U.S. resists grounding Boeing 737 Max 8 jets. TRANSCRIPT: 3/12/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Harry Litman, Jill Colvin, David Fahrenthold, William Burns, AndrewTangel

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Or will Kentucky voters drive Mitch McConnell out of office if he decides to run again?  Next year could be the last year of the humiliation of Mitch McConnell.  That is tonight`s LAST WORD.

We have a quick programing note.  Senator Elizabeth Warren, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren will be a guest on "Morning Joe" tomorrow morning right here on MSNBC.  And then, I will be a guest on "Morning Joe" tomorrow morning right here on MSNBC where we will no doubt discuss what Elizabeth Warren just said on "Morning Joe."  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams is next.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, hours away from Paul Manafort`s second sentencing widely expected to be more harsh than his last sentencing, and all the while lingering in the air inside federal court.  Tomorrow will be the question of a pardon.

Plus, it`s been days since he raised his right hand and unloaded on his former friend and boss, but Michael Cohen`s testimony continues to cause a heap of trouble for the President, and it may not be over.

And we`ve got a former Russian ambassador with us tonight to share what he knows about Putin, what he fears about our relationship with Russia, and what diplomacy looks like when practiced correctly, as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 782 of the Trump administration, and tomorrow the President`s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort appears in federal court for the second time in less than a week to hear a judge decide his second federal prison sentence.  This one for the charges that Mueller brought against Manafort, D.C. federal court.  He was indicted back in October of 2017 for conspiracy, lying, money laundering, and failing to register as a foreign agent.

Nearly a year later during the early days of his trial, he pleaded guilty to the two conspiracy charges, entered into a deal to cooperate with Mueller`s team.  That deal was shredded when Mueller`s prosecutors found that he had been lying.

Tomorrow Judge Amy Berman Jackson could hand Mr. Manafort up to 10 years in prison.  Her decision will come just days after the federal judge in Virginia sentenced him to less than four years for bank and tax fraud.

While this may be the end of Manafort`s legal battle with Mueller, the question hanging over all of this will be whether Trump will step in at some point to shorten Manafort`s sentence with a pardon.  Trump has refused to rule out such a move.  House Democrats have been paying close attention to this.

Today Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff wrote this warning, and we quote, "Congress is investigating reports that Trump and his legal team privately dangled pardons to obstruct investigations including ours."  This is all unfolding against a backdrop, as you know of mounting anticipation over Mueller`s report on his investigation or whatever he is prepared to say.

As "The New York times" reports, it is, "unquestionably one of the capital`s most anticipated documents since the Starr Report on President Bill Clinton arrived by the truckload on Capitol Hill September of 1998."

This week may yield some clues to Mueller`s next steps.  Just this evening, we learned that attorneys for Michael Flynn are asking a federal judge for another 90-day delay before possibly scheduling a sentencing date because he may be required to testify in another case.  Prosecutors in the special counsel`s office also say that Flynn`s cooperation with the Mueller team is complete.  They are taking no position on Flynn`s request for a sentencing delay.  We`ll get into this in a moment.

Mueller`s cases involving Roger Stone and Rick Gates are also set to get updates over the next few days.

Earlier on this network, the man who wrote the special counsel regs explained what he believes Mueller is still focusing on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLICITING GENERAL:  Even if the President has a right to generally fire people, he can`t do it for a corrupt motive.  So I suspect that`s what Mueller is really looking at on the obstruction piece.

And then you`re right to say there is this whole other kind of counter intelligence and sometimes President Trump calls it collusion, but this whole idea where people in the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians, and there the investigation`s already borne a lot of fruit.  I mean, Manafort, the President`s numero uno campaign official in Michael Flynn, the President`s national security adviser, his top person, and many others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  In the meantime, Speaker Pelosi`s, shall we say, carefully delivered comments about her aversion to impeachment continue to reverberate throughout the Capitol.  Today a number of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were in agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA CHMN. ITELLIGENCE CMTE:  The only thing worse than putting the country through the trauma of impeachment is putting the country through the trauma of a failed impeachment.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND, CHAIR. HOUSE OVERSIGHT CMTE.:  That`s off the table right now.  We`ve got a lot of research that we still need to do.  And right now, we do not have a bipartisan situation.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) CALIFORNIA MINORITY LEADER:  Well, I think Nancy Pelosi is smart to say that there shouldn`t be an impeachment because there is no grounds to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Nancy Pelosi said that impeachment of President Trump is just not worth it.  Do you agree?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  I agree.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK SENATE MINORITY LEADER:  I think that we both believe that the Mueller report -- we should wait for the Mueller report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Now, at the same time there are House Democrats who say they plan to press for action against the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. AL GREEN, (D) TEXAS:  I don`t think that we should allow an unfit President to remain in office.

