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Hours away from Cohen Testimony. TRANSCRIPT: 2/26/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Emily Jane Fox, A.B. Stoddard

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The Honorable Katie Porter gets tonight`s LAST WORD and takes her place among the rising stars of the freshman class of the House of Representatives.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight Michael Cohen opens three days of testimony with an apology for lying the last time around, while today took place behind this door, tomorrow unfolds on live television.

And tonight we have a preview of what the President`s former lawyer and keeper of the secrets is prepared to say.

Late today a threat to Cohen arrived via Twitter.  It read like the mob but it was sent by a sitting member of Congress, a Trump ally from Florida.  Tonight, what we know about possible consequences.  All of this while our President and North Korea`s dictator are in Hanoi where their second summit gets under way in a matter of hours, as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.

And good evening, we come to you tonight from our NBC News, Washington bureau.  This was day 768 of the Trump administration.

The President for his part is in Vietnam, a country whereas it`s been pointed out many times these recent days he tried mightily to avoid visiting as a young man.  It`s just after 11:00 a.m. there, and the visiting American President is beginning a series of meetings with the president and prime minister of Vietnam.

Tomorrow from Hanoi to Washington it`s going to be something of a split screen between Donald Trump and a man he fears could do him great damage.  Not his summit partner Kim Jong-un of North Korea, rather his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen whose testimony will be televised live.  This was day one of three days here in Washington for the now former New York lawyer.

Along the way Michael Cohen was disbarred today.  And today he appeared as a civilian headed to prison at a nine-hour closed door hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  He has admitted lying to them back in 2017, and indeed a source close to Cohen tells NBC News he started off today by apologizing to the committee.  He paused to speak briefly after the hearing was over.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER:  I really appreciate the opportunity that was given to me to clear the record and to tell the truth.  And I look forward to tomorrow to being able to give my voice to tell the American people my story, and I`m going to let the American people decide exactly who`s telling the truth.  So I want to thank you all again for sticking around and have a good night.


WILLIAMS:  That was it.  Tomorrow Cohen will testify live as he puts it before the American people.  But more like on cable news at a House Oversight Hearing that is widely expected to be dramatic from start to finish.

The established ground rules call for him not to discuss the Russia investigation tomorrow.  But a knowledgeable source tells NBC News that he is, "ready to share antidotes about Trump`s lies, racism and cheating as a private businessman.  Ready to show evidence of criminal conduct by Trump since he has become President.  He will explain lies to congress about the Trump Moscow deal, reveal information about Trump`s finances potentially with the actual financial statements.  He`s prepared to give granular details of Trump`s involvement and scheme to keep Stormy Daniels aka Stephanie Clifford quiet."

Tonight NBC News confirmed a big story first reported by "The Wall Street Journal," and that is a source telling us Michael Cohen will show the committee a signed check by the Trump organization.  Cohen will say the signed check was part of the reimbursement he received for his $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.

According to the source Trump signed some of the monthly checks from the Trump organization to Cohen. But this is important tonight, it`s unclear whether the check Cohen will apparently bring tomorrow will have Trump`s unmistakable signature on it.

You may recall Cohen had postponed his testimony last month after what he said were threats from the President against his family like this one in which she singles out Cohen`s father-in-law.

Well, late today let`s just say the threat quotient was raised by one of the President`s strongest supporters in the House.  Republican member of Congress who represents the Florida Panhandle, Matt Gaetz who said this and we quote, "Hey Michael Cohen, do your wife and father-in-law know about your girlfriends?  Maybe tonight would be a good night for a chat.  I wonder if she`ll remain faithful when you`re in prison.  She`s about to learn a lot."

Responding in a statement Cohen`s lawyer said, "We will not respond to Mr. Gaetz`s despicable lies and personal smears except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats will repudiate his words and his conduct.

Earlier this evening Congressman Gaetz who will not be on the committee conducting tomorrow`s questioning defended his allegation on the House floor.


REP. MATT GAETZ, (R) FLORIDA:  Tomorrow we will find out if there`s anyone Michael Cohen hasn`t lied to.  We already know he lied to Congress, we already know he lied to law enforcement, lied to the IRS, lied to three banks and he`s going to prison for his lies.

And so I guess it will be relevant for us to determine, like, does he lie to his own family.  I think it is entirely appropriate for any member of this body to challenge the truthfulness and voracity and character for the people who have a history of lying and have a future that undoubtedly contains nothing but lies.


