vote. Once McConnell calls the vote, he`ll likely breeze through full Senate confirmation, and then he`ll get sworn in and then he`ll become the permanent and actual attorney general for the second time in his career. While Whitaker gets to spend more time with his family.
And with us to talk about it, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the "New York Times," Maya Wiley, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now with the New School here in New York. And we welcome to the broadcast Tal Kopan, Washington Correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Counselor here at the table you get to go first, what will you be watching for tomorrow?
MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, I`ll be watching how Mr. Whitaker dodges the questions he doesn`t want to answer.
WILLIAMS: Will he invoke privilege?
WILEY: I think they`ve already invoked it in the letter that they sent in response to Congressman Nadler, where they essentially said, they talked about confidential interests and the fact that the standing principle of executive privilege meant he couldn`t be required to answer questions about his communications with Donald Trump. Now, of course, that`s up for debate.
WILLIAMS: So how do you ask to get around that? How does a good lawyer like you?
WILEY: Well, if I`m Whitaker, what I do is answer the questions I`m willing to answer. So say, you Brian ask me, did you have conversations with Donald Trump about the Russian investigation? I say, I had many conversations with Donald Trump, about many of the operating aspects of the Department of Justice, and I am unwilling to answer specific questions about any one of those investigations with anyone. I mean, you know, who knows how he`ll ultimately do it, but there are many ways he can give some answer, but not a full answer.
But I think the reality here for the Democrats is, any fight about his answers is going to take time, because presumably he`ll just refuse, and then they have to go to a vote about whether to institute a contempt order. That would then have to go to the full floor of the Congress. And then to be referred to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who then would decide whether or not it merited a grand jury.
WILLIAMS: And is it retroactive, because he`s likely not to be attorney general past next Tuesday or so.
WILEY: Well, look, Congress has subpoena power. They can subpoena witnesses on anything that is legitimately within their jurisdiction. If I were them, I would argue, and I think they have a legitimate argument to say, if in fact the President was doing something to obstruct the lawful investigation that`s happening under the rugs (ph) as an oversight authority, we have the right to question and determine whether we think that`s happened.
So I wouldn`t say it would leave him off the hook, it`s just very clear that he doesn`t want to answer these questions, probably because there were some discussions about it with Donald Trump. The nature of them is different. But even the effect of the conversations is going to look very bad. It`s definitely in the public interest to know whether they happened.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, it is quite likely that during his testimony tomorrow, Acting A.G. Whitaker will be thinking of viewer number one. Since you cover viewer number one, tomorrow may not be his favorite day. He`s got live Whitaker hearings in the morning, followed by his physical in the afternoon.
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, which will be more pleasant, right? Look, you know, I think this is going to be a really important moment because it`s -- they will explore these questions that Whitaker probably won`t want to answer, and will try to get out of answering them. But we know already without any more testimony, the number one most important thing for President Trump in an attorney general is the willingness to oversee the Russia investigation. Why do we know that? Because he`s told us that.
He got rid of Jeff Sessions, not because he disagreed with the way Jeff Sessions handled immigration, not because he disagreed with the way Jeff Sessions handled, you know, marijuana, law enforcement or any other thing like that. He told us again and again out loud, in public, in interviews, on television that he was mad at Jeff Sessions because he recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. In other words, he was not in a position to help protect the President from what he sees and what he calls a witch hunt.
So, in picking a new attorney general, he would either be an acting one in Whitaker or a permanent one in Bill Barr. You can certainly infer that the number one motivation for him was picking somebody who would not recuse himself and who would, in fact, oversee that investigation.
WILLIAMS: All right, Tal, how do you frame tomorrow? What will you be looking for?
TAL KOPAN, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well I think there are going to be things happening on two levels here. I mean, to a certain extent, some of this is going to be for the cameras, right? This is Democrats first opportunity to try to draw some blood on the administration with their new oversight powers.
Keep in mind that one of the things that changes when they take the majority is that they have far more members on the committee`s now than Republicans, so they`re going to be rounds and rounds and rounds of Democratic questions and fewer Republicans just sort of offer a break in proceedings for the testimony. So that`s one level is just sort of the show. But the other level of this is, this is also an opportunity to set some precedent.
