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Manafort awaits sentencing date. TRANSCRIPT: 2/21/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Josh Gerstein, Jill Colvin, Nelson Cunningham, Jim Warren

MARCI HAMILTON, CEO AND ACADEMIC DIRECTOR, CHILD USA:  There are so many of them.  It`s only fair to reopen this and to start over again.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Marci Hamilton and Mimi Rocah thank you both for joining us tonight.  That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Roger Stone avoids jail time, but the federal judge he attacks on social media put the hammer down today and has tightened a gag order on a man who lives to talk.  We`ve got a reporter who was in the courtroom standing by.

Plus Michael Cohen`s surprise appearance on Capitol Hill ahead of his three hearings next week, one of them public, and Michael Cohen has stories to tell about Donald Trump.

Plus all these stories that the Mueller report is about to come out.  A lot could happen next week and potentially while the President is on the other side of the world rekindling his relationship with the North Korean director.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.

And good evening, once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 763 of the Trump administration and we begin tonight with the fallout on virtually all the members of Donald Trump`s circle of friends, family, employees, advisors, Roger Stone was in federal court today facing a federal judge.  And the Roger Stone on display tonight, sorrowful, contrite, apologetic, had no resemblance to the man who made his bones on the underside of politics.

Donald Trump`s bombastic, feudalistic friend of 40 years appeared to be a very different man today.  That`s because he was forced to answer for this.  He posted this graphic with accompanying inflammatory language on social media a few days ago.  And any graphic featuring a photo of the federal judge hearing your case with a gun sight style cross hair depiction in the upper left-hand corner is going to draw the attention of the court.

As one veteran lawyer put it tonight, the judge today didn`t give Roger Stone what he deserved, she did what was prudent.  In a surprise move, he took the stand.  There wasn`t supposed to be testimony, per se, at today`s hearing but he got up and apologized for what he did and for violating the gag order he was already under.

Saying and we quote, "I believe I abused the order for which I am heartfully sorry.  I am kicking myself over my own stupidity.  I believe the lapse of judge was the outgrowth of the extreme stress of the situation.  I`m being treated for emotional stress. I`m having trouble putting food on the table and paying the rent."

Stone testified he did not select the image on the posting but he did take responsibility.  Judge Jackson then quizzed him about the photo and the images that he posted and who might have up loaded it to his social media account if not him.  She also asked him if he or his employees knew how to do a Google search and she added, "How hard was it to come up with a photograph that didn`t have crosshairs in the corner?"  Stone replied, "Your Honor, I didn`t recognize it as crosshairs.  I thought -- I didn`t even notice it until it was brought to my attention by a reporter."

The judge eventually told Stone she found his explanations, "not credible" and then tightened the gag order he was already under saying, "the defendant may not speak publicly about the investigation or the case or any of the participants in the investigation or the case.  No statements about the case during T.V. -- during interviews on T.V., on the radio, with print reporters, or on internet-based media.  No press releases or press conferences, no blogs or letters to the editor, no posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or any other form of social media.  Today I give you a second chance.  But this is not baseball.  There will not be a third chance."

Stone has been free on bail since his arrest last month after the raid on his home.  Seven counts.  Today he could have lost his freedom.

Some veteran Stone watchers said today we might be witnessing a turning point for this man.


KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTEL. & NATL. SEC REPORTER:  Roger Stone`s worlds are colliding right now.  You know, he was living in the political world.  He`s nation propagator.  He didn`t understand that there would come a time where he would be sitting in front of a federal judge who would be grilling him.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER:  In the political world people say, oh, tat, tat, no you shouldn`t -- that`s bad, you shouldn`t do that.  But there`s not a set of established penalties that exists.  Dealing with a federal judge is not the same thing as dealing with a candidate you`re running against.

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOC. EDITOR & COLUMNIST:  You know, it`s always do what you can and what you can get away with until you get caught.  He doesn`t care any.  And he`s the ultimate defiant sort of dirt bag.


WILLIAMS:  Donald Trump relied on his close friend services in the early days of his campaign for the presidency.  But earlier this month, Trump tried to distance himself from his friend of 40 years.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Roger Stone didn`t work on the campaign except way, way at the beginning, long before we`re talking about.  Roger and somebody that I`ve always liked.  A lot of people like Roger.  Some people probably don`t like Roger.  But Roger Stone, somebody I`ve always like.  I mean, Roger is a character.