The right thing for a country that has a President who is causing harm to society is to remove him from office.  This is what the framers of the Constitution intended.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  But listen to this from a former federal prosecutor who worked with Robert Mueller on a case and saw firsthand how Robert Mueller works a case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Knowing Bob Mueller and actually seeing him investigate a case in realtime when he was my chief of homicide, he investigated and indicted a case.  I then took it over for trial.

I looked into the boxes that made up Bob Mueller`s investigation.  I had been a prosecutor for almost 10 years at that point in time, and I thought you know what?  I know my way around a criminal investigation, and then I looked in Bob Mueller`s investigative boxes, and I was blown away.

The man was investigating somebody who shot a police officer, and he started with the defendant`s birth certificate, and he moved forward through the defendant`s life.  He knew things about the defendant that I`ll bet the defendant had forgotten about himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  On that note, let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Tuesday night.  Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Price Winning White House Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post".  Jill Colvin White House Reporter for the Associated Press.  And Harry Litman, a DOJ Veteran, former U.S. Attorney and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General under President Clinton.  He also happens to be the creator and executive producer of the new podcast "Talking Feds" which we assume to be a tip of the hat to David Burn.  Welcome to you all.

And Harry, I have a couple for you.  Starting with the process of what happens with Michael Flynn.  Flynn wants a delay in sentencing. The Mueller folks say we`re done with him.  What`s the consequence of this?

HARRY LITMAN, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY WESTERN DISTRICT OF PA:  Yes.  Well, it`s odd, because the first thing you want to know is have they milked him for all the information.  That gives the biggest clue about where the probe is.  And normally you would think that if Flynn is saying I`m needed for a trial in 90 days, that the prosecution would be seconding it.

On the contrary, they`ve said no, we take no position.  He`s on his own.  So it looks to me more like a bid for Flynn to persuade the court who, remember, was a little -- was harsh on Flynn last time, saying you better show you`ve done everything and not a tangible clue of where Mueller is going.  In contrast, say, to Stone and Gates, which themselves seem to indicate unfinished business on the special counsel`s part.

WILLIAMS:  Harry, I haven`t asked you on this broadcast, do you buy into this press coverage that it`s all coming together.  We are days away from the conclusion of the Mueller investigation.  I see you`re nodding no.  And if not, what names do you expect we will hear disposition of before you`ll then get the signal that maybe now Mueller`s done?

LITMAN:  Yes.  I`m sort of nodding kind of like this because it had seemed implausible to me for a number of reasons. You start with Stone.  You think about Ivanka and Kushner and Trump Jr., and they just seem to be critical pieces of the investigative puzzle.

Yes, I know he can pass along certain cases to prosecute, but his real mission, to find out what happened seems like it really needs some basic information.  For example, from Stone who we may find out on Thursday is going to trial.

Nevertheless, the drumbeat has been so consistent in Washington that it`s coming soon that I`ve had to try to adjust my thinking.  But I don`t see tangible indications of that unless Mueller is prepared in fact to give a kind of a partial report to Barr and let some very big investigative questions remain unanswered.  That just doesn`t seem like Bob Mueller to me.

WILLIAMS:  Knowing I have our very patient other guests to get to, one more quick one.  Give us a preview of what you expect with Manafort tomorrow.

LITMAN:  Straight up, she is a very good judge.  I think she won`t give him the max, but won`t depart much. I think seven or eight years out of the 10, and she`ll play it straight unlike, say, Judge Ellis from last week.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Phil Rucker, you heard that.  The President has gone out of his way to exhibit almost sympathy, kindness, --

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  -- compassion to Mr. Manafort.  I imagine you believe that the next thing the President says will be fairly critical.