WILLIAMS:  Republican Congressman Mark Meadows, he of the Freedom Caucus, he from North Carolina, he is on the committee that will hear from Cohen tomorrow and issued this warning today.


REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA:  The number of us on the Oversight Committee have been looking at documents that Michael Cohen has been involved with, and I can tell you there`s a number of questions that still remain in terms of potential criminal offenses that Michael Cohen may have committed that I believe will come out tomorrow.


WILLIAMS:  Cohen is scheduled to begin a three-year prison sentence in May.  As we mentioned while the Russia investigation will be off-limits officially at tomorrow`s public hearing, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say Russia will be front and center when Cohen talks to them in another closed hearing on Thursday.  It`s a lot to keep track of.

For that, let`s bring in our lead off panel on a Tuesday night.  Maya Wiley, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, now with the New School in New York.  Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," and moderator of Washington Week on PBS.  And Emily Jane Fox, Senior Reporter for the Vanity Fair who has, shall we say, chronicle deplete of Michael Cohen and is the author of "Born Trump, Inside America`s First Family."  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Mr. Costa, in our television age we tend to trace scandals and investigations by their associated televised hearings, whether it`s Watergate, whether it`s Oli North and Fawn Hall or whether it`s Clarence Thomas. This has not here to for been a hearing driven televised moment.  Is that all about to change tomorrow in this investigation?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  You`re, Brian.  There has not been an Alexandra battlefield Watergate type moment in this President Trump era, but tomorrow you have Capitol Hill now controlled by Democrats in the House using their powers to ask tough questions of the President`s long time lawyer.  And this is long time lawyer who wants to provide new information.

How relevant that new information is to the Trump presidency remains to be determined.  And Republicans like Congressman Gaetz and others are at the barricades tonight politically.

I just got off the phone a minute ago with Mayor Giuliani.  He said he doesn`t have a war room setup, but they`re prepared to fight Mr. Cohen on almost every issue he brings up.  They`re not going to update the President every hour.  He says, it just going to be Giuliani and the other lawyer Jay Sekulow talking by phone.  Trying to see what happens.

But even Giuliani tonight, they`re not exactly sure what`s going to happen tomorrow.  It is something that`s variable for our entire political scene.

WILLIAMS:  Is the practical reason for not having to update the President every hour the assumption that he`ll be watching every hour on the other side of the world where a 10:00 a.m. hearing start time is 10:00 p.m. after the workday in Hanoi?

COSTA:  Giuliani says he`s focused on his Vietnam summit, but a lot of his confidants say he will be following minute by minute.  Maybe not every second of the actual hearing because of the time change.  But you have a President who had this man, Mr. Cohen, at his side for over a decade, someone who`s worked with him on intimate issues, personal issues.

And the questions for Republicans tomorrow is, will anything rise to the threshold to be a threat politically to them?  So far they`ve suffered through a lot of indignities that President Trump has brought upon them in their own party, but they want to see if this is going to be a threat to them in 2020.

WILLIAMS:  Emily Jane Fox, what can you say if anything about the attitude, mind-set, bearing of the witness going into tomorrow?

EMILY JANE FOX, VANITY FAIR SENIOR REPORTER:  This is day that Michael Cohen has been preparing for, looking forward to and readying for the last several weeks.  He has spent every single day with his lawyers in intense preparation as it was described to me over the weekend.  He has written a statement, rewritten his statement, practiced his statement.  He has been waiting for his time to share his story.

Now, we`re now going on almost a year since the FBI executed search warrants on his homes and office.  He really has very few times spoken publicly since then, and this is guy who as we all know who likes to be able to tell his side of the story.  So this is moment that is consequential for him.  It is consequential for the fate of the presidency and it is going to be consequential for the American people tuning into what is a very hyped and I think deservedly hyped hearing tomorrow.

WILLIAMS:  You reported a minor detail in this story, but I thin it`s so telling, the raid was not on his home because his home, a Trump building in New York was destroyed by a burst pipe.  He was living temporarily in a hotel room in New York, but it speaks to the state of his life a year ago and his loyalty to all things Trump organization.

FOX:  He still lives in a Trump apartment.  He`s now moved back into it.  It`s actually the building where Jared and Ivanka live when they are in New York.

WILLIAMS:  What are the chances of that?

FOX:  It is a very twisted world in Trump world.  And the connection to the family is just highlighted by the area in which they live.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Maya Wiley, counselor, how much damage can Mr. Cohen do tomorrow?

MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Look, I`m going to say it. There has been so much damage done already by Michael Cohen to Donald Trump.  And, you know, one of the things that -- and I agree both with Bob and with Emily Jane, you know, we don`t know all the things he could say because the reality is whether he goes back two years, five years or 10 years, if he shares a pattern of practice that the Trump organization engages in that demonstrates that it behaves as Michael Cohen`s friend Donny Deutsch said on Ari Melber`s show when I was on which was a criminal enterprise -- that`s a quote.  I didn`t say it.

Is that the Trump organization operates as a criminal enterprise, if that is true there are any number of transactions, events, things that the Trump organization did under the direction of their CEO Donald Trump that could implicate it in a crime.  Now, I think the point people have raised is can you believe Michael Cohen.

The issue here is, yes, Michael Cohen if he says things that could implicate crimes could implicate himself.  But he`s also testifying under oath.  He has already pled guilty to the crime of perjury to Congress.  That means he is in jeopardy if he doesn`t tell the truth.

So, we may learn things that we didn`t know before.  We may learn just more details on things we already knew where he has already implicated Donald Trump in a crime, specifically the way in which he according to Michael Cohen, directed payments to silence women, Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal in the catch and kill story that may in and of themselves be campaign finance violations.

WILLIAMS:  Robert, we might as well throw decorum, a state funeral because it is dead and gone at least in this city where it once existed.  I`m talking about the Matt Gaetz tweet tonight, score sense (ph) in its language.  And the response was swift. 

Two friends of our broadcast, first Bill Kristol, "This is loathsome.  It deserves the censure of his colleagues and perhaps of the House itself as attempted intimidation of a witness testifying before a House committee.  More important, though, what does this say about the degree of panic about Trump allies about Cohen`s testimony?"

And Frank Figliuzzi, fresh from a career chasing organized crime figures among others, "In an organized crime family the mobsters aren`t loyal to the capo out of love and affection, they do his bidding out of fear.  What is Gaetz afraid of?"

I lay it before you.

COSTA:  A question right now, what is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy do with Congressman Gaetz?  Is he going to allow one of his members to be out there on a limb saying this kind of thing about a witness appearing before a House committee?  Also a challenge for Democrats tomorrow, can they draw blood politically with Mr. Cohen?  Can they keep the focused at this hearing?  Can they actually walk through different issues to try and draw Cohen out?

Because remember, they have to make sure they`re concentrating on Cohen`s conduct but also President Trump`s conduct.  They`re not going to be able to veer into Russian issues.  As a reporter we all wish we could ask Mr. Cohen more about Trump Tower Moskow, about interaction with different Russian figures.  But because of the Mueller investigation, a lot of those questions have been walled off.  So the Democrats have to pick their spots.  Can they actually illicit new information that`s both credible and politically earth shattering to try and move the ball politically on President Trump and the investigation.

WILLIAMS:  And Maya, you`re our lawyer here.  If you were starting a case in federal court tomorrow and you had someone issue a tweet like this, would you move for witness tampering?

WILEY:  If I was a prosecutor, --


WILEY:  -- and I had it before me, absolutely.  Here -- the reality here, so we have to separate whether or not you have grounds to investigate whether or not there was a crime.  You always have to establish in this context of witness tampering under the federal statute, intent, right?  So as we heard Mike Gaetz say publicly, look, his credibility is an issue.  That is true.

And I`m just saying that there are issues that, you know, we could use to investigate his credibility.  That tells you what a defense would say.

But certainly that tweet when I read it was really as Bill Kristol has said, it is completely unacceptable for a sitting member of Congress to issue a tweet like that in this context.  But practically, there`s a practical matter in the way this would work, the Department of Justice would not self-initiate an investigation here.  Congress would have to refer it for an investigation.

I don`t know that that will happen in this case.  I think the good news here is that Michael Cohen is agreeing to cooperate and that it`s not the first time that he has suggested that he`s felt intimidated about his testimony.  I think that demonstrates that he is very interested as Emily Jane said.  He wants his story out there.  And it`s not going to stop him that someone tried to intimidate him.

WILLIAMS:  Emily Jane Fox, long before there was a Trump administration the one intersection between politics and the mob was you don`t touch families.  You leave families out of it.

In coming to know the people we cover for a living, you sometimes come to know their families.  What Matt Gaetz said was not in a vacuum.  Michael Cohen is a father of two.  Long time married man with an extended married into family.  This has to have huge ramifications within that family.

FOX:  Sure.  This testimony was already delayed because of the tweets that President Trump sent out that Cohen felt were threatening the safety of his family.  It wasn`t that he was fearful for himself.  He was fearful for what it meant for his family.

