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Stone under scrutiny. TRANSCRIPT: 3/4/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Laura Barron-Lopez, David McBride

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, the most significant move yet since Democrats took over the House.  We have details of the sweeping Congressional investigation into the people around Donald Trump and seemingly all things related to Trump.

Plus seems like we just said this, but once again the week before us could be consequential.  With a lot of moving parts to watch that could determine the fate of some well-known names.

And we`ve narrowed down what you need to see at the Saturday morning speech that clocked in at over two hours and left us a lot of material to choose from, some of it not suitable for children who might still be awake as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.

And as we start a new week, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 774 of the Trump administration.  And the President`s not going to like this.  He`s now facing a brand new investigation, the widest since the launch of the Mueller inquiry, and one that could extend well into the 2020 campaign.

The Democratic head of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York today launched an aggressive investigation into three basic areas, allegations of obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Trump and his inner circle.

The Judiciary Committee is demanding documents from 81 people and agencies and entities linked to Trump and his associates from every aspect of Donald Trump`s life.  Spanning his business, his campaign, his family and his administration.  Those insiders include his sons Don Junior and Eric, Allen Weisselberg, CFO of the Trump organization, Jared Kushner, former White House Counselor, Dan McGahn, former Commerce Director, Hope Hicks among many others.

The committee is asking for documents from the White House, Trump`s campaign, Trump`s foundation as well as the FBI and the NRA.  A request was also made for information about that 2016 Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, about Trump`s intervention with the FBI on behalf of Michael Flynn. About the firing of James Comey, the efforts to build a Trump tower in Moscow, possible Russian financing, and the hush money payments that Michael Cohen testified about just last Wednesday.

It`s been noted before it will be noted again, this committee, House Judiciary has the power to draft articles of impeachment, which is what makes this new inquiry especially significant.  Earlier on this network tonight Committee Chairman Nadler talked to Rachel Maddow.


REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK JUDICIARY CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  We`ve been having very positive responses from a number of the 81 people today.

For two years the Republican Congress did no oversight of the administration.  None.  They in fact acted as shields for the administration, for whatever they wanted to do.  We have to protect the rule of law.  And that means we have to investigate and hold hearings and layout for the American people if the administration is involved in abuses of power or obstruction of justice.


WILLIAMS:  Now, Chairman Nadler says both Mueller`s office and the Southern District of New York are aware that his committee has made these requests.  The recipients now have two weeks to comply.

The 81 names listed today are just the start a House Judiciary Committee source is telling NBC News.  According to this very source, "That was the first phase of document requests.  We have more letters coming soon."

Well, tonight the White House Press Secretary put out this statement about the inquiry.  It reads in part.  "Today chairman Nadler opened up a disgraceful and abusive investigation into tired false allegations already investigated by the Special Counsel and committees in both chambers of Congress.  Chairman Nadler and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two year false narrative of Russian collusion is crumbling.  Their intimidation and abuse of American citizens is shameful."

Earlier today the President was asked how he`ll respond to this move.


HANS NICHOLS, NBC NEWS:  Are you going to cooperate with Mr. Nadler?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I cooperate all the time with everybody.  And you know the beautiful thing, no collusion.  It`s all a hoax.  You`re going to learn that as you grow older.  It`s a political hoax.  There`s no collusion.


WILLIAMS:  As sometimes happens over this past weekend the President`s Twitter account seemed in its tone and tenor and content to anticipate something big was coming.  He wrote, "I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad conflicted and corrupt people in a witch hunt that is illegal."

And here is what he told the Conservative Political Action conference during Saturday`s two-hour long speech.


TRUMP:  So they don`t have anything with Russia, there`s no collusion.  So now they go and move (ph) into let`s inspect every deal he`s ever done.  We`re going to go into his finances.  We`re going to check his deals.  We`re going to check -- these people are sick.


WILLIAMS:  More on that event later on in our broadcast.

Judiciary is not the only committee ramping up Trump investigations.  Today the Democratic chairs of Intel, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs combined all requested documents and interviews related to President Trump`s communications with one Vladimir Putin.  They`re interested in Trump`s one- on-one conversations with the Russian leader and the President`s reported efforts to hide some of those communications.

