Cohen testified he never asked for a pardon. TRANSCRIPT: 3/8/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Carol Leonnig, Philip Elliott

NANCY GERTNER, FORMER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE:  But the comparison here was Cohen is very, very troubling.  That was the sentence of someone who the government was valuing in some way should have gotten.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Thank you for joining us for your insights, into this former judge, Nancy Gertner gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11th HOUR" starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight Donald Trump says he feels bad for his campaign chairman, convicted felon, Paul Manafort.  Then Trump falsely claims the federal judge in the case somehow absolved him of Russian collusion.

Meanwhile today`s giant distraction was the fight over pardons between Trump and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, nearly over shadowing the fact that the President today called Democrats anti-Jewish and anti-Israel.

And the busy week on top for the Mueller investigation, we`re expecting updates on Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, while Paul Manafort learns his second prison sentence.  All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on this Friday night.

And good evening from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  We have reached day 778 of the Trump administration.  And the President as we saw today has gone on offense before heading to Alabama to tour the tornado damage.  Trump took swipes at his former lawyer Michael Cohen while also using the Paul Manafort`s sentence to discredit the Mueller investigation.

Here is what the President said about Cohen this morning before leaving the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Michael Cohen lied about the pardon.  And that was a stone cold lie.  And he has lied about a lot of things.

But when he lied about the pardon, that was really a lie.  And he knew all about pardons.  His lawyer said that they went to my lawyers and ask for pardon.  And I can go a step above that but I won`t do it now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Of course, he did go a step above that.  About an hour later from the shelter of Twitter and his aircraft when he wrote this, "Bad lawyer and fraudster Michael Cohen said under sworn testimony that he never asked for a pardon.  His lawyers totally contradicted him.  He lied.  Additionally he directed -- directly asked me for a pardon.  I said no.  He lied again.  He badly wanted to work at the White House.  He lied."

And with that Trump essentially admitted he discussed a pardon directly with Cohen.  Trump`s attack comes nine days after Cohen testified under oath to Congress.  He accused Trump of being a racist and a conman and you may recall he also added this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER:  And I have never asked nor will I accept a pardon from President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Now, to state the obvious, Cohen`s credibility has come under fire in the wake of his testimony and reports about these discussions of pardons did he or did he not.

Today, he responded to Trump allegations, writing, "Just another set of lies by potus.  Mr. President, let me remind you that today is International Women`s Day, you may want to use today to apologize for your own lies and dirty deed to women like Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford."

That brings us to the Presidents interpretation of his ex-campaign chairman`s sentencing.  Yesterday a federal judge gave Paul Manafort four years in prison minus time served.  His arraignment in that case took place one year ago today.  As a reminder, his was the scene outside of the courthouse that day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Show us your bracelet.

Hey, traitor.  Here`s your flag.  Russian flag.  Traitor! Traitor!

You are selling the America to the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  This morning, Trump made it clear he saw the sentencing hearing as an exoneration, writing, "Both the judge and lawyer in the Paul Manafort case stated loudly and for the world to hear there was no collusion with Russia.  But the witch hunt continues as you now add these statements to House and Senate Intelligence and Senator Burr.  So bad for our country."

To be clear Judge Ellis did not say there was no collusion with Russia but the Manafort was not being sentenced for anything having to do with crimes related to collusion.

In comments many saw as aimed directly at the President, Manafort`s lawyer dutifully added that there was no evidence that his client was involved in collusion.  Trump`s comment on Manafort didn`t end with his early morning Twitter posting.  Here he is a short time later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I feel badly for Paul Manafort.  I think it`s been a very, very tough time for him.  But if you notice both his lawyer, a highly respected man and a very highly respected judge, the judge said there was no collusion with Russia.

Such a collusion witch hunt.  I don`t collude with Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you ruling out a pardon for Manafort?

TRUMP:  I don`t even discuss it.  I had -- the only one discussing it is you.  I haven`t discussed it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  On that, let`s bring in our lead off panel for a Friday night.  Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counter Intelligence.  Carol Leonnig Pulitzer Price Winning Investigative Reporter for the "Washington Post."  And Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon and importantly former Chief Council to the House Intelligence Committee.