His family will not be there tomorrow.  He`s not bringing his family who wanted to come and be there behind him because he was scared of what might happen, what would be said about him, and he didn`t want that pressure added on top of the other pressure that he is facing tomorrow.  That this happened is almost like his worst nightmare came true.

I don`t think any father would be happy that a sitting Congress person would say such a salacious thing about their family.  It is such a uniquely Trumpian thing that happened today, where a member of Congress would attack a witness like this.  And it would almost be tomorrow`s news already. -- yesterday`s news, I`m sorry.

It`s just exactly what Cohen was worried about and it almost speaks to the reason why he deleted it, initially.

WILLIAMS:  There`s every reason to believe we`ll be watching clips from tomorrow 50 years from now.  It will be interesting to be back at this hour in this time slot tomorrow night and see what it is we are covering and talking about.

Maya Wiley back in New York, Robert Costa, Emily Jane Fox here in Washington, our thanks for starting off our broadcast tonight and always.

Coming up, we`re keeping an eye on what is transpiring right now in Vietnam with just hours to go before these two world leaders meet for their second time in this second summit.  We have a live report from Hanoi.

And later, how Congress sent a message to the President today while he was 8,000 miles from home, halfway around the world in a preview of the most watched event on the Congressional docket tomorrow.  Michael Cohen, though, isn`t the only drama on Capitol Hill.  THE 11TH HOUR in Washington just getting started on a Tuesday night.


WILLIAMS:  At this hour President Trump is meeting with the President of Vietnam in Hanoi.  In just a few hours he`ll have his first face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un.  Of this summit the two leaders scheduled to hold their second summit to discuss nuclear weapons tomorrow.

Donald Trump is apparently alone among members of his own government in believing North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.  Most experts can`t really imagine the secretive duplicitous dark state ever really doing that.

Sources tell NBC News the U.S. could offer incentives to North Korea like negotiating a formal end to the Korean War, easing minor sanctions and opening up a bare bones diplomatic outpost.

Two of our own journalists, Carol Lee, who joins us later on the hour and Courtney Kube who covers the Pentagon for us report this, "Some senior Trump administration officials and others involved in the negotiations are worried that establishing diplomatic outpost and agreeing to an end of a war declaration in addition to a second Presidential meeting for Kim would amount to a de facto U.S. recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state."

Well, with us here in Washington to talk about it Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff of the CIA and the Pentagon.  And Andrea Mitchell, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and of course the host of "Andrea Mitchell Reports," weekdays here on MSNBC.  Good evening and welcome to you both.

Andrea, let`s start with the atmospherics.  The video before this even started.  You have Kim Jong-un stopping for a cigarette break and his sister as one does following around him with a crystal ashtray.


WILLIAMS:  I would, but I mean, who are you going to trust in that country but your sister to be the carrier of the ashtray.  And then getting off to train after a 68-hour -- first of all if you want to spend 68 hours on a train take Amtrak from Seattle to San Francisco.  But I kid.

Sixty hours on a train in part because of the threat of assassination and in part because of the shortage of dependable aviation equipment in that country.  That gives you the setting for these two guys to sit down.

MITCHELL:  It`s a perfect metaphor.  The economic need, the sanctions have hurt.  But there`s also cheating from China and Russia, playing on both sides against the middle.

And there is sort of a metaphor there, and it may be more than symbolic of him going through China, through Chinese territory, paying respect to China on the way to this critical showdown with the leverage that China uniquely holds over whether any deal will ever be consummated or obeyed.  And yet at the same time the cultive personality cultivated of course by Kim Jong-un and his entire dynasty going back three generations.

WILLIAMS:  It`s a state and a cult really.

MITCHELL:  And what do we have here?  We have a President of the United States who believes he is uniquely capable to his own personality of somehow breaking through as no other President has with that shiny Nobel Prize as the allure over the horizon.

WILLIAMS:  It`s always (ph) started to talk about it.

Jeremy Bash, do you fear the degree to which Trump feels the need to emerge with a deal of some sort?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHEF OF STAFF:  I do.  I think the result in Hanoi is actually already known, which is that our President has accepted North Korea as a nuclear weapons power.  And by that I mean in 2017 under the umbrella of Trump`s tweet storm, you know, my button is bigger than your button and rocket man, the North actually flag tested an ICBM twice, they detonated a nuclear device, they overflow Japan twice.  They showed the world and themselves that they have a technological capability to threaten the western part of the United States.