As usual it`s a lot on a Monday night.  And with us to talk about it our lead off panel, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times."  Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counter Intelligence.  And Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor and veteran of the U.S. Justice Department.

Frank, part of the story line of this story has been Mueller is not necessarily the President`s greater danger.  It could be the Southern District of New York.  In effect, the New York branch of the Justice Department.  Though, with that in mind where do you place all of this from the House of Representatives as an existential threat to this presidency?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  So this is an interesting topic because Mueller`s been conducting the inquiry with, number one, a very limited remit.  Remember that was the parameters of that involved Russia and criminal collusion.

Southern district of New York has a couple of -- a number of cases but they`re conducting it through proper grand jury proceedings, much of it in secrecy.  Now we`re going to see a very public display of all things bad for Trump.

And my thinking here is multiple.  First, to what degree is Trump going to be able to restrain himself from his public lashing he`s about to see play out as friends, associates, colleagues get called, even family members get called, even subpoenaed to testify?  But also the public optics of this is going to be very interesting.

To what degree is Nadler and Judiciary Committee and the other committees ready to say this is a credible, well-staffed, well-planned investigation so that the public perception is that this is credible, that this isn`t a beating up of a President but rather this is serious oversight.

It looks like we`re for the first time in a very long time about to see what serious oversight looks like.  But the complications of coordination with the Southern District, with Mueller and the optics to the American people are very essential so that this does not seem like the President will-call it a witch hunt.

WILLIAMS:  Peter, you get to cover the guy.  And as we tried to say in very clear English at the top of it broadcast, he`s just not going to like this.  To Frank`s narrative, 81 names of the people, places, agencies, entities, that is strong counter narrative to the witch hunt.

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, look, you know, when we write the history of this time I think we`ll remember today as the day that the House of Representatives opened an impeachment inquiry against the President of United States in all but name.  They didn`t use the "I" word.  They did everything but that.  They threw out so many different fishing lines, if you will to examine so many different elements, so many different aspects, so many different alligations that have been raised about this President for two years without the kind of public airing they`re about to give it.

That, you know, it`s clearly aimed at that one ultimate possible target.  Now, it maybe Democrats don`t go forward with impeachment down the road and may decide that there`s not enough evidence there, and may decide that it`s not politically advantageous, that they can`t win the votes in the Senate where they would need at least 20 Republican senators to go with them for conviction.

But this is the day that they opened up, you know, what amounts to probably a yearlong effort to uncover and expose all the various misdeeds that they suspect the President of having committed in a very public and very -- what could be a very painful way for this President and his White House.

WILLIAMS:  Now, Counselor, do you agree with that point that our wise colleague just made, that this was the opening of an impeachment inquiry, though not in title?  And can you tell our viewers how they should process the threat this represents as opposed to Mueller and the other stuff that we talk about here every night?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, yes, I would agree that`s what it is particularly because Weisselberg is on the list and the documents.  And recognize that the Weisselberg in all of the documented productions is quite limited at this point.  It`s just what they produce before.

But if they look and see that there`s not enough information, there`s just going to be a second round, and there`s just going to be more and more and more when it comes to the documents.  And that is going to make the President blow a gasket.  I don`t think there`s any question about that.

If we think he had a bad week last week with the crazy speech wait until Weisselberg is testifying in front of the -- in testifying in the House.  But, yes, so I think it`s a huge threat because not only do they not have the parameters of Mueller or the parameters of the Southern District, they don`t have the parameters of crimes.

What they can view as an abuse of power is whatever they say is an abuse of power is.  It can be you spoke to Whitaker and wanted to change even though nothing happened.  Or you pressured somebody -- it can never -- it doesn`t have to rise to the level of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  And they can be looking at it as an abuse of power, as a list for an impeachment.  So it`s very broad and a huge threat and on every imaginable level.

WILLIAMS:  So Peter, let`s bore down on this a little bit more since you and I were around for the last impeachment.  Do the early elements of the Clinton saga remind of what we`re seeing now?

BAKER:  Well, you do have some elements that are similar to the Clinton saga.  And for instance, Clinton was accused of violating the law in order to cover-up a sexual affair.  That`s one of the allegations that has been made against President Trump, that he conspired with Michael Cohen to violate campaign finance law to pay hush payments to two women in order to cover up a sexual indiscretion before the 2016 election.

