Awaiting Mueller sentencing memo for Manafort. TRANSCRIPT: 2/22/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Glenn Kirschner, Carol Leonnig, Tal Kopan, Philip Elliott, GabbyOrr

JENNIFER RUBIN, AMERICAN JOURNALIST:  Nothing seems to matter anymore --

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST:  Yes.

RUBIN:  -- to the media.

REID:  Yes, indeed.  Now a second friend, Robert Kraft, it`s pretty remarkable, two of the three stories today friends of Donald Trump, wild.  (INAUDIBLE), Jennifer Rubin, thank you both very much.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  You can check me out on "A.M. JOY" Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 am.  And this Sunday, I will have a one on one interview with California Senator and presidential candidate, Kamala Harris.

"THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  On this Friday evening, while the wait for the Mueller report continues, tonight Paul Manafort has some new legal worries including the possibility of presidential pardon may not save him.

Plus, Michael Cohen`s new revelations, what we learned about his testimony next week.  What he might be prepared to say.  What he`s likely to be at, including what he knows about the Trump family business or tax laws or the President`s credibility.

And the relationship that our President will not stop talking about as he alone views it warmly, apparently.  Tonight, a preview of next week summit with the North Korean dictator as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 764 of the Trump administration.  And on this Friday evening at the end of another consequential week we`re closing in on what is likely the last major move in Robert Mueller`s long running prosecution of Trump`s campaign manager, Paul Manafort.  Mueller`s team had until midnight tonight to file a sentencing memo in Washington.

Though, that`s not the last of it, where Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy involving his work in Ukrain.  A judge last week ruled that Manafort lied about his communications with Konstantin Kilimik, a former business associate with ties to Russian intelligence according to the FBI.  Specifically the judge found Manafort lied about sharing campaign poling data with Kilimnik and discussing a so-called peace plan for Ukraine that would benefit Russia.

The Feds said the relationship between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the heart of what the special council`s office is investigating.  This upcoming sentencing memo which may not be made public right away could tell us more about exactly what that means.

However there may be new criminal charges ahead for Manafort. This is interesting, the kind of charges his friend, the President, can`t save him from.  NBC News has confirmed a story first reported by Bloomberg and the "New York Times" that the Manhattan District Attorney`s Office is preparing a case against Paul Manafort involving alleged bank and tax fraud.

If convicted, he would not be eligible for a presidential pardon.  The "Times" puts it this way, "The evidence presented to a grand jury appears to have been connected to loans issued Citizens Bank in Rode Island and Federal Savings Bank in Chicago.  The banks have received grand jury subpoenas for records relating to the loans they issued to Mr. Manafort which were worth millions of dollars.  The grand jury has also been hearing testimony about the loans."

One of the reporters who broke the story for NBC News, Investigative Correspondent, Jonathan Dienst to explain to Chris Hayes on this network tonight why local New York prosecutors delayed their case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN DIENST, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Our best understanding is that he had started looking into this and then he deferred to the special council and that investigate into Manafort and then once that seemed to be wrapping up, that office restarted its work.  So the Manhattan D.A. show deference to Bob Mueller, but now they are moving forward with taking a look at what state crimes may have been violated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  "The New York Times" also reporting, ex-Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen has given federal prosecutors here in the Southern District of New York new information about Trump`s business operations.  The paper says Cohen met last month with the prosecutors in Manhattan, "offering information about irregularities within the President`s family business and about a donor to the inaugural committee."

According to the "Times", Cohen "spoke with the prosecutors about insurance claims the company had filed over the years.  Prosecutors also questioned Mr. Cohen about a donor to the President`s inaugural committee, a California venture capitalist and political fund-raiser."

Cohen also been getting ready for three straight days of Congressional testimony next week, let`s not forget.  More on that ahead as all of this unfolds.  We`re getting new information about the timing of when there might be a Mueller report.

Many news outlets if you have been following this, then you know, including NBC News had said the report could be sent to the Attorney General William Barr as early as next week.  But today a senior justice department official told NBC News it will not be sent to the A.G. next week.

Late today sixth top House Democrats sent the A.G. a letter urging him to publicly release whatever Mueller submits to him.  Barr is under no legal obligation to do so, indeed his duty bound withhold anything revealing national security secrets.

