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McCabe worried Trump posed threat. TRANSCRIPT: 2/18/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Matt Zapotosky, Michael McFaul, John Harris, Richard Painter

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And so tonight, Dan Coats, may be on the verge of filling the Jeff Sessions role in the Trump Cabinet as the President`s Cabinet punching bag.  But firing Dan Coats is not going to make Kim Jong-un give up his nuclear weapons.  And that`s because President Trump can fire Cabinet members but he cannot fire the truth.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the President on the losing end of an explosive new book by the man who ran the FBI after Trump fired James Comey.  The stories he has to tell include an account of the President choosing to believe Putin of Russia over U.S. Intelligence.

And just today a big hint that Trump may make a move to fire his director of National Intelligence.

Also tonight, two things you seldom see.  Both are from Roger Stone who first publicly attacked a federal judge then took it back when some took it as a threat.

And protests over the President`s wall emergency as 16 states now line up to take him to court.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 760 of the Trump administration, and on this holiday Monday night, we have news over just the past few hours about when Rod Rosenstein, number two man at the Justice Department who has in the past supervised the Mueller investigation, when he may be leaving the department, more on that in a moment.

But let`s begin here tonight with Andrew McCabe, this man, the man who first opened the investigations into the President.  He is now going into detail about just how alarmed senior Justice Department officials were about the conduct of our President of the United States in the days after James Comey was fired.  McCabe, who took over as acting FBI director after Comey was taken out, that was May of 2017, told "60 Minutes" what prompted the FBI to start investigating the sitting President of the United States.


ANDREW MCCABE, FMR. FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR:  The President had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn, which was a part of our Russia case.  The President then fired the director.

In the firing of the director, the President specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write a memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo.  Rod of course did not do that.  The President may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS ANCHOR:  What was it specifically that caused you to launch the counterintelligence investigation?

MCCABE:  If the President committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia`s malign activity, possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator, you have to ask yourself why would a President of the United States do that?

PELLEY:  When you decided to launch these two investigations, was the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on board with that?

MCCABE:  Absolutely.


WILLIAMS:  McCabe also noted Trump`s public comments linking his firing of Comey to the Russia investigation and that Trump reportedly discussed it with Russian officials in the Oval Office, no less.  McCabe also told "60 Minutes" about his conversations with Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein and the possibility of secretly recording the President.


MCCABE:  We talked about why the President had insisted on firing the director and whether or not he was thinking about the Russia investigation and did that impact his decision.  And in the context of that conversation, the deputy attorney general offered to wear a wire into the White House.

He was not joking.  He was absolutely serious.  And, in fact, he brought it up in the next meeting we had.  I never actually considered taking him up on the offer.  I did discuss it with my general counsel.

I think the general counsel had a heart attack.  And when he got up off the floor, he said, "That`s a bridge too far.  We`re not there yet."


WILLIAMS:  The Justice Department notably has called McCabe`s account here, "inaccurate and factually incorrect," adding that the Deputy A.G. never authorized any recording.  Well, today McCabe was asked about that distinction.


MCCABE:  While the Deputy Attorney General says he never authorized anyone to wear a wire, that is true.  He never authorized it because we never asked him for that authorization.

STEVE INSKEEP, NPR HOST:  Meaning that his seeming denial of this story is not actually a denial?  You don`t think he denied anything you just said?

MCCABE:  I don`t think he can.


WILLIAMS:  More about this in a moment.  That`s an NPR interview.  This book tour is just starting.  The book doesn`t come out till midnight tonight.

McCabe had a contentious relationship with Trump during his final months at the FBI.  He was attacked regularly by our President and his allies as the Russia investigation intensified.  The President had him fired 26 hours before he would have retired with full pension.

And today the President was at it again, lashing out at a career FBI man, "Wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.  He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged.  He was -- he and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions, another beauty, look like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught."

The President goes on to say, "There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a President who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the military, vets, economy, and so much more.  This was the illegal and treasonous insurance policy in full action."

Trump`s allies faithfully answered the call and have been speaking out on his behalf.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was laid out last night, it was clear again, anyone watching with clear eyes was a coup attempt on the President of the United States.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AMERICAN LAWYER:  People ought to be put under oath and cross-examined as to precisely how serious was the discussion about the 25th Amendment.

Look, I think any law enforcement official who thinks that the 25th Amendment operates in a case like this is disqualified from serving in government.


