Trump pushing his team to support Manafort. TRANSCRIPT: 3/11/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Berit Berger, Chris Megerian, Stacey Plaskett, Rick Wilson, AnitaKumar, Ken Thomas

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight in the first White House briefing in six weeks time, Sarah Sanders won`t rule out the President pardoning Paul Manafort and won`t say if the President believes Democrats hate Jews.

Across town, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is not in favor of impeachment because it is so divisive.  Then adds about the President and for good measure, he`s just not worth it.

And why this week promises to tell us so much about the status of the Mueller investigation starting with the document that came out tonight as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Monday evening.

Well, good evening from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 781 of the Trump administration and we`re launching into what could be an important week in terms of what we learn about the status of this Mueller investigation.

And at the same time the Speaker of the House is making waves with her comments about the potential for impeachment.  Late today Nancy Pelosi told the "Washington Post" magazine what she sees as the standard for impeachment, and we quote, "I`m not for impeachment.  This is news.  I haven`t said this to any press person before.  Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there is something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don`t think we should go down that path because it divides the country.  And he`s just not worth it."

The Speaker`s remarks come as the nation waits to find out what will come of the Mueller investigation.  House Democrats are pushing for those findings to be released to the public.

Tonight Pelosi was asked if the Mueller report could potentially change her mind on the subject of impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Well, if that is no conclusive, that there is a bipartisanship, there is some message to the President, so be it.  Nixon was not impeached.  The Republicans finally saw the light.

I have no idea nor should I have any idea what the Mueller report will say.  But what I`m saying is, from our standpoint our day to day work is not about him.  It`s about the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Earlier on this very network former CIA Director John Brennan said what the Speaker did not that the Mueller investigation will need to make a case against the President that Republicans cannot ignore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  I think it has to be something that is going to be enough to convince the Republicans who have just stuck with Trump today to say, "No this does meet the standards of high crimes and misdemeanors and he needs to be ousted from office."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  As we mentioned, as we talked about here as the weekend got underway over these next few days we may learn a lot more about the status, the direction and the duration of the Mueller investigation.

Politico reports this week could reveal the special counsel`s end game.  Former Obama Justice Department Spokesman, Matt Miller tells Politico, "It`s one of the moments when a number of threads are finally starting to merge together which is to be expected because we do appear to be near the end."

In a first of many legal documents this week, today, Roger Stone`s legal team submitted a filling to D.C. federal Judge, Amy Berman Jackson, explaining why he failed to reveal his plans for a rerelease of his book criticizing the Russia investigation despite the gag order he remains under.  "There was/is no intention to hide anything.  Having been scolded, we seek only to defend Mr. Stone and move ahead without further ado."

Wednesday that same judge will sentence Paul Manafort who is facing up to a decade in prison for conspiracy on top of the four years give or take he got last week.  That day could also see a status update in the case of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.  Thursday, one, Roger Stone back in court to learn his status.  Friday, Rick Gates may learn more about his sentencing.

Manafort`s sentencing may be the event that gains the most attention this week given the continuing questions surrounding a potential Presidential pardon.  Today our NBC News colleague Hallie Jackson asked the White House about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALLIE JACSON, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Why hasn`t the President ruled out a pardon for Paul Manafort?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The President has made his position on that clear.  He`ll make a decision when he is ready.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Let`s bring in our lead off panel, shall we for a Monday night.  Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the "New York Times."  Berit Berger, former Assistant U.S. Attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York.  And Chris Megerian, reporter for the "Los Angeles Times" who covers the special counsel investigation.

And because tonight is another one of those night where they`ve just handed me something from the "New York Times" that has come out in the last half hour, I`d like to begin here in our New York studios with Berit as this is another legal matter.

And Barrett, the headline is "New York attorney general opens investigation of Trump projects."  The first graph roughly this.  The New York, again, state attorney general`s office late on Monday issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to the financing of four major Trump organization projects in a failed effort to buy the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League in 2014.

They cite their source as someone who has been briefed on the subpoenas.  Tell us what this is about and why this is coming about.

BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Right.  So this is a direct fall out from Michael Cohen`s testimony.  If you recall when he testified, he testified that Trump had inflated his assets and this is really to be expected following that testimony.

So the New York attorney general is obviously starting a civil investigation.  So at this point, they have served the subpoenas to Deutsche Bank, it`s a civil investigation.  It`s really at the early stages.  But this could absolutely, you know, continue for quite a while and really cause a lot of headaches for Deutsche Bank and possibly for the Trump organization as well.