And Jeremy, I`d like to begin with you, how do you read this back and forth between Trump and Cohen.  Is it a giant, shiny object or is there content of consequences here?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, the first thing I notice is that his sympathy for Paul Manafort I think makes me smell pardons in the air, Brian.  And I do think Manafort is angling for a pardoning hard.  I think the President is signaling pretty directly that he is inclined to grant one.

As for the tit for tat, he said, between Michael Cohen and President Trump, there is a way to solve this, Brian, which is the President instead of standing at the White House lawn wanted to sit down under oath and give sworn testimonies to special counsel, we could put his sworn testimony up against Michael Cohen sworn testimony.

Of course President Clinton submitted for four hours to the special prosecutor back in August 1998, President Trump has yet to do so.

WILLIAMS: :  And Frank, as a veteran investigator, precisely the people Carol Leonnig covers for a living, how does it strike you that you have Donald Trump here seemingly unable to stop talking about Manafort and Cohen.  Is there jeopardy that you see there?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  I think it`s a strategy fraud with peril.  And we`re probably giving him too much credit when we call it a strategy.  But, rest assured that prosecutors and investigators are recording all of his public statements.

And the concept of him aligning his fate with Manafort`s light sentence or slamming Cohen for his cooperation with the government is really fraught with peril.  There`s a concept in the law, here`s a little late night Latin, respondeat superior.  And it translates as let the master answer.  That legal concept is embodied vicarious liability, it is in the civil RICO Statute, it`s embodied in the criminal RICO Statue.  It`s the concept of the master being liable for the acts for those under him on -- in many cases organized crime families.

So, every time he publicly ties himself to a lenient sentence in Manafort, and says, look, see, there, we are good and we got no collusion there.  And or slams Cohen or others fro cooperating.  He`s really reenforcing the concept that responding at responding or let the master answer for his underlings.

And I tell you, investigators and prosecutors will use that against him.

WILLIAMS:  I love when we go bilingual on this broadcast.

Hey, Carol, where do Cohen stand being an incredible witness?

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL IVESTIGATIONS REPORTER:  I think Michael Cohen was viewed skeptically when he sat in the chair last week for House Oversight Committee and in closed door session as well.  And he left a little bit harm by his own perhaps clumsiness, perhaps lack of care with his wording.

I can see where he would have been trying to say I won`t accept a pardon from him anymore.  But the way he said it sure sounded like he never saw one, like he never got interested in one being dangled.  And it seems as though it`s quite clear now that there were some coated language exchanged between his lawyers and the President`s lawyers.

And now the President tweeting allowed he was asked about a pardon and he said no, directly asked by Michael which was shocking.  Remember, it wasn`t so long ago that Trump`s personal attorneys were insisting that they never discuss pardons even with the President and encouraged him not to discuss it with anyone.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Frank, back over to you, I think we have established while covering him this brief bit that Judge Ellis over in Virginia does not suffer from a lack of self-esteem.  Having established that, what is the peril when the President kind of sums up the comments of a federal judge in this case wrongly?

FIGLIUZI:  Boy, in any other case, Brian, against any other person than Donald Trump, we`d already have seen an indictment and we`d likely have already seen a gag order.  Look at the case of Roger Stone, right?  And so the President has this bully puppet for his own defense and his own vindication in his mind.  And so we see this go unchecked and it will remain that way as we head into a campaign stance and we are left of him telling the public how to interpret what a judge said.

Instead of the public taking the time to actually look at transcripts, see what the judge said, they`re going to get a clip on the evening news of the President putting in his own words and as usual, it is inaccurate.

WILLIAMS:  Carol, back over to you, I`m curious to know and this may call for a consider judgment or an educated guess on your part.  How did yesterday`s sentence affect members of Mueller`s team do you think?

LEONNIG:  I really want to stay away from speculating about how Mueller`s team feels.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, come on, walk right in.

LEONNIG:  I would say that they probably were -- it`s obvious from their pleadings what they were seeking, they didn`t get what they were seeking.

And with Judge Jackson over in the District Court and Washington, D.C., it may be different.  But I would urge people to think -- actually, look at a "Washington Post" story that published today.  I would urge you to look at that because it says essentially that with light cases, very, very similar cases that Manafort actually got hit pretty hard with four years.