WILLIAMS:  Again, tonight, we are learning more about the departure of Rod Rosenstein, another career man at the Justice Department.  He was always planning to leave once a new attorney general is in place.  That has happened.  NBC News is confirming tonight it will likely be, in just a few weeks` time, putting his departure around mid-March.

And there is a big new hint tonight that the director of National Intelligence, that man, Dan Coats, long-time U.S. senator from Indiana, may have a huge target on his back.  By way of background, here is Dan Coats assessing the risk from North Korea just last month.


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


WILLIAMS:  That right there apparently displeased the President as it goes against the narrative of his warm relationship with Kim Jong-un.  Then a friend of Donald Trump`s from Florida, Chris Ruddy, who runs the Newsmax Organization, dropped this during an interview today.


CHRIS RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA:  I`m hearing from sources around the White House that it`s just general disappointment of the President with Director Coats.  There is a feeling that maybe there needs to be a change of leadership in that position.

And I think generally, there is a deep concern that on the eve of the North Korea to have your director of National Intelligence in open hearings undercutting your position was very bad form.


WILLIAMS:  Then there is the case of Roger Stone.  Trump`s friend of 40 years posted on his Instagram page an attack on the federal judge hearing his case.  The artwork included crosshairs in the upper left corner, along with very inflammatory language that could be construed as a threat to a federal judge.

Even though millions of people have seen this imagery on their phones, and it is readily available, it is notable that our standards department has tonight asked us not to air the imagery as not to perpetuate it.  The post was taken down and then Roger Stone apologized in a court filing.  "The photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted.  I had no intention of disrespecting the court and humbly apologize to the court for the transgression."

So, again, on a holiday Monday night, a lot to talk about.  And with us to do that, Carol Lee, Veteran Journalist and NBC News National Political Reporter.  Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.  And Matt Zapotosky, National Security reporter for "the "Washington Post."  Good evening and welcome to you all.

And Carol, at 10:33 p.m., the President of the United States said this on Twitter.  "Remember this.  Andrew McCabe didn`t go to the bathroom without the approval of leakin James Comey."

We`ll let that sit where it is. 10:26 p.m., I`m corrected.

Mr. McCabe, career g-man, I think comes across with the bearing of a career g-man.  A lot of civilians who saw the "60 Minutes" interview found him to be a credible figure.  What has stood out to you covering this beat most of all?

CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, I think the two most startling things that stood out in the "60 Minutes" interview were first, that he was admitting that he had -- disclosing that he had opened this counterintelligence investigation against the President.  And the way that he described it was that, you know, given all of these things that they were seeing the President do and say, that if they saw anybody taking these steps or engaging in these sorts of behaviors or saying these kinds of things, they would have to be on misbehavior (ph) practice if they didn`t open this type of investigation.  That was interesting.

The other thing that really stuck out is the comments that McCabe said the President made in a meeting about North Korea with intelligence officials where they were saying that North Korea had capabilities to -- ballistic missile capabilities to hit the United States.  And Trump said, "I don`t believe you because Putin told me that they don`t."  That is jaw-dropping.

And it comes at a time when the President`s -- the revelations coming out when he is 10 days from having a second meeting with Kim Jong-un.  And it gets at the heart of what is going to be involved in any sort of nuclear deal.  This is a fundamental component, obviously, of their program.  It`s their delivery system.

So that was -- that was shocking as well.  And then I think, you know, the President`s reaction at the same time is very predictable.  And this is what we`ve seen him do.  You know, he -- we saw it with James Comey through his book tour, and now we`re going to see it with Andy McCabe.  And it`s -- you know, he started early in the morning and he is finishing late at night with attacking him.

WILLIAMS:  So, Matt, the question to you becomes this.  Carol raise as really good point.  Hearing it through McCabe, these details we repeat that you write about, that we all talk about on a daily basis, it`s as if we`ve come a little bit story blind.  We have forgotten. When you hear it in someone`s hands like McCabe, who was in charge of opening this, who decided to open this investigation, that really focuses the mind.

Point two that Carol made is, this book tour is just getting started.  You can`t buy this book until tomorrow morning.  He has -- McCabe has between six and seven media appearances scheduled just for tomorrow.  How is that going to go over?

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, THE WASHINGTO POST NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER:  Yes.  I don`t think it`s going to go over well with Trump in particular.  We`ve had one interview and the President is just going nuts on Twitter, which maybe that was predictable.  But as this book tour drags on, certainly you`re going have a lot more tweets.