WILLIAMS:  The problem is that Netflix documentary called "Get Me Roger Stone" shows just how long Roger Stone and his one-time partner have been focused on the goal of getting Donald Trump into the White House.


ROGER STONE, LOBBYIST:  In 1987, I suggested that Trump should explore a bid for the presidency.

I was like a jockey looking for a horse.  You can`t win the race if you don`t have a horse and he`s a prime piece of political horse flesh in my view.

PAUL MANAFORT, FMR. TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:  Roger saw the value of the outsider image.  He saw the value of somebody who brought business experience to the political process.  He saw somebody that nobody else saw.

Once he had conversations with Trump about that, Trump started to take seriously that, yes, maybe he should run.


WILLIAMS:  Well, that gentleman right there, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort now a convicted felony learned he`ll be sentenced March 8 in Virginia for his convictions in just that jurisdiction for bank and tax fraud.  He also awaits his other sentencing date, March 13, in a separate Mueller case in Washington where he pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.

He`s also been hit with additional charges of lying to federal prosecutors and a grand jury during his cooperation sessions.  Mueller is expected to file a sentencing memo in that case in the Manafort case tomorrow.  So in effect we will know how harsh a sentence prosecutors are looking for.

And former Trump attorney Michael Cohen has added more Congressional testimony to his schedule.  He turned up in Washington today.  Tuesday he`ll have a closed door session with the Senate Intelligence Committee.  That`s in addition to his public appearance Wednesday before House Oversight and then a private session, close door, with the House Intel Committee on Thursday.

Let us bring in our leadoff panel for another busy Thursday night, former U.S attorney Joyce Vance, a courtroom veteran who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.  Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the ""New York Times".  And Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs contributor for "Politico" who was inside the courtroom for today`s proceedings.

And, Josh, that`s where I`d like to begin.  What was it like, what was he like?

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, it was a moment of high courtroom drama when we heard that Stone was going to take the stand.  It wasn`t something that people expected.  But as you alluded to in the intro, Brian, it seems that Stone doesn`t do abject contrition and kind of graveling apology very well.  His talents are in the realm of provocation and this was not a place to pursue that kind of a strategy.

And so to see him sitting there on the witness stand questioned by his own lawyer, questioned by prosecutors, cross-examined by a prosecutor and questioned by the judge, he seemed a bit shaken by the experience.  He seemed rattled at one point.  He was breathing rather heavily into the microphone and he insisted as we discussed that all these apologies were genuine but the judge wasn`t having much of it.

She made clear pretty early on that she wasn`t buying it.  She said his explanations were evolving even during that hearing today.  And a lot of it frankly just didn`t sound particularly credible when he said that he almost immediately realized that this was a mistake and that he needed to take this down and he should never have done it.

The problem was he went onto give two days of interviews where he essentially defended the basic thrust of his remarks and said that the media was making a mountain out of a mole hill.  And the judge didn`t see how those things could really be consistent.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Joyce, if you saw any cable news today, you know there was a ton of second guessing what the Joyce -- what the judge could have done, what she did because there`s being a federal judge and everybody else is in the cheap seats, you, I know, saw a potential trap in today`s proceedings.  What was that?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  I think the judge handled this just right.  If she had revoked his bond and put him in jail, he would have likely then argued that she had found that he had threatened her, that she could no longer fairly sit on this case and give him an impartial trial.  He would have tried to appeal that issue and knock her out from the trial.

I don`t think he would have ultimately been successful.  But he could have tied the case up in the appellant courts for a long time.  Roger Stone style, he could have done a lot of incredible damage to the court`s integrity, could have convinced more of Trump`s base not to have confidence in the outcome of the trial.

So the way she handled it today, she sort of gave him the last warning.  And if he violates the pretrial release conditions again, she`ll then be well within her rights to put him in custody pending trial and he won`t be in that same posture where he can argue she is biased.  So I think today`s outcome was just the right one, even though I understand that there were people who thought she should have taken him into custody.

WILLIAMS:  Peter, as you well know, Roger Stone and his friend of four decades, Donald Trump, kind of live off the oxygen of public discourse often one sided.  On top of Roger Stone, what must be a deathly fear of going away for many years, there`s now a fear that he won`t be allowed to be Roger Stone.

