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Deal framework provides $1.375B. TRANSCRIPT: 2/11/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Elliot Williams, Nancy Cook, Ken Thomas, Jackie Alemany

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  But don`t expect the political news media to make that easy for you.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  A funny thing happened tonight in El Paso.  First, the President unveiled his new slogan, not build the wall but finish the wall.  He told the crowd that`s because a lot of it has been built already.  Then he took a swing at the local man headlining the counter Trump rally across the street, Beto O`Rourke.  As all of that went on the word from Congress, if you can believe it, is that there is a deal tonight, in principle at least, to avert the next shutdown deadline approaching at the end of the week.

And did we just get the clearest window yet into the thinking of the highly-secretive Mueller investigation?  It was a comment made in court, printed on a transcript that would explain a lot as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.

As we start a new week, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 753 of this Trump administration.  And if it`s Monday, it must be El Paso.  That was the site of the President`s rally tonight and the counter rally headlined by Beto O`Rourke within sight of the President`s venue.

The President went hard after O`Rourke.  He went hard after the news media and the Mueller case and made his case for the wall all over again.

While just minutes before he emerged on stage word had arrived from Congress that they appeared to have a deal in principle to stop this looming next shutdown.  At one point President Trump said, the last government shutdown was important to show people what`s going on at the border.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  But you know what?  If we didn`t do that shutdown, we would not have been able to show this country, these politicians, and the world what the hell is happening with the border.  That was a very important thing we did.


WILLIAMS:  As we mention, it was impossible not to notice this, the new slogan looming over the Trump event tonight, "Finish the Wall." it bears repeating, no new stretch of border wall has been built under President Trump.  There have only been repairs to existing barriers on the border.  At one point President Trump tried to correct the crowd.


TRUMP:  Now, you really mean "finish that wall" because we built a lot of it, didn`t we?


WILLIAMS:  At another point the President referenced some construction just today of a wall on the Rio Grande River.


TRUMP:  Today we started a big, beautiful wall right on the Rio Grande.  Right back on the Rio Grande.


WILLIAMS:  We couldn`t at first figure out what he was talking about, and after hearing that our unofficial presidential fact checker, Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star and a frequent guest on this broadcast wrote on Twitter wrote and we quote, "Trump calls the Rio Grande legendary.  He says they started wall construction there today.  Not sure, but I know they were planning to start building their first new fencing of Trump`s tenure in the Rio Grande Valley by this week.

Again, outside of the Trump rally there was the Beto O`Rourke-led counter event.  O`Rourke gave up his seat in Congress from El Paso for what became a losing Senate campaign against Ted Cruz.  Nonetheless he remains a voice and tonight went after the President on his treatment of immigrants.


BETO O`ROURKE, (D) FMR. TEXAS CONGRESSMAN:  We can show the rest of the country as we make our stand here together tonight that walls do not make us safer.  Walls will require us to take someone`s property, their house, their farm, their ranch, to build a wall at a time of record-low northbound apprehensions.

The President describes Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.  We have the chance to tell him and the country immigrants commit crimes including violent crimes at a lower rate than do Americans who were born in this country.

El Paso has been the safest city in the United States of America, not in spite of the fact that we`re a city of immigrants, but because we are a city of immigrants.


WILLIAMS:  Again, these two competing events really within sight of each other.  Here now the President in front of his crowd on the subject of Beto O`Rourke.


TRUMP:  Campaign sort of started because you have these people that nobody ever heard of, they`re all running for office.  I said, who is that?  Well, that person was a mayor of a city that was defeated.  Well, how about Beto?  Beto was defeated too, right?


WILLIAMS:  With that, let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Monday night.  Robert Costa, National Political reporter for "Washington Post", Moderator of Washington Week on PBS.  Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for "Politico".  And Elliott Williams, former federal prosecutor, senior DOJ appointee under the Obama administration, also notably a former assistant director of ICE.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Mr. Costa, you are going to begin.  So as the President is talking we have a member of Congress on this network saying the President`s wall didn`t do too well, didn`t fare too well in these talks where they have an agreement in principle.  How does this all work?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  The breaking news tonight that`s important is Congressional appropriators, a bipartisan group, has come to an agreement for about 1.3 billion in new fencing.  Not new fencing but new repairmen`s for the existing fencing.