WILLIAMS:  I want to underscore your point by showing-- reminding our viewers this moment happened on live television February 27th.  Here is Michael Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER:  Mr. Trump is a cheat.  As previously stated, I`m giving to the committee today three years of Mr. Trump`s personal financial statements from 2011, 2012 and 2013 which he gave to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills and to Forbes.  These are exhibits 1-a, 1-b and 1-c to my testimony.

It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So you are sitting in the New York state attorney general`s office.  You hear that said publically.  I guess it would be malpractice not to at least look into this?

BERGER:  Right.  And if you recall the current attorney general of New York really ran on a campaign of that she said she would be sort of the shining light, that she would not hesitate to investigate the President, to investigate the Trump organization.

And if you recall, the charities bureau of the attorney general`s office is the one that`s actually investigating the Trump foundation that brought the charges against them and was responsible for the dissolution of the foundation.  So, they are really all over this right now.

And I think it just goes to show sort of the next chapter after the special counsel`s office.  It`s really going to come down to New York and what investigations and ultimately prosecutions are going to be happening in New York.

WILLIAMS:  Peter, this is your newspaper and this is also something else.  It`s an example of just how many stories are swirling out there and how in another set of eyes, in another set of hands something said in open committee testimony lights up another bank of phones.

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, that`s exactly right.  I think this -- you know, once again, as you say, demonstrates just how many different avenues of inquiry there are.  And I think it demonstrates the risk to the President that goes even beyond, you know, whether Nancy Pelosi wants to impeach him or not.

You know, long after he leaves office there`s still going to be, you know, the fallout from these various different organizational investigations that are going on, not just his business, but his foundation, the inaugural fund, you know, as well as all the actions he has taken as President.

Now, if you`re the President, what you`re going to say is Michael Cohen is a liar.  He`s a convicted purger.  He`s going to go to prison for lying to Congress and therefore the New York state attorney general is being partisan for, you know, taking his word on anything and launching this inquiry.

But, you know, our reporting showed over the years that this idea that he sort of inflates the worth when it serves his values-- sorry, serves his interests in one sense.  And the deflates, when it comes to taxes, our reporting has borne that out over the years.  So, I think that there is plenty of material to look at.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Chris Megerian, I`m old enough to remember a few hours ago when the Roger Stone court filing came out and we thought that might be important and asked you to take a look at it and explain it to us.  What`s the end result?

CHRIS MEGERAIN, LOS ANGELERS TIMES COVERING SPECIAL COUNSEL MUELLER:  Sure.  Well, Roger Stone has basically been squirming under the gag order that the judge put in place a few weeks ago.  And first, he angered the judge by posting a photo on Instagram that had an image of a cross hairs next to the judge`s face.  He got a stronger gag order because of that incident.

And now the judge is upset because Roger Stone is writing a book about the victory of Donald Trump and the Russia investigation.  The book is actually a rereleased version of an older book with a new introduction that targets the special counsel`s office.

Now, the question is, is that going to violate the gag order?  So now he is back-- going to be back in court arguing that, you know, he shouldn`t haven an even tighter gag order, that he shouldn`t actually be sent to jail.

And when you it saw tonight where his lawyer is basically arguing that the judge should not throw the book at him, that this was an honest mistake to not tell the judge about this upcoming book.  And you also saw them really being concerned.

As part of the court filing, they submitted internal e-mails showing how they were trying to gather information about the book.  And in those e- mails they were saying we need this information right now and tell the judge otherwise Roger could be in jail.

WILLIAMS:  Berit, you`ve dealt with federal judges in your profession.  I`m not a lawyer, but when I read the tone that saying they`ve now been scolded and their phrase that this is much ado, I think a federal judge decides how much ado there is here.  What is this judge likely to think of their filing?

BERGER:  Yes.  I mean, Roger Stone is really playing with fire here.  This is not a line you want to sort of tow up against here, because ultimately what`s on the other side of that line is jail.  He is out on bail right now but that is completely within the judge`s discretion.

And if she feels that Roger Stone is, you know, violating the terms of the order or more importantly not being candid with the court, I don`t think this judge will hesitate to put him in jail.  Just ask Paul Manafort.  You have to remember, this is the exact same judge that ultimately put Paul Manafort behind bars when he was attempting to tamper with witnesses.  So, clearly this is a judge that does not enjoy having her rules not followed.