Now, if you look at people who are charged and convicted at trial, which did happen for him in one of his cases.  He got off pretty easily.  If you look at people who extensively cooperate and are charged with the same that Manafort was charged within found guilty of it or plead guilty to it, he really did quite well.  So, it`s complicated and nuance and I am sorry to say that.  But, remember Mueller`s team make clear what they wanted and we`ll see what they get from Judge Jackson.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, I have to introduce some evidence into this conversation on, an entirely different topic and unpleasant one.  And it`s not just because I know you grew up a son of a Rabi that I`m going to ask you to comment on the President`s comments today, we`ll play it here immediately branded as both inflammatory and wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party.  They had become an anti-Jewish party.  And that`s too bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, what`s the danger of hearing that from the President of the United States?

BASH:  First of all, it`s wrong.  The Democratic Party, I think, stands for inclusion.  And I think the President is just trying to inflame the issue.

But there is an under lying truth that I think is -- an uncomfortable truth that needs to be addressed, which is Congresswoman Omar`s statement were not about criticizing another country`s policies.  She wasn`t criticizing Israeli policies.  She was saying that American Jews have a dual loyalty.  And that is inherently anti-semitic.  It was right for the House of Representatives to call her out on it.

WILLIAMS: :  That`s always been kind of a conner (ph) that has been an indicator of anti-Semitism, Jeremy.  Of course on a comment like this as we always say on this broadcast, harkening back to the phrase from the protest of the 1960s.  The whole world is watching.  What`s an Israeli audience is supposed to take on a comment like that?

BASH:  Well, look, I think, unfortunately the issue of Israel has been in flamed as a partisan issue.  When in fact since Israel`s founding in 1948 it`s been a bipartisan issue.  And we`ve had Democratic presidents and Republican presidents who`ve understood the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel.

And I think the President would serve our country well and will serve our alliance well if he made it a bipartisan issue, not a partisan issue.

WILLIAMS:  Almost a toss off comment on the President`s part except for the fact that he said the same language exactly twice today.  Our guests have agreed to stay with us.  We`re going to fit in our first break.

And coming up, Monday we`ll begin another consequential week for the Mueller investigation.  We`re going to run down day by day what to watch for and what to look for next.

And later, barely passed the half way point of his term, Donald Trump has a senior staff job to fill.  The same job he has filled six times previously.  He`s looking for a seventh.  We`ll talk about today`s high level departure from this White House as "The 11th Hour" is just getting started on a Friday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  We wanted to call next week`s calendar to your attention tonight.  This is important as it could be a critical few days upcoming for the Mueller investigation.  On Monday, Roger Stone, will have to explain to a federal judge in D.C. what steps he has to taken to comply with her gag order.  On Wednesday, that same judge will sentence Paul Manafort on conspiracy charges in his other case.

Also on Wednesday, Michael Flynn, will tell a Virginia judge if he is ready to move forward with his sentencing.  It was delayed back in December.  A new date maybe set next week.

Thursday, Roger Stone, back in court at D.C.  The judge in his case could issue a new ruling that would further tighten his gag order.

And on Friday, a week from tonight, former Manafort business partner, Trump campaign deputy chairman, Rick Gates may learn when he will be sentenced.  He`s been cooperating with the Feds.  He has testified against among others, one, Paul Manafort.  All of this as we are of course awaiting Mueller`s final report in whatever form.

Frank, Carol and Jeremy are still with us.

Carol, to you, any of those events, any of those court dates stand out to you as if we have to pick one to drill down on and pay extra attention to?

LEONNIG:  I feel like the Manafort`s sentencing is going to be the most interesting and likely the most consequential where there is real action.  It seems to me that Michael Flynn is unlikely to schedule a sentencing date in March.  And will likely based on the experience he had in federal court will Judge Emit Sullivan in December where he got a rude awaken about the possibility of being sentence to prison if the judge didn`t have a better idea of what cooperation he had really provided in exchange for his guilty plea.

It seems to me Flynn is not going to be sentenced any time soon.  And that`s going to be put off until July.  A small respite for us reporters, I guess, you could say.

The same with Gates, if I put all the crystal ball, I`d say this person is very much in the cooperator`s seat right now.  Lots of people want to talk to him from the Mueller team as well from the Southern District New York.  The idea of him being sentenced in the near term seems really unlikely to me.