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  No, that`s exactly right.  Obviously a gag order is a whole lot better than a jail term right now.  But for a man who said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, a gag order is actually a pretty substantial penalty.  He makes his living, he says, off of that, but more importantly his identity is tied up in the idea of being a provocateur as Josh said.  His whole identity is tied up in the idea of speaking out, saying outrageous things and getting people to pay attention and so on anf so forth.

So now, he`s under a penalty that goes to the heart of who he is.  So obviously he`s walking out of court today.  That`s a better outcome for him than being sent away to a jail cell.  But this is something that is, you know, a penalty of its own for a man like Roger Stone.

WILLIAMS:  Josh, I want to put up the graphic on the screen again showing the federal judge and in the upper left-hand corner this depiction of crosshairs for folks watching Monday night.  I reported that our standards folks had barred it from our air waves but they have apparently thought better of that decision and thought it a little less threatening now that it`s been out in the public discourse.

I want to see it because I`m going to read you part of what you witnessed in court today about whether or not that`s crosshairs.  Judge Jackson talking to Roger Stone, "Why are you now saying it`s a Celtic symbolic?"  Apparently he was going for it all still.  Stone, "Because I researched it and that`s how it comes up."  Judge Jackson, "Haven`t you also said publicly that it was actually an occult symbolic?  Stone, "It`s a Celtic occult symbol, it`s the same thing."  Judge Jackson, "What does it mean?"  Stone, "I don`t know Your Honor.  I`m not into the occult."

It just proves to you, though, he was in it to win it, Josh.

GERSTEIN:  Yes.  I mean, he was trying to offer up defenses even as he said his apology was unqualified and he wasn`t making excuses.  So he was in a very difficult spot.  There was a point in which when the judge was reading her sort of verdict on him today he looked back over his shoulder at the couple of the, rather, burly federal marshals who were standing behind him who were clearly ready to take him into custody.  You know, the judge used the phrase at one point, if you don`t get the message here, I have things I can do to -- I think it was adjust your environment, was the term she used.

So I think if he wasn`t scared by what happened in court today, the judge was pretty clear that if anything like this happens again, he`ll be either looking at a jail cell or some kind of a very severe form of house arrest.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  Federal courtrooms usually have a way of focusing the mind as Joyce Vance knows well.

Joyce, I want to pivot a little bit into Mr. Cohen previewing the hearings at least the one we`re going to get to see on live television next week.  Switch sides for me and if you were hired as chief counsel for the Democrats doing the questioning, how do you take a guy like that and embrace and own the fact that he lied for Donald Trump?

VANCE:  You don`t have to embrace him very tightly because of course if you`re the chief counsel for the Democrats, you never chose Michael Cohen as your witness.  Donald Trump chose Michael Cohen as your witness and that`s how you treat him throughout the proceedings.  You do have to establish his credibility and I think with Cohen it`s fairly simple.

Cohen if he lies at this point will go to jail for much longer.  He will face additional charges, potentially for perjury and he will look at more time.  Right now he has a manageable sentence.  There`s some possibility that if he continues to cooperate, the government could come back in and ask for a further reduction in that sentence.

So Cohen has every incentive to tell the truth.  But he`s still in for a rocky ride.  The Republicans are, I think, going to go after his credibility throughout the entire hearing.

WILLIAMS:  And, Joyce, is there one area of questioning out there that just looms out there that you`re surprised no one has gone down, no one has written about, is there anything you would want to go after him on?

VANCE:  You know, the problem with Cohen is that he`s such a target rich environment and the most that he has to offer is his personal interaction with the President and his ability to put the President right at center court.  So far there`s been a lot of evidence that`s become public that people are still asking questions like what did the President know and when did he know it?  Was the President involved personally in these negotiations with Russia?  Michael Cohen is probably the man who can answer a lot of those questions and it will be very interesting to see if he does that when he testifies on the Hill.

WILLIAMS:  And Peter Baker, back to your beat on Pennsylvania Avenue.  It`s very possible, we have split screen coverage next week of, one, Donald Trump in Vietnam with the dictator of North Korea and his long-time personal family company lawyer in Washington, D.C., that has to be at very minimum a distraction for the traveling White House?

BAKER:  Yeah, absolutely.  It`s a big deal when a President goes overseas to meet with a foreign leader, particularly one like North Korea.  No President had met with any North Korean dictator until Donald Trump came along.

And to have this sort of, as you say, split screen story going on, is rather extraordinary.  Not novel in this particular administration.  I was on the plane with him when he left for Saudi Arabia amid reports that he had just met with the Russian minister after firing Jim Comey.  He had said that releases the pressure on me and another report that Jared Kushner might or might not be under scrutiny.