WILLIAMS:  And speaking of Paul Manafort, give us a preview of what might happen to him in court, I guess that`s Wednesday?

BERGER:  Yes.  So, this is round two of the sentencing for Manafort.  And I think that this is a round that he should be particularly worried about.  So as it has been reported, he got a fairly lenient sentence from the judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, but Judge Jackson has really been privy to a lot of Paul Manafort`s, not only his crimes, but what he did after he was arrested.

So, as I said, she was the one who put him in jail for attempting to tamper with witnesses.  She was also the one that had to hear all of the details about how he violated his cooperation agreement.  And she was the one that ultimately made the decision that yes in fact he had lied to the special counsel`s office and that yes in fact he should not get the benefit of the cooperation agreement.  So she has seen all the dirty laundry.  It`s been aired on her court room and I can`t imagine that she is going to be feeling very merciful against Paul Manafort.

WILLIAMS:  Of the two federal judges, this is the wrong word, but she is the one with more reason to be aggrieved, kind of more motivation I guess behind her sentencing statement.

BERGER:  Right.  And if you remember, Judge Ellis who`s the one who had the trial in front of him in the Eastern District of Virginia.  You know, from the very beginning he had --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

BERGER:  -- you know, expressed really negative feelings about the special counsel`s office investigation.  He was very hard on those prosecutors.

WILLIAMS:  Said it in open court.

BERGER:  Exactly.  Judge Jackson has not had sort of those expressed views.  And in fact, the opposite, she`s really had, you know, Paul Manafort and his lawyers coming into her courtroom and, you know, not being truthful, not being forth coming as to what they are doing.  So, I think, if anything, he should be very concerned.

Now, he is facing a statuary maximum sentence of 10 years.  So she can`t go above that.  But any sentence that she chooses to give Manafort could theoretically run, you know, on top consecutively to what he got from the Eastern District of Virginia.

WILLIAMS:  That will get people`s attention.

Hey, Peter Baker, I want to read something to you from the Daily Beast, "The President`s public display of emotional support for Manafort is reflected in private discussions with close associates who say that Trump has praised "Paul" for not being a rat or coward as he views Cohen, and had repeatedly expressed agitation over Manafort`s jailing, sometimes likening him to a political prisoner."

First, Peter, I love sourcing that follows the President`s weekend at Mar- a-Lago because there is a handful of people you and both know who are often source material for stories after the President has spent the weekend at Mar-a-Lago.  I won`t make you comment on that.  But I would like you to comment on this possibility of a Manafort pardon.

And Manafort`s lawyers keep pointing out this laundry list of physical ailments he is suffering from, as if to make it a humanitarian gesture.  Anything that would decrease his suffering.

BAKER:  Yes, I know that`s exactly right.  And as you reported, of course, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary declined to rule out a pardon today.  She says he`ll make a decision when he makes a decision, which therefore implies that there is a decision to be made.

Most presidents would not think of interfering at this point by the use of pardon power in an ongoing case involving somebody who had been so close to him.  They would have seen that as being, you know, explosive politically at the very least.

Now your pardon power is unchallenged in the constitutional sense.  But a lot people will say, a lot of critics would say that if you use the pardon power for the purpose of impeding an investigation that reflects on you, that could be something that a Congress could look at if they chose to take up impeachment.  And of course Nancy Pelosi today seeming to throw cold water on that.

You know, it just that, we don`t know where he is going with that.  And obviously, Paul Manafort, that`s really going to be his best hope left to him after Judge Jackson issues her ruling this week.

WILLIAMS:  Chris, a brief preview from you of what we could learn in the Gates and Flynn court matters later this week.

MEGERIAN:  So I would say that the Rick Gates sentencing memo -- sorry, the status update from Rick Gates could be the most interesting one.  We might be able to learn more about his cooperation with prosecutors.  You know, there is a whole window he has into President Trump`s inauguration committee which is also under investigation by prosecutors in New York.  It`s totally possibly that he is cooperating with that investigation.  So this is one question that could, you know, be answered at least somewhat there.

Mike Flynn`s status update I think will be a little less interesting because we already understand that he is cooperating in the investigation of his former business associates who were lobbying on behalf of Turkey.  They`re under indictment in Virginia.

And often times the status updates are pretty bare bones.  They keep their cards pretty close to the vest.  So, you know, they often don`t, you know, show more of their hand until they`re ready to actually sentence them.