Earlier on this network, former U.S. Solicitor General, Neal Katyal, who wrote the special council rules in place today explain there is already one way for the public to learn about Mueller`s conclusions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL:  There has to be a report from Barr, the attorney general, to the Congress, that can be briefer, but notably it does have to include any instance in which the attorney general or his predecessors like that fake acting Attorney General Whitaker, if they overruled Mueller on anything.  In that report there is a provision in the special council regulations to make that report public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  This afternoon at the White House our colleague Hallie Jackson asked the President if he has talked with his new attorney general about the release of that report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Have you spoken to him about that?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, I have not.

JACKSON:  You`ve said nothing to him about that?

TRUMP:  I have not.

JACKSON:  Do you expect to?

TRUMP:  At some point I guess I`ll be talking about it.  So I look forward to seeing the report.  If it`s an honest report it will say that, if it`s not an honest report, it won`t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Let`s bring in our lead off panel on a Friday night, Carol Leonnig is with us, Pulitzer Price Winning Investigative Reporter for the "Washington Post".  And Glenn Kirschner is with us as well, former federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney`s Office in Washington.  Good evening and welcome to you both.

And, Glenn, home field advantage has its advantages.  Let`s tart with you here in New York with a question.  Let`s engage in some wild unleashed speculation that the Mueller team has submitted this Manafort document to the federal judge.  Not to make it about us, why haven`t we seen or heard about it yet?  What could be going on behind the scenes?

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes.  Does the judge not have her priorities straight?

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  Does she not know?]

KIRSCHNER:  We`re waiting to report on this, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  But in here for six minutes now.

KIRSCHNER:  So, ordinarily what happens when we file sentencing memos the prosecution and the defense will largely agree on what should be redacted and then they`ll submit it to the court and it`s just a matter of the court putting it on the public document on the docket.

I think what maybe going on here is, we have seen some other r redaction snafus in recent months where matters that should have been redacted from some public filings were not redacted, it cause a bit of a friends (ph), the Julian Assange incidents comes to mind.  I think maybe the court is using sort of a belt and suspenders approach.  It maybe that Mueller has already filed it with the court and the court is going through it just to make sure there`s nothing that is going to end up in the public record that shouldn`t.  So it maybe that we won`t actually see the memo until perhaps Monday.

WILLIAMS:  Carol Leonnig, we have talked about Manafort endlessly on this broadcast always with the shadow and what some of the former Feds say is almost like a hidden enemy President.  They`re arguing against in court the notion, the possibility of a Presidential pardon.

How do you think you can see Donald Trump when she is asked about Manafort try to calculate his response other than always saying he was with us for a very short period of time?  How will Donald Trump`s thoughts and words perhaps be educated by this going forward?

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER :  I don`t know about how the President`s words will be educated by this.  But I feel like we do learn a little bit from how reacts to things.  You might remember how often he spoke of that poor man, General Flynn, and how badly he`s been mistreated.

And how he actually said that about Michael Cohen for awhile, until he found out Michael Cohen was cooperating and then he said he was a rat.  In the case of Manafort I think what`s so interesting is we really haven`t seen the big reveal about what the entirety of what he might have about Manafort`s actions that relate to the campaign.  And when you start to see that, it`s what we often talk about in the newsroom as breaking some china and maybe you`ll see some reactions and fire works from the President then.

I`m not convinced this sentencing memo tonight, unredacted, redacted, whatever happens or if it comes Monday.  I`m not convinced it`s going to be the big reveal either.  And I`m basing that solely on the way in which we didn`t learn everything about Michael Flynn`s cooperation in his sentencing memorandums.  And there were huge trunks redacted as you remember, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Absolutely.  We have also -- we should share with our audience, added Frank Figliuzzi to this conversation, frequent guest on this broadcast, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.

Frank, we`re not above mellow drama around here, but it`s never with melodrama that we say that Manafort may be looking at a death sentence in effect.  That he may spend the rest of his days on earth in federal prison.  The recommendation in the Virginia case, he`s already facing was 19 to 24 years under the federal sentencing guidelines.  What kind of thing is he looking at when we do get to see this document?  What kind of prison time do you think the Feds will argue for?

He could spend the rest of his days on earth in a federal prison. The recommendation in the virginia case was 19 to 24 years. What kind of something he looking at, what will they argue for?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  I think they`re going to go for the upper range of the sentence here.  And it`s going to be -- it could potentially even reach into double digits.  So I have to look at the sentencing guidelines.