The difference is that`s not the only thing on the table here.  There`s so many things on the table here as the 81 targets of today`s document requests indicate.  There is his business practices.  Was there, you know, any obstruction of justice when he fired the FBI director or when he tried to get the Justice Department to investigate his enemies.

You know, what was the nature of, you know, his relationship with his own, you know, law enforcement structures?  There are so many elements that, you know, the House Judiciary Committee wants to look into here.  And as Cynthia just said, you know, Allen Weisselberg right there at the heart of all of his business practices.  He probably knows so many things that we don`t know about that this could be quite interesting.  That`s what`s different about Clinton.

In the Clinton case there was one sort of basic event that they were examining.  People had to decide whether it rose to a level of an impeachable offense.  Here, it`s like five different president scandals all rolled into one.

WILLIAMS:  Frank, do you agree were there any names in particular on the list that got your attention?

FIGLIUZZI:  This is a -- this list is a who`s who of Nardoels (ph).  And so it`s hard to imagine which one is going to be more explosive in their testimony.  But three names jumped out at me.  First is an organization.  The FBI.  The FBI is being asked to produce documents in a number of areas.

And look, in some cases they will have the answer key.  If they will give it up they will have answers across various investigative lines.  Secondly, you`ve got to talk about Weisselberg.  Weisselberg is the money man.  He knows everything about where the money went.  And the question is that does why the money went there.  How much was disclosed to him or was he just ordered to do things.

And then lastly this sounds interesting, the NRA is on that list.  And I`m interested in that because this takes us beyond Trump into perhaps the campaigns of various House and Senate members and whether foreign money was funneled through the NRA to those members.  I`m going to keep an eye on that one.

WILLIAMS:  If we don`t take our first commercial break the company gets angry.  So we`re just going to pause all three of our guests are going to stay with us.

And coming up the House investigations infuriating some of the President`s closest supporters especially those at his, shall we say, go-to network of choice.

And will a now deleted social media post be enough to land Roger Stone in prison while he awaits trial?  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Monday night.



SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  The hate Trump agenda is now hitting literally psychotic levels of derangement.

They have now made it their full time stated mission and purpose to try and batter, bloody, bludgeon this President at all costs.  To either impeach or try to make President Trump unelectable in 2020.

We the people will now be subject to what will be the biggest most gruesome display of modern day McCarthyism, which is just the widest fishing net expedition all in an effort to destroy the President.


WILLIAMS:  One of the President`s key media allies earlier this evening reacting to this new House Judiciary Committee investigation.

Still with us tonight, Peter Baker, Frank Figliuzzi, Cynthia Alksne.

Cynthia, I got one more for you.  From Fox News tonight, former U.S. attorney from the District of Columbia, Joe Digenova, with a message for all those whose names were listed by House Judiciary.


JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Everyone should refuse, and when they`re subpoenaed they should all take the Fifth because this a perjury trap.  This is not a legitimate investigation.  It is a fishing expedition.  They`re trying to get people up there to make them look bad so that they can try and make the President look bad.

No one would talk to this committee.  Everyone should take the Fifth.  And if everyone takes the Fifth the American people will understand that this is not a legitimate investigation.  It is political theater.


WILLIAMS:  Counselor, your reaction.

ALSKNE:  Joe Digenova is so predictable.  Well, I mean, you know, he takes the exact opposite when it was the Clinton impeachment.  I remember those days.  I`m old enough.  I was there in the greenroom with him.  He had the exact --


WILLIAMS:  -- so far.  Yes.

ALKSNE:  Yes.  So, that`s not going to happen.  There are some people who should take the Fifth, I mean, --

WILLIAMS:  Like who and why?

ALKSNE:  -- like Don Junior should probably take the Fifth.


ALKSNE:  Because Adam Schiff has already said that he thinks he lied.  So there`s a guy that goes in and has a legitimate problem.  You can`t just take Fifth, you can`t just take five for no reason.  It has to be reasonable.

But, for instance, there`s an interesting question about Weisselberg.  Should Weisselberg take the Fifth?  He has limited immunity.  What is that negotiation going to be?