Conservatives on Twitter, conservatives who are my sources, they`re already up in arms about this.  They want more fencing.  And they also don`t like the number of ICE beds, a bed provided by the Department of Homeland Security as part of the ICE Department are decreased as part of the deal.  So it is nowhere close to the 5.7 billion.

Also what to watch tonight, Brian, White House officials tell me just a few minutes ago the President may accept this deal from Congress but still use his executive power to try to reappropriate money, take some money away from other projects and put them toward a wall at the southern border.

WILLIAMS:  Elliott, you are the lawyer here.  How will that work?  And is the cynical scenario in effect, where it goes immediately to the courts?  He gets to say to his base, it was the swamp, I tried, you saw me, and it never gets done?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, DEPT. ASSISTANT ATTY. GEN. UNDER PRES. OBAMA:  And in fact, it gives him another enemy in the courts.  The President has gone after federal courts before for not ruling his way.

WILLIAMS:  That`s right.

E. WILLIAMS:  This will immediately be litigated because Congress, whose job it is to determine funding on things like the wall, made a determination that they wouldn`t be funding 2,000 miles of wall, which is what the President initially asked for.  And so it will immediately be litigated.  And I think that`s a meritorious lawsuit.

When you think about it, again, Congress has the power to dictate, you know, the length and structure of the wall.  And frankly, all other matters of border security, drones and boots on the ground and stuff like that.  And when the President wants to go around that by taking money from other sources, that`s going to delay the litigation.

WILLIAMS:  So, Nancy, this declaration of what Robert says is possible would be a step under national emergency.  I`m just trying to get out ahead of some of the spin we might hear.  Is that correct?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  That`s right.  And so what it would do is basically an Executive Order, and we`ve seen the President use that executive authority a lot, but it wouldn`t go as far as declaring a national emergency, which conservatives have expressed discomfort with, saying it would set a precedent they don`t feel comfortable with.

So what this Executive Order would do would be to take money, existing money within the federal budget.  Our reporting has shown that it would probably take money from military construction projects.  It could take money from disaster relief, particularly disaster relief for California and Puerto Rico, to blue states.  And it would also potentially to have some flood dam projects in California.  And that`s really the pockets of money that the White House is eyeing.

And I`d like to say not just, you know, along with what Elliot said, it wouldn`t just immediately cause litigation and legal challenges, I think that there would be a real outcry in Congress as well because each of these districts and military housing, you know, there`s a constituency behind it that`s in some lawmaker`s backyard.  And so there will be an outcry among Republican lawmakers if this happens too.

WILLIAMS:  Just the property claims, the eminent domain claims, people haven`t even begun to discuss that.

Hey, Robert, I want to play for you part of what the President said.  This is a false narrative to the hometown crowd, where the story is false tonight about the wall and crime rate stats in El Paso.  We will talk about it on the other side.


TRUMP:  I spoke to people that have been here a long time.  They said when the wall went up it`s a whole different ball game.  Is that a correct statement?  Whole different ball game.

I`ll give you another example, and I don`t care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, they`re full of crap when they say it hasn`t made a big difference.


WILLIAMS:  So, Robert, facts notwithstanding, maybe the wisdom of the mob as sociologist put it, was the purpose of tonight to just surround himself with the warm bath, the familiar confines of a rally audience?

COSTA:  It was also the kickoff for President Trump`s 2020 campaign.  And so while Congress is trying to come up with an agreement, he`s making argument by anecdote, and he believes that that`s enough at this point to get his base stirred up.  He wants that base with him in 2020.

He goes to Texas, he goes to the border to underscore that immigration is going to be central for his candidacy, mocking Democrats running for the White House and saying to his base, "I`m still with you on the wall."

The important thing to step back here is that he is trying to say to his base as well, we`ve already built elements of the wall, there`s already existing fence.  He knows whatever comes out of this deal is going to be watered down from what he originally sought, and so he is trying to explain in a way politically to his core supporters that he is still a success in his eyes.