But here is what distinguishes Manafort him from other bad guys.  It`s one thing to decide not to cooperate with the Feds.  It`s another thing entirely to pretend to cooperate but actually serve as a double or triple agent back to the White House, maybe back to the Russians, and pretend you`re working with the prosecutors.  And that`s not going to sit well with a sentencing judge.

And I think while we`re debating whether or not we`re going to get a big reveal in Mueller`s sentencing recommendation and his memo.  I think what`s clearly going to jump out is that Mueller is going to hit this hard.  This guy faked it, this guy showed complete disdain for us, for the government.  He thinks he is above it all, and he is playing it like he played his entire life, which is to double everything up.  Do what`s in -- for his best interest and thumb his nose at the system and I think Manafort is going to have a really bad day when the sentencing memo comes out.

WILLIAMS:  And Frank, are you one of those subscribers to this view that the Mueller report in all capital letters has been given to us in plain sight overtime near in all the documentation and memorandum that we spend night after night chewing over here?

FIGLIUZZI:  I do see what looks like a di deliberate strategy by Mueller to talk to us through not only indictments, but through filings like the one we`re talking about.  So those in the public were saying that they`re waiting for a grand report to come out from the special council`s office with amazingly new revelations are likely to be disappointed because Mueller has been telling us the story piece by piece chapter by chapter.

The big question mark if we can try to flip as many reporters and public members will do, we`ll flip to the last page of the report and look for what the findings are on Trump.  If any, those will be very important.

But for grand new revelations, look, if you`ve been keeping up, you`ve been hearing the story.  You know that the Russians meddled with us.  Over two dozen Russians already indicted.  You know we`ve got convictions all around the President.

So the big question will be what`s new that report, but don`t be surprised if Mueller farms out a number of remaining cases to allow the system to take over and to allow Trump`s own U.S. attorneys to actually finish the job.

WILLIAMS:  Glenn, I`m going to perform the impossible and switch you from a life of prosecuting criminals to thinking like a defense attorney for just a second.  Sorry.

Could you blame people watching tonight, even though it`s an unsavory character, and Paul Manafort is who we`re talking about here, for thinking, hey, is it fair to raise this separate charges in New York and try to nick him twice on the same area of law?

KIRSCHNER:  You know, that`s a great question.  If we do a quick Fifth Amendment double jeopardy break down here, you know, the double jeopardy clause the Fifth Amendment protect you from being tried twice for the same crime.  If you`re convicted the first time, you can`t be tried again.  If you`re found not guilty or acquitted the first time, you can`t be tried again by the same court.

However, because the federal government and the state government are two completely different sovereigns, generally, a federal court prosecution win, lose, or draw does not preclude a state court prosecution.  That`s the way our system is set up.

Now, New York has some very pro defendant double jeopardy laws that say, you know what, kind of take fair.  If the Feds try you, we`re not going to try you for the same conduct.  I`m quite sure that the New York City or the New York County attorney, I think it`s Cyrus Vance Jr. --

WILLIAMS:  Right.

KIRSCHNER:  -- has got his legal ducks in order.  And if he brings charges, he`s going to make sure that they`re not going to be barred by the New York state double jeopardy clause.  But I can see why some people might feel like it`s unfair to try a man twice in two different courts for the same conduct.

But, Brian, let`s remember this, there was a number of charges that the first jury in Virginia hung on.  Those are still open charges.  If you recall, Manafort then went in and took responsibility for doing those things, but didn`t plead guilty to those 10 charges on which the Virginia jury hung.  Those are all open.  Those wouldn`t be barred by the New York double jeopardy laws.

So, there are a lot of legal moving pieces here.

WILLIAMS:  You went back to being a prosecutor there for just a minute.  No, you did.

KIRSCHNER:  Always my default, Brian.  I`m sorry.

WILLIAMS:  Was sitting here right here, you did.

Hey, Carol, let`s walk right up to the reporting both of our news organizations are doing, and let me ask it this way.  If I asked you to make a case that we should not expect a Mueller report right away, that we`ve been terribly wrong and I`ve had some very learned attorneys on this broadcast cast a lot of doubt on this reporting because so many things are left open, could you make that case?