And with that, as their arsenal, they proceeded to play rope adope with our President.  And now, with those nuclear weapons and tactic and they`ve actually destroyed zero nuclear weapons since the June Singapore summit.  They`ve destroyed no nuclear material, they`ve destroyed not a single ICBM.  They stand on the world stage with an American president and they are ready to get an amazing number of concessions from the United States.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s put the President`s tweet on the screen.  We`re quoting at the bottom of the screen, he called Kim Jong-un his friend tonight.  Andrea, just that will put cold-water in the veins of all the foreign policy professionals that you know in this city.

MITCHELL:  And just think of the one issue that`s never discussed in the Trump administration, which is human rights.  Human rights, the gulags, the prisoners.  We`re no longer hearing about Otto Warmbier, the one individual or the millions who have been slaughtered.

And to say that and as Jeremy says, he is accepting the status quo of a nuclear powered state.  We have not seen an inventory, we have not seen even a definition of denuclearization.  Which was the going, the argument that there was not going to be a phased out ordinary arms control negotiation.  You do this, we`ll do this, and eventually we get here with inspections, with verification.

But initially it was going to be -- we`re getting everything up front, which they claimed to get into the shock of then Defense Chief Mattis.  He even then agrees or suggests to give up the joint military exercises which are critical for readiness and have still not taken place in Singapore.

WILLIAMS:  And Jeremy, what part of North Korea do you think is going to agree once and for all to give up on their cherished nukes say nothing of the artillery that is the day to day threat to Seoul, South Korea, all those tubes packed on all of those mountain sides, hundreds of them ready aimed and fire away from hitting South Korea?

BASH:  Actually probably tens of thousands of those artillery tubes, probably 40,000 that are within range of Seoul as you referenced.  And not only in range of Seoul but in range of U.S. troops that are there in Seoul --

WILLIAMS:  That`s right.

BASH:  -- and throughout the peninsula.  Not only guarding the security of our ally, South Korea, but actually promoting U.S. interests in the region.  So I think we`re a long way from peace, although, of course that`s ultimately what Kim Jong-un seeks.  He seeks acceptance.  He seeks the world stage with the American President.  He seeks the relief of sanctions so he can feed his own people.

And I`m sorry to report he`s going to get many of those things without making a single solitary concession.  And I fear, Brian, I think this is kind of the elephant in the room, that in light of what`s happening in Washington tomorrow with the Cohen hearings --

MITCHELL:  Exactly.

BASH:  -- the President is going to be more eager to please, more eager for headline, more eager to get a big show and a headline at his summit.  And he`s going to cave harder and faster than he really should.

WILLIAMS:  A chilling thought, but we`ll pause the conversation there.  Take a break.  Jeremy and Andrea, both staying with us.

And coming up, you don`t see this every day.  What was Russia`s foreign minister, the one who visited our President in the Oval Office, doing in Vietnam this week?  More on that after this.



ANDREW MCCABE, FMR. FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR:  The President said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States, and he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not.  Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses.  To which the President replied, I don`t care, I believe Putin.


WILLIAMS:  Maybe the most bracing moment from that recent administer view with "60 Minutes," Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe revealing the moment President Trump in his book, as depicted in his book, revealed his trust in Russian intel over his own team.  Which makes this headline all the more interesting, "U.S. asked for advice on North Korea talks."

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who, again was in Vietnam the same week Trump and Kim are in Vietnam, told Russian news agencies the U.S. wanted and sought insight on dealing with North Korea.  Among the reported recommendations offers security guarantees to Kim Jong-un in order to move forward with nuclear disarmament.  Helpful.

Still with us, Jeremy Bash and Andrea Mitchell.  Jeremy, I don`t know which to start with.  The advice from the Russians as to how to proceed with the North Koreans or the threat of believing Putin over your own home team, and more than that saying it out loud.

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  I know.  And I think it`s important for us to be clear-eyed as we think about what`s going to unfold in Hanoi over the next 48 hours.  The Russian federation has an interest in diminishing U.S. influence in Asia.  They have a strong interest in removing U.S. troops from the peninsula because they see it as a strategic counterweight to Russia`s effort on their eastern seacoast.  And in addition, they have a strong interest in diminishing U.S. missile defense systems, which are there not only to defend against North Korea but also to actually play a deterrent role against the Russian federation.

WILLIAMS:  These are live pictures on the left-hand side of the screen.  And while completely unimportant, Trump watchers may notice something he never does.  The President has buttoned his suit coat.  He normally pointedly leaves it open.  But here he is about to sign what is a jet engine and aviation deal.  This is with the host country of Vietnam, our former adversaries.

