Cohen to testify publicly on Wednesday. TRANSCRIPT: 2/25/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, Berit Berger, Nancy Cook, Chris Megerian,Gordon Chang, Mike Murphy

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And almost everyday, the answer to that question going to be nothing.  And that`s because no matter what they put in the Trump teleprompter, he`s always going to be this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He called over his people.  He`s got 10 people standing behind him, everyone is central casting, central casting.  Glasses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Donald Trump gets tonight`s Last Word.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  On our broadcast tonight, what Rod Rosenstein said today that has Democrats asking what he meant by that exactly, what he might know about the Mueller investigation that he`s not saying, and there`s already talk of subpoenas.

Also, the new response tonight from Paul Manafort`s lawyers hitting backs at the Feds while arguing for less time in jail.

Plus, the Michael Cohen traveling road show arrives for a three-day tour in Washington.  Speculation well under way as to how far he might go.  All of it a giant distraction for a President on the other side of the planet going into nuclear summit with the dictator from North Korea.  THE 11TH HOUR on a Monday night begins now.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 767 of the Trump administration.  Hours from now the American President referenced in legal documents as individual 1 will land in Hanoi in Vietnam for his second summit with North Korea`s Kim Jong-un.  While the President is there, his former personal lawyer will testify as to what he knows, a city in Washington also consumed with anticipation over the release of whatever it is Robert Mueller has found out during the course of his Russia investigation.

Some major Democrats in the House have already started a campaign to pressure the knew Attorney General, William Barr, to make the report public.

And then today came this from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who had been supervising the Mueller effort, comments today that seemed to some, a6t least, to be vaguely foreshadowing some sort of legal fight over the Mueller findings perhaps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL:  There`s a knee jerk reaction that suggest that we should be transparent about what we should do in government, but there are a lot of reasons not to be transparent about what we do in government.

Just because the government collects information doesn`t mean that information is accurate.  And that can be misleading if you`re overly transparent about the information that the government collects.

The guidelines I always give my prosecutors, the agents that I worked with during my tenure on the front-lines and law enforcement were if we aren`t prepared to prove our case beyond all reasonable doubt in court, then we have no business making allegations against American citizens

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Much talk about that, bit right there.

Coming up, Rosenstein`s remarks brought this response from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California who says Democrats will subpoena Mueller`s report and go to court if they have to.  "This double standard won`t cut it.  For two years I sounded the alarm about DOJ`s deviation from just that principle as it turned over hundreds of thousands of pages in closed or ongoing investigations.  I warned that DOJ would need to live by this precedent, and it will."

As we mentioned, Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen begins three days of congressional hearings tomorrow.  He`ll go before the Senate Intelligence Committee for a closed-door session first.  Then on Wednesday he`ll give public testimony before the House Oversight Committee, and that means, it will be televised live.  Then on Thursday, another closed hearing with House Intelligence.

You may recall that Cohen has already implicated Trump in campaign finance violations involving hush money payments and he`s already pleaded guilty lying to Congress at previous hearings about the Trump Tower Moscow project.  Late last week we learned he`s continued to give federal prosecutors here in New York information about Trump`s business operations.

Earlier today Senate Intel Chair, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, Republican, said tomorrow`s private hearing could last more than 10 hours.  And he said they may revisit Cohen`s previous testimony.

As for Wednesday`s public televised hearing, our colleague here Ken Dilanian gave us a sense of what that might be like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN DILANIAN NBC NEWS INTEL & NAT. SEC. REPORTER:  He`s not allowed to talk about the Russia investigation when he appears before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.  He is going to talk about hush money payments to women.  And he knows that he`s got credibility issues, so he`s coming with documents.  We shouldn`t underestimate how powerful seeing a Trump insider who`s been with Donald Trump for more than 10 years telling the stories before the glare of the television lights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Meanwhile, Michael Cohen`s legal adviser for these hearings says the testimony will shed hardware light on Cohen`s relationship with one, Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANNY DAVIS, COHEN`S ATTORNEY:  You`re going to hear in personal, front- line experiences of memories, and incidents, and conduct, and comments that Donald Trump said over that 10-year time period behind closed door that to me when I first heard Michael tell me all of this even as much as I knew about Trump that was negative, was chilling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Donald Trump has increasingly distanced himself from his ex- lawyer.  At first you will recall he expressed outrage after that initial FBI search of Cohen`s home and office, says it was a tragedy for the nation.  But then he turned on Cohen and borrowing a phase from mob movies, called him a rat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  And they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man.  And it`s a disgraceful situation.  It`s an attack on our country in a true sense.  It`s an attack on what we all stand for.