LEONNIG:  You know, Brian, it`s all tea leaf reading in a way.  There are little clues and big clues.  And right now we`re dealing with a ton of little clues.

You know, guys leaving the office, heading off to their other jobs, leaving Mueller`s team.  We have different sources in different parts of the law enforcement community saying they see signs that this report is coming soon.

We reported in December and, I think, in January that it would be around, you know, mid to late February.  We`re past that point.

I think it`s -- everybody can guess about what could happen.  But to my mind, the most interesting thing is going to be why did the -- what does Mueller find about why all these people lied?  What does he find about what Donald Trump new and when?  That is to me the big reveal.

It may be that he fends a series of interesting connections and a nexus among all of these advisors that doesn`t touch the Donald Trump, that doesn`t touch the President.  But that is the central question.  Why did they lie?  Why are they all tight with him and lied about things that relate to the campaign?  And what did he know?

WILLIAMS:  In my line of work when a Pulitzer Price winner gives you a great closing quote it`s time to stop the segment and so we will.  With our thanks to Carol Leonnig, to Frank Figliuzzi, to long time prosecutor and terrible defense attorney Glenn Kirschner, thank you all very much for spending part of your Friday night with us.

Coming up, we`ll talk more about what Mr. Michael Cohen can say.  What he is willing to say about his years with the Trump inner circle including the man himself.

And later, why there is worry about the President sitting down with a dictator next week, what could go wrong?  While the worry is coming from the President`s side as we are just getting started on a Friday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you think that Congressional Republicans will stick on you on the -- on your emergency declaration and vote against this joint resolution?

TRUMP:  Oh, I think they`ll stick, yes.  Everybody knows we need border security, we need a wall.  I think it`s a bad subject for the Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Will you definitively veto that resolution that was introduced today that would block your national emergency if it passes?

TRUMP:  On the wall?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

TRUMP:  Will I veto it?  One hundred percent.  One hundred percent.  And I don`t think it survives the veto.  We have too many smart people that want border security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Fair to point out it would be his first veto in office.  The President will be in Vietnam to meet with the leader of North Korea when the House back home votes on that resolution potentially block his national emergency which will continue theoretically with him overseas.

Democrats say they have enough votes to pass it.  The bill`s faith in the Senate, however, is uncertain.  We`re watching four particular Republicans who`ve publicly voiced concern about using that kind of executive power to build something like a wall or steel slots.

The political maneuvering will be happening as the President`s former long- time personal attorney talks to Congress.  And the public will finally know at least some of what Michael Cohen knows.  The President had this to say about Cohen`s upcoming testimony today?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you have any concerns about Michael Cohen`s testimony before Congress this week?

TRUMO:  No.  No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President --

TRUMP: Lawyer-client, but, you know, and he is taking his own chances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Interesting.  Here to talk about it, Philip Elliott, Politics Correspondent for "Time Magazine."  And Tal Kopan, Washington Correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Tal, I`d like to begin with you, yes a lot can happen in these next few days, and yes there are some limits, some of them self-imposed on what these members of the committee are going to ask Michael Cohen, but is there any chance this will be somehow less than the momentous event we`re kind of all expecting?

TAL KOPAN, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, there is always a chance.  But no, I mean, the build up to this event certainly has been quite suspenseful.  But let`s remember, this is not, you know, someone who`s coming before the committee with, you know, things hanging over their head like a potential sentencing or ongoing court drama.

I mean, Michael Cohen has really laid things out for the court already and presumably is going to be coming to testify to answer any questions that remain about what he said in court, which already has implicated the President.  So the potential for fireworks with this testimony, I would say, is quite high.

WILLIAMS:  And Philip, let`s get down to brass tax.  We have a television President in a television age.  I think the time difference in Vietnam, I think day is night, and night is day, I think it is 12 hours, so let`s just say that after something like a state dinner, 10:00 p.m. local time in Saigon, the President is preparing to retire for the evening, 10:00 a.m. in Washington, look what`s on T.V., your former personal lawyer and the keeper of the secrets, how is that going to work?

PHILIP ELLIOTT, TIME MAGAZINE POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Goodness.  I`m anticipating a couple all nighters for the President.  There is no way he is going to miss the opportunity to watch this play out on live T.V.  Also keep in mind the House panel in particular is stacked with law makers who are particularly of interest to the President.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is on there, Congressman Talib is on there, Debby Wasserman Schultz, Carolyn Maloney.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, boy.