And as Maya was talking about, you know, if there are going to be these fights over whether you can claim privilege over what, what you can take to court. I mean, let`s think back to when Republicans had the Benghazi committee, they established a lot of precedent about what Congress can go after from the executive branch. And so, this is also the first opportunity for Democrats to begin to plant some of those markers as well.
WILLIAMS: All three of our guests have agreed to stay with us right quick as we get in a break.
And coming up, the President once warned that investigating his finances was off limits. But House Democrats, they may be preparing to go there right away. They would like the President`s tax returns.
WILLIAMS: President Trump once again lashing out today a Democrat as they ramped up their oversight role in this new Congress. President said today "So now Congressman Adam Schiff announces after having found zero Russian Collusion, that he is going to be looking at every aspect of my life both financial and personal, even though there is no reason to be doing so. Never happened before. Unlimited presidential harassment.`
Axios reports Democrats are promising an MRI of Trump`s finances. "House Democrats led by Adam Schiff`s House Intelligence Committee are about to beginning to investigate Trump`s family business. The Democrats are hiring staff with deep expertise at tracing cash flowing through property transactions".
And just today, a House weighs and means subcommittee held their first hearing about obtaining the President`s tax turns. President Trump, of course, in his -- the first modern president since Nixon not to release his tax returns.
Tonight a committee Democrat said the law is on their side as he sees it. Meanwhile, here is a reminder of what the President told the New York Times about Robert Mueller possibly looking into his finances. This was in July 2017.
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STEVE SCHMIDT, POLITICAL VETERAN: Mueller was looking into your finances, your family`s finances unrelated to Russia. Is that a red line?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Would that be a breach of what his actual --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. I would say yes.
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WILLIAMS: Our guests remain with us, Peter Baker, Maya Wiley and Tal Kopan.
Peter, I reminded you were in the room where it happened for the very recording. Fast forward to now, a lot of talk on this broadcast and others, that the President`s chief worry should be southern district of New York. He should worry more about the cumulative effect of 17 or so other investigations.
But today, these Manafort documents may have an effect of kind of refocusing the mind on one Robert Mueller.
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, that`s right, of course, Mueller is the one big, big piece of this investigation. Obviously, the President has tried to discredit him, saying he`s running a partisan investigation, but unlike House Democrats, he`s not an elected official, in fact is a lifelong Republican.
He represents a lifetime of law enforcement experience. So in many ways, he represents the biggest threat to the President in that regard, when he said that, we asked him about the red line in that interview, some people said, well, you go into it because we asked him the question.
He chose to answer it the way he did. But he was specifically referring to Robert Mueller, of course, and the difference between Robert Mueller and Congress, is Robert Mueller is a function airy of the Justice Department.
He had a specific mandate when he was given this job. That specific mandate was to investigate things related to Russia. He`s done a very aggressive job of pushing off things and it come up in the course investigation of other prosecutors, so as not to expand his own mandate.
So, when the President says looking at his finances outside of Russia, would be across that red line. That only applies to Mueller. Obviously Congress can look at whatever it wants, it`s a separate body of government, they don`t answer to the President, they can choose to what they think is relevant. And that could be his finances that go beyond the Russia investigation.
WILLIAMS: Hey Maya, a lot of people believe that those tax returns have been in a locked drawer in Mueller`s desk for the better part of two years. We do have restrictions on just who can go rooting around in who`s tax returns. But could this fight that this subcommittee is about to wage -- we`re talking about months or years of fighting back and forth over this?
MAYA WILEY, FORMER ASSITANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: certainly could be. Any time you may end up in court to have a fight about what Congress can have under subpoena, it could be tied up for a very long time.
And we`re also talking about something, if it happened to go all the way to the Supreme Court. We don`t know what the Supreme Court would decide. Because remember, that in most cases, when there`s a contempt issue with Congress, Congress either resolves it, negotiates with the person before it goes to court or if it goes to court, they get rid of it and resolve it long before it goes all the way up to the Supreme Court.
