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Manafort indicted in NYC. TRANSCRIPT: 3/13/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Josh Gerstein, Tim O`Brien

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Senator Jeff Merkley, I know the country really appreciates the work you`re doing on this one.


O`DONNELL:  Really appreciate it.  Thank you.

Senator Jeff Merkley gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, within minutes of being handed his second federal prison sentence Paul Manafort gets hit with 16 new charges in New York City, where a presidential pardon won`t help him.  His lawyer then went outside and misquoted the federal judge before being shouted down.

Also, the comments in the hallway today that could point to obstruction of justice.  As a powerful Democratic committee chair says Trump`s former temporary A.G. Matt Whitaker didn`t deny talking to the President about the handling of the Michael Cohen case.

And news tonight of the back channels between Cohen and Rudy Giuliani and an attempt to roll out what they`re calling the Garth Brooks defense as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 783 of this Trump administration.

And before we bring you the news of this day more or less in order, we thought we would begin with the one moment from this day that nicely sums up the state of our current politics and the story we`ve been covering.

To set the scene, earlier today Paul Manafort had just received his second federal prison term, and from the bench the federal judge took great pains to say this case was not about whether or not there was any collusion with the Russians.  Minutes later Manafort`s lawyer goes outside before the cameras and he misquotes that federal judge.

His job, as he saw it apparently was to go outside and say two words for one man watching across town.  Those two words were "no collusion."  That man of course, the President.

But as the lawyer is talking, as you will see and hear, the veneer of civilized society cracks open in that moment on the sidewalk in Washington.  He gets heckled by people who know he`s not telling the truth because they heard what that judge had just said inside the courtroom.


KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT`S LAWYER:  Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case.  So that makes two courts, two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Liar!  That`s not what she said!

DOWNING:  Point number two, very --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s not what she said!


DOWNING:  -- very sad day --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s not what she said!

DOWNING:  -- for such a callous --


DOWNING:  -- for a sentence that is totally unnecessary.  Much like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You guys are liars!  You`re not lawyers.  You`re liars!


WILLIAMS:  It was not a high point today for the D.C. bar.  He was drowned out by the hecklers.  But he did his job.  He said no collusion.

The President went and repeated it later at the White House.  It didn`t seem to matter that the judge hadn`t ruled on collusion.  And thus another news cycle comes and goes.  We`ll go back to Manafort in just a moment.

But we want to bring you the other moment from today.  It involves Matt Whitaker.  He was acting attorney general under Donald Trump until recently.  But he was called back to Capitol Hill today for a follow-up to his public testimony as delivered to the House Judiciary Committee that was a month ago.

During that February hearing Whitaker, you`ll recall, was asked whether Trump ever attempted to intervene in the Southern District of New York case regarding Michael Cohen.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, FMR. ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The President did not ask for and I did not provide any commitments, promises concerning the special counsel`s investigation or any other investigation.

REP. VAL DEMINGS, (D) FLORIDA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I want to know whether you talked to President Trump at all about the Southern District of New York`s case involving Michael Cohen.

WHITAKER:  Congresswoman, as I`ve mentioned several times today, I am not going to discuss my private conversations with the President of the United States.


WILLIAMS:  Now we fast forward to today.  Whitaker`s appearance before the committee is over.  That`s when Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York, comes out into the hallway and reveals to reporters what Whitaker had said in the hearing room behind closed doors, and he certainly indicated the Whitaker story had changed.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) NEW YORK CHMN., JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  One, unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the President called him to discuss Michael Cohen -- the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District.

Two, while he was acting attorney general Mr. Whitaker was directly involved in conversations about whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys.

And three, while he was attorney general, acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker was involved in conversations about the scope of the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Berman`s recusal and whether the Southern District went too far in pursuing the campaign finance case in which the President was listed as individual number one.


WILLIAMS:  So that U.S. attorney here in New York, Geoff Berman, one-time Trump ally who contributed to the President`s 2016 campaign.

Last month "The New York Times" reported Trump talked with Whitaker about trying to get Berman to unrecuse himself, put himself back into the case involving Cohen and hush money payments.  Here`s what Trump said when he was asked about that in February.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you ask Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to change the leadership of the investigation into your former personal attorney Michael Cohen?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, not at all.  I don`t know who gave you that.  That`s more fake news.  There`s a lot of fake -- there`s a lot of fake news out there.  No, I didn`t.