ELLIOTT:  These are people who have an ability to get under the President`s skin.  And keep in mind, the last time Michael Cohen came to the Gill he lied to two Congress.  He has admitted this as part of his plea deal.  So, they are not going to be ready to come with kid gloves on him, either.

WILLIAMS:  And a preview a little bit of the known world what is he then come home to with half a world jet lag on his shoulders when he arrives back in Washington, back at the White House?

ELLIOTT:  It`s a very good chance that he arrives back here with some part of the Mueller report in its final stages.  Michael Cohen will just have spent days savaging the, presumably the President.  And the wall fight may not have gone well in his absence.  He may end up having to do a first veto.

And who knows what happens.  Privately some of Republicans are not happy with what they seen as a unilateral executive power grab.  The question is whether they`re going to stand up to him as a block so it`s not going to be like a John McCain situation where it fails by one vote.  Or will they do it en masse and say, "You know what, the power of the purse strings has always been at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue not with the White House."

WILLIAMS:  Tal, one of the consequences we face around here chasing the story of the day is we often miss the machinery of government that goes on every day.  And I`m going to quote you to you.  A piece you filed last night that just knocked me over when I read it.

"After nearly two years of delays the Trump administration is moving ahead with its plan to stop granting work permits to the spouses of many high- skilled visa holders, an effort that could jeopardize tens of thousands of immigrant families in California alone."  To our viewers, remember, Tal writes for the San Francisco Chronicle.  "Rolling back permits could have sweeping consequences for the bay area where tech companies heavily rely on high skilled immigrants.  Many of those workers come to the U.S. with spouses and children, and the loss of the spousal work permits could imperil families ability to stay in the country or deter workers from accepting jobs here to begin with."

Tal, is what you`re saying if you`re a Ph.D. engineer, let`s say from India, you`re working for Microsoft, you`re a two income family, two kids, your spouse works, this is going to take away the ability and the right of your spouse to make a living?

KOPAN:  That`s right.  In some circumstances, you know these people are caught in a really interesting lope hole in the law.  And there`s a lot of talk of undocumented immigrants, these are legal immigrants who have been approved for green cards but are yet to receive them because for countries, mainly India but also China, the backlog to get those green cards can reach decades.  So these families are all but on the path to becoming Americans and eventually citizens.  But while they wait, the spouses are not allowed to work.

The Obama administration sought to rectify that to allow these families to build their life here in America as they wait for these green cards by allowing these work permits, and the Trump administration is now going to try to claw that back and not allow those permits.  So the spouses will then have to wait and presumably decide whether or they can actually wait that out or whether they have to leave the U.S. and potentially take their abilities elsewhere.

WILLIAMS:  Well, we commend this piece to the attention of all those watching tonight as we thank two terrific journalists for joining us.  Philip Elliott and Tal Kopan, thank you both very much.

And coming up for us tonight, there seem to be two sets of expectations regarding this summit with the North Korean dictator next week, the President and everyone else`s.  We`ll talk forthrightly about this when we come back.

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WILLIAMS:  Earlier today President Trump spoke about his great relationship with North Korea just days before the second summit with Kim Jong-un.  He has in the past, we hope half jokingly, said the two men have fallen in love.

The President is eagerly anticipating this summit, but the people around him not so much.  The headline of POLITICO says it all.  Trump aides worry he`ll get outfoxed in North Korea talks.  They report to worry among those around the President is that, "Trump eager to declare victory on the world stage could make big concessions in exchange for empty promises of denuclearization.  Trump offered this slightly confusing answer when asked about what might be on the table during next week`s summit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is drawing down US troops a consideration in your upcoming summit with North Korean Kim Jong-un?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  No, it`s not.  No.  That is not a consideration.  That is not one of the things on the table.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What is on the table?

TRUMP:  Oh you really want to me to discuss that now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I do.

TRUMP:  Everything is on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Well, here to talk about it General Barry McCaffrey, retired US Four Star General, heavily decorated combat veteran of Vietnam and the Gulf War, and a former US Drug Czar.  And Gabby Orr is with us, White House Reporter for, of all places, POLITICO who we just quoted.  Welcome to you both.