RUCKER:  Yes, I think that`s right, Brian.  The President has been quite sympathetic about the case of Paul Manafort, and has been for many months now, including at the end of last week after the judge in Virginia issued that four-year prison sentence.

My colleagues and I am sure are going to be asking the President at first opportunity after tomorrow`s court developments what he thinks about the Manafort situation, and importantly, whether he is considering pardoning Paul Manafort.  He has notably not closed the door on that, although his lawyers insist that he is not at this moment considering any active pardons.

But look, we know it`s a President who likes to use his clemency power, who has pardoned people who are political allies, and he believes are supporters and have his interests at heart, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona.  And very well may at some point consider pardoning Paul Manafort who was his campaign chairman and who Trump believes, you know, acted to protect the President throughout this investigation.

WILLIAMS:  Jill, huge discussion all day today as you know about impeachment politics thanks in large part to what many found to be the very carefully curated words of the Speaker of the House.  Adding to that, on the question of whether or not the White House is prepared, I want to play for you what Trump loyalist David Bossie said on that front.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DAVID BOSSIE, FMR. TRUMP CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL:  Do I see a killer theme that is ready for the impeachment proceedings that are potentially coming?

From a staff standpoint, I would say no today.  Do I believe they are in the process of getting ready?  Yes.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Jill, what do you make of that?

JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Yes, this is a complaint that we have heard again and again from outside allies of the President former White House staffers who say that the White House just has not taken seriously enough, not only the threat of impeachment, but also the litany of investigations that the Democratic House is right now preparing and is in the process of launching against the President.

That said, the White House has taken some steps over the last couple of months to try to ramp up, to try to staff up what had been a really paltry operation.  They`ve brought in about 10 new lawyers into the counsel`s office.  They`ve actually hired a new spokesperson who is specifically dedicated to responding to request about the Democratic investigations.

And we`ve seen a much more robust response both from the White House and the campaign operation as well to developments within these cases.  We saw, for instance, when those subpoenas, those 80 subpoenas went out, a very strong response from both the White House that was echoed very closely by the campaign operation which is now also ramping up with new hires.

So there is certainly some more firepower that the President has behind him.  That said, of course, the President always sees himself as his most competent spokesperson.  He continues to hammer against the Democrats, against the Mueller investigation on Twitter and every press interview that he can, trying as much as he can to try to convince his supporters that whatever comes out, whatever any of these investigations reveal, that it shouldn`t be believed, that it`s nothing but a witch hunt, that it`s not accurate.  And they`re really hoping, you know, that at this point, we`ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for the Mueller investigation to come out.

At this point, you know, they`re still going on.  It`s still not out yet.  And you`ve got Nancy Pelosi today saying, look, impeachment is not something that`s at the top of my mind now.

You`ve got Democrats who are really just starting the process of catching up and seeking all of these documents the Mueller team has already compiled.  So they feel like they`ve got some time on their side here.

WILLIAMS:  Phil Rucker, in the meantime, I want to read you reporting from our local paper here in New York and see if it lines up with yours.  "There is no war room preparing to deal with Mr. Mueller`s findings, and no intention to set one up as Mr. Clinton did when he faced impeachment and possible removal from office.  The President`s advisers are simply flying blind, said one person directly involved in the planning."  Does that match with the reporting of the "Washington Post," Mr. Rucker?

RUCKER:  Sort of, Brian.  That`s correct that there is no war room.  There is no sort of robust operation ready to go.  But that being said, White House officials I`ve talked to have said that they have planned out for a number of contingencies based on what the Mueller report may ultimately contain and what Mueller may find.

And, you know, they`re going to be ready to sort of execute on that from a public relations standpoint.  So they have given it some thought.

But I should tell you, I was over in the West Wing this afternoon spending some time with officials there, and folks were much more transfixed by this college admissions bribery scandal than by the anticipation for the Mueller report.  There is sort of a strange like disquiet in the West Wing where we would normally think they`d be on pins and needles waiting for the Mueller report, and a lot of these aides weren`t giving it a whole lot of thought, feeling like they`re powerless to do anything until the report comes out.  They`ve of course gained out what they would do based on what Mueller may find.  But at this point, they`ve all gone in for their interviews.  The President has responded to those questions, and it`s all in Mr. Mueller`s court to decide what this report is going to say.