But I just want to go back to something that Peter said, because it`s actually important, the charge that Rod Rosenstein gave to Robert Mueller was actually broader than just saying Russia, because the way it was worded said, Russia essentially -- Russia collusion or anything else that comes up that you find.
WILEY: And what Congress is really doing here, is tracking the same trail that Mueller`s own indictments have laid for Congress that have called into question whether or not Donald Trump is making decisions in the best interest of the country, or whether Donald Trump is making decisions in the best interest of his own personal financial position.
And that`s actually part of the reason the tax returns matter, because if you`re investigating let say money laundering or bribes, what you want to see is, where are your bank accounts? Who do you have bank accounts with? Who do you owe money to?
It gives you the picture that helps you find additional trails of evidence. It`s not so much that the tax returns itself will be a smoking gun. But it is the case that the tax returns can be very helpful in additional steps of investigation in terms of his financial interests.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Tal, it`s only been a minute, but I want to play something for you, and remind all of us what the President said at one point during the State of the Union.
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TRUMP: If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn`t work that way.
WILLIAMS: So Tal, let`s talk about the enforceability of that attempt at a rhyme, if it won`t be at the President`s expense. Something like, we keep talking about infrastructure week. But something that both parties could get behind, and we`re not careful, could actually improve life for all of us in this country.
TAL KOPAN, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SAN FANCISCO CHRONICLE: Yes, I mean, that was a doozy of a sentence that, I think made a lot of lawmakers stand up, where you equate war and investigations in the same breath.
I mean, let`s be honest, first of all about what any House typically does. The House always does a ton of legislating, sends a ton of stuff over to the Senate, which is much, much slower paced and sits on legislation. So to a certain extent hyperactivity on the House side of the Capitol is not entirely unusual.
And committees can do these sorts of investigatory hearings and move legislation at the same time. And knowing Nancy Pelosi, who is extremely strategic and extremely calculating at all the moves she makes. She`s not going to allow her members to appear as if they`re only investigating and not actually moving things.
Now, the question is whether any of those things being moved actually have a chance in advancing in Washington. And in any administration and certain when in this divided Washington we have right now. The safe bet is usually on things not becoming law. So we`re going to see how it all plays out, there`s no reason that there isn`t going to be some juggling of both messaging and investigations and messaging through legislation.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Peter Baker, a bit of a curveball. But it strikes me that this time tomorrow night, we are probably going to be talking about in part the results of the President`s physical exam. We talked about it earlier, and not to put you on the spot, I know a lot is not known. Do we know which physician will be performing it? Do we know if there will be a briefing or a readout afterwards? I know he`s going to be gone roughly for five hours in the middle afternoon toward early evening?
BAKER: Yes, a lot of anticipation about this, of course, the President is the oldest President to be sworn into office for the first time, now 72 years old, seems to go strong, he seems to be in good health, despite obviously poor diet by his own admission, no exercise by his own admission.
And a lot of -- somewhat skeptical of the report that we got last year about things like his weight and so forth. Remember, that was Dr. Ronnie Jackson.
BAKER: Dr. Jackson is no longer his official White House physician. He got a new job title recently called chief medical officer at the White House. But the idea is that supposed to make him more a policy adviser on issues like opioid abuse and issues like that rather than a practicing physician overseeing the presence.
Well, that`s the new White House physician. Will that -- his responsibility. And they`ll be a team of doctors at Walter Reid that do this kind of thing, a specialist that will look at each and every aspect of the President`s health.
How much of transparent report will get afterwards, I`m not sure. You can be sure that we`ll be looking for it and asking for it, and there`s going to be a lot of pressure on the White House to release at least some information, whether we`ll get the same kind of lengthy briefing that we got from Dr. Jackson last year, who was quite exuberant about the President`s health, that I`m not sure about.
WILLIAMS: All right. With thanks to all three of you. And especially that last bit of information. Peter Baker, Maya Wiley, Tal Kopan. Thank you very much for being on the broadcast with us.