WILLIAMS:  Frank, let`s backup a bit.  Were you of a mind that various media including, I guess, this news organization got out over there skis in reporting a perhaps premature ending to this Mueller`s effort?

FIGLIUZZI:  I had said a couple of times what others had been concerned about which was that I wondered whether this was deliberate strategizing and leaking by Trump and the White House and those around him to try and create an environment where if the public was disappointed that a report wasn`t forthcoming, that it was somehow Mueller`s fault and Mueller is delay, so, a kind of a fabricated deadline.

Carol raised some interesting points here.  If the cooperators aren`t done cooperating, if she`s got this right and we don`t see dates set -- we don`t see Flynn coming in next week and say, "I`m ready.  I`ve got it all out.  I`ve cooperated."  Gates is similar in saying, "I`m done, prosecution agrees I`m done.  Ready to get sentence."  Then we`re not close to getting this thing done in my opinion.

So, I`m going to be focused on those two.  Flynn and Gates next week.  So to provide some entertainment value, Manafort is going to get hit fairly hard but I`m focused on the cooperators.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy, you are a lawyer, same question to you.  If you hear Flynn and Gates` sentencing had been push, what would it mean to you?

BASH:  Yes.  I agree with the others.  I also think that Roger Stone probably has some evidence sold for the special counsel as he builds out his narrative of what went on during the 2016 campaign.

So, the county also has a skeptic that Mueller is going to be completely done.  I think there`s a chance that he could issue some interim findings or an interim report and tie up some lose sentence down the road.  But look, whether he does next week, next month or in three months, he has conducted this investigation in record time with stunning results winning that convictions are guilty pleas of Manafort, of Gates, of Flynn, of Papadopoulos, of Cohen and he`s got Roger Stone now on trial and others possibly to come.

And so this special counsel has been highly efficient and highly effective, not to mention the light he has shined on the Russian illegal activity going all the way back to the Kremlin.

WILLIAMS:  Frank, I`ve got to tell you, your business of law enforcement never seizes to amaze me.  I saw this tweet today and it stopped me in my tracks.  "Raise your hand if you thought that the alexandrina jail will hold Maria Butina, Paul Manafort, and Chelsea Manning, all the same time."

Frank, you got to admit it makes for fascinating bed fellows or in this case bed comrades.

FIGLIUZZI:  You can`t make this stuff up.  And the Chelsea Manning thing is getting kind of assumed by all of these other Manafort and pardon talks with Cohen.  But clearly, something is seriously up with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.  And Chelsea Manning is not playing nicely in the sandbox.  We need to watch this very closely because it very well may tie right to the release of DNC e-mails and right to the White House.

WILLIAMS:  And Carol, back over to you because this is your beat.  Didn`t this grand jury, the Chelsea Manning grand jury predate the Mueller effort though it could dub tailed and merged, correct?

LEONNIG:  Yes, I mean, there`s so much speculation ever since that leak, Brian, where prosecutors in Virginia accidentally revealed that they had charged and indicted Assange under seal.  People have been wondering for quite some time.  There could be three different cases around which that is wrapped.

The reason this Chelsea Manning case had been sort of dubious as the one for the charges is that it would be such a novel charge to bring in the First Amendment case.  You know where is the crime?  You can sort of see the crime if Assange took hack materials, the actual material of a crime.

It`s hard to see the First Amendment crime of a news organization publishing something that they will provide it.  And so, I`ve got question marks all over my head right now wondering myself, but I agree what Frank said.  This is quite a grand jury to watch.

I`m confused about Chelsea Manning`s claims that it is surrounded by secrecy.  Yes, grand juries are secret.  But you`re a witness and you can come outside and tell all of us what you are asked and what you said.  And I invite you to do it.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, quick last word, do you think Americans by now are pretty clear eye about how they define WikiLeaks?

BASH:  No, in fact, Carol, I think, is reflecting a sensibility that you want to be careful in charging criminally that any that received classified material and publishes it sensibly in the name of transparency.  However, WikiLeaks is an agent of the Russian federation.  We know of their cooperation with Russian Intelligence.  And so for national security prosecutors, this is an entirely different matter.