You know, we`re just in this remarkable moment.  And I think even though McCabe was describing things that we already knew, you know, we already knew about this 25th Amendment conversation, this wearing a wiretap conversation.  We already knew that McCabe had authorized these investigations of the President himself.  But hearing his voice, like watching him sit down and describe these hectic days in May 2017 after James Comey is fired by President Trump, when President Trump sort of connects that to the Russia investigation in an interview, just hearing him describe that is so-so remarkable.

I think it seems like we`re now trending towards the potential end of the Mueller investigation, but we shouldn`t lose sight of whatever that end is of how remarkable some of these moments, you know, along the way have been.

WILLIAMS:  Barb, it`s pretty clear that forces loyal to the President are going to try to make this book about the anecdote, about potentially recording the President, and make this all about that and focus their fire on that, but there is apparently a lot in this book.  Based on your practice, how tough or easy it is to write a story like this?  What`s the basic percentage of what the author knows versus what the author was allowed or felt duty-bound to put in this book?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, as a former FBI official, Andrew McCabe would have been subject to prepublication review by the FBI.  He is not permitted to include anything that`s classified or sensitive or it reveals something not publicly known about the investigation.  And so I think that hamstrings him a little bit.  I mean, certainly there`s probably lots of very interesting interpersonal drama and behind-the-scenes things that will make for compelling narrative.

But, I think that it is unlikely that he discloses some of the additional information that he and Rod Rosenstein no doubt were privy too when they had these conversations about invoking the 25th amendment.

You know, those who are calling this a coup and that this was somehow improper, I think it just demonstrates how incredibly deeply concerned they were that they were discussing all options on the table, including using the constitutional provision in the 25th Amendment to consider removal from office.  And so I think that beyond that which is publicly known, there must have been additional facts that they knew through the Intelligence Community and otherwise that caused them to be so deeply concerned.

WILLIAMS:  Carol Lee and then we have Chris Ruddy, who is truly a member of King Arthur`s court in Palm Beach.  He is around the President a lot.  I think he could be fairly called a confidante.  Where does this come from that Dan Coats may have a target on his back?

LEE:  Well, it`s really interesting, because if you look at that hearing, which we`re a little removed from it.  We`re a million years from it in news cycles, it`s -- all of the individuals who testified that day, Dan Coats is the most likely person that Trump would want to lash out at and take out his frustrations on.  They have a history already of having tensions.  If you remember when Andrea Mitchell last summer in Aspen interviewed him and he --

WILLIAMS:  Broke the news to him on live television that.

LEE:  Yes.  The White House had invited President Putin to Washington for a meeting.  And the way that Coats reacted was almost to laugh at the President, or at least that`s how he took it.  And that really caused him a lot of problems.  He had to issue a statement.

And so there is not a lot of love there to begin with.  And, you know its - - when you see the President is very determined to make something work with North Korea.  It`s kind of the only thing he has outside of the wall.  And that`s tied up in court.  And so, you know, for Coats to criticize that and to say what everybody knows, and we and others have reported which is that Kim Jong-un has no intention of denucleurizing.  It just is something that was obviously not going to sit well with the President.

And if you look at the President`s history of when he starts to turn on people, there is always a little space, and then he`ll go in, and I wouldn`t be surprised at all if he removes them.

WILLIAMS:  You`ve been studying this.  I know you have.

Hey, Matt, how would it reverberate, especially in the branches of government you cover if the President at this point in his presidency in our history fired the director of National Intelligence?

ZAPOTOSKY:  It`s very hard to say.  President Trump just has an almost completely fractured relationship with his Intelligence Community.  Sort of bringing it back to McCabe a little bit.  And Carol described this.

McCabe in his book details this briefing that Trump is getting from the FBI about Korea.  And he just doesn`t believe his FBI briefers.  I think that would have been an explosive headline-grabbing thing, and it sort of was today, but not to the full extent.  It could have been because President Trump doubts his Intelligence Committee very publicly.  So while I certainly think there would be great implications of firing the director of National Intelligence, gosh, it wouldn`t be totally surprising because of the way that the President seems to look down on his own Intelligence Community.

WILLIAMS:  Barbara McQuade, you appeared before federal judges all of your professional life.  So no one needs to remind you they have sweeping powers in our society.  There is a reason they are appointed for life.  What lesson do you think Roger Stone learned about federal judges today?