WILLIAMS:  Peter Baker, one more for you.  You mentioned Speaker Pelosi.  What are the odds that the comments she made about impeachment was a candid, off the cuff moment that she announced as news to the journalist sitting across from her?  And what are the odds that was a carefully crafted, carefully curated quote that was sure to end on he`s just not worth it?

BAKER:  Yes.  Look, she has been saying for quite a while something similar to this, that she`s not eager to pursue impeachment, that she recognizes how divisive it is for the country.  That isn`t her priority at the moment.  Her priority is issues for the American people like voting rights and gun control and so forth.

But this quote did seem to take it further and it did seem like she intended it to be news and intended it to be a more definitive closing of the door in this by saying, "I`m giving you news that I haven`t given to others before."  She`s saying it`s not simply the same position I`ve taken in the past.

Now, you know, she left herself a big giant hole there, a big-- a loop hole to get through if in fact, Robert Mueller comes back with something that is so damming and so persuasive that it forces, you know, a change of thinking.  She says if it is overwhelming, compelling and bipartisan she would consider it in effect.

Now, you know, that in effect is just a pretty realistic lay of the land analysis at this point.  The number to remember is 20.  Unless you`re going to be able to convince 20 Republican senators the President of the United States ought to be thrown out of office.  You`re not going to have a successful impeachment trial in the Senate.  And so she is looking at that.

There is no point in her mind in going forward unless Republicans are going to join any kind of impeachment effort.  If she sees that shaping up, she could change her mind.  But otherwise she`s planning not to go that direction.

WILLIAMS:  Great reminder on the math.  Peter Baker, Berit Berger, Chris Megerian, thank you for allowing us to press you into service especially with breaking news courtesy of the "New York Times" just before we went on the air tonight.

And coming up for us, Speaker Pelosi as we said has now spoken on impeachment.  What about all the voices of Democrats on all the committees in the House doing all the investigating?  We`ll ask one committee meeting coming up next.

And later, what one Democratic candidate said about the Vice President that had people talking this weekend.  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  House Democrats want to talk to more of the President`s lawyers but so far they aren`t cooperating.  NBC News is reporting Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings wants to hear from two lawyers responsible for President Trump`s ethics and financial disclosures.  The attorneys are Sheri Dillon and Stefan Passantino.  They could be key into determining whether or not Trump committed crimes regarding hush money payments.

Our own Heidi Pryzybyla writes, "Neither has indicated a willingness to cooperate with Cummings` committee, having disregarded a March 6 deadline to agree to provide transcribed interviews to his committee later next week.  The White House has responded on behalf of Passantino and declined to make him available for an interview.

According to requests from the committee, the committee sent to each of the lawyers, as well as the White House, the two appeared to provide false information to federal officials about payments to Cohen to keep the alleged Trump affair from becoming public."

We should note, Passantino was a White House deputy counsel encharge of ethics policy and is now working for the Trump organization.  Dillon is a personal attorney for Trump.

For more, we are joined by Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett who was Congressional Delegate representing the U.S. Virgin Islands in our Congress.  She sits on the House Oversight Committee where viewers perhaps last saw her participating in the questioning of Michael Cohen.

And Congresswoman, just this "New York Times" story that came out a half hour before we came on the air, from just one paragraph in Michael Cohen`s testimony, you sat there and witnessed it.  You took part in the questioning.  How much more is there?  How much more was the committee tempted to go down tributaries of information that he opened up?

DEL. STACEY PLASKETT, (D) VIRGIN ISLANDS OVERSIGHT CMTE.:  Well, I think that we as committee members really agreed to a definitive line of questioning that was related to criminal activity of Mr. Cohen as well as others in that orbit. We were not trying to go into the Russia investigation or other places where other committee members were.  And I think you heard that in our testimony -- but now -- in our questioning.

But I think now what you are seeing with Elijah Cummings going and getting more information is the amount of corroborative evidence that we`re going to need based on the information that he gave us.

WILLIAMS:  And help us out especially those of us who couldn`t read between the lines necessarily in that reporting, what do you hope to learn from these two lawyers specifically?

PLASKETT:  Well, I think the -- what we`re trying to figure out is how much of the information that Mr. Cohen gave us was truthful and how much of it may in fact involve the President, White House officials, not just the Trump organization and not just the campaign.  Did this activity actually occur and continue once he took the oath of office and became President of the United States?