WILLIAMS:  Chairman Nadler`s account of Whitaker`s comments today raises new questions about possible obstruction of justice by the President.  This was not an official hearing.  So there is no transcript.

And then late today the top Republican on the committee, Nadler`s counterpart, Congressman Doug Collins, disputed Nadler`s interpretation of their conversation with Whitaker.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nadler suggested that he contradicted his own testimony in the previous public hearing about whether he was involved in discussions with the President directly about Mr. Cohen.  Was that your takeaway from this as well?

REP. DOUG COLLINS, (R) GEORGIA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  No, I didn`t have that takeaway at all.  In fact, he said that he had not talked about -- with the President about Mr. Cohen at all.  And no conversation with the Southern District of New York at all either.


WILLIAMS:  So that brings us somehow back to Paul Manafort.  A federal judge, as we said, today gave the ex-Trump campaign chairman 3 1/2 years in federal prison for conspiracy.  That`s in addition to the four years give or take that Manafort received last week in Virginia, which brings his combined sentence so far to about 7 1/2 years.

In court today Manafort did what he had failed to do last week.  He expressed regret for his actions.  And we, "I want to say to you now that I am sorry for what I`ve done.  I accept the responsibility for the acts that have caused me to be here today.  I will be 70 years old in a few weeks.  My wife is 66 years old.  I am her primary caregiver.  Please let my wife and I be together."

Before pronouncing her sentence Judge Amy Berman Jackson noted the magnitude of his crimes, his lies to investigators in violation of his plea deal and his apparent lack of remorse, "Saying I`m sorry I got caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency."

She also criticized his legal team adding, "the no-collusion refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is, similarly, unrelated to the matters at hand.  The no-collusion mantra is simply a non sequitur that doesn`t bear on the question of the appropriate sentence."

Again, that didn`t stop Manafort`s lawyer, as we saw, from going outside and claiming the contrary with a straight face before being shouted down.

But then minutes later came bad news for Paul Manafort from the City of New York.  The Manhattan district attorney announced a grand jury had indicted Manafort on 16 criminal counts related to an alleged mortgage fraud scheme.  Those are state charges.  So if Manafort is found guilty of those or any one of them, the President cannot pardon him.

Today Trump claimed the idea of a pardon hasn`t even crossed his mind, while also expressing sympathy for his former chairman.


TRUMP:  I feel badly for him.  I think it`s a very sad situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you pardon Paul Manafort?

TRUMP:  I have not even given it a thought as of this moment.  It`s not something that`s right now on my mind.


WILLIAMS:  So with that let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night.  Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor for Politico, he was inside the Manafort courtroom today.  Maya Wiley, former Assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, now with the New School here in New York.  And Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.  Welcome to you all.

This is like a railroad siding.  I`m going to put Paul Manafort on the railroad siding first, and we`ll deal with the Whitaker matter, which technically happened later in the day.

And Frank, first to you.  What do we do if what the chairman is saying is correct other than I`m not a lawyer but I heard you on T.V. earlier say that it sure looks like Mr. Whitaker is now a fact witness.  What will that mean?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  Well, I think what we can go a step further and say -- we`ve been saying for a while, Brian, on this show that Whitaker is likely a fact witness.  I think he may have crossed the line today.  He may be in someone`s sights as a subject of a possible obstruction or witness tampering case or lying to Congress case.  And we need to sort out exactly what he said and how it was interpreted.

And then I`d go a step further and say it`s even more clear tonight that someone has got to be looking at the President of the United States for obstruction and witness tampering.  The more we learn about phone calls and conversations with Whitaker and questions about the degree of recusal of the U.S. attorney in New York and now even the possibility of discussions about firing that U.S. attorney or other U.S. attorneys, that all smells a lot like obstruction.

And I would be very surprised if some prosecutor in the federal system isn`t looking at the President and now perhaps the former acting attorney general for obstruction.

WILLIAMS:  Maya, I have to say that Mr. Whitaker was not in the known universe of legal names that a president would normally draw from when choosing a temporary attorney general or a permanent.  So people wondered what was he doing there.  The question to you is how much trouble could he be in if 80 percent of what the chairman mentioned in the hallway today is true.

MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  I agree with Frank.  At a minimum I think he has a perjury problem if what Representative Nadler said is true, because he was asked quite pointedly in the hearing about whether he had had conversations about the Southern District of New York`s U.S. attorney.