WILLIAMS:  And Elliot, that same question given your familiarity with this subject matter in that part of the world, when you hear him say, we changed the slogan because, after all, we`ve already built a lot of it, how do you react?

E. WILLIAMS:  They haven`t built a lot of it.  He said he was going to build a 2,000 mile wall.  He actually got played tonight because, you know, the Democrats offered him 65 miles back in December and he didn`t take it.  He got a much worse deal now.  This -- he created this crisis of a wall to make people afraid of immigrants, and it started with, you know, the rapist comment years and years ago.

So the threat to the United States is these people running across the border when in reality most of the people who are unlawfully present in the U.S. didn`t even cross the border, they were visa overstays.  Most of the drugs don`t come from guys with a backpack of drugs.  But they come from or, you know, unscreened cargo containers and trucks.  So this hysteria about the wall that he created to whip up support at these rallies is sort of, you know, just trying to give his folks and his base something now, and he failed.  There`s no other way to put it.

WILLIAMS:  Nancy, as soon away as the end of this week, what`s it going to have been all about?  And I`m speaking here about Trump`s allies in Washington and in Congress and in the West Wing, what will this have been about?

COOK:  Well, I think this will be about Trump trying to fulfill a key campaign promise by, you know, building this wall or structure.  That`s something that has been a great rhetorical device for him to whip up his base.  But I think that it will also be an instructive lesson for all of us as to how far Republicans in Congress and conservative lawmakers, people who are aligned with him but not always in step with him like the base, how far they`re willing to go with him.

And I think that what we could see happen is we could see Trump sort of accept this deal that Congress put forward, also pursue an Executive Order to get more border wall funding and spin it as a victory just as he looks to 2020.

WILLIAMS:  And Robert Costa, what about the patience and the ability to buy this on the part of the genuine Trump base?  Is it limitless or are they going to look at this and realize perhaps deep down we didn`t get that wall?

COSTA:  They know they`re not going to get the wall from Congress, and that`s why the White House counsel, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, for recent days separate from this whole Congressional discussion have been outlining to the President how he can up to the line of declaring a national emergency, to try to say to the base, we did everything we could, we`re using the army corps of engineers section 284 of U.S code, we`re going to take some Defense Department money used to stop drug trafficking, we`re going to use that to try to build the wall.  Because they know and I got the text messages tonight, Brian, from some top conservatives, they don`t like the decrease in the number of ICE beds, they don`t like this number of 1.37 billion.  They don`t like it at all.

You`re going to see conservatives tomorrow have an outcry on Capitol Hill.  I will be up there.  And so the White House politically is already coming up with extra measures.

WILLIAMS:  Elliot, just to put a point on this because you are a better than average lawyer, and you`re sitting here with us in New York with us, the part of the wall they call takings, just take a 10-mile stretch of the wall as planned, the farmers, the ranchers who would object to the taking of their land, the effort on the federal government perhaps to seize it under eminent domain and go ahead and try to build just that, won`t it be important forever.

E. WILLIAMS:  Oh, decades.  Think about it.  Most of the land -- so you have California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, most of the land in Texas is private land.  So all of this land along the Rio Grande River that would have to be seized.

Now, the government under the takings clause of the Constitution would have to compensate the people.  But, again, people would have -- they`d fight it and it would go to court and it would be years and years and years of litigation.  And there are even, you know, the cards against humanity, the sort of silly --


E. WILLIAMS:  -- it`s terrible game, bought a piece of land for the sole purpose of inviting Donald Trump to sue them over, you know, over this takings clause.

So this is not -- you know, this idea that everyone along the border supports this is just not accurate.  There are people who might, but, again, you have landowners pretty much along the length of the Rio Grande River in Texas who would make it incredibly difficult, and it is private property.

WILLIAMS:  With our terrific thanks to our terrific lead-off panel, Robert Costa, Nancy Cook, Elliot Williams, our thanks for starting off our conversation.

And coming up for us, more on that apparent deal to avert a shutdown that we`re hearing about tonight, did the Democrats get all that they wanted?  What about the President`s wall money?  Have we seen any amounts yet?