Another time when he, of course, was in England meeting with the queen, it was the exact same moment that Rod Rosenstein came out and announced the indictment of a dozen Russian agents who interfered according to Robert Mueller in the American election.  So he has seen this before and it`s absolutely a distraction because of course it focuses attention away from the very important and serious issues that he`s going to be confronting when he gets to Hanoi.

WILLIAMS:  Our great thanks to our initial three guests tonight.  To Joyce Vance, to Peter Baker, to Josh Gerstein, especially Josh after the day you`ve had in court, thank you all very much.

GERSTEIN:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up for us, with this heightened anticipation surrounding a Mueller report, sooner rather than later, if these stories are to be believed, Congress wants their say as well.

And later the President about to leave the country, as we said, during what promises to be an unusually eventful week even by these standards.  As we are fond of asking, what could go wrong?  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this particular Thursday evening.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  And as we`ve reported, several sources, government officials among them, have told NBC News that Robert Mueller`s work is nearly done.  And he`ll likely submit a report to the Attorney General, Bill Barr, in the next week or so.  From there, Barr would presumably review the report, decide what information might become public.

Earlier today Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told USA Today it`s been weeks since Mueller`s team had contacted the President`s attorneys, "We expect something in the next two weeks," Giuliani said.  He said the legal team has been preparing a report of its own that, depending on Mueller`s findings may be made public.  "If Mueller clears the President, we walk away and say, thank you.  If it`s damaging, then we will respond."

Also today former Acting U.S. Solicitor General, Neal Katyal, who was our chief lawyer before the Supreme Court and who at the Department of Justice helped draft the original special counsel rules of the road wrote an op-ed in the  "New York Times" about what we might expect from Mueller`s report.

He writes this, "The report is unlikely to be a dictionary thick tome which will disappoint some observers but such brevity is not necessarily good news for the President.  In fact, quite the opposite.  A concise Mueller report might act as a road map to investigation for the Democratic House of Representatives, and it might also lead to further criminal investigation by other prosecutors.  A short Mueller report would mark the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end."

For more with us tonight, Jill Colvin, White House reporter for the Associated Press.  And Nelson Cunningham, former federal prosecutor and alumni of the Clinton administration, he`s also former General Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Welcome to you both.

Jill, is the White House near ready for this report to come out?  And as you guys say, if I`m allowed a followup, how could they be?

JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  The White House is certainly ready for the Mueller investigation to be over.  This has been a cloud that has been hanging over the President`s head since the day he took office.  He has been very eager for this to all be over.

The question of course is whether even if -- even after Mueller submits his report, whether it actually will be over as Neal argued in that "New York Times" op-ed.  Even if this is a very brief, very short piece of summary that winds up being released to the American public after Mueller submits his report to the Attorney General and if the Attorney General then decides to release some of it publicly, there`s still so many tentacles of this investigation that could continue in a various investigations in different courts by different governments that could continue on long after the Mueller report is over.

That said, you know, the White House has been very careful to try to distance itself from anything to do with the Mueller investigation.  You have to remember that this has been an administration with a tremendous amount of turnover.  So, there aren`t that many individuals currently serving in the White House who worked in the campaign and there aren`t that many who worked in the White House at the time of, you know, the Flynn back and forth and all of that in the early days when some of the obstruction of justice, you know, accusations were circling.

And as a result, they`ve really tried to push all of the P.R., all of the pushback to the outside counsel, and specifically to Rudy Giuliani, the person whom the President hired to be his attack dog in cable television, who spent months and months and months now trying to discredit the Mueller team, trying to discredit this investigation.  And Giuliani has been out there, you know, saying that if they`re unsatisfied with Mueller`s findings, they`ve got their own report that they`re going to put out.  They`re trying to undermine whatever Mueller`s findings are.

But as we knew of the last couple of weeks, there`s been a lot of discontent around the White House among allies of the President concerned that Giuliani is not the right person and has been not effective in defending the President.  And at this point, that`s who the President has got on his team.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Nelson, Jill`s news organization along with few others has been very cautious about the reporting on this.  Some are going all in just stating as a fact the report is coming out.  Mueller`s work is about to wrap up.

I noted with great interest some comments you made to one of our producers.  You`re a contrarian on this and you`re not sure at all that it`s coming to a rapid end?