It wasn`t a -- it wasn`t veiled. It wasn`t unclear. It wasn`t -- it wasn`t ambiguous in any way.  And so, if he is now saying the opposite of what he testified to, then there is a potential perjury charge and certainly Frank is right that given the substance of what we`re hearing from Representative Nadler, and certainly -- it could certainly feed an obstruction case.

And look at the pattern.  I mean, we have a President of the United States who has explicitly stated that he thinks the job of his -- of the attorney general of the United States is to protect him personally.

WILLIAMS:  His Roy Cohn.

WILEY:  His Roy Cohn.  And he said it -- he started trashing Jeff Sessions, who was nothing but loyal.  Nothing but loyal.

WILLIAMS:  Got to give him that.

WILEY:  Got to give him that.  Whatever you have to say about Jeff Sessions, he was a complete loyalist.  He delivered every policy issue that Donald Trump wanted.  His sin, his sin was recusing himself from the Mueller probe and not protecting the President.

And we watched Matthew Whitaker make public statements as an analyst on CNN that sure sounded like auditioning for the job by saying I will be the one to throw myself on top of a grenade for you.

WILLIAMS:  Well, there you have it.

Well, Josh, if this grenade goes off, if Nadler is right, based on your knowledge of this situation then what?

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, I think the big question becomes whether this is part of the kind of thing that spurs the judiciary committee, which Nadler is heading, to move more strongly in the direction of an impeachment, a formal impeachment inquiry or impeachment itself.  I mean, it was just 24 hours ago it seemed like Nadler and Speaker Pelosi were basically ruling out impeachment and now you have this on the table, a rather explosive allegation.

I think it`s important to put it in some historical perspective that in a normal environment a story like this that the President had tried to remove or even discussed removing a prosecutor who`s investigating matters he was involved in would, you know, just ring out like a thunder clap.  And it`s only because of the constant noise we have with these types of allegations that this doesn`t sort of get lead billing across the board.

WILLIAMS:  Now, josh, I`m going to switch topics to Manafort, especially because you were there in the courtroom today.  And specifically I`d love all the atmospherics and the color you can give us from that experience.  But something you said to one of our producers about the Mueller payroll and how that intersected with today, ricocheted around our newsroom.  So have at it.

GERSTEIN:  Well, it seemed like there was a very, very large presence of the folks that have worked on the Mueller investigation.  I counted about 30 of them in the courtroom.  They were occupying basically 2 1/2 rows.  We saw almost all the major prosecutors from the office, FBI agents, paralegals, IRS agents, the spokesperson was there.

And those numbers I really haven`t seen at any prior hearing, even the sentencing hearing last week in Virginia.  And it did occur to me that maybe they`ve all turned out because this could be the public swan song of Mueller`s office.  If this is ultimately his largest and most significant prosecution, maybe there is a report forthcoming but that wouldn`t be I think an event with dozens and dozens of staffers.

And I wondered if they were all there just because it was a major case or maybe because this is sort of a culminating event of sorts of the Mueller probe.  And I guess we`ll know in the course of the next few weeks or months.

WILLIAMS:  OK, Frank Figliuzzi, you worked for the guy.  This is the kind of turnout you normally see only at the company picnic.  But could it also be that this is kind of a team-building thing and they all have a stake in this and so they took up 2 1/2 rows in that courtroom to watch one of the main guys go down?

FIGLIUZZI:  Yes, I think -- look, we`re speculating on how close we are to a report and we`re trying to read tea leaves.  I think the theory that this could be nearing the end and they wanted to come out in force is a good theory, but I can also tell you it`s very common when you`re culminating and you`re getting a sentence on a case that required lots of hands on deck, financial analysts, IRS tracking money around the world as it did with Manafort, it`s very possible that they simply wanted to see this man`s sentence today.  This was the last sentence for Manafort, at least in the federal system that we know of and they needed to turn out and see the fruits of their labor.

WILLIAMS:  Maya, I keep losing track of where people are on the reporting that Mueller surely has just days to go and we`re on the precipice of the report or don`t be silly, there`s miles to go before they sleep.  Where are you on that spectrum?

WILEY:  Well, I have long been in the camp of there`s miles to go.  And the question is how do you understand what miles to go means?  So for example, we know that the budget has been extended.


WILEY:  We know the Roger Stone trial doesn`t happen till the summer.  You could say maybe there`s a report despite the fact that there`s still a journey on this road.  You also have the fact I think this is a play in three acts.

And in the third act there`s a lot of action in the U.S. attorney offices, particularly the Southern District of New York.  That needs to be understood as part of this investigation even if they`re being handled separately because they spun out of the Mueller probe.  They are ongoing.