General, I`d like to start with you, as we note to something you always like to point out, North Korea has for years craved being relevant.  There`s a reason a US president has never agreed to meet with them heretofore, and it`s a regime so weak that one of the reasons they are meeting in Asia is the real concern that they have aircraft that can make the trip long enough to reach European capitals.

So having laid that on the table, what leverage does Donald Trump bring into this meeting?

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY, RETIRED US ARMY:  Not much.  You know, Brian, I spent a lot of time as an arms control negotiator in the international community dealing with chemical weapon, biological weapons, nuclear devices, I`ve never seen anything like this.

Here is the situation right now.  The North Koreans are still making fissile material.  They`re manufacturing intermediate range missiles.  We believe their research effort continues.  Moon and South Korea said, "Let`s trade with them."  The Chinese and the Russians are covertly loosening the economic constraints, and the president of United States says, "I`m in love with them.  There`s no time constraints on these discussions.  And the nuclear threats are gone."

So the ability to get there and use economic coercive constraints is being loosened.  He said in public that he thought US military presence in South Korea, he used the language that the Chinese and North Koreans use is essentially provocative.  It`s hard to imagine what he thinks is coming out of this except that North Koreans have already been self-declared and acknowledged as a nuclear power, and are now relevant on the world stage.

WILLIAMS:  Gabby, this is what makes your job so interesting and exhausting, that the people you deal with, the adults, during the day, know that what the general just said is correct.  And they know the only person in the entire government who is likely to keep this warm view of this dictator is their boss.  So that`s a problem.

GABBY ORR, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO:  It is a problem.  If you talk to senior administration officials, the people who are primarily advising the president on North Korea, they are not as optimistic as the President is heading into the second summit with Kim Jong-un.  And in fact, they fear that he is prepared to make a concession that could deeply damage relations with our key allies, especially in Europe.  That President Trump could agree to draw back troops in South Korea that he could agree to economic sanctions relief for North Korea.

I mean, these are things that they consider President Trump might be willing to make when he sits down with Kim Jong-un, and certainly isn`t being advised to by these individuals.

And the other problem here that we`re seeing in lead up to this summit, is that they`re starting to tamp down expectations, you know.  Heading into the last summit, it was that we are going to get an agreement for complete verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.  Heading into this summit, nine months later, it`s to figure out what the definition of denuclearization is.  That is a significant change in nine months time.

And I think it speaks to the fact that President Trump`s advisors mainly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Jon Bolton, his National Security advisor, are really trying to make sure that he doesn`t go into this feeling like he needs to offer something up and get very little in return.

WILLIAMS:  Well, that`s right.  And, General, to that point, you know the President is going to feel pressure to announce a win to sign a cocktail napkin jointly that have something to point to.

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, I agree.  You know, one of the most likely outcomes that seems to me is he going to declare an end to the state of war between the United Nations and North Korea, which would immediately give the North Koreans arguing points to get US military forces out of the region.

One of the three aims that Kim Jong-un has.  Reunite the country under his mandate, be accepted as a nuclear power, get the US out.  I think there`s a tremendous uneasiness that we will get in there, we won`t get transparency of the North Korean nuclear program.  That is step one of any successful negotiations.

Where are the nukes, where is the research, and then secondly you got to go in and verify they`ve told you the truth, that`s not going to come out of this meeting.  So why we`re having a summit in the absence of any concrete North Korea compliance is beyond me.

WILLIAMS:  Happily both of our guests are going to stay with us.  We just have to fit in a break.  And when we come back, we`ll talk about the President reversing course on a consequential battleground for this country.  We`ll explain that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  We mentioned this before the break.  The White House is reversing course on withdrawing all US troops from Syria.  Senior administration officials telling NBC News a total of roughly 400 US personnel will remain in Syria after Trump said in December, all American forces will be coming home now.

According to the official, 200 or thereabout is going to remain in Northeastern Syria, as part of a multinational observer force, another 200 will remain in the southern part of the country.

Earlier today, the President was asked about this decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Mr. President, on troops in Syria, why are you reversing course?

TRUMP:  I`m not reversing course.  I have done something that nobody else have been able to do, in another short period of time, like hours, you`ll be hearing hours and days, you`ll be hearing about the caliphate is 100 percent defeated.  Nobody has been able to say that.  That doesn`t mean they are armed, some very bad people walking around and scrapping on bombs and all of these things.  But we`ve done a job that nobody else has been able to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So many questions.  Our guests stay with us, General Barry McCaffrey and Gabby Orr.