And later, a freshman House Democrat apologizes after writing something quickly condemned as anti-semitic.  Will her apology be enough to satisfy her leadership?  THE 11TH HOUR just getting under way as we start a new week on Monday night.



TRUMP:  As I was walking up to the stage they said that progress is being made with this committee.  I said, wait a minute, I got to take care of my people from Texas.  I got to go.  I don`t even want to hear about it.

I don`t want to hear about it.  Maybe progress is made, maybe not, but I had a choice.  I could have stayed out there and listened or I could have come out to the people of El Paso and Texas.


WILLIAMS:  So as we mentioned, about 40 minutes before Trump took the stage there in El Paso to make his case for the wall, as you may see there, "finish the wall," and border security more broadly, rumblings of this immigration deal in principle started coming out of Washington.

Over the weekend everything looked like it was stalled, but after talking into the night, Homeland Security Conference Committee leaders announced they have reached this deal in principle to fund border security and prevent another partial government shutdown with the next deadline looming at the end of the week.  This is why we`ve asked Robert Costa to come back and join us.

And Robert, people are trying to get numbers out of us only because famously, the President kept hammering that 5.7 billion, not a penny less.  Is it too early to know the loose confines of what the Dems and the Republicans got?

COSTA:  No, we know the new confines, Brian.  So here is what happened.  They`re not famous, most people don`t know who they are.  Nita Lowey, the Appropriations Chair from New York, Richard Shelby from Alabama, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a Democrat and Republican working closely with Leader McConnell and Speaker Pelosi, they went into a private room today and they said enough of this, based on my reporting.

Let`s go back to the original number, not 5.7 billion that the President wants for his wall, let`s go down to that 1.3 billion that the administration talked about months ago for a barrier or for a fence.  Let`s use that number, around 1.3, 1.4, use that to replace existing fencing so the President can argue he`s getting some new fencing or some fencing in general.  You can spin it either way if you`re a Democrat or a Republican.  And then tweak the number of ICE beds that`s a sticking point for some Democrats, walk away, throw it on the President`s desk, hope he signs it.

Know he`s going to probably take emergency measures or maybe use an Executive Order but get it out of congress.  That`s what they did today.

WILLIAMS:  So does he turn around, based on your knowledge of him, how he processes and communicates stuff, does he turn around and say to his base, "Sit-down, I got a down payment, we`ve received a down payment on the wall?"

COSTA:  Based on a conversation tonight with a top congressman and with a White House official, they say both sides can win here.  Congress can say we averted a shutdown, we put it in the White House`s hands.  The White House can now fight Congress and say Congress didn`t give us what we wanted, this bipartisan committee is not enough, so we`re going to issue an Executive Order to re-allocate federal funds into wall projects.

Republicans can say that`s going too far, but then, again, privately everyone just wants to avert another shutdown and the President will do what he wants to do as he runs for President again in 2020.

WILLIAMS:  I got to read this to you.  Someone theorize today that the President just learned that a standard of measurement in terms of the border as well as domestic hospitals is per bed, one person, one bed.  He said, "These are people coming into our country that we are holding that we don`t want in our country, and the Democrats want them to go into our country.  That`s why they don`t want to give us what we call the beds.  It`s much more complicated than beds, but we call them beds."

What is the level of frustration, perhaps exhaustion among the Republicans who dared talk to you on the Hill?

COSTA:  Well, let`s hope they don`t dare.  But they`re exhausted.  They`re exhausted by the shutdown.  They`re exhausted by a President who is such an outsider and rather fight than make any kind deal.  That`s their message to "The Post."

At the same time they say a lot of these conservatives I talk to, the lawmakers, they say they can`t support this deal because they know the base wants to see more beds for ICE, more beds for people who are detained, who are coming across the border illegally.  And so that`s going to prevent them from supporting the deal.

But the ICE agreement tonight, it is a little fluid.  ICE can always increase its numbers.  It`s not locked in stone, the number of beds they can have for these kind of apprehensions.  And so everyone here is going to walk away and say they can`t vote for it or they can`t support it, and that`s politics.

WILLIAMS:  So what does Washington pivot to?  If you were a betting man, by this night next week, next Monday night, what will we be talking about other than the overarching Mueller investigation perhaps?