WILLIAMS:  Can not think of three better guests to help us talk about the news we`ve witnessed today.  Frank Figliuzzi, Carol Leonnig, Jeremy Bash, sincere thanks to the three of you for sticking around with us on a Friday night.

And coming up, according to Donald Trump, Manafort`s judge said there is no collusion with Russia.  We will review what the judge actually said when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I feel very badly for Paul Manafort.  I think it`s been a very, very tough time for him.  But if you notice, both his lawyer, a highly respected man and a very highly respected judge, the judge said there was no collusion with Russia.  It had nothing to do with collusion.  There was no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  As we mentioned earlier, President Trump, told reporters today that federal judge, T.S. Ellis, says there was no collusion with Russia and that`s not exactly what this federal judge said.  According now to the court transcript, Judge Ellis said Manafort was, "not before the court for anything having to do with the colluding with the Russian government to influence this election."

As we reported on the broadcast last night, Judge Ellis sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison, well below the sentencing guidelines that called for up to a quarter century in jail.  The sentence was widely viewed and immediately saw as lenient, especially considering Manafort expressed remorse for his crime.  That`s actually something Jude Ellis took note of as well, telling Manafort and we again, "I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct.  In other words, you did not say I really, really regret not doing what I knew the law require required."

"Now, that doesn`t make any difference of the judgment that I am about to make that you didn`t say that.  But I hope you will reflect on that and that your regret will be that you did not comply with the law."

Back with us tonight is Jill Wine-Banks, veteran Attorney and former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel.  Jill, first of all, your reaction to the sentencing here.

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL COUNSEL PROSECUTOR:  My reaction to the sentencing is that it`s not a fair sentence.  It is way too light in comparison with what other defendants get.  Not just in white collar cases but it really highlights the in equity in our sentencing system where poor defendants commit a crime of possibly stealing $100 to feed their family gets five or ten years, and he got under four years.  That`s not fair.

And it isn`t consistent.  You just read the part about him having no remorse.  For a defendant who has no remorse to be rewarded with a light sentence is really inconsistent.  So when he says, "I hope yo reflect on it," he should have given more time in jail to reflect on it.

WILLIAMS:  And what`s the danger of having a President misquote in effect a federal judge?

WINE-BANKS:  It`s the danger that we have everyday with Donald Trump misleading the public.  He says things that people will believe because he had said them.  When they aren`t hearing what the real fact is.

The judge, first of all, it was a total red herring for him to comment on this because, of course, the case had absolutely nothing to do with any conspiracy to hurt the American elections with the Russians.  The crimes that Manafort was tried for were bank fraud, tax evasion, that has nothing to do with Russia.  So saying anything about it not being is the same as saying you weren`t tried for murder.

Well, OK, he didn`t kill anybody on Fifth Avenue.  That`s not what he`s getting away with.  He was tried for something completely different.  And once again Donald Trump has said something that had no relationship with the facts.

And facts matter.  And I hope that the American people will pay attention to what the judge actually said.

WILLIAMS:  No one needs to remind someone with your resume but for our viewers perhaps, this is a lesson in the fact that federal judges follow the same vagaries as all people do in society.  You can`t pick your federal judge, they are assigned to you, often via lottery.

I want to read this to you from Axios.  This was from August of 2018 and it`s part of a profile of this, judge.  It is not the first federal judge to enjoy his own story or the sound of his voice.  "He has routinely broken in on questioning, limited admission of evidence and exhorted lawyers to expedite, all the while entertaining expectators with humorous asides about his age, his wife, his Navy past, his lack of an e-mail address, the jury`s lunch menu, split infinitives and the noise produced by a machine intended to keep bench conferences from being overheard, like the sound of waves crashing."  That was the New York Times, I`ve been corrected, not Axios.

But, Jill, you get what I`m getting at, that these vagaries are what they are.

WINE-BANKS:  They are.  But in this case, I was very upset during the trial at some of his behavior.  He was extremely harsh on the prosecution.  He said things like you`re crying in my courtroom.

But even worse, he attacked one of the witnesses, he attacked Rick Gates.  And he said something like when Rick Gates testified that everything that was done was within Manafort knowledge that he paid close attention.  And the judge said, "He could have been paying that close attention or he would have known how much money you were stealing from him."