NELSON CUNNINGHAM, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Well, I asked myself why now?  Why would this be the time that Mueller would choose to conclude his investigation and issue his report?

He`s just indicted Roger Stone.  Roger Stone could someday be a cooperative witness.  Now, he`d be -- Mueller would be crazy to ever put Roger Stone on a witness stand because the man is a walking credibility gap.  But Stone could give him an amazing road map to what the President told him, what he said to Assange, what he said to Corsi, lay it all out and then give Mueller the ability to then go and develop the further evidence, classic technique, why end when the Roger Stone story isn`t done.

We have that Supreme Court case over in D.C. Circuit case over the last several months furiously litigating Mueller trying to get evidence from a state-owned foreign corporation.  That hasn`t been done yet.  He hasn`t gotten that evidence yet.  You got the Corsi piece of litigation out there, you`ve got Miller who was sued doing it.

There`s a lot of loose ends here.  Why now?  The only reason people can point to is, well, Rod Rosenstein is about to resign.  But -- and Rosenstein has been the gatekeeper and the protector of the Mueller investigation, but Bob Barr is now in the Attorney General seat.  And Barr is by all lights, a principled man, a very serious solid mainstream lawyer.

And more to the point, he`s also an old friend of Bob Mueller`s.  They served together in the Bush 41 Justice Department.  Bob Barr described him as, "a good friend" in his confirmation hearings.  I think Mueller even attended Barr`s daughter`s weddings.

So Mueller should trust Barr to handle the report properly.  Why do it now?  It doesn`t quite fit for me.  But it could be true.

WILLIAMS:  Jill, to my ears, there were way more than enough quotes in what Nelson just said for a Dandy Ap piece on the Mueller investigation.  But anyway, let`s keep this in context, Jill.  Even if these reports are correct that it is coming to a rapid end, you`ve got everything else.  You have a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and you have these spin-off cases including but not limited to, the Justice Department`s New York office, the Southern District of New York.

COLVIN:  Exactly.  So even if -- even when this case comes to a close and to be clear, I mean, all indications are that this now is wrapping up at some point, you know, whether this happens before or after the President`s trip to Vietnam for his second North Korea summit, it is expected to be wrapping up sometime soon.  There are signals that that is the direction that this is headed in.  And this is by no means the end of this.

And we`ve already got the two other investigations that we know of, the Michael Cohen investigation that`s working its way through the Southern District of New York.  We`ve got that investigation into the President`s inauguration fund and whether he was accepting the -- that inauguration fund was accepting illegal contributions from foreign governments.  We have at this point it`s unclear what Mueller might tell us about other threads, other, you know, investigations, other leads that he might have for the Justice Department to pursue but also for other agencies to pursue.

We also of course have the Democrats who are now in charge with subpoena power in the House.  And as Neal argues in that "New York Times" op-ed, you could have Mueller report essentially serving a sort of a road map.  For all of those different investigators, of all of these different trails that they could do down, all of these different areas, and what`s different between the Mueller investigation and for instance, you know, the House Democratic Committee is that the President has no purview over the House Democratic Committees.  The President has no purview over what for instance the New York attorney general decides to do.

And so this saga for the President, his legal saga, it doesn`t appear to be anywhere close to being over as the President hopes.

WILLIAMS:  Nelson, I`m fascinated by what you just said about the Attorney General and I want to go back at that as my last question to you.  This A.G. has, as I see it, three audiences, the American public, members of Congress, and the man who just appointed him attorney general.

Do you think if we took a poll of guys of your age and ilk and similar resume, they would view him as a steady institutionalist, they would express the kind of hope in him that you just did, because the members of the opposition are going to be looking at this Attorney General with yearning in their eyes, with hope in their eyes that he does, when called upon by history and Robert Mueller, the right thing.

CUNNINGHUM: Certainly, Barr`s reputation in Washington, going back to the Reagan years, going back to the Bush 41 years, is of a very serious sober mainstream lawyer.  He then went onto serve as general counsel for some great companies.  He`s had a great career.  It`s hard to believe that a man like this would want to go out and end his clear.

He didn`t have to come back and be attorney general for a second time.  He had done that job when he was in his 40s.  Why come back and do it a second time?  Only to handle it in a way that most lawyers that he knows would think was a swing and a miss.  Hard to believe that he would not handle it in the straight-up, straightforward fashion that say we might have expected from a Rod Rosenstein.