COSTA:  Three quick things.  The wall remains an existential issue for this administration.  They`ll continue to always say, we`ll take more measures if necessary.  The summit with Kim Jong-un comes up later this month.  You`re going to see this administration.

Already the White House, trying to look at China trade talks, trying to look to using North Korea.  And on the domestic agenda, keep an eye on pharmaceutical drugs and prescription drug prices.  That could be the next battleground, maybe an area of a deal.

WILLIAMS:  Sounds like a way too traditional White House public effort there.  Robert Costa --

COSTA:  Not really.  He`s meeting with Kim Jong-un, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  Yes, you`re right.  And he argued for that in El Paso, Texas, of all places tonight.

Robert costa, thanks for staying up late with us.  We appreciate on what has been a longer than average day for you.

Coming up for us, this man, after digging through the latest Mueller documents, our next guest says there`s more evidence Paul Manafort was the infection vector, as he puts it, when it comes to Russia and the Trump campaign.  We`ll define that term when we come back.



TRUMP:  No president should ever have to go through what we have gone through in the first two years.  It`s a hoax.  Senator Richard Burr from the great State of North Carolina, he`s chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they`ve been investigating this Russia hoax for two years.

Richard just announced that they found no collusion between Donald Trump and Russia.


WILLIAMS:  Well, that settles it.  Tonight, some new reporting on something that all of us could see out in the open may, in fact, give us the clearest window yet into the question at the core of the secretive Mueller investigation.

"The New York Times" calls our attention to this transcript of the closed hearing for Paul Manafort.  This was the hearing where prosecutors laid out the reasons they revoked Manafort`s cooperation agreement with the feds, detailing what are his lies about his contacts with Constantine Kilimnik, that associate tied to Russian intelligence.

When the judge asked why those alleged lies were so significant, the federal prosecutor said this about a meeting on August 2nd of 2016 between Manafort, then the chairman of the Trump campaign, remember, Rick Gates, another campaign aid, and Kilimnik.  "This 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."

The prosecutor continues, "in 2016 there`s an in-person meeting with someone who was understood by the FBI, assessed to be, have a relationship with Russian intelligence.  This is an in-person meeting at an unusual time for somebody who is the campaign chairman to be spending time and to be doing it in person.  That meeting, and what happened at that meeting, is of significance to the special counsel.

Well, our friends at "The New York Times" write that those comments, "Suggest that the special counsel continues to pursue at least one theory, that starting while Russia was taking steps to bolster Mr. Trump`s candidacy, people in his orbit were discussing deal to end a dispute over Russia`s incursions into Ukraine and possibly give Moscow relief from economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies."

Well, with us tonight to talk about it, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, who in the past has worked for one Robert Mueller.

Frank, sometimes, I guess in your line of work, the gun in the dead guy`s hand is the gun that killed the dead guy and we all read this transcript, the parts of it that were not redacted.  I went over this part of the transcript, but it was in reading the way the "Times" handled it and kind of separating this out that kind of shook us awake today.  My question to you is what is that term used today about a contagion and what is this answer and what questions does this raise?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  Brian, I viewed for quite sometime Paul Manafort as one of the significant conveyance measures, the method of transfer of what I call the Russian infection into the campaign.

Now, let`s be sure.  There are historical milestones of Trump being involved with Russia that go way back and predate Manafort.  And let`s also be clear, there are other vectors that may have conveyed the Russian infection to the campaign, and I believe Roger Stone may have been one of those.

But clearly in this transcript we see a senior prosecutor on the Special Counsel team giving us a glimpse into the mind of Mueller.  And by that I mean he`s telling us -- and he is actually reminding us, Brian, what the Special Counsel investigation is all about.  What was it all about from the start?  It started as a counterintelligence investigation.

In fact, we recently learned the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation that predates the special counsel`s appointment to determine whether our President was compromised or not or whether the Russians had influenced this President, this candidate.

So in this transcript we learn that they believe that Manafort is lying for a reason that`s at the heart of the special counsel investigation, the Russian collusion question.  We hear Andrew Weissmann, the prosecutor, telling the judge, look, he`s lying about something really important.  This is what we think has happened.  This is what the larger picture is all about.