WILLIAMS:  Do you take the Speaker at face value?  Her quotes that are being widely circulated tonight on impeachment?  Or do you think something is at work here that might be a wider effort?

PLASKETT:  No, I think, I take what she is saying at face value.  It`s not something she has not been saying in closed doors and caucus meetings.  I think it is very prudent of us to let the investigation go where it will, present the evidence to the American people.

And I think greater than impeachment would be the American people sending a message to this President that we don`t want you as President anymore and voting him out in 2020.

WILLIAMS:  Are you worried that the White House is going to try to make it more difficult for committees like yours, Democratic majority not withstanding to do what you want to do and talk to the people you want to talk to?

PLASKETT:  Of course, we expect obstacles.  It`s my hope that they`ll be reasonable and understand that we are not going to back down.  I think particularly in the committee that I`m a member of Oversight.  We`re being very methodical.  We`re being very discrete.

We are not casting a completely wide net over everything that we can and that they`ll understand that this is going to happen whether it be voluntarily or by subpoena.  We don`t want to issue the subpoenas and let`s get the information and get it done.

WILLIAMS:  Stacey Plaskett, Democrat, representing the Virgin Islands, thank you so much for coming back on the broadcast.

PLASKETT:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  We appreciate it.

And coming up for us, Rick Wilson joins us to talk about Trump and pardons and Pelosi, all of it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  As we mentioned, we are anticipating a number of key hearings this week in the Mueller investigation including but not limited to Paul Manafort`s second sentencing.  Trump`s former campaign chairman could have 10 more years added to his current sentence of 47 months minus 9 months for time already served.

Earlier today White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the President will decide when he is ready whether or not to pardon Manafort for his crimes.  Meanwhile, former CIA director John Brennan said today there is no doubt in his mind that Trump will pardon Manafort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  Personally I don`t have any doubt that Mr. Trump is going to pardon Paul Manafort at some point.  The question is when.  But then if he`s also convicted of state charges, Donald Trump is not going to be able to pardon him for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  With us this evening to talk about it Rick Wilson, veteran Republican strategist whose views about the president are best expressed by the title of his book, Everything Trump Touches Dies," recently released with new material and paperback including an ever highest death toll.

Rick, always a pleasure to have you.  Thank you very much for coming on.

RICK WILSON, VETERAN REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  I noted last week in real time the list of physical ailments that Manafort`s lawyers made clear that the court hear them out on.

WILSON:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  Everything -- to my hearing but moderate to severe plaque psoriasis.  And I`m wondering if they were setting up the predicate for a humanitarian pardon that this man whose health is falling apart, he`s been in protective custody in jail, do you consider it, you Rick Wilson consider it an article of faith that Manafort gets pardoned?

WILSON:  I don`t actually.  I`ll tell you two reasons, Brian.  One is once he is pardoned, he don`t longer has fifth amendment protection to not incriminate himself any longer.  He can be called before Congress.  He can be called for state courts.  This guy is facing more jeopardy if he`s out than he`s in.

There`s a problem is I think when Paul Manafort, you know, looks at the two big wedges he`s caught between, on the one hand he doesn`t want to spend his life in prison.  On the other hand, if he`s out he still owes Oleg Deripaska $17 million to something to that effect.  And those guys are more like to thrown through a window than issue of a pardon.

So it`s a mixed bag for Paul Manafort no matter how he plays it.  But I don`t know that Trump also, you know, looks at Manafort -- he may look at Manafort as a tough guy who`s, you know, held itself together so far but only the other hand Trump is innately disloyal to everyone around him, even people who have, you know, willingly gone to jail for him.

WILLIAMS:  What`s the upside if you are Manafort and his team in not apologizing to the court showing remorse?

WILSON:  Well, look, I think that was definitely strategic play on their part knowing two things, one that this judge has a reputation for going easy on white collar criminals.  They don`t need burn that shit and put themselves back behind the eight ball, you know, in any way where Trump could have been interpreted that, well, there`s Paul selling me out.

Because Manafort knows that the President is vengeful among many other terrible characteristics.  And so I think you`re going to end up with a situation where, you know, Manafort didn`t think he needed to do it with this judge and thought it might be a risk factor for a potential pardon which I still think is a long shot for him.

WILLIAMS:  What do you make of the Pelosi comment to "The Washington Post" magazine on impeachment?  It`s been theorized already tonight.  She gets to freely troll the President and say he`s just not worth it.