Michael Cohen is lying, and he`s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me.

I never directed him to do anything wrong.  Whatever he did, he did on his own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you agree to testify before the House Democrats?  Are you worried about this?

TRUMP:  And I`m not worried about it at all, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Also tonight, Matthew Whitaker, Trump`s former acting attorney general may soon be back before the House Judiciary Committee.  You recall, he testified before them earlier this month.  "The Wall Street Journal" reports the committee is scrutinizing Whitaker`s contact with the President and that it, "believes he has evidence that President Trump asked Matthew Whitaker, at the time the acting attorney general, whether Manhattan U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Berman, could regain control of his office`s investigation into Mr. Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen and his real estate business according to people familiar with the matter.

So, so much to discuss with our lead-off panel on a Monday night.  Berit Berger, a former assistant U.S. attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York.  Shannon Pettypiece, White House Correspondent for Bloomberg.  And Nancy Cook, White House reporter for Politico.  We welcome all three back to the broadcast.

Shannon, I`d like to begin with you on Mr. Rosenstein.  What do we think he meant by those comments?  Is he above performing for an audience of one?  And if so, then what was he fore shadowing?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I mean, I don`t know what was in his mind or what his intention was.  But it is an argument or a case that I have heard a lot of lawyers make over this process, that really what this Mueller investigation is a DOJ investigation.  This is meant to be, if you look at the regulations, a confidential document that`s given to the attorney general.  We are not operating under the same rules as the Ken Starr investigation where everything about that was to be made public.

So Mueller`s investigation involves grand jury testimony, it involves, you know, classified information.  And the Republicans, when they were in control, pushed the DOJ to turn a lot of documents.  And there were sort of constant fights between the DOJ and the White House and Congress to get documents turned over.

And as you saw Adam Schiff alluding to, now shoe is on the other foot, and the concern here now is that Democrats are going to be pushing in the same way the DOJ to turn over documents that, you know, people who are sort of DOJ veterans are came up to this world, you know, really don`t necessarily think it should be made public.

And I mean, it could be for political reasons, but when you talk to people who are real veterans of the Justice Department, it`s not just political reasons.  It`s because this is part of their work.  They investigate people all the time.  That`s not meant to be made public unless it`s through the judicial branch, unless it`s through an actual court filing.  And I think that`s a concern I`ve heard other people express.

WILLIAMS:  Well, I happen to have a veteran of the Justice Department here with us in New York.

BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT NY:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  And Counsel, you were nodding during what Shannon was saying.  I`m sure Rosenstein`s words sounded familiar to you as a former Fed, but if he was speaking broadly, then why say it with the air as charged as it is right now.

BERGER:  Yes, it`s a puzzle. I don`t think anyone knows exactly what he was referring to.  But I agree.  The default for most prosecutors is not necessarily let me share everything I know in my files with the general public.  And there`s good reasons for that, exactly like she said, there could be grand jury material, there could classified material, or even if it`s not classified, just things that are sort of law enforcement sensitive.  So that is the default setting for most prosecutors.

This is a little bit different, though.  Rosenstein`s statement, what he tells his prosecutors, the guidance is if we can`t prove it in a court of law, we shouldn`t be disclosing it.  It`s a little bit different here because the DOJ policy is also one that you cannot indict a sitting President.

So to the extent that the special counsel`s office developed evidence that the President had committed a crime, hypothetically speaking, yet the DOJ policy was also that a sitting President couldn`t be indicted, that is the double standard that they were referring to there, that it then puts him in a bind.  We can`t put this information out there publicly in the report, but yet we also couldn`t indict the President.

WILLIAMS:  Why have a Mueller investigation if you can`t say what they found?

BERGER:  Correct.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  Nancy Cook, I want to read you something from the "Daily Beast" today and get your take on it.  This is about the White House legal team.  "The President made clear to his outside legal team, which includes Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, that he didn`t want his lawyers going anywhere even after the Mueller probe ends.  The conversations served as a private admission that federal investigations bedeviling his first term in office will be haunting him for possibly years to come."

Let`s avoid passing judgment on competing journalists, but let me ask you if you`re, in fact, hearing same thing.