Now, I find it fascinating that that`s not redacted and there are many, many lines in this transcript that were deemed so sensitive that they were redacted.  And I can only imagine what those lines read.  But the way I`m reading what is not redacted is that this ain`t over yet.  The Russian collusion question is still being worked aggressively and they`re pointing squarely at Manafort.

Now, that answers a question about collusion, but it begs lots of other questions that aren`t answered.  Why are others lying about Russia?  Mike Flynn, for example.  Cohen lying before Congress.  Why are people lying about Russia and is the heart of that answer because Russia was involved in a quid pro quo, this for that, a favor for a favor?  And what was that favor that Russia was doing for the campaign and what was the campaign offering in return for Russia?

WILLIAMS:  So let`s speak plain English here.  In your view there`s a very good chance that when we see something like a Mueller report, part of what they`re going to ask the American public to buy and to understand is a plot line akin to some offer of assistance to get Trump -- Donald Trump elected and the quid pro quo was we can make you, Russia, we can make your lives better as a result?

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, exactly.  And we`re seeing a hint about what one end of that transaction would have looked at, which may likely have been a promise that we`re going to have a favorable policy for you, Russia, regarding Ukraine and/or Crimea.  That could have been what drove this relationship, among other factors, for Russia to help the campaign.

This is conjecture, but, Brian, it`s smart conjecture based on all we have learned so far and the revelation in this transcript.

WILLIAMS:  Thirty seconds remaining.  You think it is also educated perhaps, infused and motivated the raid on Roger Stone`s house?  You think in large part they`re thinking for stuff along this plot line?

FIGLIUZZI:  Yes, and, in fact, I`m less inclined to think that Mueller is about to wrap up.  Even though we`re hearing it from people like Matt Whitaker, I think when we see Weissmann say what he said in this transcript, when we see Roger Stone`s home raided and they take volumes of evidence out, this Russia thing is still going and not yet answered.

WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to a man in this area, our friend Frank Figliuzzi.  Thank you very much for joining our Monday night effort, Frank.

And coming up, as we keep saying, it might be easier just to list the Democrats not running for president.  There are two more since last we spoke just Friday night.  We`ll have that when we come back.



  SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (R), MINNESOTA, CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT:  I would say look at me out in that snow.  I have always had grit.  I have been the first woman to run for and -- for winning both of the jobs that I have held.  I have always taken on tough fights and I usually win them.


WILLIAMS:  Senator Amy Klobuchar in this very studio earlier tonight talking to Rachel Maddow.  Just in case we for got, she`s from Minnesota.  This was her in the snow announcing her candidacy yesterday.  The snow flake metaphor is tempting only in this way because no two of the Democrats are alike, and, in fact, are striving to set themselves apart in their uniqueness.

As our own political unit put it today, it`s a question of unite or fight.  It`s a philosophical divide two of the Democrats, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, highlighted over the weekend while they both happened to be in Iowa.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS, CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT:  Every day there is a racist tweet, a hateful tweet, something really dark and ugly.  Are we going to let him use those to divide us? You know, here is what bothers me.  By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president.  In fact, he may not even be a free person.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY, CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT:  If we try to fight Donald Trump on his turf, not only will both of us get muddy but the country suffers as a result.  We, all of us, black, white, gay, straight, we have to start extending grace to each other so we can have honest conversations and leave room for growth.


WILLIAMS:  Our political folks further sum up the state of play this way, and we quote.  "A year from now, it will be an interesting choice for Democratic primary voters.  Is the best messenger to take on Trump a fighter/smasher/reformer, a bridge-builder/healer/uniter, or some kind of combination of the two?"

Well, with us tonight to talk about it.  Ken Thomas, Political Reporter for the "Wall Street Journal", covering the 2020 Democrats and Jackie Alemany, Political Reporter for "The Washington Post" and author of the morning newsletter "Power Up."

OK, Jackie, let`s power up with you late at night.  And here is the question.  What risks do the Democrats face?  Is it the size of the field or is it that they`re going to be just by nature all over the map?