The President is there with Vietnam`s trade representative, prime minister and President.  There`s the handshake among the seconds.  Andrea, what does Putin get out of any or all of this?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  He gets -- First of all, a reduction of the U.S. military presence he hopes.  Especially that anti-missile defense, and the U.S. troops presence ultimately that`s one of the things that he had recommended before the first summit, we didn`t need that American troop presence especially if a peace treaty is signed and that would be the next demand.  And we see also in that signing this inducement.  This is the carry if you will, to say you can get these kinds of deals, Kim Jong-un, for your country if you just do what Vietnam did.

Of course Vietnam didn`t have nuclear weapons.  I was there when we saw in the normalization and diplomatic relations agreement with Vietnam, we did get many of our remains back.  It was negotiated by Warren Christopher.  It was in the mid-`90s, 1995 and I was throughout the country before that.  And it`s a very different place.  They`d no longer had these prison camps.  It`s a socialist communist country and a totalitarian regime, and still had a very rigid polit bureau but nothing, nothing at all like North Korea.

WILLIAMS:  Is this idealistic political fancy?  Do you think anyone proffered the notion of the President going over to the Hanoi Hilton where John McCain and all of our suffering POWs were held?

MITCHELL:  I cannot imagine.  And it would actually -- it would perhaps demean and diminish that place as horrific as that place is, I`ve been there.  And John McCain of course has gone back, went back with John Kerry and others who were on the opposite side of the Vietnam debate back then.  But it`s not a place for Donald Trump, I would argue.  And I think the McCain family even would argue.

WILLIAMS:  I just keep thinking about its looming presence over that country and that city and the meaning it has to all those Americans especially who had fathers, sons over there.  Jeremy Bash, Andrea Mitchell, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation tonight here in Washington.

Coming up, tomorrow will be the tale of two major breaking news stories.  A viewers` guide to what could be a split screen television viewing moment as we said between Hanoi and Washington, D.C.  That`s when we continue.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump in Vietnam right now.  He has been meeting with the country`s President there ahead of tomorrow`s meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea.  The summit event started with some confusion at the hotel where the North Korean dictator is staying.  It happened to be the same hotel where the White House had designated for all the journalists traveling with the President.  What we like to call a press filing center.

Upon Kim`s arrival, "The White House press corp was evicted from its workspace."  As our NBC News team reports, "The forced move was highly unusual because the White House had approved of and supported the use of the space by media who cover the President."  "The Washington Post" summed up the situation this way, and we, "What happens when the authoritarian ruler of North Korea checks into a hotel teaming with American journalists filing round-the-clock reports?  The free press loses."

With us from Vietnam, our own Carol Lee, NBC News National Political Reporter who happened to be in the hotel lobby when the North Korean contingent arrived.  Here with us in D.C., two of our returning veterans.  Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times" and A.B. Stoddard, Columnist and Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics.  Carol, I`m not sure whether body clockwise it feels like you should be going down for the night or having lunch but we won`t keep you long.  I just having one scene Gaddafi (ph) in a hotel lobby in Tehran.  You now have the better story.  What was it like to be there?  What did you witness?

CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  I don`t know about that.  Well, Brian, it was so interesting because none of this was a surprise to anyone except for perhaps Kim Jong-un because the U.S. government, the Vietnamese government and the North Korean government all knew that we were staying there.  There was a setup for more than 200 journalists, members of the White House press corp there, and I happened to be staying in the hotel.  And the morning that I arrived on Monday, they gave us a notice saying they were going to include security measures because a head of state was staying there.  So we were notified.

And then we`re having breakfast Tuesday morning and we`re told they have to move the press center.  And so packing up, came down into the lobby and they had rolled down a red carpet for Kim Jong-un in the lobby and told us we weren`t allowed to step on it.  So we had to walk around that.  And then we were shoved into the restaurant in the hotel lobby and we were told to wait there and that we couldn`t take any pictures of him and could barely see.

And so we managed to -- I saw him through a very like almost a hole in this wood lattice wall that we were looking through.  And what was funny about it or just curious was that, you know, usually when a president or head of state arrives at a hotel, it`s done very quietly.  The motorcade arrives, they go through a back entrance and they`re not seen.  And this was almost like a hotel arrival ceremony for Kim Jong-un.  He had cleared out the lobby except for his security detail, there were bouquets of flowers out, there was the red carpet.