That`s a devastating comment and could be what made the one juror who held out for acquittal.  There was only one.  Everybody else voted for 18 counts of convictions.  And maybe that`s the thing that changed that one juror`s mind and affected the outcome of this trial.

And you`re right, he did make jokes about things that his wife had said and he demean the prosecution for introducing evidence that he said was just about the high lifestyle of Manafort, when in fact what they were proving was that not that he wore a very expensive ostrich jacket but that his income reported could not passively support his lifestyle.  That`s how you prove criminal tax fraud.

So he really interfered with the trial and I think his behavior was terrible as was his sentencing ignoring all of the guidelines and rewarding someone for not being remorseful.  There was a very sophisticated crime pattern here that should have been taken into account and elevated the sentencing, not to say anything about the fact that he lied after saying he would cooperate, that he lied to the FBI, he lied to the prosecutors, he lied to banks, he lied to so many people.  And he caused banks to lose money.  So I think it was really an unfair pattern of sentencing.

WILLIAMS:  A veteran of the law putting what we just witnessed this week in the stark really for us tonight.  Jill Wine-Banks, as always, thank you for coming on our broadcast.

And coming up, today`s departure from the Trump White House and why this one was something of a surprise.  More on that when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  President Trump has just watch the departure of his sixth communications director, just since becoming president.  Bill Shine has become the latest to resign from the post.  He was the former Fox News Executive who came up under Roger Ailes.  That`s why his resume made sense to so many people when he was announced for this job.

Most of the reporting tonight seems to indicate the President was unimpressed and never really took a shine to the communications director.  As the New York times reports it, "As time wore on, it became clearer that Mr. Shine had not developed a close relationship with Mr. Trump.   The President frequently complained to other advisers that his new coverage had not improved."

Annie Karni of the New York Times reports that Shine never did set up his voice mail for what that`s worth.  And his departure was on the sudden sides, so successor has been announced.  His tenure was not without its accomplishment, his legacy just may be the end of the White House`s daily press briefings.

Let`s talk about all of it with our guests, both of them veteran political journalists, Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter and Philip Elliott, Politics Correspondent for Time Magazine.

Well, gentlemen, Jonathan, I guess we`ll start with you.  Was this departure about Bill Shine or Donald Trump, or perhaps a combination of both?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Maybe about Fox News, Brian.  I think it`s impossible to view this without looking at the context of what happened earlier this week, a major report from Jane Mayer of the New Yorker on the proximity of the White House and Fox News with the major nexus being Bill Shine.

He was still receiving severance payments from Fox News while he was earning money at the White House.  Obviously, people at the White House were aware of that.  But there`s a lot of heat right now in that relationship between the Trump White House and Fox News, not only it that something that is potentially difficult for the Trump White House but also something that is potentially risky for Fox News and its credibility.

So, you know, I don`t think any of these things happened entirely in a vacuum.  There is, you know, something that maybe a little bit of face shaving maneuver with Shine moving onto the campaign side.  The certainly not going to raise any questions about, you know, Shine and the Trump operation being too close to Fox News.  But it does get him being out of that position of being both on the tax payer dime and also receiving payments from Fox News.

WILLIAMS:  Phil, there was the President today in what we`ve come to know as his black crisis raincoat regardless it seems of current weather conditions, signing copies of the bible as an author would at a book signing.  That is the kind of event photo opportunity that communications director would say either that`s a great idea, boss, or let`s not have you doing this.  What if Donald Trump, Phil, tries to say that Bill Shine is the reason he has not gotten good press conference as of late?

PHILIP ELLIOTT, POLITICS CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE:  I think the press coverage merely reflects what the President himself is doing.  I mean the trip to Puerto Rico is completely overshadowed by images of him throwing paper towels.  Today`s trip, which could have been a moment of compassion, was overshadowed by this.

That at some point, if the President wants better coverage, they need a better media strategy.  You actually have to figure out what is the image you want to come out of this, what`s the message you want to viewers on this broadcast to see, and only do that.  Have some self-restraint and listen to your advisers, they know this better than the President.