MCQUADE:  Well, I don`t know that he learned any lesson.  We`ll see. I think we know that this judge entered a gag order just this past Friday.  And in the face of it, he goes on Instagram and posts this outrageous post about Judge Jackson.

And then this incredibly unusual thing I`ve never seen before, notice of apology.  I think that not only the posting, but even the apology itself makes a mockery of the court`s order.  If I were that judge, I would be calling him in to remind him of the seriousness of the proceedings.  She said the purpose of her gag order was to preserve not only the integrity of the proceedings, but the dignity of the court.  And I think Roger Stone has demonstrated he is someone who is seeking to undermine public confidence in our judicial system.

I don`t think this judge is going to stand for it.  And if he continues, I think she`ll hold him in contempt, which would mean jail for him.  And that will shut him up.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  We can`t emphasize this enough.  Her photo has been disseminated, not that she is a private figure, but with a crosshair logo in the upper left-hand corner of the social media posting.

To our initial panel tonight, our great thanks.  Carol Lee, Barbara McQuade, Matt Zapotosky, really appreciate it.  Thank you all very much on this holiday Monday night.

And coming up for us, this explosive new book that says our President trusts the leader of Russia over our own Intel professionals.  We will talk with a former ambassador to Russia on why all of this makes him very nervous.

And later, protests from Washington to Fort Worth, Texas over the national emergency to build a border wall.  We`ll talk to one man who has filed a law suit to stop it.  We should tell you it happens to be a Republican former White House lawyer.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on the aforementioned Monday evening.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  Andrew McCabe who run the FBI, again, after Comey was fired also spoke about the President`s views on Russia in that "60 Minutes" interview and in his new book out tomorrow.

McCabe told a story as we discussed here briefly of a White House meeting he`d been briefed on by an FBI official who was present.  Trump reportedly questioned U.S. Intelligence, saying he believed Russia`s leader instead.


MCCABE:  The President said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States.  And he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not.  President Putin had told him that the North Koreans don`t actually have those missiles.

PELLEY:  And U.S. Intelligence was telling the President what?

MCCABE:  Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the Intelligence our government possesses.  To which the President replied, "I don`t care.  I believe Putin."

PELLEY:  What did you think when you heard that?

MCCABE:  It`s just an astounding thing to say, to spend the time and effort and energy that we all do in the intelligence community to produce products that will help decision makers and the ultimate decision-maker, the President of the United States make policy decisions.  And to be confronted with an absolute disbelief in those efforts and an unwillingness to learn the true state of affairs that he has to deal with every day was just shocking.


WILLIAMS:  The story is bracing to watch.  And fast forward now to the last 48 hours or so at the Munich Security Conference this past weekend, two very different versions of U.S. foreign policy on display.  Former Vice President Joe Biden and current Vice President Mike Pence both spoke at the event on Saturday.  Biden, for his part, wasted no time going after the Trump administration.


JOE BIDEN, (D), FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  The America I see does not wish to turn our back on the world or our allies, our closest allies.  And I promise you, I promise you, as my mother would say, this too shall pass.  We will be back.  We will be back.  Don`t have any doubt about that.


WILLIAMS:  The night before, during an event honoring the late Senator John McCain, we want you to listen to the reaction Mike Pence got after mentioning the President.

As you listen to this reminder, this is an international audience, yes, but there were also about 50 members of Congress who made the trip to Munich, Republicans and Democrats in the room.


MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.

Last august --


WILLIAMS:  That`s about how it went.  With us to talk about it tonight, Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, who was in the room during Vice President Mike Pence`s remarks in Munich.  His latest book is titled "From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin`s Russia."

Mr. Ambassador, first of all, the speech by Mike Pence that gathered as much news as the crickets in the room there was an admonition to our oldest allies in Europe to get out of the Iran nuclear deal.  As I heard someone say this past weekend, if you didn`t think we were blowing up the standing world order, this weekend made it quite clear, and a buddy of mine in this line of work said Mike Pence is its willing executioner.

AMB. MICHAEK MCFAUL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  Brian, it was a stunning speech all around.  The Vice President was doing very little to try to explain why it`s important for us to have allies and our transatlantic partners.  He lectured them that they need to leave this deal.  That was shocking to the people sitting next to me when he said that.  And it felt like the speech was really aimed at just two people in the room, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner sitting in the front row.  It was not a speech designed to reach out to the rest of our European allies and partners there.  Quite the contrary.