WILSON:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  While she also gets it set herself up for saying someday I didn`t want this, but just look at the preponderance of the evidence?

WILSON:  Correct.  This is the difference between the kids and the grownups in the Democratic Party right now.  And strategically, it doesn`t matter if you impeach Trump in the House because at the end of the day it will go to the Senate.  And tell me where the extra 16 votes come from.  They`re not there.  There is no way to get the math there at this point with the evidence we have today in the public space to get a conviction in the Senate.

So why burn that thing down in the House?  Why go for something that -- OK, you`ve impeached him -- Donald Trump doesn`t have the shame function in his brain, Brian, so he will not care.  It will motivate his base.  You will end up with a situation that looks a lot like Bill Clinton who managed to bring his base together and sustain himself through prosecution that didn`t mean anything in the end because it didn`t remove him from office.

So, the other, you know, element of this is Nancy Pelosi has been around the block.  She seen these things happened.  She understands how they play out.  And unlike the people who are more enthusiastic about the immediate step to impeachment, they don`t understand that the political benefit they gain from it is de minimis compared to the political benefit of holding Donald Trump to count by using the oversight process in the House.

You can grind down Donald Trump`s political stature and power and reduce him to a hollow shell of a man by going after the things he has legitimately done to deserve full investigations.  There is a lot of corruption here beyond even the Russia story that this administration is hip deep in.  And so there`s a lot of things the House can do that are the right policy decision and the right political decision.

WILLIAMS:  Back to your favorite subject, the wall.  I will dramatic read the President`s tweet on said subject today.  "Republican senators have a very easy vote this week.  It is about border security and the wall, stopping crime drugs et cetera, not constitutionality and precedent.  It is an 80 percent positive issue.  The Dems are 100 percent united as usual on a 20 percent issue open borders and crime.  Get tough R`s."  Other than it being a big day for capital letters, Rick, what is the viewers` guide to what he`s getting out here?

WILSON:  Look, he is going to keep beating this one dead horse until it is a flat smear on the highway because he is determined to keep that little tiny segment of his base that really believes he is going to build a 3,000 mile, 200-foot tall wall across the border to keep out the Mexicans.  And this just going to keep stroking those guys because they really, Brian, they really almost all he has left.  No one cares about this issue.  It is not going to make decisions on voting on the 2020 election from every bit of the polling that`s out there right now.  No one really wakes up in the morning except for Donald Trump and his fan boys and says we have to build a wall.

They look at the border as a different kind of security problem and with different and more effective ways that are out there.  Nobody wants this, you know, nobody wants to look at this at this problem and say in the Senate and say, oh god, I have to go out and defend an $8 billion, you know, recapitulation of the entire thing that we shut down the government for that cost the president polling position, that cost us polling position.  It was the wrong policy and the wrong thing, and it`s a giant budget buster.

So, none of that makes sense in terms of moving the political ball in the Senate.  Those guys are in the same spot they were on the $1.37 billion that ended up passing for fencing and repairs in the prior shutdown bill.  It`s not going to go anywhere.  It`s just the President rage tweeting as he likes to do.

WILLIAMS:  Rick Wilson, a frequent guest of ours is a political pro and that`s not an oxymoron.  He is an author and he is a periscope and Twitter enthusiast.  And we love all of it.  Rick, thank you so much as always --

WILSON:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  --for coming on our broadcast.

Still ahead for us.  Did a new voice just rise above the den among the Democrats in the run for 2020?  We`ll ask two veteran reporters covering all the presidential campaign developments when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTED STATES:  I thought yesterday`s vote by the House was disgraceful, because it`s become the Democrats have become an anti-Israel party.  They`ve become an anti-Jewish party.  And I though that vote was a disgrace.  The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party.  They`ve become an anti-Jewish party.  And that`s too bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Just making sure you got the message.  We mentioned this earlier that was President Trump, Friday, responding to that House vote on a resolution condemning hate.  The vote was in response to controversial comments about Israel made by freshman Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.  Trump reportedly went even further over the weekend according to Axios, Trump told RNC donors that the Democrats hate Jewish people.  And that Trump said he didn`t understand how any Jew could vote for a Democrat these days.