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Absolutely.  And I think that that is why the Cohen testimony is going to be so key this week because it basically will chart out other avenues that House Democrats could take to investigate Trump, but also federal investigators and prosecutors in New York could take.  There are very few Trump organization executives who are willing to speak publicly about what happened there the way they did insurance payments, paid taxes, potential other money that was paid to women.

And there have been two executives in the past, female executives who have insight into this, but they were there a long time ago.  Michael Cohen can really offer Intel about what the Trump organization was like during the 2016 campaign when Trump was running for President.  And I think that that is why the President knows that this could give investigations a lot more shelf life at testimony, and that is why he`s asking the legal team to make sure that they stick around.

WILLIAMS:  Shannon, I have something for you to listen to along with our audience. This is from DJTJ, Donald Jay Trump Jr., talking about Mr. Cohen, and this could be the way the right is going to paint whatever we hear from Mr. Cohen.  We`ll discuss it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP:  You got a President trying to deal with, you know, a major world issue, and to try to, you know, distract or whatever it is by bringing in a convicted felon and known liar.  Yes, I mean, it`s pretty pathetic, but it really shows you how much, you know, really the Democrats hate Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  OK.  Shannon, is that pretty much in line with the attack on Cohen we can expect?

PETTYPIECE:  I would say there`s three things we`ve been hearing from Republicans as far as their strategy for attacking Cohen.  Yes, number one would be he lied to Congress, attack his credibility.  Of course he is now someone who`s testifying again before Congress, so if he lied to Cong -- he`s very well aware that you can`t lie to Congress, but they`ll go down that path.  They`ll try and bring up some of his past business dealings, his lobbying work, and sort of dig into, you know, any sort of try and bring up any sort of dirty launder that they might be able to have on Cohen.

And the other is this idea of trying to paint him of someone who is on the periphery of the Trump org.  Someone who wasn`t really in the room, wasn`t in the inner circle.  Try and make him a sort of coffee boy figure who might not really know that much.

And then the strategy on the Democrats, of course, is going to be the opposite.  It`s going to be to try and, you know, paint Cohen as someone who was this, you know, close figure to the President by his side every moment.  Someone who has, you know, changed his ways and reformed and seen the light of honesty.  So that`s the back and forth that we`ll see.

You know, I think the debate over Cohen`s role in Trump world is going to be very interesting.  And I think his role, really, is sort of somewhere in between.  You know, he was not that central figure I think Democrats want to make him to be, but he was also not this periphery person on the outside of Trump`s orbit the way Democrats are going to try and paint him.

WILLIAMS:  A call back to an actual mob movie would be to call him Tom Hagan.  He really did have only one client for years and years.

Berit, if I appointed you chief counsel of one of these committees, and I would never do that to you, that`s going to be questioning Michael Cohen, what areas do you want to hear him answer?

BERGER:  I think one of the first areas that I`d want to dig into is what happened with respect to the last time he testified before Congress?  He has admitted that he lied, but he also alluded to the fact that, you know, this was discussed with other people.  So my first question would be, who did you discuss this with, or is this, you know, some sort of a coordinated effort to fabricate your testimony?

And I agree, he`s coming into all of this with, you know, a real black mark on his credibility already.  So I think the Democrats have to treat him the same way the prosecutors treat cooperating witnesses, which is that their value is to the extent that what they have to say is corroborated.

So I don`t think anyone should just believe what Michael Cohen is saying, you know, just because it`s coming out of his mouth, but to the extent that he does have documents or that there are other witnesses that will corroborate things that he`s saying, that`s where his true value will be

WILLIAMS:  Nancy, I have a quote for you, this time from "The Wall Street Journal."  And it reads, White House advisers have privately expressed relief that the hearing will take place while the President is limited in his ability to monitor the coverage.  This is maybe the definition of counting your blessings.  "You`re not going to have a President who is up in the White House residence watching the hearing and then watching the coverage for 24 hours straight, a person close to the President said."

And the blessing counting here is, not that the President can`t see the coverage live, it`s the post-game that gets him riled up.

COOK:  That`s absolutely true.  I think that those golf weekends, the long weekends at Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster where he`s thinly staffed and is watching coverage and reading the papers and talking to people and calling people, those are White House aides` worst nightmares.  It just gives him so much time.

And so he will be in Hanoi.  He`s traveling there now on Air Force One.  There will be a split screen between the Cohen testimony, which we`ve talked about before, and his summit, his denuclearization summit.  And that will be very interesting to watch.