Again, another serious lawyer who believes in the law enforcement and believed in the principles of a Justice Department.

WILLIAMS:  What a terrific conversation we`re indebted to you both for having it, Jill Colvin and Nelson Cunningham, thank you both for coming on tonight.  We appreciate it.

CUNNINGHAM:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up, Michael Cohen`s testimony just one item as we said on a crowded calendar ahead, a preview of what`s shaping up to be, as we like to call them, another consequential week.


WILLIAMS:  We`re looking ahead to a high stakes week in politics.  President Trump travels to Vietnam for his second summit with the North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un.  Vice President Pence will be in Columbia, Jared Kushner headed to the Middle East to present his peace plan which will include a meeting with Saudi Arabia`s MBS, Mohammed Bin Salman.

The point here is not that Ivanka is going to be left to run the country.  The point instead has to do with a number of foreign policy priorities and potential huge distractions while things heat up back home starting with Michael Cohen`s testimony next week.  He`s a man with a lot to say, as weave said.  We could be looking at a week of split screen coverage taking place against the backdrop of reports that the Mueller report is expected soon.

He`s a man with a lot to say as we`ve said.  We could be looking at a week of split screen television coverage, taking place against the backdrop of increasing reports, as you may have heard mentioned earlier in this hour that the Mueller report is expected soon.

With us to talk about all of it, Jim Warren, a Veteran Print Journalist, now Executive Editor of the new start up called NewsGuard that rates the veracity of news and information sites.  And Jonathan Allen, also a Political Veteran Journalist, he is our -- well, he is a veteran political journalist.  He is not terribly political as a person or an employee.  He happens to be our National Political Reporter.  And, gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Jon, rate the stakes as we head into next week.  We say this about every passing week, how consequential they all are.  This is one of the few cases where just a glance at the calendar does set ourselves, our stars up pretty nicely.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  I mean, the calendar is like an escalating tournament in Vegas, Brian, where every week just more and more chips get pushed in.  But it does feel like we`re getting towards those later rounds and the President and Robert Mueller, and Vice President Pence, and Jared Kushner are just putting more and more and more chips on the table.

Look, the President is desperate for a win right now.  He went to North Korea -- well, he went to Singapore to meet with North Korea Leader Kim Jong-un last summer.  I was there for that.  I`ll be in Vietnam next week for this summit.  He wants a win desperately and badly.

Last summer he declared a victory.  Since then, Kim Jong-un has continued to pursue his nuclear program.  There was a deal announced but no actual deal.  I think we can expect perhaps something like that again from President Trump even though his own senior administration officials are telling us that this is just another step in the process.

And at the same time back home, he`s going to be dealing with Michael Cohen testifying on Capitol Hill.  He`s going to be dealing with the expectation as you`ve been talking about on this program all night that Robert Mueller is getting closer, perhaps, to dropping this report on all of his findings.  You`ve got Roger Stone who is back in court today obviously not having his bond revoked quite yet, but maybe eventually having his bond revoked.

All of these things are coming together, Brian, and the President is desperate for a victory, and that makes the stakes of all of this so high and it also puts him in a weaker position when he`s negotiating with Kim Jong-un just like it does in all of his international negotiations.

WILLIAMS:  Jim Warren, ancillary fun fact one of the reasons this is being held in Vietnam, they`re not sure, any of the aircraft, the buckets of bolts that are part of Air Un, the aircraft available to the dictator can make it as far west as Europe, some of the capital cities where you would normally have a summit like this.  So they meet again in Asia.

OK.  That was fun fact number one.  Question to you is, aren`t we in the market for a massive shiny objective given everything we`re going to be covering in Washington next week?

JIM WARREN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, NEWSGUARD:  Well, fun fact number two, for the third consecutive time I`ve been on this show, I come to you from Broadway this time having seen the rival of Ethan Hawk, a Sam Shepard`s True West, two hours of mutual destruction.

WILLIAMS:  Oh good.  So you`re ready for next week?

WARREN:  Yes -- of two brothers, one an outlaw, one a good (inaudible).  So you brought up the whole notion of the interesting substantive and optical split screen dynamic of next week.  What`s fascinating to me is to think 12-hour time difference, between Hanoi and Washington, so just about the time that he`s either testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee or House Oversight Committee.  Figure it`s about 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 pm in Hanoi.