During today`s rare press briefing the first in 42 days, Sarah Huckabee Sanders dodged questions about the President`s remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes or no.  Does the President truly believe that Democrats hate Jews?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I am not going to comment on a potentially --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Does he think Democrats hate Jewish people as he say on the South Lawn today --

SANDERS:  I think they have had a lot of opportunities over the last few weeks to condemn some abhorrent  comments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I just want to be very clear.  You are not answering the question.  Is there a reason?

SANDERS:  I believe I answered it twice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You didn`t say yes or no.  Does he really believe Democrats hate Jews?  I`m just trying to get a sense of that.

SANDERS:  I think that`s a question you ought to ask the Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Let`s talk about it, with us to do that, Anita Kumar, White House correspondent and associate editor for POLITICO, and Ken Thomas, political reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

Anita, I`m coming at you with two questions to begin with.  Number one, what is going on in 2019 with the President, Democrats and Jews in this country?  And two, if the choice was Sarah Sanders as she showed up and comported herself today or no briefing, which would you choose?  Does it still have utility to you?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I`ll go with the second question first.  We want as many briefings as possible.  I hear what you are saying, but there were still things that came out of that briefing today that we never had an opportunity to ask in the last month, more than a month and you can get some sense of things even if she doesn`t answer.

WILLIAMS:  OK, well taken.

KUMAR:  So, you know, back to this topic. You know, the President has clearly decided that this is one of his talking points, right?  He feels like this is a strong issue for him.  It highlights the divisions in the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill right now where they can`t decide exactly what to do about the congresswoman`s comments.  His supporters really like it.  This is something that they feel good about.

You know more than that, this is sort of a rare foreign policy victory for the President.  People kind of forget about how strong President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu are right now.  I was just seeing that this is the re-election time for the prime minister.  There are billboards of President Trump up in Israel right now. That`s how strong this relationship is.

Now, he might actually not win reelection in April.  But right now this is something that President Trump feels like he can be very strong about.  He can point to something that his predecessor didn`t have with this prime minister.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I was watching actually some of the Israeli coverage last night and it`s a big positive in some of the polling they did.

Hey Ken, since you`re covering 2020, I wanted to show you some numbers out of Iowa.  And to my memory, these are close to unique with an incumbent president.  Would you like to see a Republican challenge Trump in 2020? Margin of error right there that`s a straight up tie.  Are you surprised by that?

KEN THOMAS, POLITICAL REPOTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Yes and no.  You know, 40 percent shows that there is a real vulnerability for the President but I don`t think this is a poll that will make Governor Larry Hogan, you know, immediately declare his candidacy.  But there is definitely a softening, you know, at play here for the President and his base.

And I think the concern that his advisers should have is that someone like a Hogan is hanging out there to see if, you know, after the Mueller report comes out, you now, if by next summer there are concerns among Republicans that there might be an opportunity.  And anytime a President gets a challenge within his own party it usually leads to big problems down the road.  I mean, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush are both got challenges in their respective primaries and lost reelection.

WILLIAMS:  Hey real quick, Ken, take 30 seconds and tell our viewers who may not know the name Larry Hogan why they are hearing the name Larry Hogan more often on broadcasts like this one.

THOMAS:  He is basically open to the idea of a primary challenge.  He is not going to, you know, give up his day job to do it, but he is somebody who is a well-regarded moderate.  He`s been critical of the president.  It`s the type of person who could cause the President some problems if he were to get in and just force the President to spend money and time and attention in a primary.

WILLIAMS:  Quick word about the governor of Maryland who keeps popping up in conversations.  Anita and Ken are both agreed to stay with us while we sneak in a commercial break.  And when we come back, the Democrats have picked a city for their national convention.  There it is.  Tough part might be choosing a candidate to be their nominee in that city.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  There`s a new poll that puts two veteran Democrats in the lead in the Iowa caucus.  This is from CNN/DesMoinesRegister.  They have former Vice President Joe Biden leading with 27 percent, Bernie Sanders with 25.  They`re the only two Democrats cracking double digits right now.  Joe Biden is not in the race and according to a new report in Axios, a Biden insider says his final decision is now imminent.

We`ve asked Anita Kumar and Ken Thomas to stay with us.  In that same poll, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana was at 1 percent but this past weekend, he might have proven the power of a well-timed -- a good night to have a good outing in terms of national live news media exposure.