So, it`s not all cut and dry.  Everybody should take the Fifth, nobody should take the Fifth, it`s all an individual situation.  But I will say, I find Joe Digenova now, you know, he`s just spouting bile usually on television.

WILLIAMS:  Peter Baker, we grabbed on paper at least the President`s tweet where tonight he talked about by our reading McCarthyism.  Now, either he`s from Boston or there`s a Senator McCathy similar to Senator Joe McCarthy who was from Wisconsin. The President was quoting Shawn Hannity tonight and has since corrected the spelling.

So, when someone like me asks you what are they saying and what`s it like inside the West Wing, are taking our evidence from this kind of thing?

BAKER:  Well, it`s good that spelling is not one of the issues at stake at the House Judiciary Committee for the President.  But I think that, you know, they feel under siege.  Any White House would, in this circumstance, this one in particular they`ve been under siege from the beginning.

And you know, if you worked there you have felt from the very start this administration that you were at war, you were under attack from the enemies from the outside.  Remember the talk of impeachment began within days of his election.  He hadn`t even sworn in and some of his critics were already raising that prospect.

So this is something they`ve lived with from the beginning but has now raised to a different level.  When the President said that he didn`t actually lose last years midterm elections, now I think he is seeing the consequences in fact of what happened.  When the House went to Democrat suddenly the world changed for Donald Trump.  It`s not just to say that he can`t or can`t get this legislation or that legislation through.  It`s now he will spend the next two years of his life answering or deflecting or fighting with requests for information like this.

Now, the danger for Democrats is that it will look like it is a fishing expedition.  That it will look like they only care about taking down the President.  And I think the Democrats understand that challenge, but it`s one that feeds into the narrative that you heard and you played already from Sean Hannity, which is that this isn`t legitimate.  It`s just politic, it`s just partisanship.  And a lot of people who liked Donald Trump who think he`s doing a good job are going to dismiss it because they just think it`s the deep state out to get him.

WILLIAMS:  Frank, a question I am forced to ask you way too often.  Do you fear another round of attacks on federal institutions?

FIGLIUZZI:  Oh, I think as the President loses control as he did this weekend in the two hour rambling speech he gave, I think we were already seeing a strong glimpse of his defense.  His defense is going to be ad hominem attacks on people.  His not going to attack the facts, he`s attacking people.  Mueller, which is really one of the most unimpeachable people in Washington, he`s trying more than ever to attack.

We`ve heard Comey rolled out again.  He`s attacking him.  We`ve heard this is a witch hunt.  There`s angry prosecutors on Mueller`s team.  Now we`re going to see personal attacks on each and every member of each and every committee that`s investigating him.

And if that`s all he`s got, if that`s his defense, that`s the defense of someone who is very worried about the facts.

WILLIAMS:  Peter Baker, Frank Figliuzzi, Cynthia Alksne our thanks to starting us off as we begin a new week this Monday night.

And coming up, as a judge considers sending Roger Stone to prison, new reporting that another one time close associate of Trump was looking for a pardon.  That when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Roger Stone might well be in hot water tonight for possible violations of that gag order imposed upon him in federal court last month.  You may recall federal judge Amy Berman Jackson has asked Stone`s attorneys to explain why the release of a new book from Roger Stone was never mentioned during testimony.

Well, today, Stone`s attorneys argued their client should be allowed to publish the book titled, "The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Donald Trump Really Won."  It`s an update to a book Stone originally wrote in 2016 with a new introduction that discusses, wait for it, the Mueller investigation.

Stone`s attorneys said in a court filing, "To the best of Stone`s knowledge information and belief not a single word in the book was created after February 21, 2019."  That of course is the date Judge Berman Jackson imposed Stone`s gag order.

Meanwhile prosecutors for Robert Mueller pointed out in a court filing today that a preview of Stone`s book is available online including the updated introduction.  The website say the book was published online two days before the gag order on February 19th.

Mueller`s team also pointed out that according to public reporting Stone`s Instagram account shared an image yesterday that read "Who framed Roger Stone."

Our partners over at CNBC reported on Sunday, "Stone deleted the only image in that multi image post that included who framed Roger Stone language shortly after CNBC mailed his lawyer to ask about it.