Do we really expect -- I don`t know, Jon Allen, how we bet on this on Vegas.  Do we really truly expect the President to go to bed in the hotel or wherever he is in Hanoi?  What happens when as they come back from lunch and it`s about one or two in the morning?  Do we expect any sort of self- restraint as he sits there watching MSNBC, CNN, Fox whatever he`s going to watch?

And Michael Cohen with perhaps the same sort of implicit venom that one sees in the Sam Shepard play, starts answering questions about what did he tell you and when.  And here`s someone sitting a long way away who craves the limelight for Bill Shine, former Fox News Executive now White House Communications Director.  This is going to be a really interesting challenge, how do you deflect our attention, how do you deflate the potency what may be the potency of the Cohen testimony with over everybody`s shoulder, as you noted the Mueller report. 

WILLIAMS:  Another great question.  Would anyone in Vegas have bet on it snowing in Vegas this past week?  Both gentlemen have agreed to stay here with us.  We`ll continue our questioning right after this.


WILLIAMS:  Just to finish a point, that is snow on the Luxor, on the strip in Las Vegas to the surprise of many.  What are the odds?

Back to our subject at hand, if anything our President has been spooling up his attacks on news media in our free society to an even greater degree in these last few days, most notable his response to the New York Times report about the President`s efforts to disrail and derail and discredit the investigations around him.

He wrote on Twitter the New York Times reporting is false.  They are a true enemy of the people.  It prompted this front page from another of his hometown papers today.  And this from the New York Daily News Editorial Board, "At a time when partisans already too often make their own reality, in a world where dictators jail and torture dissidents, the so-called leader of the free world seeks to brand inconvenient truths as threats to the state.  Among many symptom turning legacies, it`s his most sickening."

There is a statement, Jim Warren, from the publisher of the New York Times, Mr. Sulzberger, the multi-generation family of publishers.  We`re going to put it on the screen talking back to the President.

The phrase "enemy of the people" is not just false, it`s dangerous.  It has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants who sought to control public information, and it is particularly reckless coming from someone whose office gives him broad powers to fight or imprison the nation`s enemies.

We had this whack job this week.  White supremacist threat a number of people you and I both know in our business.  This is serious business.  You`re in the news truth business.

WARREN:  Yes.  Well, interesting.  We know and Jon knows too that every single president we`ve covered is always grousing about the unfair treatment they get from the press, every single one, Barack Obama all the time, Jimmy Carter all the time, everybody.


WARREN:  The difference here, obviously, is signaling us out and attempting essentially delegitimize us.  There`s the difference.

But the ironies are so right particularly when it comes to the New York Times and the response to the 38-year-old 5th generation Sulzberger who, you know, essentially pleaded with him to stop doing this.  This is a guy from Queens even though he`s from, you know, a fancy neighborhood, Jamaica Heights, who craves the imprimatur, who craves the adulation of his big hometown paper.

He is also a guy, let us not forget, that has been in some ways more accessible to us than anybody.  It`s not even a close second the number of interviews he gives.  And it`s not just to Fox News, it`s not just, you know, Fox and Friends and Good Morning, it`s even to the New York Times and Washington Post which he claims to hate.

He has taken pedestrian traditions that we have all been involved in, like the pool spray, the president of the United States with some dignitary, get to comment for 30 seconds, take a few photos, then you`re, you know, ushered out of the room.  He`s taken that as a means to just gab about anything he wants to gab.  There was a pool spray at a cabinet meeting, remember, a month or so ago.


WARREN:  He went on for about an hour.  So the irony is, to me, is incredibly substantial.  He craves our adulation.  When he doesn`t get it, he lashes out.

WILLIAMS:  Jon, overseas trips often afford a chance for a pull aside time to get to know the person you`re covering better.  In such a setting, is he likely to treat you folks as enemies of the people?

ALLEN:  I doubt there`s going to be a lot of one-on-one time for most reporters with the President or even a small handful of us.  It looks like Sean Hannity from Fox will get an interview with the President.  It`s possible there will be a press conference at some point during that period.  And he`s been generally speaking on foreign trips available to the press in that format.  He likes to do those.  They tend to be pretty expansive and pretty woolen.

Press access is not a problem with this President.  The attacks on the media have been part of a pattern with him.  If he doesn`t like what he`s hearing from Democrats, he labels them enemies.  When he doesn`t like what he reads the in the press whether it`s true or not, he labels them enemies.  When he doesn`t like what he hears from his own political appointees, whether you`re talking about Jeff Sessions or you`re talking about Cliff Sims who just wrote a book about him, or you are talking about Michael Cohen, he labels them rats and enemies.