But he`s just physically not going to have that much time on his schedule to obsess over this as much as he would on a weekend.  Or even if he was here sort of having executive time.  And I think that White House aides I`m sure view that as a huge plus

But a lot of his foreign trips have been overshadowed by these domestic crises.  And so it will interesting to see how distracted he is, if it all.

WILLIAMS:  The times we`re living in couldn`t ask for a better panel to start off a new week.  Berit Berger, Shannon Pettypiece, Nancy Cook, our thanks to the three of you.

And coming up, the new 800-page or there about filing from the Mueller team about Paul Manafort we`ll fill you in on what it says, what it doesn`t say and what Manafort`s team is now saying in response.

And later, Michael Cohen is not the only big event on the Hill this week.  What Democrats hope to do starting tomorrow while the President is away?  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started beneath a full moon on a Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  We mentioned this at the top of the broadcast.  Paul Manafort is responding tonight to a rather scathing sentencing memo filed by the Mueller team on Friday in Washington, D.C., federal court.  In this new document, federal prosecutors say Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law and that he continued to break laws well into the fall of 2018.

Tonight Manafort`s lawyers filed their own memo that reads in part, and we, "As the government itself notes, Mr. Manafort committed garden variety crimes and violated the more esoteric Foreign Agents Registration Act."  They go on to say, "the defendant has not been charged with crimes related to the primary focus of the special counsel`s investigation, i.e., any links and coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, otherwise referred to as Russian collusion by the national media."

And let`s throw in the President there.  "Nevertheless, these garden- variety and esoteric offenses have led to Mr. Manafort being wildly vilified in a manner that is -- this country hasn`t experienced in decades."

Now, Manafort through his lawyers also said he deserves a sentence significantly below the 10-year maximum.  The Mueller sentencing memo that was released on Saturday said Manafort`s criminal actions were, "bold" and, "His deceit, which is a fundamental component of the crimes of conviction and relevant conduct extended to tax preparers, bookkeepers, banks, to Treasury Department, the Department of Justice, National Security Division, the FBI, the Special Counsel`s Office, the grand jury, his own legal counsel, members of Congress, and members of the executive branch of the United States government.

Well, with us to talk about it, Chris Megerrian, reporter for the "L.A. Times" who covers the special counsel investigation.  And we have prevailed upon veteran federal prosecutor Berit Berger to stick around with us for just a few more minutes.

And Counselor, I`d like to begin with you.  What should our takeaway be from this document, not counting the black lines of redaction, 800 pages in all, give or take?

BERGER:  Yes.  I mean, the Special Counsel`s Office wasn`t holding anything back in this sentencing memo.  And there was no sort of measured language about, well, he did come in and tried to help.  I mean, they really put it all out there.

This was about as, you know, strident of a sentencing memo as you`re going to get in this kind of a case.  They talk about crimes that he committed, you know, that led up to this, the ways he tried to then tamper with witnesses to affect the investigation, and then the lies that they told during his attempts to cooperation.

So, I mean, he really hit every element of criminality here in this investigation, and they go through and really painstaking detail to lay it out.

WILLIAMS:  They also had the option, they can do aggravating circumstances and mitigating, some nice things about nothing, nothing in the mitigating category.

BERGER:  Right.  And that`s what`s significant.  I mean, there are arguably some mitigating factors here.  I mean, he is, you know, 70 something years old and, you know, he`s facing a very long time in prison.  But the Special Counsel`s Office was very clear in this sentencing memo.  They said there are no mitigating factors that should cause this court to give Mr. Manafort a lenient sentence here.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Chris, take us up to tonight, what should the takeaway be from the Manafort lawyer response document?

CHRIS MEGERIAN, LOS ANGELES TIMES, COVERING SPECIAL COUNSEL MUELLER:  Well, it`s totally the opposite from what prosecutors put out.  I mean, basically it`s all mitigating factors, a lot of personal history, how Paul Manafort has been a good father, a good brother, a good uncle, things he`s done for the community.  They paint a very rosy picture of his work as an overseas political consultant, leaving out many of the dictators that he advised and merely saying that he promoted American values abroad.  And basically say that his crimes were not that serious and he should get a break from the judge.

WILLIAMS:  And Berit, when the Feds hear that, can that be antagonistic toward them because, after all as you point out, his future is in their hands?

BERGER:  Yes.  I think this kind of a sentencing memo or response by the Manafort team, you know, it can backfire.  I mean, one of the worries here is that a judge reads this and says this defendant is not really seem to be accepting responsibility here.  This defendant is minimizing their crimes, not showing an appropriate level of remorse, and that can often backfire for criminal defendants.