The problem is the President fancy himself a master strategist when it comes to communications, a producer of a television show.  The White House is much different than the "The Apprentice" and he still hasn`t quite figured it out that he can`t just his director, in this case Bill Shine, what he want to see in the final edit.  That`s not the role of the White House`s communications director.

WILLIAMS:  Jon Allen, we used to refer to the journalist in Washington who mentioned possible candidates for jobs as the great mentioners.  Are the great mentioners mentioning any names to look forward to fill the slot?

ALLEN:  Certainly all the names inside the White House that normally float around, Mercedes Schlapp who is in the Communications Office now.  You always see her name, occasionally Kellyanne Conway`s name gets floated.

But really the key point here is that the President is his own communications director, and so it doesn`t really matter as much who is in that role.  As Phil said, the President overshadows whoever is in that role with his own actions, and just an interesting moment with the signing of the bible there.  I mean, no communications director can tell the President to do that or not do that, or even control that messaging when it happens.  I myself would be scared that lightning would strike me if I tried to do that.

WILLIAMS:  I think as I think about it, the original Holy Trinity of great mentioners, this will date me, was Broader (ph), Wicker (ph) and Restin (ph).

And with that, as our viewers rush to research who those three names were, both of these gentlemen have agree to stay with us over a break.

And coming up, a Democratic field so crowded already, two big names chose not to run just this week.  And speaking of a certain former vice president, is it possible the idea of Joe Biden is better than the reality of candidate Joe Biden?  We`ll talk about all of it when we come back.

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JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I understand clearly that I am not the first person in the race or the most well-known person in the race.  But let me tell you at four syllables and twelve letters, Hickenlooper is now the biggest name in the race.

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WILLIAMS:  So we have that hat tossed into the ring from the former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper:  And we also this week received definitive nos from Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg explained his decision to not get in this race, in an opinion piece, writing, "I believe I would defeat Donald Trump in a general election.  But I am clear eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field."  What this week didn`t bring us, a decision either way from Joe Biden.

Still with us, Jonathan Allen and Phil Elliott.

So, Phil, let`s back up to Hickenlooper.  After the lefter died down from what has become a rather well-warned joke, he goes on "MORNING JOE" today and took what should have been a pretty simple question from the name sake host, asked three times, three different ways.  There is a one word answer that would suffice.  I`m going to show the results of that back and forth, we`ll talk about it on the other side.

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JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  But would you call yourself a proud capitalist?

HICKENLOOPER:  Oh, I don`t know.  You know, again, the labels, I am not sure any of them fit.

SCARBOROUGH:  I`ll break it down even more, do you consider yourself a capitalist?

HICKENLOOPER:  Well, again, the labels --, you know, I`m a small business person, so that part of system that you call capitalist, I get it.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  So do you consider yourself a capitalist and does capitalism work?

HICKENLOOPER:  I think I don`t look at myself with a label.

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WILLIAMS:  Phil, what`s the problem here?

ELLIOTT:  That is just stunning and painful.  I don`t understand why this was so difficult for him.  He is a successful businessman.  But the problem here and it speaks to the larger problem is that, so many of these candidates are afraid of the far-left energy and noise that are folks like Congresswoman AOC can bring to the table.  That there is such an energy and restlessness with the base, they`re taking that as an ideological shift in the party when really it might just be the microphones are being hogged into one corner of the Democratic Party.

And until these candidates get their sea legs and "MORNING JOE" is a pretty good place to get that, you really are trying to figure out the electorate in real time.  And it`s not easy if you don`t have the confidence staff or veterans around you.

WILLIAMS:  Jonathan Allen, let`s talk about the former vice president Joe Biden because everybody else seems to be.  Here is a guy who would turn 80 years old.  It`s not ageism to point this out.  He would turn 80 in his theoretical first term.  Here`s a guy who has been in public life a long time, decades, and while a lot of adults who are alive and around today feel that his past has been discussed and poured over and litigated, things like his treatment of Anita Hill at the Clarence Thomas hearings.  You have another generation coming up saying in effect, "Hey, this is the first time I`ve heard of any of this from Joe Biden.  Why didn`t I know this?"

Tonight at one point during the 9:00 to 10:00 hour Eastern Time, I looked up Fox News, MSNBC, CNN were all at the same time doing some version of the Joe Biden`s past story, and, to me, that should be a warning inside the Biden camp.