It`s a lot, but with us here in New York tonight, former U.S. Attorney, Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.

Counselor, do you think in your view he has already violated the gag order?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  You know, his lawyers are hanging on a very slender thread here.  Saying, "Well, it`s OK if he violated the gag order because it was before it was imposed when they didn`t even bother to even mention to the judge that this was going on.  Even if it was just that it would be pretty close.

But the fact that Mueller points to the online publication which precedes or which, you know, is actually up within the period that the gag order goes into effect I think is very damaging.

And at some point Judge Amy Berman Jackson is going to have to tell Roger Stone she means what she says, and he can`t continue to take steps that would prejudice a jury pool.

WILLIAMS:  I don`t think we`ve had mention of Roger rabbit on this broadcast yet, but that whole me of who framed Roger Stone if that gets proven and if the judge doesn`t like that he`s in the hooscal, correct?

VANCE: I think that`s one of her options.  You know, look, there`s a pragmatic approach here.  And that says what judge should do is give him enough rope to hang himself but keep from putting him in jail, because he needs to prepare for trial with his lawyer.  And although many people might find that to be unsatisfying it`s the smart long game, is to let him prepare for trial, to continue to restrict him, to perhaps give him one more shot at it.

The problem here, though, is that he has literally begged, he has invited this judge to put him in custody and she may very well go ahead and do it.

WILLIAMS:  I want to read you something from the Wall Street Journal.  This is about Michael Cohen.  An attorney for Michael Cohen raised the possibility of a pardon with attorneys for the president after federal agents raided Mr. Cohen`s properties in April.

Conversations among those parties are now being probed by Congressional investigators.  President`s lawyers including Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani and Joanna Hendon dismissed the idea of a pardon at that time.  But at least one of them, Mr. Giuliani, left open the possibility that the President could grant Mr. Cohen one in the future.

Why is that, what`s the legal jeopardy of talk like that for the President?

Vance:  So this is a lot like the situation with Jim Comey, where the President supporters said, "Well, he was entitled to fire Jim Comey if he wanted to."  And the argument for criminality there is sure he can fire him but he can`t do it for an improper person.  If he does it to obstruct justice it`s a crime, same issue is going on here.

Sure, the President can issue pardons if he wishes to.  But if he`s doing it to obstruct justice it`s still a crime.  And so that`s what`s at the heart of this new article from the Wall Street Journal.

WILLIAMS:  Earlier tonight on Ari Melber`s broadcast, it was show and tell.  I want to show what one of Michael Cohen`s day-to-day attorneys brought on the show that we had not seen before.


MICHAEL MONICO, MICHAEL COHEN`S LAWYER:  The first check, by the way, which was referenced in Mr. Cohen`s testimony, was a $70,000 check, which I have with me today.  A copy of it I have with me today.  A $70,000 check written on the Donald J. Trump revokable trust, which is also an interesting sidelight that the check was written on a revokable trust that was theoretically begun so that the President would have some separation between his life as a politician and his life as a civil servant.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Was that provided into evidence at the hearing?

MELBER:  No, we didn`t have it at the time.


WILLIAMS:  So, first of all, this is just since we all saw the hearing on Wednesday.  His next hearing behind closed doors is this coming Wednesday.  Decipher that for a lay audience.  What did all that just mean?

VANCE:  So the saving grace for this President may be that he`s involved in so much misconduct if not outright criminality that people can`t keep track of it.  Because what we`ve just saw is a check that was issued to Mr. Cohen based on a promise that the President made to Cohen while they were in the Oval Office in the White House, that Cohen would be reimbursed for his role in campaign finance violations, the cover-up up checks that were paid to keep the American people from revolting, frankly, to keep Trump`s base from voting against him in the days following the "Access Hollywood Tape".

This is -- I don`t know any other way to say it, that to see -- we`re seeing criminal acts committed in the White House.

WILLIAMS:  If you were on the fed`s team and you had after all this investigation, only that, only that check, could you get a conviction on that?

VANCE:  Only that check is very difficult, right, because everything that matters is context, his proof of intent, proof of acts, and proof that the act occurred at the time, the intent existed.  So I think it`s always dangerous to say that any one piece of evidence alone is dispositive.  I mean, we sometimes talk about smoking guns.  This is pretty good piece of evidence.