Oftentimes the better approach is to say, "Look, I did these crimes, maybe there were circumstances out there, but I did them, I take responsibility, I`m committed to sort of changing my life going forward to sort of following the mercy of the court."  And that`s not what we saw the Manafort team doing.

WILLIAMS:  Chris, every time the President says no collusion, no collusion, we do our level best to point out that per se, collusion is not a crime, and yet one of the things they list is that they haven`t found evidence of collusion.

MEGERIAN:  Well, I think what they`re trying to point out is Paul Manafort has not been accused of any crimes relating to go Russian interference in the elections.  And that`s true, he`s not been.  That was why Robert Mueller was appointed.   He`s not charged Americans with conspiring with Russians to affect the election.

And I think what the lawyers are trying to say as well, if Robert Mueller hasn`t achieved what he set out to do on the conspiracy angle, you can kind of not take the rest of this stuff that seriously because it`s just garden- variety crimes.  You know, whereas what the prosecution outlined is a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme spanning years.  That is a very serious white collar offense.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s play how the President`s comments about Paul Manafort have let`s say migrated over time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Now, Paul Manafort is a nice guy, but, you know, he worked for me for a very short period of time, literally for, like, what, a couple months?  A little period of time.

Like Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign.  But I feel -- I tell you, I feel badly about it.  They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago.  You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time.

I must tell you that Paul Manafort is a good man, he was with Ronald Reagan.  He was with a lot of people over the years and I feel very sad about that.  it doesn`t involve me, but I still feel -- you know it`s a very sad thing that happened.  This has nothing to do with Russian collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  He was chairman of the campaign, Berit Berger, worked for him as you heard just a short period of time.  Lived in Trump Tower, offered to work for free, former partner of Roger Stone.  Do you hear -- could you make a case that you hear there the sadness, the sympathy, the underpinnings of a potential argument for a pardon?

BERGER:  Yes.  And I think that`s one argument that you could see the Manafort team making in this letter.  One argument is perhaps this letter wasn`t actually for the court.  Perhaps this letter was really painting a narrative, making the case for a pardon.  Obviously that`s in the President`s discretion.  The President has the right to pardon Paul Manafort if he thinks that truly was treated unfairly.

I think it gets harder to swallow that though when you look at, really, the litany of crimes that he committed as detailed by the special counsel`s office in their sentencing memo.  And that may be one of the reasons they went into, you know, such painstaking detail of laying out all of the crimes, all of the times that he lied, all the efforts that he went through to try to cooperate and then how that sort of imploded, is to say this is not somebody who was just caught up in a witch hunt.  This was somebody who was really a systematic liar for, you know, over a decade and really deserves to be held accountable.

WILLIAMS:  Our great thanks to Chris Megerian, to Berit Berger.  Thank you both for taking part in this conversation here tonight.

And coming up, President Trump says his second summit with Kim Jong-un will be tremendous.  We will consult an expert for a preview on this topic when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Right after this meeting, I leave for Vietnam where I meet with Chairman Kim and we talk about something that, frankly, he never spoke to anybody about, but we`re speaking and we`re speaking a lot.  And I think we can have a very good summit.  I think we`ll have a very tremendous summit.  We want denuclearization.  And I think he`ll have a country that will settle a lot of records for speed in terms of an economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  President Trump this morning before boarding Air Force One en route to Vietnam, as you heard him say, for the summit with North Korean`s dictator.  This is a second time Trump and Kim Jong-un will meet to discuss North Korea`s nuclear capability.  Not long after their first summit, the President had this to say about his new friendship with Chairman Kim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I was being really tough.  And so was he.  We go back and forth and then we fell in love, OK?  No, really.  He wrote me beautiful letters.  And they`re great letters.  We fell in love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  He also posted this optimistic assessment proclaiming, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."  It`s worth noting here, no credible official in his government believes that, and that claim was most recently refuted by his own Secretary of State just this past weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN:  Do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Yes.

TAPPER:  But the President says he doesn`t?

POMPEO:  That`s not what he said.

TAPPER:  He tweeted there`s no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea?

POMPEO:  What he said is that the -- what he said was that the efforts that had been made in Singapore, this commitment that Chairman Kim made, have substantially taken down the risk to the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Make of that what you will, "The Washington Post" sums up anxiety over this week`s summit in this fashion.  "Trump`s intelligence chiefs warned that North Korea is unlikely to surrender its nuclear weapons.  His adviser fret that a breakthrough could prove elusive and he might make an impulsive concession to score headlines.  And his allies around the world worry he could easily get outmaneuvered."