WILLIAMS:  Jill, real quickly, I saw you were nodding in agreement.

COLVIN:  Yes, that`s very much the case.  You know, the televisions of West Wing are always on, but that definitely was the story that had everybody`s attention today.  There are also a slew of other things that the White House is dealing with right now.  You know, the Venezuela, they are trying to convince Republicans not to break with the White House and try to overturn the President`s emergency declaration on border wall spending.  You know they`ve got all of these immediate fires to put out.

And at this point, as we`re in the third year of the administration, you know, we`ve got staffers and those who remain who are used to dealing with the inevitable questions, with kind of this waiting game that we`ve all been engaged in where they`ve had a lot of time now to try to prepare for whatever response they`re going to be able to provide once this actually gets released.

WILLIAMS:  Harry Litman, our workweek goes until midnight Friday night.  Now that you`re a podcaster, you`re going to be responsible for coming up with headlines.  What do you imagine will be the headline at the end of this week that we know that we don`t know now?

LITMAN:  Basically, different aspects of Mueller probe reaching, you know, beginning to come together.  We`ll know more about Stone.  We`ll know more about Gates.  We`ll have a concrete indication of are we really around the corner from the delivery of the report or are there, you know, set of miles to go before we sleep.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Just a fair warning, Phil, Jill and I may do a workshop on headline brevity as we go forward.  But we thank you for that participation.

Phil Rucker, Jill Colvin, Harry Litman, thank you so much for starting us off tonight.

And coming up, if you listen carefully from Washington to New York, you can still hear the echoes of Michael Cohen`s testimony before a live television audience.  It has brought fresh troubles to this President, his former friend and boss.

And later, Donald Trump is not a pilot, but he has flown on jets a lot.  And so he has weighed in on aviation and avionics today.  We`ll talk about it tonight as THE 11TH HOUR just getting under way on a Tuesday night.

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WILLIAMS:  It`s been nearly two weeks since Michael Cohen`s testimony, and it already may have triggered new investigations.  As we told you here last night, "New York Times" first reported that the New York State attorney general subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for financing records related to Trump organization projects, and another loan Trump sought to buy the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League.

The President clearly unhappy with the news said today, "New York State and its governor Andrew Cuomo are now proud members of the group of presidential harassers.  No wonder people are fleeing the state in record numbers.  The witch hunt continues."

Last month Cohen testified about financial statements, you`ll recall Trump gave to Deutsche Bank.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER:  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.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Just last week, NBC News reported the New York State Department of Financial Services subpoenaed the Trump organization`s insurance company as part of an investigation into Trump`s businesses.  Our reporting followed this exchange between Cohen and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, (D) NEW YORK:  To your knowledge, did the President ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

COHEN:  Yes.

OCASIO-CORTEZ:  Who else knows that the President did this?

COHEN:  Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman, and Matthew Calamari.

OCASIO-CORTEZ:  And where would the committee find more information on this?  Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?

COHEN:  Yes.  And you would find it at the Trump org.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Well, with us tonight to talk about it, David Fahrenthold, Pulitzer Prize Winning "Washington Post" Reporter who happens to cover the President`s businesses and conflicts of interest.  He is very busy generally, and has been reporting on the New York A.G.`s new investigation specifically today.  And Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and Pentagon, and importantly, former Chief Counsel to House Intel.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

David, a very basic question, tell us about this New York investigation, and folks may want to know how it is that there were investigation heretofore unknown and unopened that waited for the Cohen testimony to be triggered?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, THE WASHINGTON POST REPORTER:  Well, the interesting thing about Cohen was that he`s given investigators sort of a concrete specific thing to look for.  There had been questions sort of generalized questions about Trump`s relationship with his insurers and Trump`s relationship with Deutsche Bank before.

What Cohen has done is given them something concrete.  These financial statements written down documents that according to Cohen inflated Trump`s assets and gave him the benefits of getting a loan that maybe he didn`t deserve, or getting insurance premiums that were lower than he deserved.  So that`s a specific thing to look into.