But you know, so when I see that courtroom, I`m going to tell you what I see.  And it`s similarly to what Frank`s saying.  Judge Ellis. Judge Ellis did something none of us expected.  He departed 75 percent downward --


WILEY:  -- from what we would have expected a reasonable sentence to be on a man of privilege who, as Judge Jackson said, had every opportunity in his life, in his life to do right.  And he chose wrong at every turn.  And if I`m on that team that did all that work, I want to see whether or not there`s going to be a more appropriate sentencing before the court in D.C. because that`s also a big part of the emotional work that goes into public servants who are trying to get justice for the American people.

But I will have to say that I think there`s more coming.  I don`t think we`re done.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  And of course 16 charges flew in over the transom moments after that today from here in New York.

Our guests have agreed to stay with us.

Coming up, what a Garth Brooks song, misquoted at that, has to do with today`s developments with the President`s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

And later, yet another Republican says he will vote against Trump`s emergency declaration.  Is the first presidential veto all but assured?  And what happens then?  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Wednesday night.


WILLIAMS:  More news tonight in the ongoing drama between the President, his former lawyer Michael Cohen, and the subject of pardons.  Both the "Wall Street Journal" and the "New York Times" report that federal prosecutors from the U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan have now requested e-mails that appear to show, and buckle up for this one, a so-called back channel of communication between Cohen and Trump`s legal team about a possible pardon.

The "Times" reports that last year Cohen was in contact with an attorney named, this is a new name for this story, Robert Costello, who e-mailed him after reaching out to an old name in this story, Rudy Giuliani.  According to the "Times," Cohen received an e-mail from Costello April 2018 that ended with the message, "sleep well tonight.  You have friends in high places."

In another e-mail Costello reportedly wrote to Cohen, "Rudy was thrilled and said this could not be a better situation for the President or you.  Mr. Giuliani," he added, "said thank you for opening this back channel of communication."

Costello doesn`t dispute the e-mails but says they have been taken out of context.  In a statement he said the "friends in high places" line was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a Garth Brooks song.  Well it better be tongue and cheek.  The song, the whole point of the song, is I`ve got friends in low places, nothing about high places.

Giuliani says the e-mails were not about a pardon.  Costello has agreed to provide the e-mails to prosecutors, who the "Times" says cited an investigation into "possible violations of federal criminal law" with their request.

Still with us, Josh Gerstein, Maya Wiley, and Frank Figliuzzi.

Maya, just beyond what they`ve done to Garth Brooks, what is going on here?

WILEY:  So look, Brian, well, first of all, you know, obviously those who believe that Michael Cohen is a liar and is not to be trusted will use this to say, "See, he was angling for himself and whatever this turnaround is doesn`t really mean that much."  But if you follow e-mail trail, you know what`s astounding about them is not only does it paint this picture in fairness to Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow there does seem to be corroboration of the fact they said "no, not at this time."


WILEY:  But then Rudy Giuliani says "but it`s the President`s prerogative.  Who knows what comes later?"  And that in and of itself does not set up, you know, the possibility of a dangling pardon.

But then there`s this Robert Costello e-mail in June.  Now, the relationship is already starting to fall apart.  Remember, I think it was July that Michael Cohen says "I`m done with these people" and he changes his legal team completely.  But Robert Costello sends him this cryptic e- mail that says "Hey, I`m going to talk to my friend who can talk to his client.  You hung up abruptly on me."  Anything -- this is a good moment.  You know, the sort of suggestion of I`m going to talk to my friend Rudy who`s going to talk to his friend Donald Trump.  Are you sure you don`t want me to pass anything on?  And that in and of itself is not a smoking gun, but it is smoke.


WILEY:  And I read that in the context of all these other e-mails to say if I`m an investigator I`m really going to do a lot of investigating to see what more is there.  And I think that`s what we`re hearing from the news stories.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Frank, I`m sitting home listening to all this, or perhaps even sitting in this chair listening to all this, wondering how we should think about all these talks about pardons.  All these mentions of pardons.  It seems to be in the background of so many of the tableaus.  Talk about that and how it might blow back on Rudy Giuliani.

FIGLIUZZI:  Yes.  So let`s level set for a moment here and set aside criminal allegations of obstruction, witness tampering that are related to dangling pardons.  Let`s talk about ethics and integrity just for a second.  This whole notion of the President`s criminal defense attorneys, not White House counsel, not Ethics and Policy lawyers, but his defense team even entertaining discussion of a pardon, entering into back -- so-called back channel communications, wholly inappropriate and puts us much more squarely in the obstruction category than, say, White House counsel explaining the facts of life of how a pardon works to somebody.  So this smells very badly.