And so he walked in and immediately went into the elevator and went up to wherever he is staying.  And then we were held there for a little while before we were able to go back up into our rooms.  And now, you know, the lobby is completely cleared, and there are very few people milling around.  And Kim Jong-un is coming and going as he pleases outside the front door, which is very unusual.

WILLIAMS:  Wow.  Carol Lee in Hanoi where it`s already been sporty and they haven`t sat down for the first session of this summit.  Thank you very much for either getting up or staying up for us.

LEE:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Good luck with the time difference, 12 hours over there in Hanoi.  Peter Baker, first of all, just as people who have covered Presidents you get in from the motorcade and often though not maybe customarily you`re at the President`s hotel --


WILLIAMS:  -- and sometimes they come and sweep your room, which is a direct indicator the President`s either one floor or above you or one floor directly below you.

BAKER:  That`s right, exactly.  But they don`t usually put you in the same hotel with a foreign leader --

WILLIAMS:  That`s true.

BAKER:  -- particularly one who is this particularly insensitive as the dictator of North Korea.  So that`s a pretty unusual thing.  And as Carol said they clearly knew it and yet thought it wouldn`t be a problem only to learn otherwise.

WILLIAMS:  As you know the President has something better than TVO.  They are called WACA, the White House Communications Agency.  And before the age of TVO, they were the folks who actually marched into the modern era, taping television for our presidents.  They can do virtually anything.  They have the world wired.

He has complete capacity to watch this live, to watch it without commercials tomorrow, 10:00 p.m., end of his workday tomorrow night.  Our 10:00 a.m.  There`s our friends at WACA, as they`re know abbreviatedly.  What could happen here other than a sleepless night for as they say the head of a free world?

BAKER:  Well, we know he stays up late under normal circumstances whether he`ll feel jet lagged or exhausted after a day of high diplomacy as another matter.  But, you know, one of the things we`ve seen actually in some of these foreign trips is a diminution, a lessening of his twitter, you know, messages you`re so used to at home.  I mean, you could picture him in bed in a hotel room in Hanoi watching this on TV and giving us instant reaction.

But I suspect that that might not actually happen.  Because I think when he`s overseas he`s shown some restraint on that.  We might hear about it the next day at some length, but I think in the immediate moment he`ll probably keep it to himself.

WILLIAMS:  Live pictures of the Presidents exchanging each other`s flags.  Prime Minister of Vietnam and the President of the United States at a planned -- it looked very spontaneous the way they`re waving the flags, welcoming ceremony, celebration.  Peter, what if the first visual tomorrow is his former personal lawyer holding up a check, God forbid, with the instantly recognizable sharpy kind of EKG signature of Donald Trump?

BAKER:  Yes, that`s a good question.  Of course he`s going to be questioned mainly on the question of this hush money for women who said they had sexual encounters with President Trump.  He`s denied that.  And the question is whether or not he directed it.  Michael Cohen, we believe, is going to tell Congress that he did.  That the future President of the United States directed him to take this action, for which he is now pleaded guilty.  It is considered to be a campaign finance violation.

And he makes the President now to be basically a conspirator.  Now, we know what the Republicans are going to say.  Republicans are going to say he`s a convicted liar, which is true.  He`s been convicted of lying to Congress.  And so Michael Cohen`s credibility will be on the line so will (ph) President Trump`s.

WILLIAMS:  A.B., I want to ask you about something -- a subject you have strong feelings about, and that`s the relevance and attention North Korea craves on the world stage.  I think in all of our conversations we forget how rare and unusual it is that an American President has agreed to sit down with Chairman Kim.  This is what they`ve always wanted.  Talk about that dynamic.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS:  And in that regard, they -- Kim Jong-un has prevailed.  He got a head of state to head of state meeting with the U.S. President last summer.  Afterwards they got rid of some anti-American propaganda on the streets, but then soon were so belligerent that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had to cancel his visit there.

Our own Pentagon has assessed that they remain an extraordinary threat.  DNI Coats has come out and said so at risk of now maybe being fired for saying so and the CIA Director Gina Haspel has said the same thing which is they don`t intend to denuclearize.  So, they can send back some remains, but the President has given Kim Jong-un another elevating, legitimizing event, bringing him out of the Hermit Kingdom.  He is no longer a pariah.  He visits with the Chinese, the Russians and the Chinese immediately, after the summit last year, eased trade restrictions.

This is also at the help of Moon Jae-in, the South Korean President.  But certainly Trump is accountable.  His son said tonight on Fox, my father got a meeting with these people as if that was the goal all along.  Unless something very surprising happens, I really fear that President Trump is going to walk away with nothing concrete in the summit and promise a third summit.  And I think that Chairman Kim cannot believe how much he is winning.