WILLIAMS:  I want to read you how "The New York Times" put it.  "In the last few days of a prestigious annual security conference in Munich, the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry, and concrete, diplomats and analysts say.  A senior German official shrugged his shoulders and said "no one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or the interests of the allies.  It`s broken."

And Mr. Ambassador, for those watching tonight for whom this is important news and worrisome and troublesome, in your view, can Joe Biden`s advice be taken?  Can this be put together in your view?  Will we be back?

MCFAUL:  Well, the first thing I agree in the analysis with "The New York Times" that you just quoted.  It felt broken.

And remember, I was at the first the Vice President Pence`s speech at this conference in 2017.  Back then there was cautious optimism that there were grown-ups around.  They were going take care of this transatlantic alliance.  That was absent at this meeting.  And they`ve kind of moved on.

And I think that`s really scary for American national security interests, because we have real challengers out there.  Russia first and foremost, China for the rest of the century.  We cannot go it alone in dealing with these kinds of competitors.  That`s the first thing.

The second thing, however, yes.  The vice President Biden`s speech got tremendous applause.  By the way, Speaker Pelosi was in the room too.  And when she stood up to wave, everybody thunderous applause for her.

And there was a good news message, too.  There were, as you already said, 50 members of Congress there, Democrats, Republicans from the Senate, from the US Congress.  And I heard lots of positive remarks, especially about some of the young new members that had just been elected that came to this meeting to say we are still with you, and to remind our European allies that the Trump administration does not always speak for all Americans.

WILLIAMS:  Now to what was your last job in government and these comments in the McCabe book, the President apparently siding with Putin over US intelligence.  And let me ask you this way.  How do you, if you`re Putin, get the American president to side with you?  What does this mean Putin has succeeded at, if true?

MCFAUL:  Before I try to answer that hard question, I just want to remind your viewers how crazy this moment is.  I think we get a little numb because we`ve just been hearing it so many times, but the President of the United States is siding with Putin, somebody who sees us as the enemy against the entire intelligence community.

And I for five years worked in the US government and got up every morning and read the reports from our intelligence community, they are there to inform the leaders, the decision-makers, they`re not partisan, and yet he does this time and time again.  It`s shocking.

Now to your harder question, who did he do it?  I don`t know the answer to that.  You know, that`s partly why I think we need Mr. Mueller`s investigation to come to a conclusion, but it is remarkable and unprecedented in US history.

WILLIAMS:  Ambassador Mike McFaul, thank you, as always for coming on our broadcast and taking our questions here tonight, especially after this eventful weekend in the news business.

Coming up, as promised, as predicted, the reaction to the President`s wall emergency declaration appears to be not so fast.  That story when we come back.



XAVIER BECERRA, ATTORNEY GENERAL, CALIFORNIA:  It`s pretty clear that the President is trying to usurp Congress` authority.  The President does not have the power of the purse.  The President can`t decide to shuffle money around once Congress has allocated it.  That`s only for Congress to do, otherwise presidents for the last 240 years would have been doing the same thing.


WILLIAMS:  That was the Attorney General of California tonight.  He`s leading 16 states in a lawsuit challenging President Trump`s national emergency declaration at the border where there were protests against it in many cities today.  Congress did not give Trump the money or the authority, his plan would pull $8 billion from the US military.

Well, with us to talk about it tonight, John Harris, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of POLITICO, before that a veteran of the Washington Post, including White House Correspondent.  And Richard Painter, he was Chief White House Ethics Lawyer in the Bush 43 White House, and importantly, he is the Vice Chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed its own lawsuit just hours after the President`s announcement.

Richard, I`d like to begin with you.  There`s the moral and kind of emotional argument against this, and for it, I have to say.  But there`s also the legal argument against this.  Talk to us about that.  Does your legal argument mirror what we just heard from the California AG?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER:  Well, it`s very similar.  First, the statute, the national emergencies act does not allow this, because this is not an emergency as defined in the act.  If this is an emergency, the situation at the border, the illegal immigration issue, then just about anything could be an emergency, any policy priority of any president could be an emergency.  And that`s not the meaning of the word emergency within the act.

Second, if the act were to be so broad as to give a president the power to do this, it likely would be unconstitutional, because you would have a Congress that passes such an act that would give the president the power to override future Congresses, raid the defense budget, or any other budget, and use that money for purposes not allocated by Congress.