JACKIE ALEMANY, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Yes, you know, it`s really difficult to tell right now.  We are still so far out in the race.

WILLIAMS:  I know, I know.

ALEMANY:  But, you know, the thing that I think most people can agree on is there`s going to be a constant battle not just to own the message but for your message to get through with such a big field and with Trump constantly sucking up all of the oxygen in the media ecosystem.

And so, sometimes I think some people resort to tactics of directly responding to the President in order to get their message through, to grab those headlines, and other times, you know, like Cory Booker has said, they decide -- candidates have decided not to play into the president`s rhetoric, not to take the bait, not to go after every single tweet because that`s exactly what President Trump wants to do.

But I think what -- what we have learned from 2016, at least, is the strategy of constantly rebutting the President and stooping down to some of his more inappropriate, sexist and lewd comments did not work for any of the, you know, 17 Republican candidates who ran against the President in 2017, ala Marco Rubio who got into a match with Trump about the size of his hands.


ALEMANY:  And so I think at the end of the day that`s something that all Democrats are trying to avoid in order to draw more attention to policy debates.  But comments like Elizabeth Warren`s, saying that the President might be in prison by the time the race gets narrowed down next year are potentially inevitable just because of the nature of the investigations that are ongoing.

WILLIAMS:  Hey Ken, I was just going to say two points.  One is an aside, the other is a question.  First of all, it`s cough and cold season and Cory Booker better lozenge up.  He`s going to need his voice for two years in Iowa.  Secondly, and the actual question to you, what is Klobuchar`s entry due to this race, any of us who saw any television, listening to radio over the weekend heard two things.  She is a Midwesterner, and that is to say a non-coastal type in this race.

KEN THOMAS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  That`s how she stands out right now.  She is the Midwest senator in the race.  It`s possible Sherrod Brown could get in as well.  But she is trying to bring this more, you know, centrist message.  You know, she was asked about whether she was a moderate by Rachel Maddow tonight.  She said she believes in progress and getting things done.  And that`s the appeal she is trying to bring.

You know, she has had some issues.  There have been reports about her staff, whether she`s been a tough boss to work for.  She has seemed to rebut them so far.  It`s possible that could be an issue that she`s going to have to deal with going forward.

But right now this is still a forming field, and Amy Klobuchar is trying to be the person who can straddle the center of this field and be someone who can offer a positive message, someone who has gotten things done in the Senate and could be a counterweight to just a hard confrontational message against the President.

WILLIAMS:  Hey Jackie, can we take a minute and on behalf of half of the population talk about the record number of women in the race, period?

ALEMANY:  Yes, there are five or six women who are, you know, throwing their hat into the ring.  Unprecedented.  And I think whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, the diversity is welcome, but, you know, it also positions -- it makes for a potential combative and interesting conversation with a President who has been in the past prone to pretty sexist and demeaning comments towards women.

And so, I think that going forward you`re going to see different candidates employ their gender in different ways.  Whether or not it`s to potential shield them from certain criticisms or to their advantage when it comes to rebutting Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Ken, since Elizabeth Warren has been so hugely defined by Donald Trump, really unlike any of the other current candidates, since we watched Trump take a few swings at Beto O`Rourke tonight, is this going to be a thing in Democratic politics, that they have to, you know, to use a term of art in the plumbing and auto parts business, to pressure test their people and candidates before they leave the assembly line and go out into the wild?

THOMAS:  That will happen naturally in the primary, but I think we are seeing the President stepping forward and trying to on one hand, elevate Democrats who he thinks could be more susceptible to his pressure, especially in a general election setting, and also define Democrats in a way that wouldn`t help them in the fall, in 2020.

You know, we saw that especially today, you know, when he was talking about the green new deal.  Republicans I have spoken with recently said they feel like the green new deal will be a toxic element for any Democratic nominee, that it will allow the President to portray them as outside the mainstream, someone who is going to raise taxes in a big way.  He said in his rally tonight they`ll take away your cars.

So, there`s already this effort afoot by Republicans to define this field, and the Democrats themselves, they will have to get through a pretty tough primary in order to just emerge.  And the question is how does that candidate, how does that nominee come through in the end?  Are they someone who is shiny and new or are they beaten up essentially.