With us tonight is an expert in this area, Gordon Chang is back on the broadcast, columnist of The Daily Beast and author of the book "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea takes on the World."

Gordon, why is our President the only person in his government believing that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat?  All evidence to the contrary?

GORDON CHANG, THE DAILY BEAST COLUMNIST:  Yes.  I don`t know the answer to that question, Brian.  And only Trump does.  But, you know, when you look at what President Trump`s been doing since that June summit in Singapore, it really has not been directed at taking away North Korea`s weapons.  It`s more like trying to create this friendship with Kim Jong-un to peel him away from Beijing, to sort of say, look, it`s more important that we isolated China than we disarm North Korea.

Now, I don`t know if that`s what the President is trying to do, but that is the explanation when you look at exactly what they`ve been doing and what they`ve been saying about the North Koreans.

WILLIAMS:  He`s still in the air.  We`ve got two days U.S. time until this thing gets under way.  Give us your best possible scenario and, sadly, your worst possible scenario.

CHANG:  Well, the worst possible scenario is that Trump gives in to Kim in terms of a, "peace declaration to end the Korean War."  It won`t be a formal peace treaty because you need all the parties to do that, but if there`s some sort of statement to that effect.  And the reason why this is not good for the United States or for the people of South Korea is that Moon Jae-in, the South Korea`s president, really is going to use that to say, look, we don`t need U.S. troops anymore.  We don`t need an alliance with the United States.

And the problem is the North Koreans right now are in the middle of their winter training cycle.  This is massive military exercises, so the North Koreans haven`t gotten the peace message.  And North Korea has not given up his plans of taking over South Korea.  As a matter of fact, if you look at it, South Korea is in danger because it has a president who really wants to unify the two Koreas on North Korea`s terms.  This is crazy dangerous for us.

WILLIAMS:  I saw where you said to one of our producers tonight you believe it is possible someday that the North would agree to abandon their weapons.  Under what scenario?

CHANG:  Under the scenario that the President goes back to what he was doing through middle of May of last year, and that is really tough sanctions.  Since that time President Trump has led off sanctions enforcement.  Secretary of State Pompeo keeps on saying, oh, we`ve got this maximum pressure campaign.  But the point is we`ve allowed the Chinese, the Russians, and the South Koreans to openly violate these sanctions.  We`ve done very little about it.  And so Kim Jong-un is getting enough money, maybe not all the money that he wants, but enough to keep his regime going.

And so, you know, I think that when you look at those statements from director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, saying it`s unlikely the North Koreans will give up their weapons, that`s only true under the current set of incentives that North Korea is facing.  Trump can change those incentives.  As a matter of fact, that`s Trump`s job to change those incentives.  He changes those incentives.  Kim may decide he has no choice but to give up his weapons.

WILLIAMS:  This North Korean dictator has been on a train for the better part of three days coming to Hanoi in Vietnam.  It`s a heavily armored, heavily guarded train.  It has been speculated that part of the reason is that they don`t have dependable-enough aircraft.  It`s certainly why this summit isn`t happening in Europe.  They couldn`t make the trip.  But they don`t have dependable-enough aircraft for their head of state to make a trip to Vietnam.

CHANG:  That`s absolutely true.  And I think that essentially -- they`re also worried about an assassination attempt, where it`s easier to bring down a plane than it is to derail a train and kill the occupants.

WILLIAMS:  They haven`t traveled the Northeast Corridor, or Metro-North or Amtrak, but go ahead.

CHANG:  OK.  Sorry.  Yes, that`s true, but he`s not on Amtrak.  He`s on reliable Chinese rail lines.  So, you know, clearly that is, I think, the upper most consideration in Kim Jong-un`s mind.

CHANG:  Absolutely unbelievable.  We`re going to have you back during the summit this week and we`re happy for that.  Thank you very much for coming on to set the scene for us tonight, Gordon Chang.

Coming up, before leaving for Vietnam, the President was talking up his big, beautiful, powerful steel wall.  But a growing number of Republicans are thinking about blocking or trying to his plan for that wall.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We`re doing really well on the wall, the emergency you`ve all been reading.  We do have an emergency.  We have an emergency of people pouring into our country that we don`t want, criminals, smugglers, we have drugs pouring into our country.  We can`t have it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Earlier today the President trying to make his case for declaring that national emergency to fund his border wall or steel slats just days after he said he didn`t need to declare an emergency.  Tomorrow the House will vote on a joint resolution to terminate the President`s emergency declaration.  It`s expected to pass in the House, then it heads to the Senate where its future as we like to say is uncertain.