This is clearly illegal what the President is doing, and, you know, that`s the legal argument.  I think we need to understand, though, why we`re in this situation.  The President is not well at all mentally.  I think he`s an extreme narcissist.  He has been denied what he wants, his wall, and he is having a hissy fit.

He is out of control and he will not take no for an answer from Congress.  And he`s going do this.  He is going to insist on doing it.  He is going to tear the country apart.  It`s unconstitutional.  It`s illegal.  He is going to do enormous damage to the Republican Party which is going to split right down the middle over this, and we really need to keep in mind that this is because the President is not well.

This is a man who believes Vladimir Putin rather than his own intelligence sources.  He is not capable of doing the job.  He does need to be removed under the 25th Amendment, but he stocked his cabinet with people who are unwilling to do that, and Congress is apparently unwilling to even try to remove him through impeachment.

WILLIAMS:  John Harris, people watching may wonder how Richard and others come to the conclusion that this is not, indeed, an emergency, join us in watching this from the president`s rose garden event which may go a long way toward explaining that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I want to do it faster.  I could do the wall over a longer period of time.  I didn`t need to do this.  But I`d rather do it much faster.  The only reason we`re up here talking about this is because of the election.  This is one of the ways they think they can possibly win is nobody obstruction and a lot of other nonsense.  I think I just want the get it done faster, that`s all.


WILLIAMS:  John, how do you think based on your years of experience in that city, how a communications director would have viewed those remarks?

JOHN HARRIS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, POLITICO:  Well, probably also the legal team cringing a little bit, because you can be sure that those remarks are going to -- he is going to hear them again in court as he tries to defend the idea that this is an emergency.

You know, if I could take just a slightly different tack than Mr. Painter who says this is a sign of President Trump`s irrationality and even derangement, I think he is being fairly purposeful here.  I don`t know that he even expects to win this legal case.

Remember, it`s done for completely political reasons.  He did effectively lose the shutdown battle.  He faced a rebellion on the right.  And so he`s got to go prove to his -- to these conservatives who are willing to confront him if they saw him being weak on the wall that he is going down fighting.  I don`t think it`s an example of mental illness.  It`s probably not a great example of great constitutional law.

WILLIAMS:  So we have a counter-argument that it`s pure based politics.  Lucky for us both gentlemen have agreed to stay with us, and they`re going to stay with us over a break.

When we come back, this President has had a lot to say about taking executive action before he was the executive.  We`ll take a look and a listen to that, among other things, when we come back.



TRUMP:  He doesn`t want to get people together, you know, the old-fashioned way where you get Congress, you get the Congress, you get the Senate, you get together, you do legislation.

Nobody ever heard of an executive order.  Then all of the sudden Obama, because he couldn`t get anybody to agree with him, he starts signing them like they`re butter.

He signs executive orders because he has given up.  He can`t convince anybody to do anything, so he has given up.

The whole concept of executive order, it`s not the way the country is supposed to be run.  You`re supposed to go through Congress and make a deal, and go and talk to people and get the guys in there.  And, you know, whether you`re Republican or Democrat, you`re supposed to all get together and you`re supposed to make a deal.


WILLIAMS:  Donald Trump before he was President Trump.  Still with us, our guests John Harris and Richard Painter.

John, is this an example of a phrase of former prominent politician used to use, that is if you`re not in the presidency, every other job is the cheap seats?

HARRIS:  Well, I think it`s a case of that was then.  I mean, there are conservatives who have argued consistently for an expansion of executive power.  Donald Trump is not one of them.  This is situational, as those clips make very clear.

WILLIAMS:  But does he have -- the basic central point he`s trying to make that this is not the way we were supposed to be governed.  Does he have a point there, whatever he is doing now?

HARRIS:  No, I don`t think that the way we`re supposed to be governed is when a President is stymied in Congress, as several presidents had been over a generation, but not uniformly stymied.  Certain big legislation has gotten through.  But you`re not supposed to unilaterally declare yourself a law unto yourself.  And that`s the question that`s going to get tested in the courts, thanks to the litigation brought by independent groups and by the attorneys general.

So no, I would not say that he`s got a point that`s seems compelling to me.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Richard Painter, we know about your disagreement with this President, we know about your diagnosis of this President and the fact that you`re fighting this action by this President.  What about executive orders, as portrayed by Donald Trump?