WILLIAMS:  To the folks watching at home, these two journalists on your screen are going to be among the more hard working and fully tasked journalists between now and election night 2020.  it`s with that in mind that we think Ken Thomas and Jackie Alemany for joining us at the end of your workday.

We`re still going here, however.  And coming up, the story behind one of the new Democrats in the House of Representatives, forced today to issue an unequivocal apology.  The back story coming up when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Difficult growing pains for the ranks of the highly celebrated Democratic freshman class in Congress.  A little over a month into her first term in office Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is under fire from both parties.

The criticism comes after this, her post on Twitter yesterday, stay with us here, which referenced the picture on the $100 bill as memorialized in a song by then Puff Daddy and a movie starring Ice Cube as shorthand for money, which was immediately branded shorthand for anti-Semitism, given the context Kasie Hunt has the story for us from Capitol Hill.


KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar one of the first Muslim women in Congress tonight giving in to demands from Democratic leaders she apologize for tweets widely criticized as anti-Semitic.

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND:  The key will be when we make a mistake like that conscious or unconscious that we don`t repeat it.  I mean that`s the -- that will be the proof of the pudding.

HUNT:  On Sunday suggesting money was driving U.S. politicians to defend Israel, writing, "It`s all about the Benjamins, baby."  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler who is Jewish said it was deeply disappointing and disturbing that Omar appears to traffic on old anti- Semitic tropes about Jews and money."  Hours later Omar tweeted she was listening and learning but standing strong, writing, "My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish-Americans as a whole.  This is why unequivocally apologize."  Omar has been considered a rising star, part of the new group of young women elected to Congress.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA:  Together we can organize our world and politics of hope.

HUNT:  But this isn`t the first time Omar has been accused of anti- Semitism.  In 2012 she tweeted, "Israel has hypnotized the world."  Later admitting she had chosen unfortunate words.


HUNT:  So as you heard Majority Leader Hoyer say the question now really is whether anything like this happens again.  We`re also going to watch to see if Republicans try to force an action of some kind related to what we`ve seen from Congresswoman Omar.  There is a resolution from Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York, a Republican who`s also Jewish condemning these remarks and also pointing out some anti-Semitic incidents including what happened in Charlottesville.  So, that could potentially be the next turn of this story.  But for now Democrats I`m talking to are very glad that she did apologize.

WILLIAMS:  Kasie Hunt reporting the story out tonight inside the U.S. Capitol.  Our thanks.

And coming up, what might have set the President off this morning when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  The last thing before we go tonight.  As Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press reminded us today about a show in this studio on this network, "Trump has warned aides never to reveal that he watches "Morning Joe" presumably because that could lead to hurt feelings right across Sixth Avenue here in New York at "Fox & Friends."

Well, on this morning broadcast of "Morning Joe" the namesake Joe Scarborough said Trump will be remembered as, "The laziest President ever to occupy the Oval Office and did less work than any other president to ever occupy the Oval Office."

Joe said that that at 7:42 a.m. this morning.  One minute later at 7:43 the President of these United States and the commander-in-chief of all U.S. military forces around the world said this on Twitter and we, "No President ever worked harder than me cleaning up the mess I inherited."  While you may draw your own conclusions based on timing, that isn`t even loosely rooted in fact as any living historian will confirm for you, but it certainly is what he has promised since the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off and make great deals, right?  Who`s going to lead?

I`m going to be working for you.  I`m not going to have time to play golf.

I don`t think anybody has ever worked harder in the last month of a presidential campaign that I do.

So far in 10 months we`ve passed more during this period of time than any other president in the history of our country.

We`ve done more than any other president has ever done in the first two years of his presidency.

Nobody`s ever done what we`ve done.

Oh, are you happy you voted for me.  You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.

We are accomplishing so much, far greater than anybody ever thought.

We have more legislative victories than any other president, not including this.

I have actually kept more promises than I`ve made.  With the exception of the late great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any President that`s ever held this Office.  That I can tell you.


WILLIAMS:  The President of the United States in his own words could take us off the air tonight.  And that is our broadcast for this Monday evening as we start new week together.  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