And coming up, earlier this week, Federal investigators subpoenaed the President`s inaugural committee for information on its finances, and its donors. Tonight we have new reporting from Vanity Fair on what was going on behind the scenes of a lavish inauguration celebration.
WILLIAMS: There is new information tonight about how Donald Trump`s inauguration became the subject of an ongoing Federal investigation which is now is. We learn on Monday that Federal prosecutors here in New York, have subpoenaed inauguration records, pretty broadly to determine how the committee spent a record $107 million. And that`s close to twice what was ever raised for an inauguration in our history.
New reporting by Emily Jane Fox of Vanity Fair who joins us in just a moment details concerns raised at the time, which Manhattan prosecutors are now investigating. The information comes from phone calls between former Melania Trump aid Stephanie Walcoff and former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
They`re both former Trump loyalists who endured very public splits from the first family. According to the report, the FBI seized hours of phone calls between the two during that raid on Cohen`s home, and office.
In those recordings, and we quote, "Stephanie Walcoff detailed her own contemporaneous concerns with the inauguration, about how money was being spent, the general chaos of the process, and the involvement of Trump`s adult children."
In large part, Walcott worried about potential ethical issues surrounding the first family elect and their businesses.
Well, with us now the aforementioned Emily Jane Fox, Senior Reporter for Vanity Fair and happens to be author of "Born Trump: Inside America`s first family.
Emily, as I understand Ms. Walcoff, New Yorker, in the event planning business falls into the sway and friendship of Melania Trump becomes a close enough friend to say, your be best anti-bullying movement sounds illiterate.
And a close enough friend to say, "hey, that jacket care do you that you wore to the southern border, maybe not a good fashion decision for that day and that event. She gets handed the task of this inauguration, and through her telling of the story do you wants it known that in realtime, contemporaneously, she was saying to people this doesn`t look good.
EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: Your summary of the story was excellent. You almost did my job for me.
WILLIAMS: Thank you. That`s all the time we have. Thank you very much.
FOX: Thanks for having me. It`s interesting. We knew that there were a number of tapes, phone calls recorded, seized when FBI agents executed search warrants in Cohen`s home and office last April. It had been reported earlier that there were some phone calls between Stephanie Walcoff and Michael Cohen.
I know at least some of what is on those phone calls and those phone calls were hours long. In it, Walcoff details some serious concerns that she had. There were budget items.
WILLIAMS: We have graphic of spending we`ll put up while you talk, just so people can read the amounts.
FOX: There were budget that did not add up. There were people who were in charge of the inauguration, who when she went to them saying these budgets don`t add up, would kick her out of meetings because she was asking those questions.
The involvement of Trump`s children also came up time and time again. Now, there is a big issue about the Trump organization, and whether the Trump organization would be paid by the inaugural fund. Now there was a Trump Hotel that was conveniently five blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, opened just before the inauguration, and they wanted to host events at this Trump Hotel.
I reviewed an e-mail from a Trump organization member who had quoted for the use of the ballroom in the Trump Hotel, $3.6 million.
WILLIAMS: That seems cheap -- I`m kidding. That seems a big excessive for the rental of a ballroom in the hotel.
FOX: And food and beverage minimum, I want to add that.
WILLIAMS: OK, all right.
FOX: Yes. This is money that`s going from the presidential inaugural committee directly to the Trump organization. Now, the cost ultimately was scaled down to $1.5 million, but this was the initial quote. And this is something that Walcoff raised with Ivanka Trump.
She sent an e-mail saying, by the way, these things are going to become public because they`re going to be audited. And we have to think, is this the most seemly thing that we could do paying this amount of money.
Now Ivanka responded in spokesperson to her attorney told me today that she responded, make sure that we`re paying fair market rate. But they still paid the family business $1.5 million for the use of a ballroom for I believe one event.
WILLIAMS: Also I see in your article, the name Tom Barrack. Tom Barrack has potentially a lot to lose here. He`s a hedge fund type guy from Los Angeles, for a while, during Trump`s rise and after the election, he was kind of the Dennis Hopper role in apocalypse, explaining to cable audiences, here`s what the President`s like, when he says this, he really means that.