WILLIAMS:  Ma`am, it`s great to have you here.  Thank you so much for visiting us, Joyce Vance.

VANCE:  Thanks for having me.

WILLIAMS:  We appreciate it.  Coming up, the GOP got a lengthy often bizarre reminder of their argument.  Their candidate is apt to make during the upcoming presidential campaign.  We`ll have that for you.  Everything that happened after this moment, after this.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I actually started quite a while ago in CPAC, and came here probably made my first real political speech.  And I enjoyed it so much that I came back for a second one, then a third.  Then I said, "What the hell, let`s run for president, right?"


WILLIAMS:  This is a portion of our broadcast where we warn the folks watching us on the West Coast where it`s 8:00 PM Local Time, if you have little kiddies around, they`re about to hear the President use some foul language.

Anyway, that`s how President Trump started his free wheeling two-hour long speech at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee.  He actually started with this.  Snarky left-leaning Twitter enthusiast couldn`t wait to say that our flag had just experienced a Me-too moment.  The speech was his longest ever.  It was to a crowd the President deems friendly.  This will give you some idea of how it went.


TRUMP:  Please, get us the e-mails.  Then that fake CNN and others say, he asked Russia to go get the e-mails, horrible.  Darling, is the wind blowing today, I`d like to watch television, darling.

They don`t respect us.  They think we`re stupido.  I have one of the great inventions in history, it`s called tivo.  And I`m in the White House and I was lonely.  I said let`s go to Iraq.  $7 trillion and we have to fly in with no lights.

The attorney general says "I`m going to recuse myself."  Number one, I`m love and you`re in love, we`re all in love together.

Yes, I see senators that are there for 20 years, white hair.  See, I don`t have white hair.  So I met generals I didn`t know.  General one, general two, general three, I said what`s your name, "Sir, my name is Raisin.  What the hell kind of a name.  I said, "Raisin?  Like the fruit?"

This was now greater than the election of Andrew Jackson.  People say that.  No, people say that.  I`m not saying it.  And all of a sudden they`re trying to take you out with bullshit, OK?  I`m going to regret this speech.


WILLIAMS:  So there you have it.  The speech was also loaded with false claims and outright lies.  The Washington Post reports today and we quote, "Trump`s performance at CPAC is emblematic of his version of the truth during his presidency.  A potent mix of exaggeration numbers, unwarranted boasting outright falsehoods.  His speech helped push March 3rd to his fourth biggest day for false or misleading claims totaling 104.

With us tonight to talk all about it Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize winning White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, and Laura Barron-Lopez, National Political Report for POLITICO.  To our guests, welcome to you both. 

Other than the fact that the President has no white hair, Phil, did any one thing there stand out to you?

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, Brian, I think it`s the totality of that speech, the two plus hours.  It was a tour de force.  You know, what some people saw as crazy and unhinged, and perhaps a reason to invoke the 25th Amendment.  Some of his supporters saw as authentic and raw.

And, you know, the reason why they`ve created this cultive personality around Donald Trump.  And that audience at CPAC, people were cheering and clapping, and standing there or sitting there wrap as he went from one point to another to another to another, and was there so long he started to get sweaty.

WILLIAMS:  Laura, a lot of people saw it as an obvious attempt to change the narrative coming off a very bad week for him.  Talk about that, and talk about if you can how CPAC has changed just in the course of the Trump presidency.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORT, POLITICO:  Right.  Well, as Phil mentioned, I mean, this was an unwieldy two-hour long speech, and Trump gave his voters exactly what they wanted.  He gave the red meat to his base.  He talked about Hillary Clinton again, he talks about the Electoral College, you know, he also, as we heard, used profanity in his tirade against the Mueller probe.  So he was very much feeling in a corner and finally unleashed after he heard Cohen testified last week.

And again, you know, this just highlights the Trump`s take over of the Republican Party and how Republicans were unphased by Cohen`s testimony, and that they were excite today hear from the President when he came to CPAC.  And they were unphased also him coming off of his North Korea summit trip and it being a failure, and him being unable to reach a deal there, and also at the same time praising the dictator, Kim Jong-un. 