And I think that has allowed these investigators to narrow their focus, but it also gives them a reason to ask for something.  So, given that specific focus that Cohen gave them, they seem to have leapt pretty quickly into investigations of both Trump`s lenders and his insurers.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, if you had presented Donald Trump at the start of his presidency with a list of let`s call it 99 potential problems.  Number 99 might have been his attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills.  And yet we see because of the nature of this case, state versus federal and the power of state investigations, this one could rise to take its place among the best known investigations of this President and presidency thus far.

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Yes, I think we`re looking at just the tip of the iceberg, Brian, because of course for a real estate developer, filling out financial forms and asking for loans from banks is kind of what you do every Monday through Friday.  So there are probably tens, dozens, maybe scores of such documents that the Trump organization filled out during the relevant time frame.

I think what happened is that Michael Cohen kind of kept hardcopies of three particular documents because they related to the bills opportunity, but they were from just three years.  And I think when investigators dig into this, whether those investigators are from the attorney general`s office, whether they`re from the Southern District of New York, or whether they`re from the House Financial Services Committee, there are going to be a lot of documents to go through, a lot of witnesses to interview.

WILLIAMS:  And David, the President famously said his family business would be a red line.  Imagine how it feels to be all these other third parties, these businesses who now see their names in print and in lights and are now going to get dragged through this investigation, whether they like it or not.  Wrongdoing or not.

FAHRENTHOLD:  That`s right.  Those third parties and we`re talking in this particular case about Aon, the insurance broker, and Deutsche Bank.  Those third parties are hugely important to me because as you said, the Trump organization is going to fight tooth and nail to keep all these data secret.  That`s what it was built to do.

But if you`re Aon, if you`re Deutsche Bank, you may have a calculus where you say am I going to go down for Donald Trump?  Am I going to defend Donald Trump`s secrecy?  Or am I going to cooperate with the U.S. Congress which will be there when Donald Trump is gone?  Am I going to cooperate with the New York Attorney General who has power over me because I operate in New York State?

Those third parties know a lot about Donald Trump and what he`s represented to them over the years.  If they decide their interest isn`t cooperating in not protecting Donald Trump`s secrets, a lot more could come out into the open.

WILLIAMS:  Also, David, an asterisk.  This President, as you well-known and have reported on, his press coverage is so important to him that a set of these statements were given to Forbes because why they rank their annual listing of wealthiest people.

FAHRENTHOLD:  That`s right.  The main usage of this -- there were three main usage, insurers, lenders, and Forbes.  One of the funny things about these statements is if you read them in full, the full copy of them includes sort of a two-page caveat from Trump`s accountants at the beginning saying basically, don`t believe any of this.  We wrote it all down, but we didn`t check any of it.

And so, if that came with the statement, you might read it and may be less inclined to believe it.  The question is how much of that caveat Trump showed to all these people he was trying to impress.

WILLIAMS:  And Jeremy, going back to your experience on the Hill and House Intel Committee, do they have virtually unfettered ability to go after and ask questions of whatever third parties they decide on?

BASH:  Well, they have a wide jurisdiction, particularly if it`s in the context of an investigation over which foreign powers may have leverage over the Trump organization and fundamentally over American foreign policy.

And if the theory of the case is that, for example, Russian sources of capital were laundering money through Deutsche Bank and that money was finding its way into the Trump organization to fuel some real estate projects, then I think the chairman has grounds to issue subpoenas to those lenders and those third parties.  Now whether they cooperate or not, that`s a different story.

I tend to think that those who want access to the American financial institution, you know, big financial institutions operate here in the United States would comply with the Congressional subpoena without question.

WILLIAMS:  We thank two friends of this broadcast for coming on with us tonight.  David Fahrenthold and Jeremy Bash, gentlemen, thank you both, really appreciate it.

And coming up, our next guest called this meeting between Trump and Putin the most embarrassing performance by a U.S. president he`s ever seen on the international stage.  He`ll be with us to talk about it next when we continue.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others.  They said they think it`s Russia.  I have President Putin.  He just said it`s not Russia.

I will say this.  I don`t see any reason why it would be, but I have great confidence in my intelligence people.  But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was President Trump last summer in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the man we`re about to talk to regards that as the low point in terms of American presidents conducting diplomacy.