But Tom Barrack has a pre-existing business life. A successful one. He was chairman of the inauguration effort. And a lot of people have wondered why we weren`t seeing his name heretofore.
FOX: Well, he was the chairman of the inauguration. He ran everything. Every budget that was submitted ultimately was okayed by him. There was nothing he did not have a hand in. There was nothing that he was doing that the President was not aware of.
And it is interesting to me that his name has been left out of this for now. This is someone who in all the documents that I`ve reviewed reporting this story, Walcoff was raising concerns about his role in this, the budget`s he was okaying, and the way that he was relating with the President or the President-elect and the first lady to be throughout the process.
This was something she was raising red flags throughout the process, whether or not those flags were rightfully raised or not, I don`t know. This is something she was calling attention to throughout the planning.
WILLIAMS: Your article paints a picture of the family whose preparation for the presidency was a money making family business and a background in reality television. Emily Jane Fox, we commend your writing to everyone watching, thank you very much for being with us again. Appreciate it.
Coming up for us, the billionaire owner of Amazon says if he can`t stand up to the national enquirer, than who can. The intimately revealing way he is accusing the tabloid of extortion when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Now, you`re probably aware of this breaking news tonight about and from the Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, the billionaire many times over is accusing the parent company of "The National Enquirer" of trying to blackmail him with compromising photos and then some. We have a late report on this tonight from NBC News correspondent Joe Fryer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE FRYER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Tonight a stunning message from Amazon`s CEO and owner of "The Washington Post" Jeff Bezos. He says AMI, which owns "The National Enquirer" threatened to release embarrassing photos of him unless Bezos agreed to stop investigating company.
A few weeks ago, Bezos announced he and his wife McKenzie were getting divorced. Then "The National Enquirer" published an investigation about Bezos that included intimate text messages he had exchange with a woman he was reportedly dating
After that Bezos says he hired investigators to figure out how those texts were obtained. In response, Bezos said AMI threatened to publish more text messages and photos if Bezos did not stop his investigation.
Today on the website Medium Bezos posted e-mails that he says he received from AMI. We have not independently reviewed the e-mails. We`ve reached out to Amazon and AMI. AMI declined to comment.
Joe Fryer, NBC News.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We`ll stay with the story. But first, another break for us.
And coming up, a President and his words when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before here tonight. It`s enough to make you think the White House might just put an end to off the record lunches because their contents always leak on the record, but at an off the record lunch for journalists this week, we know because it leaked, the President unleashed on Chuck Schumer, also on the late John McCain.
He also took a swing at Joe Biden, calling him dumb. As proof, the President told the group that anytime, he the President makes a gaffe, it`s intentional, as opposed to the dumb former vice president. That, of course, has only served to call more attention to the President`s gaffes and his unique style of often pretending right there in the moment that that`s what he meant to say.
A few examples here starting with this morning`s national prayer breakfast.
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TRUMP: Since the founding of our nation, many of our greatest strides from gating our independence to abolition of civil rights.
We just left pleasure --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paradise.
TRUMP: Well, paradise.
Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Namibia.
Human struggling and human smuggling.
They sacrifice every day for the furniture -- future of their children.
Two Corinthians, right? Two Corinthians.
You go out and buy groceries, you need a picture on a card.
Through their lives and though their lives were cut short.
I watch our police and our fire men down on 7-eleven, down to World Trade Center right after it came down.
We will arrive at a peace and a place.
He goes by D.J. and C.J. he said call me either one.
Hey, I`m President. Can you believe it, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Our look tonight at the President and his words.
Also before we go tonight, the loss of a giant of the House. And consider the following. Consider it this way. It was possible to grow up in Michigan and reach the age of 60 having only had one member of Congress for your entire life, the same member of Congress. That man, John Dingell, died tonight.
He was in Congress longer than anyone else in United States history, 30 terms, starting when Eisenhower was President. He was among the last World War II vets to serve in Congress, and as a social Democrat, he somehow managed to preserve, protect and defend the Detroit car industry and the environment at the same time in the same career. John Dingell was 92 years old. His wife Debbie now holds that congressional seat.
And that is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here 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