Four Republican senators would need to cross over and vote in favor of the resolution to send it to the President`s desk.  So far three have come forward with conditions, however, Murkowski of Alaska, Collins of Maine, Tillis of North Carolina, not coincidentally, Collins and Tillis are up for re-election in 2020.

Earlier today, 26 former Republican lawmakers wrote an open letter to the current Republican members of Congress urging them to protect the constitution, block this emergency declaration.  Also today, about 60 former U.S. national security officials issued a declaration saying they are aware of no emergency that remotely justifies diverting funds to build a border wall.

Here with us to talk about it, a longtime returning guest to our broadcast, Mike Murphy, veteran strategist, longtime adviser to Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, John McCain just to name three.  Thank you for coming back.

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Good to be here.

WILLIAMS:  If I said to you that people are -- have been saying over the weekend they could make an urgent case for a national emergency on mass gun violence in this country, opioids, which is stealing 50,000 of our brothers and sisters every year, climate, yes, those three, no problem at all.  This, not so much.

MURPHY:  Yes.  Very low on the emergency scale, except in the President`s mind.  And remember, he`s looking at a political emergency, terrible poll numbers.  So he`s jetting this thing up because he wants the issue he believes of the wall, so now you`ve got Republican senators in the hot seat because the House is going to pass this thing.  And they`ve got to make a political calculation.

You know, they`re institutionalists, a lot of them.  They hate this regardless of Trump because it`s a power grab.  So I think we may get five or six Republicans to bolt in the thing they pass tomorrow, but then Trump vetoes it, then they need 60 votes to win, and that`s going to be thin oxygen.  I don`t if they`re ever going to get there.

WILLIAMS:  What do you make of what`s happening to the party you love?  You know, I`ve heard the argument that the damage being done now will affect the Republican Party for a generation or more.

MURPHY:  Yes, no.  Look, we`re digging a hole.  This is not the conservative ironically anti-Soviet movement I signed up for in the early `80s.

WILLIAMS:  You remember that?

MURPHY:  Yes.  That`s why we enlisted, freedom, the Russians, you know, it`s simple then and we won a lot of races.  I -- this populism is out of control, and when it stops working politically on the Republican side, two things horrify me.  One, responsible conservatives goes in the Trump radioactive pile for a longtime, we play that.  And there`s symmetry where a version of the left that looks a lot more like the labor party in Britain in the `70s and what we`re used to from the kind of the Clinton area of the DLC comes into power.  So this thing go from the worst of one to the worst of the other.

And if you look at the Democratic primary now, the early rhetoric which you can`t bet on, there`s a lot yet to happen.  But the early rhetoric is an option to the left and that`s grim business as well.

WILLIAMS:  No one can beat themselves quite like the Democratic Party.

MURPHY:  They are a gift.  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s go there and talk about that especially the oxygen, AOC, the young member of Congress from New York is receiving right now.

MURPHY:  Yes.  She`s -- you know, what`s interesting is she goes nowhere near Trump`s what I would call racist adjacent activities.  But they have similarities.  Not ideology, but they`re both creations of applause line, you know, social media driven popularity that`s about an inch thin.  And it`s working for her.  Now, she`s not elected to high office, but she has influence.  She`s setting the agenda of the Democratic Party right now.

And, you know, in a primary you`re consumed by the race with all your opponents to beat them in the short term, but they`ve got to keep an eye on the longer term because it`s been ironic.  After we lost the House, Republican panic starter growing about Trump is a political disaster.  And even though the President`s numbers are going down, there`s this weird bubble optimism now in D.C. as they watch the Democrats in the Republican bubble thinking, my god, they`re going to nominate somebody even Trump could beat.

Can you believe it?  And that is helping Trump.  Now, I think it`s an illusion probably over time, but that`s the perception now because the Democrats are not sending a signal that they`re going to win those counties in Michigan and Ohio that Trump lost.

WILLIAMS:  So you don`t put stock in it, but you`re certainly hearing it?

MURPHY:  Yes.  You know, I don`t trust ecochambers in D.C.  I think conventional wisdom there is often wrong.  But it does affect the minute- to-minute political decisions, and the President is having a little bit of a comeback because the Republican calculation is looking at some of these Democrats, it seems in Ohio, it seems in Pennsylvania.  But -- that they`re going to nominate somebody that even Donald Trump could beat.