NBC News has gotten a glimpse at a report prepared by the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service which concludes Russia is likely to target European parliamentary elections in May.  It goes on the say that through cyber espionage campaigns similar to what we saw in 2016, they hope to secure as many pro-Russian or Euro skeptical seats as possible within the E.U., which is of course already under challenge.

With us tonight is Ambassador William Burns, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia from `05 to `08.  He served as a diplomat for over three decades, working under five presidents, holds the highest rank as a career ambassador.  He is currently President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  He also happens to be the author of a new book, "The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal".

Welcome.  We`re so happy to have you on the broadcast.

AMB. WILLIAM J. BURNS, PRESIDENT, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE:  Thanks so much.  It`s great to be with you.

WILLIAMS:  For those who didn`t pay attention during the history of the Cuban missile crisis, begin with the definition what traditionally is a back channel?

BURNS:  Well, a back channel is generally when you set up a connection with a foreign government that`s, you know, it`s not visible, as most channels are.  And sometimes you do it through people who are connected to a leadership and sometimes directly with the leadership itself.  So what we did with the Iranians through all of 2013 in conducting the secret nuclear talks.

WILLIAMS:  Tell us about the impression you got of Vladimir Putin as a visiting American diplomat.

BURNS:  He is a combustible combination in my experience of grievance and ambition and insecurity.  He`s got a big chip on his shoulder.  A strong conviction that the United States and the West took advantage of Russia`s moment of historical weakness in the 1990s, and has spent most of his 20 years now as Russia`s leader pushing back and getting even and trying to demonstrate that, you know, Russia is not going to be taken advantage of anymore.

WILLIAMS:  Did he ever dare to dream the kind of reach and influence he now has in our system?

BURNS:  No.  I think it`s beyond his imagination.  I think what Putin saw was dysfunction and polarization in our system, and he sees this in the European political systems as well.  He saw that as an opportunity to sow chaos.  I think it was beyond his imagination that by putting his thumb on the scale against Hillary Clinton and for President Trump, he was actually going to help produce that kind of a victory.

WILLIAMS:  You know because you see the contemporary news coverage that people blame Russian trolls and bots for things like the anti-vaccination movement.  People think the Brexit vote in the U.K. was kind of the first test case of Russian probing.  On a cost benefit analysis, as you point out, hasn`t this exceed their wildest fever dreams?

BURNS:  It certainly has, because it`s pretty cheap.  It`s pretty inexpensive to, you know, hire a couple of hundred, you know, technologists to try to exploit fissures in Democratic systems elsewhere.  And Putin is a master of that, of taking advantage in a sense of his own weakness, because he is very good at manipulating the weaknesses he sees in other systems.  He is tactically very agile.

WILLIAMS:  That moment in Helsinki when -- the one we just showed, Donald Trump comes out alongside Vladimir Putin, what happened inside you and can you speak for other career diplomats in this nation`s system?

BURNS:  Sure.  I mean, I think it reflected -- you see this often from President Trump, a kind of disdain for the hard work of diplomacy and a conviction that relationships promoting American interests are all about building personal relationships.  And of course that`s important, but indulging dictators, trying to curry favor with them is generally seen by people like Vladimir Putin as a sign of weakness and manipulability.  And that`s what he saw on that stage in Helsinki.

WILLIAMS:  Is there a best case scenario for meeting with someone like that?

BURNS:  Yes, I think it`s -- first you have to do your homework.  I think you have to do a lot of preparatory work so that you try to narrow differences and you have a very realistic view of what you can achieve.  And then I think you to demonstrate firmness, where you`re pushing back against threatening actions from another party.  It`s possible to manage even the most complicated adversary relationships, but you have to have a respect for the hard work of diplomacy and backed up by military and economic leverage.

WILLIAMS:  For all the kids studying foreign relations who have gone into college we hope on the up and up, and their parents watching tonight, is it going to be normal?  The people who are hoping to be desk officers at the State Department, if they`re that lucky, is it going to return to normal?

BURNS:  I`m an optimist over the medium term about the importance of diplomacy and more broadly about the importance of public service.  However much it may be belittled or disdained today.  You know, when I was about to take the foreign service exam 40 years ago, my dad, who is a career army officer, wrote me a letter, and he said that nothing can make you prouder than to serve your country with honor.  And I spent the next three and a half decades discovering the wisdom of that.  And I think there`s another generation of Americans who will too.