This is somebody who attacks the person that says something bad about him whether it`s true or not.  In this case the enemy of the President is not the press, it is the truth.

WARREN:  And I think it`s also interesting and we`re going to find out when you guys cover like a blanket the 2020 campaign, to what extent is this premeditatedly or inadvertently setting the tone for even greater hostility among his supporters toward all of us.  You only have to go talk to your colleague, Katy Tur, you can talk to the BBC cameraman who got slugged in El Paso recently, to what extent will this animus toward us which he has exploded, he ratcheted it up in the next campaign.  That`s something for us to be able anxious about.

WILLIAMS:  Two great writers, friends of this broadcast, Jim Warren, Jonathan Allen, thank you both for coming on.

Coming up, a potential change to the new Congress and a big change in North Carolina.



MARK HARRIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA, CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  Through the testimony I`ve listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called.  It`s become clear to me that the public`s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.


WILLIAMS:  That was a surprise and it came after days of testimony concerning the results of North Carolina`s 9th Congressional District election.  Republican Mark Harris, that man, won on election night technically, a narrow victor over Democrat Dan McCready, that has been under investigation ever since.  This week`s hearing has been looking into allegations that that man`s team was guilty of ballot fraud.

At the center of those accusations is a political operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, who allegedly hired people to collect and tamper with absentee ballots.  For weeks, Harris urged the election board to certify his victory.  He argued the number of manipulated ballots was not near enough to overturn the results.

Today`s sudden turn of events came one day after Harris` own son, who happens to be an assistant US attorney, took the stand.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You had suspicions from -- about McCrae Dowless from the start.

JOHN HARRIS, MARK HARRIS` SON:  Yes, since the 2016 primary election based on those results.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And you`ve expressed that to your father?

J. HARRIS:  I did.  I told him that collecting ballots was a felony.


WILLIAMS:  Yesterday, Mark Harris was visibly upset while his own son testified.  Today the elder Harris, who once had reason to believe he would have the title congressman prior to his name, tried to explain why he continued to work with Dowless despite his son`s verbal and e-mailed warnings.


M. HARRIS:  Obviously I read these e-mails today in a very different intellectual light than when I read them when my 27-year-old son, who is a sharp attorney and very strange --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Extremely sharp.

M. HARRIS:  Extremely sharp.  But I`m his dad and I know he`s a little judgmental and has a little taste of arrogance and some other things.


WILLIAMS:  But later Harris, an evangelical minister, admitted he had misspoken about those e-mails in earlier testimony and called for a new election.  The state`s election board quickly unanimously voted to toss out the November results.  They`re going to start over.  The district will hold a new election, including a primary election, a general election probably won`t take place until the fall.

If this all sounds and looks unusual, it is.  There hasn`t been a rerun in a federal election for a seat in Congress in more than 40 years.  Another break for us.

Coming up, why it was today millions of people thought they`d lost a small piece of their youth.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight begins as we often have to with a full disclosure.  This will matter most to those of a certain age because the man we`re about to remember mattered greatly when we were young, and that would be Peter Tork.

The LA Times headline got it right today when it called him a real musician who also played one on TV.  Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz made up the Monkees.  Tork was the bass player and occasional vocalist.

And the Monkees were huge, despite the fact they were born with a kind of original sin that wasn`t their fault at all.  They were created.  They were cast like actors by the veteran producer Don Kirshner.  And then they were assembled for a TV show as unscreened players and not real musicians.

This was back when the Beatles telegenic exploits became the stuff of feature films.  The Monkees were literally supposed to play along while their initial hits were written, produced and performed by others.

If the Beatles were the Fab Four, the Monkees were derided in the business as the Prefab Four.  But then after the Monkees sold out the Beatles in 1967, and that happened, the four men slowly took over their own destiny as musicians, as artists.

Peter Tork was a talented bass player born -- Peter Thorkelson, in Washington, D.C. during World War II, the son of an economics professor, a serious musician who played the goofball on the show.  Davy Jones died in 2012.  Tork has (ph) survived by the other two serious musicians, Micky Dolenz and the prolific Michael Nesmith who this year are back out on the road even though their friend, Peter Tork is gone at the age of 77.  That is our broadcast for tonight.  We thank you for being here with us.  And good night from 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