WILLIAMS:  Phil, the President went further than that.  Apparently talks with North Korea fell apart because of Michael Cohen.  So Americans feeling less safe tonight in our nuclear world can blame Michael Cohen.  The President actually tweeted about that, Phil.  And said, there it is, "May have contributed to the walk."  Meaning we got up and walked out, "never done when a president is overseas.  Shame!"  You reaction.

RUCKER:  Well, first of all, that`s a bit of his vision as history about the walk because minutes after, he walk away from the negotiating table with Kim Jong-un.  President Trump told the reporters including me, I was there in Hanoi, that he did so because he couldn`t meet the economic sanctions demands that North Korea had for the United States.

But, you know, it`s not Michael Cohen`s fault or the Democratic lawmakers` fault that this summit failed.  It failed because there`s is such a big gulf between the US  and North Korea on this issue of denuclearization, and President Trump has not put in the spade work, the diplomatic work to really lay a foundation for a deal and come to a meeting of the minds.

He thought he could jet halfway around the world and sort of sit face-to- face with Kim Jong-un and because of the love letters that they sent back and forth and because of the personal chemistry that they had developed they could suddenly create a deal.  But, you know, international diplomacy doesn`t quite work that way.

WILLIAMS:  Laura, were you at all surprised in the coverage of Saturday`s speech by the President?  Yes, our phones all lit up.  I was following Phil Rucker`s kind of minute by minute account of what had happened.  Our phones all blew up with the fact that our President had used a swearword twice in the public domain.  But it was kind of, well, he`s at it again.  There was a notion that he had said a whole lot of things over two hours.

BARRON-LOPEZ:  Yes, that`s right.  I mean, again, I think that what Phil said at the top was key, saying that it`s the totality of all this.  That It was two hours, which I think is one of the longest speech he`s ever given.  But again, I mean, this is true to form for Trump, and really should be no surprise that he was using profanity.  We`ve know he`s been want to do that in his conversations with officials in the White House.

WILLIAMS:  Phil and Laura have agreed to stay with us.  We have to sneak in a break.  And coming up another Democrat announces he would like very much to be the next president of the United States.  A look at the two characteristics National Democrats are saying they don`t want in the party`s next nominee when we come back



GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA), CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT:  What I`ve learned is that this is such an enormous lift we have to make a commitment that we`re going to use our political capital, first and foremost, on defeating climate change and building a new clear energy economy.  And I am committed to that.  And I`m the only candidate who is committed to that.


WILLIAMS:  That`s governor of the state of Washington, Jay Inslee, on this, on his priority for this 2020 Democratic Primary race.  He`s one of the latest Democrats to announce plans to run for president.  He joins former Governor John Hickenlooper from Colorado as the most recent candidates.

At least 12 Democrats have launched bids for president.  And you could fill a bus with those who are still mauling over a run for president.  Bernie Sanders meanwhile, formally kicked off his campaign with rallies in Brooklyn and Chicago this weekend.

Thankfully, back with us are Phil Rucker and Laura Barron-Lopez.  So, Phil, now I`m told Jeff Murkily has an event tomorrow.  So there`s a reason we are thinking of listing instead, only the Democrats not running because it`s going to be economically advantageous for our graphics department after a while.  What do Hickenlooper, Inslee and Merkley, to name three, bring to this race?  What underserved markets do they fill?

RUCKER:  Well, first of all, Brian, they come from states that have not had presidential contenders recently, Washington State or Oregon and Colorado.  But I think more importantly they`re going to be advocates for particular issues.

In the case of Inslee, as you saw in his interview, a couple of hours ago on this network with Rachel Maddow, he cares hugely about climate change and wants to make that the sole top issue on his agenda.  And will really try to use that spot on the debate stage, probably to force that issue under the conversation.

You know, Hickenlooper is running on his economic record and other aspects of his governor ship in Colorado.  And Merkley in running on, you know, as a very progressive candidate.  He`s been one of the most progressive candidates in the Senate.  And back in 2016, he was the only US senator to endorse Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary.