ALLEN:  You`re right about his age, Brian.  He was elected to the Senate, began serving in the Senate before I was born.  And I`m not that much of a spring chicken.

So, you know, look, I think Joe Biden has been on -- for the Democratic Party on the right and wrong side of the pretty much every issue over the course of his career.  In some ways that means that he`s going to have all that examined as a presidential candidate if he gets in.

You know, on the other side of the things, for most Democrats he has -- to the extent he`s evolved, he`s evolved in the direction they would want him to evolve in.  I think right now what you`ve seen with Sherrod Brown deciding not to run, with Mike Bloomberg deciding not to run, with Hickenlooper saying he`s not a capitalist.  With this rush to the left, I think a lot of Democratic candidates sort of afraid of the power of the left on Twitter.

I mean, they seem to be more afraid of Twitter than they are of actual voters.  I think what you`ve got right now is a big opening for whether it`s Biden or somebody else to run in sort of a center-left path, an Obama- like path, if you will.

And so, I think Biden if he runs is going to try to do that.  It may be him.  It may be somebody else, but I think there is going to be plenty of opportunity for somebody that says, "Look, the left is, you know, going too hard-left," and maybe the, you know, Republican side isn`t good for Democrats, and I think that`s kind of the message you`ll hear from Biden.

WILLIAMS:  Of course, as a friend of mine said, the Democrats are uniquely equipped to eat their young and their old in the run up to the general election.  Jonathan Allen, Phillip Elliott, can`t thank you gentlemen enough for joining us and staying up late with us on a Friday night at the end of yet another consequential week, as we like to say.

And coming up, what made today different from every other day on the calendar?  When we continue.

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight is about what today was in this time zone, just under three minutes remain in International Women`s Day.  It was observed around the world in ways big and small today, but our own favorite was this report filed by our own Cynthia McFadden about a very particular and powerful demographic. 

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CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, MSNBC CORRESSPONDENT (voice-over):  Fashion`s hot new cover girl, 97-year-old Iris Apfel, who just signed with a top modelling agency.  The Supreme Court has 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who has become something of a cultural rock star.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That`s against (inaudible).

MCFADDEN:  Older women are being seen and heard in greater numbers. 

GLENN CLOSE, ACTRESS:  I can`t do it any more, Joe. 

MCFADDEN: Though the Oscar eluded her --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Glenn Close, "The Wife."

MCFADDEN:  -- 71-year-old Glenn Close won a Golden Globe.

CLOSE:  I`m thinking of my mom who really sublimated in herself to my father her whole life, and in her 80s she said to me, I feel like I haven`t accomplished anything.  And it was so not right.

MCFADDEN:  What`s going on?  Well, part of its  demographic.  Women are living longer, the average lifespan, 81, five years longer than men.  Women are also healthier and have more income than in any previous generation.

Many women who grew up in the `60s and `70s were passionate advocates for women`s rights.  Little surprise those activists are still active.  Of course, it`s not all good news.  There`s robust evidence that age and sex discrimination are still serious problems.

Nevertheless, it was this myth busting statistic that really captured our attention, older women are happy.  In fact, a study in the UK found that women between 65 and 79 were the happiest people in the country.  Some beauty companies seem to be getting it.  More than 20 years ago when she was 43, Lancome fired Isabella Rossellini because she was too old.

After what must have involved a few apologizes, Rossellini, now 66, is again the face of Lancome.

ISABELLA ROSSELLINI, MODEL:  I am trying to be younger, blonder or thinner.  I am who I am.

MCFADDEN:  Lyn Slater is who she is, at 65-year-old sociology professor whose fashion posted garnered over 600,000 Instagram followers.

LYN SLATER, SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR:  It`s all about what I do in this moment and from here on in.

MCFADDEN: And for many of these women, that`s part of the joy of getting older.  A big dose of I can make a difference stirred with a generous helping of self-acceptance, inspiring women of all ages, and maybe a few men too.

Cynthia McFadden, NBC News, New York.

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WILLIAMS:  And that is our broadcast for this Friday, this International Women`s Day and for this week.  Thank you so very much for being here with us, have a good weekend and goodnight from NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

JOY REID, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Rachel has the night off, she will be back on Monday.

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