And, General, is this your friend, our commander in the region, General Votel mustering up all of the influence he has on the commander-in-chief and asking if he can`t spare 400 men and women?  Also I`m curious what roles do you think these 400 will have?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you can be assured that that number is a top down driven decision.  You know, every time you hear a nice round number publicly announced, it`s symbolic use of American military power.

Brian, I bring an infantry company commander`s perspective to a lot of these issues.  I do not like seeing isolated small US military units where in that their combat capability is minimal.  But they`re supposedly going to stop something bad from happening by their presence.

Remember, the UN force in Triveni (ph) and the Balkans, where the Serb massacred thousands of men because we had one small Dutch infantry battalion, they are trying to deal with the situation that was way over their head.  So I don`t like the whole notion of staying in Syria with small isolated units.  I think it is non-sense.

We -- There`s a good argument for not getting involved in Middle East conflicts.  I don`t support it, but I think right now we`re seeing unilateral compulsive decisions by the President of United States that are not supported by the military.

WILLIAMS:  Another thing not supported by reality, Gabby, is the President`s insistence that the caliphate has been defeated.  First of all, it`s not true mathematically on the ground, secondly, it`s very difficult to bomb an idea, a notion, out of existence, and he certainly not going to see this as a reversal of course on his part.

ORR:  He`s not.  He insisted today that he`s not walking anything back.  But in fact, the way that this first started was him promising that there is going to be an immediate withdrawal of all troops in Syria.  Then we moved on to him saying it was going to be a gradual draw down of troops in Syria.

Now, we`ve moved on to him saying they`re going to keep a modest presence on the ground in Syria.  So he has completely readjusted from the time he first announced this decision today.

And this is not the first time that the president has done this.  You know, he often gets ahead of his advisors at the Pentagon, in the Defense community and Intelligence community as well.  He did this when he first floated the idea of walking -- withdrawing troops in South Korea, he did it with the transgender military ban, there have been so many times when his top Defense advisors, officials at the Pentagon have been completely taken aback or surprised to learn that he was announcing something and this is just another moment when that has been the case.

WILLIAMS:  Well, our thanks on a Friday night both to General Barry McCaffrey and to Gabby Orr, we appreciate it very much.  We`re going to be relying on you both as we go on through the summit next week.

Yet another consequential week for this administration, coming up we have a presidential historian with us tonight to help us take it all in.  Michael Beschloss standing by when we come back.

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SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  I am going to run for president, that`s correct.

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST:  What`s going to be different this time? 

SANDERS:  I`m going to win.  Many of the ideas that I thought about, Medicare for all, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making public colleges and universities tuition free, all of those ideas, people said, "Oh, Bernie, they are so radical."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Well, you heard the man there, the so-called radical platform that Bernie Sanders ran on last time around, now all but mainstream in the Democratic Party as it skitters to the left.  This time around the Independent senator has come to compete with Democratic candidates again, but they now publicly support ideas like Medicare for all, increased minimum wage and so on.  Even so, Bernie Sanders was able to raise a rather astonishing $6 million in the first 24 hours of his announced campaign 2019.

One name could still change the entire race, the pollsters tell us and that`s Joe Biden.  With us tonight to talk about this dynamic, NBC News Presidential Historian and Author, Michael Beschloss, his latest work is "Presidents of War".

Michael, about these two men in particular, Sanders and Biden, Biden not in yet, Sanders is in.  We sometimes mention when we talk about both of these guys that they would turn 80 years of age in a theoretical first term.  Is that ageism or a fair thing to mention about these two gentlemen?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, I think it is a fair thing to mention of course, because either of them would be the oldest nominated candidate for president of a major party in American history.  So that is something.

But, you know, Brian, it`s a little bit of an echo of, you know, these Democratic campaigns when you`d usually have a front-runner who was a centrist, some like Walter Mondale in 2984, and a liberal, you know, someone sort of to the left, sort of biting at his heels the way Gary Hart was for instance.  And this was true of so many other campaigns, but never before have we had that liberal lane really taken up by someone who defines himself as a democratic socialist.

And also, just as you were saying, turns out to have been the pioneer and the architect of some of the programs that a lot of the other candidates are now following.