And, look, what it tells us is that the Democratic Party sees a huge opportunity here to win back the White House and to defeat President Trump.  And so many of these Democrats think they have a chance to become the nominee because there`s not a front-runner, there`s not an heir apparent like we had two years ago with Hillary Clinton.

WILLIAMS:  Now, Laura, let`s get a little closer to that because I have some recent NBC News, Wall Street Journal polling which may not be great news for Bernie Sanders and to a lesser extent, Joe Biden.  Biden not in the race but both of those gentlemen I just mentioned would turn 80 years old during their theoretical first term in office.

This is kind of the bottom of the poll.  And another way to put this is, Democrats were asked what two qualities would you be the least psyched about and they`re saying, "Well, somebody who`s over 75 and somebody who is a socialist."

So you got Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist who would be, who turn 80 in the White House, polling like this is not friendly to him.

BARRON-LOPEZ:  No.  And that polling right there is exactly why there are so many Democrats in this field.  I mean, and it`s why we see the likes of Merkley jumping in and why we may see Beto O`Rourke from Texas jump in, and why there`s Pete Buttigieg from South Bend that jumped in.  And so, it`s because these Democrats see an opening and they feel as though this is a completely wide-open contest.

And just to go back to Inslee and to Hickenlooper, I mean, everyone is trying to take different tracks here thinking that it will be the path that can be most successful in the primary, Inslee is making climate change his number one priority to try to really differentiate himself from the other progresses, because as we just highlighted, there`s also Merkley and Sanders that are staunch progressives in the ring.

And then Hickenlooper is going more to the route of Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota hoping that moderates will come out and support them, and that that can be their way to victory.

WILLIAMS:  Laura, not just because you went for it and pronounced Buttigieg correctly on national television where very few journalists would boldly go.  Not just for that reason, you have an invitation back on our broadcast whenever you`d like as does Phil Rucker.  Our thanks to our guests these last two segments for sorting this all out.  We appreciate it.

Coming up, there was a warning right before there was terrible destruction.  And in the south tonight, they are mourning 23 souls who were alive and well at the start of the day.



GOV. KAY IVEY (R), ALABAMA:  We lost children, mothers, fathers, neighbors, and friends.  To know Alabama is to know that we are a tight-knit community of people.  And today each of us mourns the loss of life of our fellow Alabamians.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight.  Please spare a moment to think about these folks.  The full impact of that string of devastating tornadoes in the Southeast yesterday afternoon still being assessed tonight largely because there`s so much, and it covered such a broad yet scattered area.

At least 23 people killed by the powerful storms that tore through parts of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina.  Tonight, sadly dozens of people still unaccounted for and that`s the scary part.  Among the hardest hit in Lee County, Alabama, Smiths Station, where our own Tammy Leitner spoke with one survivor whose bar was destroyed.


TAMMY LEITNER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Not a lot of your building left standing, but there is one thing and you told me you believed this was a sign.  If you look up here, there`s a cross left.  Getting a little bit emotional, I know this is tough.  Tell me the significance of that, David.

DAVID MCBRIDE, SMITHS STATION BUSINESS OWNER:  So we hung that up when we built the place.  And we all stood around in here and our preacher buddy blessed the place.  It`s still up there and I`m lucky to be here.  It was terrible.  Yesterday, it didn`t really affect me like it did this morning.  It`ll be all right.  I`m lucky.


WILLIAMS:  According to the National Weather Service, the track of one of yesterday`s storms, which was dubbed the monster tornado in this system was 24 miles long.  Wind speeds reached an estimated 170 miles per hour.

This was the deadliest tornado outbreak in this country since the storm that hit Moore, Oklahoma, remember that one in 2013.  That killed 24 people.  Forecasters in this area hit over the weekend were able to offer ample warning that the atmosphere over that region was setting up in a dangerous way, warning each locality, however, in the path of a storm is a different story, especially a storm that scraped the earth as it went and left a scar two dozen miles long.

Of course, now begins the season of these storms.  The approach of spring brings great extremes, and by the month of May the combination of warm air from the south, cold air off the Rockies, makes the Great Plains a dangerous and unpredictable place to be.  They sure are hurting tonight in the American south.

That is our broadcast for this Monday night as we start off a new week.  Thank you so very much for being here with us and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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