Public service is filled with honorable hardworking patriotic people, and they serve the interests of our country.  And I`m confident that we`re going to restore people`s understanding of that.

WILLIAMS:  Ambassador, thank you so much --

BURNS:  My pleasure.

WILLIAMS:  -- for being on tonight.  Good luck with the book, and we`ll tell your potential readers you can also see what cables back to the State Department look like from foreign postings, those that have been -- had the secrets removed from them.  But it`s interesting reading at the very end of the book.  Thank you so much.

BURNS:  Thanks so much.

WILLIAMS:  And good luck with it.

BURNS:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us, Donald Trump on the topic of aviation at a tough time in the U.S. aviation business.

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WILLIAMS:  The popular Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft remains airborne over the United States tonight, despite increasing pressure to ground the fleet after two crashes in the past six months.  They are currently the best- selling jet airliners in the world, the most recent Sunday`s fatal Ethiopian airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board when it went down just after takeoff.  The new Boeing model has been grounded in most every other country in the world until the cause of these incidents can be determined.  U.S. and Canada remain the exceptions.

In a new statement tonight, the FAA said, in part, "Thus far, our review shows no systematic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft."  The President weighed in this morning, quote, "Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly.  Pilots are no longer needed but rather computer scientists from MIT.  I see it all the time in many products.  Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further when often old and simpler is far better.  Split second decisions are need and the complexity creates danger.  All of this for great cost yet very little gain.  I don`t know about you, but I don`t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot.  I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane."

Those posts prompted a phone call from the CEO of Boeing who is said to have reassured the President that the Boeing 737 Max 8 is safe.

With us to talk all about this tonight, Andrew Tangel, Aviation Reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."  And still with us, we`ve managed to coax Phil Rucker into spending another segment of conversation.  Andrew, I`d like to begin with you.  This is basically the latest iteration of the workhorse air frame of the American fleet.  If you don`t have a 737, Kelleher never could have come up with Southwest Airlines.

This is the Cadillac of the 737 fleet.  Is this a case of pilots learning new avionics or are any other unsavory relationships at work here, do you think?

ANDREW TANGEL, AVIATION REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  This new version of the 737 is very similar in many respects to the older models of the 737.  And there really was not all that much training required for pilots to fly the current versions or the previous versions of the 737 to take over the controls of this new model, but there were aspects of the design of the plane that needed to be tweaked so that it handled the same way and thus required less training.  And that included in some respects some additional stall prevention systems in the cockpit.  So some cockpit systems that were new to the Max.  And Boeing late on Monday to confirmed today that they are updating a significant aspect of that flight control system in these new planes.

WILLIAMS:  Based on what you know and what you`ve reported, is it safe to fly on board these aircraft?  I have seen television newscasts today repeat the government admonition that everything is fine and then say later in this newscast we`ll have a consumer segment, how to find out if your next flight is scheduled on board one of these.  So what are American air passengers to think?

TANGEL:  They have to rely on what Boeing, the manufacturer of the planes, the U.S. government and the airlines and the pilot unions for those airlines say.  They are in many respects at odds with at least the questions that foreign regulators are raising.  That`s the -- the ultimate question is we don`t know to what extent data from the latest crash of this 737 Max in Ethiopia will show, if there`s any relationship at all to what potentially occurred in the Lion Air crash in Indonesia.

The regulators are keenly waiting for the data from the cockpit voice recorder and data recorders so that we can know whether or not there is any information that undermines the FAA`s assumptions or assertions and certifications that this plane is safe and can continue flying.

WILLIAMS:  And for our domestic audience who may not know, this airline, Ethiopian, is considered a first rate overseas carrier.  Phil Rucker, back to the President`s tweets.  I have this for you from Michael Grunwald over at POLITICO.  "The dumb airline tweets are fun to mock, but this is actually how Trump won.  Ignore data that prove things have gotten better, insist things have gotten worse, appeal to nostalgia for mythic era before modernity when things seemed simpler."  Your comment, Phil.