TRUMP:  We also in kind of an old fashion way view ourselves as wanting to know as much as we can about these men and women because we do have a stake in them.  It`s not just that we`re nosey, wanting to know the President`s HDL and LDL, and we haven`t spoken since the President just went through this latest physical exam.

BESCHLOSS:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  People who are a little bit older and read history by writers like yourself know that FDR hid fatal heart disease from the American people and another ailment or two.  So I guess it`s part of us being -- knowing that they are stewards of our country and, again, would these two gentlemen, knowing that they are a bit older than the rest of the field, certainly older than the current sitting president.

BESCHLOSS:  All true.  The other thing, Brian is that, you know, it made our business to know about these things when these parties shifted to primaries.  You know, in the old days, as you well know before, let`s say, 1960 or 1970, these nominations were basically granted by, you know, in the Democratic Party, Democratic bosses, and office holders, and people who had served with them in government.

So if there was a problem of age either physically or emotionally or mentally, those people would know it and would have prevented them from getting nominated.  Now, every single one of us has to be a judge.

WILLIAMS:  Absolutely.  We`re going to fit in a break.  Michael Beschloss, for some reason, has agreed to stay with us a bit longer on a Friday night.

BESCHLOSS:  Nothing but pleasure.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up when we get to that, here is the way we`ll put it.  It`s roughly the political equivalent of a lunar eclipse.  It is happening next week.  We`ll get a viewer`s guide to it from our guest when we come right back.

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WILLIAMS: 

WILLIAMS:  As we head into our final segment tonight, a tip of the hat to the smart people who looked ahead to next week`s calendar and realized that for a time both the President and Vice President will be overseas.  And in the event of an emergency, that will leave a Democrat in charge, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

It`s not the first time this has happened in our country.  Not even a first for this administration.  Though the last time it happened, last year, it was the Republican Speaker Paul Ryan who was home alone to watch the House.

We`ve asked Michael Beschloss to stay with us for this one last conversation.  Michael, there is, of course, a serious reason why we have change chain of command and lines of succession because this is a very serious business. 

BESCHLOSS:  Absolutely, continuity of government to make sure that we are always led, but it does happen.  It`s pretty rare.  March of 2013, Barack Obama was flying to the Middle East, his Vice President Joe Biden was coming back from Rome.  There was about a half an hour I think it was when both were outside of the country.  And John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, was next in line of succession.

But that`s perhaps not, you know, there are communications and, you know, just as the White House will say, it`s not exactly as if the President is out of touch.  An example of that is when Woodrow Wilson in 1918-1919 went to Europe for months, there wasn`t a telephone, there was sort of primitive cable.  He really was out of touch and there was a Republican Speaker of the House.  That was really taking a chance.

WILLIAMS:  Before I have to let you go, let`s preview this coming week.  This is a backwards regime that lies to us every day.  They crave the relevance of talks with the United States` president.  Among historians, when you write the book about this time right now, how notable will it be that this is the first American president willing to give them that, willing to give them the benefit of the doubt?

BESCHLOSS:  Well, it depends on where it leads.  If this leads to, I mean, Donald Trump is talking about denuclearization of North Korea, which is highly unlikely that we will ever see that, but if we see a regime in North Korea that`s more humane and that this caused this, you know, Donald Trump will get credit for that.

But if this turns out to be the North Koreans took advantage of Donald Trump to get an -- a degree of attention from an American president that no other American president had given them without giving anything back, it`s not going to look great and it`s not going to be a big moment in history.

WILLIAMS:  30 seconds or less remaining in our hour.  Presidents often can try to pick where their great moments are.  Do you think this is what, of all things, this is what he has staked out for himself? 

BESCHLOSS:  I think it may be.  But one other thing, and you and I have talked about this, is that oftentimes presidents aspire to create a moment that`s going to impress historians 50 years later.  Usually it turns out some decision that they`re barely aware of can be the most decisive one that we pay attention to later on.

WILLIAMS:  Well, I`ll go ahead and vouch for you.  The completely unimpressible and not available for purchase Michael Beschloss has been our last guest tonight.  Michael, thank you so much for coming on the broadcast as often as you to.

BESCHLOSS:  Always.

WILLIAMS:  That is our broadcast for a Friday night and for this week.  We thank you for being here with us.  Have a good weekend and good night from all of us here at NBC News headquarters in New York.

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