He was part of a CNN town hall last night.  The question came up of the kind of a very deeply religious and famously pious former governor of Indiana now Vice President Mike Pence.  I want to show you the exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA:  I mean, I don`t know, it`s really strange because I used to at last believe that he believed in our -- I disagreed with him ferociously on these things, but I thought, well, at least he believes in our institutions and he`s not personally corrupt but then how could he get on board with this presidency?

My understanding of scripture is that it is about protecting the stranger and the prisoner and the poor person and that idea of welcome.  That`s what I get in the gospel when I`m in church and his has a lot more to do with sexuality and I don`t next a certain view of rectitude.  But even if you buy into that, how could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So, Ken Thomas, you see there, as I was trying to say inelegantly, he picked a good night to have a good outing.  He has so many things the Democrats want and admire.  Thirty-seven years old.  Harvard graduate.  Afghanistan war veteran.  Gay mayor of a medium sized American city and, Ken, this I guess underscores the wealth and size of that 2020 Democratic slate.

THOMAS:  Yes.  I think the town hall showed a window into some thing reporters and activists in Iowa, New Hampshire have seen which is that he`s very young and relatively untested but he has political talent.  And, you know, he`s someone in a party that`s -- who could stand out and he could be that fresh face.

You know, an important footnote to the town hall as of five minutes ago, Brian, he`s raised more than $600,000 since that town hall.  So there`s definitely an interest and people willing to contribute to someone who they think has a message.

WILLIAMS:  And, Anita, we mentioned this before going to the break, the Democrats have made their choice.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it is for their convention, are they tempting fate based on recent electoral vote history?

KUMAR:  Well, I think that`s one of the reasons they`re doing it there, right?  I mean a lot of -- when you pick -- when a party picks the city as you know, a lot of it is infrastructure.  Can people get around?  Are there hotels rooms?  Is there a convention hall big enough?

So it`s all those other things.  But sure, I mean, the DNC chairman today was talking -- Tom Perez was talking about that very thing.  People there were talking about how, you know, this is Democrats are going to win this state.  You know, there was all the criticism of Hillary Clinton last time that she didn`t spend enough time there, that she let some of these states, the Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan type states go.  They went to Donald Trump and they are not going to do that this year.

You know, there was a lot of blow back from some of these other cities, Miami and Houston.  Miami really thought they were going to get this.  So, I think they were sending a message on where this is going to be.

WILLIAMS:  And I hope they`re all honest to these cities.  It`s a good thing to get the convention, the bad news is they virtually shutdown your city for a week because they`re all national security events.

Our thanks tonight to Anita Kumar, to Ken Thomas, really appreciate you staying up with us.

And coming up, with the President`s help, we will clear something up from last week.  It turns out we all heard it wrong.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, everybody has their thing.  Whether it`s not being able to remembering the name of the actress who was in the movie with that guy we like so much from the other movie or perhaps being completely unable to remember that computer password that you were so certain was rock solid and you`d never forget it.

Well, our President has some things of his own, one of them is combining the names of people who run big companies with the companies they run.  While we are pretty certain you`ve already seen what we`re going to show you, here again is the latest example.  Here is the President with Tim Cook who runs Apple computers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Again, Tim Cook runs Apple.  He`s never been Tim Apple but to show he has a sense of humor, he did change his Twitter profile this weekend to Tim Apple and generally folks had some fun with this over the past few days.

Then came this reporting from Axios, they report Trump brought it up at a fundraiser for GOP donors in a tent built over the pool at Mar-a-Lago on Friday night.  And we quote, "Trump told the donors that he actually said Tim Cook Apple," really fast, and the "Cook" part of the sentence was soft.  But all you heard from the fake news," he said, "was Tim Apple."

Well, naturally, we along with other news organizations went looking for that missing Cook.  Check again, see if you hear it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We appreciate it very much Tim Apple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  We even had our forensic audio specialist, actually a guy on the second floor, slow down the audio which we thought might help to identify and isolate the missing Cook.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We appreciate it very much Tim Apple.  Tim Apple.  Tim Apple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That is indeed all we could find there was Tim Apple.  The President couldn`t let this go.  He gave it new life today by saying, "I quickly referred to Tim and Apple as Tim/Apple as an easy way to save time and words."

The thing is, this is a thing for this President and we know that because of this event 51 weeks ago, March 2018, the President prepares to introduce Marillyn Hewson who runs Lockheed, the aerospace contractor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I may ask Marillyn Lockheed, the leading women`s business executive in this country according to many.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So what have we learned?  Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin now has something in common with Tim Apple.

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

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