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Yes.  Well, Brian, this is another example of the President making a gut assumption and ignoring the data that show that since the `80s and the `90s, air travel has become safer.  Remember, President Trump back in that time actually owned an airline, the Trump Shuttle.  It was a shuttle service that went from New York.  It went belly-up after a few years.  It had a crash landing.  It was not a successful enterprise for President Trump, but he has been very focused on the aviation industry ever since.

And that tweet he issued this morning was the beginning of a whole day of discussions that he had inside the White House about this issue.  He spoke personally to the CEO of Boeing, but he`s also been on his appointees at the Department of Transportation and at the FAA for updates.  He wants more information, and he`s not made any sort of directive to them about grounding these planes, and that flies in contrast with what a number of senators, including Mitt Romney and Elizabeth Warren have said, which is that the FAA should temporarily ground this plane, as did by the way Ray LaHood who, during the Obama administration, was the Department of Transportation Secretary, and he has come out publicly saying that the flying public deserves a chance for these planes to be reviewed and they should be grounded.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, it will be an economic hit to the airlines, but there appears to be something of a drumbeat starting for it.  Another reminder to our audience, we are without a sitting FAA administrator right now.

To our guest, thank you for helping us get at this story.  Andrew Tangel and Philip Rucker, we appreciate it.

Coming up here, the Democrat atop the most recent polls who happens to not be in the race for president.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison):  Run, Joe, run.  Run, Joe, run.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You know, I`d like you all to -- I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here.  Save it a little longer.  I may need it in a few weeks.  Be careful what you wish for.  Be careful what you wish for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  See, that`s what they call coy.  That`s the closest Joe Biden has come yet to confirming he`s running for president.  He enjoyed the chant of "Run, Joe, Run," as you heard there from a firefighters` union event today.  They`ve traditionally been big supporters of his.

The polls show that only Sanders and Biden, these two guys are at double digits, and it`s far from a slum dunk for Biden in this race.  His entire legislative past as a senator is slowly being relitigated in the press.

For a new generation of voters, it`s the first they`ve heard.  And his candidacy might run directly into a party-wide generational shift happening at the very same time.

And to that end, Beto O`Rourke is headed to Iowa on Thursday.  He has several days of events planned in the early caucus state.  NBC News reports he plans to announce his decision by the end of the month.  "Washington Post" sums up the impending Beto/Biden match up this way, "The popular Former Vice President and the charismatic former Texas Congressman share one key characteristic, a more centrist brand of politics that could appeal to an untapped portion of the party electorate.  In targeting many of the same voters, O`Rourke and Biden could be on something of a collision course."  Unspoken there at this early date.  It`s just guess work.

Coming up, for all those Americans who fear for our political system perhaps, for our future perhaps, our closest ally may have it worse than us tonight.

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WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight.  Rather than us trying to describe the mess the United Kingdom finds itself in this evening, let`s hear the coverage from Sky News in Great Britain.

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LEWIS GOODALL, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, SKY NEWS:  Parliament has seldom seen such paralysis, so rarely had so few within it with so little idea of what happens next.  A prime minister with no voice.  A leader of the opposition with apparently so little new to say.  A government which is in retreat from the battlefield.  And all of these just over two weeks before Britain is due to experience the biggest political, constitutional and economic change we`ve seen for nearly half a century.

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WILLIAMS:  No hyperbole there, that`s about the size of it.  Here was the moment of truth.  And before you watch this, the announcement by Prime Minister Theresa May before parliament, saying in effect that they`re in a heap of trouble.  You`ll hear why so many commentators today said that her leadership and her voice seemed to have given out simultaneously.

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THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  Mr. Speaker, I beg to move -- OK, you may say that, but you should hear Jean-Claude Juncker`s voice as a result of our conversation.

The danger for those of you want to deliver to have faith with the British public and deliver on their vote for Brexit is that if this vote is not passed tonight, if this deal is not passed, then Brexit could be lost.

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WILLIAMS:  That still could be true.  Again, there`s no trick to reporting this because no one knows the answer.  The U.K. may stay in the E.U.  They may still leave the E.U.  They may put it to another national vote.  All that`s clear is that the government and economy of a hugely important U.S. ally will look very different a year from now, perhaps even just months from now.

That is our broadcast on this Tuesday night.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Goodnight 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