PAINTER:  Well, there is a legitimate debate about whether both President Bush and President Obama at times went too far with executive orders, and we can have that debate.  But that speech isn`t about that debate.  That`s about Donald Trump`s hatred of Barack Obama, a hatred that was demonstrated in his repeated references to Barack Obama`s birth certificate, and repeated very derogatory comments he has made about Barack Obama, even after assuming the presidency.

Once again, I think there is a psychological obsession here with Obama, a hatred for Obama.  I don`t know what drives it, you know, it could very well be because of President Obama`s race.  But the bottom line is that President Trump now when he`s there in the cat bird seat, he is going to do whatever he wants because he wants that wall.  He`s never in his life been told he can`t have what he wants, whether it`s a woman he wants to grab or whether it`s a wall he wants.

And Congress is telling him he can`t have the wall, and he is going to insist on getting it anyway he can, whether he tramples on our constitution or not.  And it`s going to be up to the courts to tell him he can`t have it. 

WILLIAMS:  John Harris and the always -- yes, John?

HARRIS:  Well, Brian, just to make clear, there is a big difference between the aggressive use of executive powers as President Obama and President Trump, and president bush have done and declaring emergency powers.  I think those are two very different things.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  John Harris, and the always reserved as I was going say Richard Painter, gentlemen, thank you both for joining us on this holiday Monday night.  We appreciate it.

And coming up for us, a lot of talk about the youth movement in the Democratic Party, but the leader in most of the polls is a man who would celebrate his 80th birthday during his theoretical first term in office.  Our look at the new numbers when we come back.


[15:00:00] WILLIAMS:  Presidential candidates took their message on the road for Presidents` Day weekend.  Candidates crisscrossed the country.  There they are, answering questions in spaces as intimate as living rooms and as large as town halls.  New numbers out from Emerson College up in Boston show two people leading the pack haven`t even announced yet.

According to their polling, former Vice President Joe Biden is out front with 27 percent support.  Behind him in second place, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, 17 percent.  For the sake of clarity, let`s repeat, Sanders isn`t a Democrat, but he certainly ran as one last time against Hillary Clinton.

In third place, California Senator Kamala Harris with 15 percent, no other Democratic candidate breaks double digits.  According to the New York Times, there`s this.  President Obama has been quietly dispensing some advice to fellow Democrats.  Polls currently rank the former president and former first lady, Michelle Obama, as the most admired people in our country.

The Emerson Poll puts Democrats ahead of Trump generally and generically, but they also test the Schultz factor, which speaks to the deepest fears of a lot of Democrats that Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame, running as an independent, would split the vote and hand Donald Trump a reelection victory, something Schultz has vowed not to do.  For example, with Schultz in the race, Kamala Harris falls behind Trump while Joe Biden, if he`s in the race, still maintains an edge.

Of course, the usual caveats apply.  It is early yet, Biden is not in the race.  In these days, a week is the equivalent of a year in politics.

Coming up for us, what the President`s daughter looks like when her father is being criticized on the world stage.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, a moment of discomfort for Ivanka Trump and her husband as presented by the Chancellor of Germany.  First, some background.

The US is threatening to raise tariffs on German cars on the grounds that they are somehow a threat to our national security.  And while some of us are die-hard fans of American cars, there`s just no question that Germany makes some great cars like BMWs and Audis.  They`re very nice.  They tend to be very luxurious, loaded with technology and with a better-than-average ride.

In the case of BMW, they are actually a huge American employer.  They`re responsible for close to 10,000 jobs in South Carolina.  And so, Angela Merkel in a tough speech to that Munich Security Conference, with the first daughter and her husband looking on, both advisers to the president, went through a list of grievances over the Trump administration.

She said the US-led global order has collapsed.  And then in her speech, she turned to BMW as a threat to America`s national security.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translation):  Apparently, the American Secretary of Trade says German cars are a threat to America`s national security.  We`re proud of our automotive industry and I think we can be.  We`re proud of our cars.  They are built in the United States of America, South Carolina is one of the largest, it`s actually the largest BMW plant not in Bavaria.  South Carolina is supplying China.

So when these cars, that`s because they`re built in South Carolina, are not becoming less threatening rather than the ones built in Bavaria, are supposed to be a threat to the national security of America, it is a bit of a shock to us.


WILLIAMS:  The Chancellor of Germany, the Senior Adviser to the President, and the German cars that are made in South Carolina.

That will take us off the air for our holiday Monday broadcast tonight as we start a new week.  Thank you for being here with us.  Good night from NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Happy Monday, Happy President`s Day.

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