So that causes them to become more cautious about fixing the Trump political problem.  It`s a converse thing, but it`s a feedback loop that`s happening right now. 

WILLIAMS:  As long as we keep inviting you, will you keep coming back to talk?

MURPHY:  Absolutely.  I love it here.

WILLIAMS:  Mike Murphy, thank you, always a pleasure.

MURPHY:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, a man who made his bones in the comedy business now fighting for those who don`t normally have a voice in Washington but certainly should.  That story, his story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN STEWART, 9/11 VICTIMS ADVOCATE:  I`m embarrassed that you, after serving so selflessly with such heroism have to come down here and convince people to do what`s right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was John Stewart`s message on behalf of first responders.  That was four years ago.  Today, now 18 years after the attacks on September 11th, he`s making the same argument.  John`s been fighting alongside members of Congress and first responders for almost a decade trying to make sure our government funds medical monitoring and treatment for tens of thousands of people who risk their lives in New York City, many of them unknowingly.

Today John Stewart was back on the Hill to push for this bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes Act, which would set aside money for the victims compensation fund until 2090.  This used to be known`s as the Zadroga Act for NYPD Detective James Zadroga, the first public servant whose death was attributed to post-9/11 exposure.

Until now the program`s been funded five years at a time, which means, once again, it`s set to expire in 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN FEAL, 9/11 RESPONDER:  It`s an insult that they keep continuing to put a date, an arbitrary date on legislation five years here, five years there.  Everybody knows these cancers and these respiratory illnesses have different latency periods.  I mean come on.  I mean it`s just insulting.  We`re sick and dying but we`re not stupid.

STEWART:  First responders pride themselves on response time.  It`s the thing that they work on day in and day out so that the people and the communities that they serve are well-served by their actions.  And yet each and every time when they have a need, our response is inadequate, slow, and apathetic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Last week the Justice Department announced drastic cuts to claim payouts, some as steep as 70%.  That`s because the fund is close to exceeding its total limit of $7.3 billion.  9/11 first responder John Feal spoke to our own a Andrea Mitchell about the emotional and financial toll this is all taking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  John Feal, I think I`ve been told that you`ve gone to 181 funerals of responders.

FEAL:  Yes, ma`am, and I paid for nine of them because they couldn`t afford to bury their loved ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  There are more than 20,000 approved claims in the victim compensation fund program right now.  About 12,000 claims still need to be processed, another 9,000 are currently going through the route of appeals.  And please note this.  The New York City Fire Department lost 343 members that day when those buildings came down on 9/11.  The number of exposure- related deaths to New York City firefighters who worked on that pile is on pace to exceed the 343 who died that day.

Coming up for us, the President suggests an event we all can enjoy, though some people may already have plans on that date.  It sure has caused a tidal wave of ideas.  The kind you only get in America.  That story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, imagine getting an invitation from the President.  Well, that`s how the President`s Twitter followers no doubt felt when this arrived.  "Hold the date.  We`ll be having one of the biggest gatherings in the history of Washington, D.C., on July 4th."  So again that date is July 4th.  "It will be called "A Salute to America" and will be held at the Lincoln Memorial.  Major fireworks display, entertainment, and an address by your favorite President, me."

To which a lot of people over the age of about 10 said, don`t we already have that?  Except for the favorite President part?  The Capitol Fourth happens to be the number one highest rated show every year on PBS and for good reason.  It`s a huge and wonderful and free and nonpolitical gathering held at the U.S. Capitol every year for generations now.

The problem is, some people may have a conflict because that Capitol Fourth, that`s on the same date, July 4th, as the President`s event.  But his idea of setting aside that day for a big celebration certainly proved popular this weekend.  It led to some other great ideas.  One gentleman on Twitter called for a day to give thanks that also involved eating and watching football.

GOP strategist Ana Navarro chose the occasion to announce, "one of the biggest gatherings in the history of human kind on December 31st."  Veteran journalist Ron Fournier suggesting, "one of the biggest religious celebrations in the history of Christianity on December 25th. Rory Cooper is launching "one of the biggest candy giveaways in history on October 31st."

So as you can see, the President`s idea for this 4th of July celebration in Washington is launching all kinds of copycats but in a good way.  That is our broadcast on this Monday night as we start a new week together.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from NBC New headquarters here in New York. 

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