WILLIAMS:  Another chilling thought of which to take a break, but happily our guests are staying with us.

And coming up, the story that would be receiving front page attention on any other day but tomorrow.


WILLIAMS:  Here in Washington, this is about to get interesting as to how this affects the traveling President.  The House voted today to block the President`s national emergency.  We`ll try to simplify this.  With Democrats in charge of the House, the vote was never in doubt just the margin, and in the end 13 Republicans crossed over to join them.

It gets very interesting in the Senate where the nature of the resolution compels Mitch McConnell to schedule a vote on this.  Three of his Republicans have indicated with conditions they`ll cross over.  One more and it passes.  That would force the President`s first veto.  It would take a whole lot more Republicans, and as we see it, a contiguous outbreak of profiles in courage to override the President`s veto.

Peter Baker and A.B. Stoddard remain here with us here in D.C.  A.B., what`s on the minds of Senate Republicans these days and do you have any nominees for profiles in courage?

STODDARD:  Well --

WILLIAMS:  Those not up in 2020.

STODDARD:  Right.  So Tom Tillis came out from North Carolina last night.  He said he`s going to have to go with the Democrats to block the declaration.  This is a very, very tough time for Republicans.  This is perhaps one of the worst jams the President has put them in.

And I talked to a member on the House side, a defector this morning, who said there is no way that we could -- he could live with the precedent- setting vote like this when a Democrat comes in and uses eminent domain to take away -- lock down land that has coal mines on it or whatever.  This is an indefensible vote for any Republican who believes -- who is a constitutional protector and believes in limited government, and this is an abuse of the balance of power.  I spoke to a conservative who is ready to back the President, who said essentially the 1976 law is so broad and statute is so badly designed that they can hide -- they are shielded by it.

WILLIAMS:  There is room there.

STODDARD:  Because it is likely to be upheld by the Supreme Court.  So the Congress in 1976 has allowed this disaster.  But on the Senate side, I`m very interested.  Mitch McConnell looks like he might have snookered the President.  This is going to be fascinating.

He said to get the President to open the government February 15th, I support this emergency.  After he had privately and we know it was reported at the White House urged him not to do this.  If he`s going to get a whole bunch of guys to jump on this, not just the fourth vote, but maybe it gets up to 56 to send a strong rebuke, you see people like Mitt Romney and people who are retiring, Pat Roberts maybe start coming out.  It`s not a veto-proof majority, but that will be a strong sign that Mitch McConnell has had it.

WILLIAMS:  And Peter Baker, the question we asked rhetorically before the break.  You`re the photo editor for "The New York Times" website tomorrow.  Do you take the photo of the resolution being agreed to or say Michael Cohen holding up a canceled check that is a payment to a foreigner porn star?

BAKER:  Why can`t you do both?

WILLIAMS:  I suppose you can.  It`s a big place, the web.

BAKER:  Big website.  These are both important stories.  And this is an important story because it does push the divide that we`ve seen between President Trump and his party on to the front stage.  And it`s been a philosophical one going back on a number of issues, whether it be free trade, whether it be tough on Russia, whether it be limited government or executive power.

Now they`re forced to choose.  And I think you`re right.  I think if you get that one more vote, then you`re going to get five or six.  There will be kind of a jailbreak and a number of them will feel totally safe to go ahead and do it.  But you`re not going to get the veto-proof majority.  It will be a rebuke but it will not be the end of the story.

WILLIAMS:  Two of the best friends of this broadcast has because tonight we`re visiting on their turf. Peter Baker, A.B. Stoddard, thank you both for coming by.  We appreciate it.

One more quick break.  More "11th Hour" when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Quick last thing before we go tonight.  It`s difficult to overestimate the importance of the news day ahead, and for this network and for our loyal viewers, it will be a long day`s journey in tonight.  Michael Cohen gets sworn in, 10:00 a.m. Eastern time.  Our all-day live coverage goes on all day.  Then tomorrow evening, we`ll time off for good behavior and nourishment, we will join you at our usual time and then some. 

The summit in Hanoi is expected again underway in earnest on our watch.  And if need be, we`ll be up especially late as Wednesday gives way to Thursday in the States to cover it all.  That`s tomorrow morning through tomorrow evening and then tomorrow night on this network.  And that is our broadcast for this Tuesday night.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Good night for all of us here in our NBC News Washington Bureau. 

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