Now, let`s move on to what that means about Rudy and perhaps other lawyers.  This gets very complicated because we`re entering a world of executive privilege and discussions and who said what to whom, privileged communications.  But here`s the bottom line.  Don`t get caught up in who approached who first so much as what the response was and what those criminal defense attorneys, for example, Rudy Giuliani, responded to and entertained and implied when they discussed a pardon.  That`s a problem.

And I think it does lead to the possibility that Rudy himself could find himself a fact witness being interviewed by FBI agents or prosecutors.  It`s a continued mess. And it causes me to say for all those who say Mueller is taking way too long to finish up, my response to that is when Trump`s team stops committing crimes and the evidence stops coming out maybe Mueller can wrap up.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Josh Gerstein, on behalf of all those viewers I just mentioned, give us a guide to tomorrow.  What should we expect in the Roger Stone court appearance?  Remind us what the stated reason is.

GERSTEIN:  Well, I think one of the stated reasons is to try to set a trial date for him in the near future.  But the big issue on the table at the moment is whether he and his defense team were insufficiently forthright with the judge about a revised edition of a book that Stone wrote that was coming out.

Viewers will probably recall that this judge has now issued two separate gag orders.  One was looser and one stricter.  After an Instagram post came out that showed the judge herself with what appeared to be crosshairs over one of her shoulders.

And at that hearing several weeks ago Stone`s lawyers never mentioned the fact that there was a book about to be released that attacked the special counsel`s office in very blunt terms.  And clearly if it happened after that hearing was going to be a violation of the court`s gag order and the lawyers only brought this up with her several days later.  And she has given them a set of very pointed questions about exactly who knew what when and why she wasn`t told about it.  And folks think there`s again some possibility, I don`t think it`s likely but some possibility, that Stone could be put in jail, in pretrial detention for having arguably twice violated the judge`s gag order.

WILLIAMS:  And just for clarity, Roger Stone appears tomorrow before the same judge who was misquoted by Manafort`s lawyer on the sidewalk right outside of the federal courthouse today.  This will be interesting.  And we`ll talk about it at this time tomorrow night.

But for now, to Josh Gerstein, to Maya Wiley, to Frank Figliuzzi, can`t think of better friends to talk us through what we just witnessed today.  Thank you all.

Coming up, one of the President`s lawyers says a Presidential pardon would be a mistake in judgment.  But we`ll play for you what the President had to say on the topic today when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Members of President Trump`s own party including some close allies are warning against any kind of pardon for Paul Manafort, at least not right now.


SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  Pardoning Manafort would be seen as a political disaster for the President.  There may come a day down the road after the politics have changed that you want to consider an application from him like everybody else, but now would be a disaster.


WILLIAMS:  The president`s aforementioned own attorney agrees it`s a bad idea.  Rudy Giuliani telling NBC News today, "The president is not considering giving anyone a pardon.  Nobody should assume or guess they get one.  That would be a mistake in judgment."  But as we noted, the President himself isn`t ruling it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you pardon Paul Manafort?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have not even given it a thought as of this moment.  It`s not something that`s right now on my mind.  I do feel badly for Paul Manafort.


WILLIAMS:  There you have it.  Let`s bring in Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the "Washington Post" and moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS.

Robert, I`d like to read you a quote from Judge Jackson today addressing Paul Manafort and his team.  I was reminded a few minutes ago, she was confirmed.  Harvard law school, nominated by President Obama. 97-0 by the U.S. Senate. They don`t vote 97-0 on anything or anybody anymore.  She read in open court about Paul Manafort, "He thereby cheated the U.S. treasury out of over $6 million in tax revenue.  Why?  Not to support a family but to sustain a lifestyle at the most opulent and extravagant level possible.  More houses than a family can enjoy.  More suits than one man can wear."

Robert, you`ve been around for a lot of the rise of Paul Manafort.  Certainly have covered his tenure with Mr. Trump.  How colossal a fall is this?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s also a colossal gap between Congressional Republicans, top Republican leaders, and President Trump.  Based on my reporting today, they`re having conversations with the President and they feel there is a disconnect.  They think the President still sees Paul Manafort as a businessman who lived in Trump Tower, who was with him during the campaign, is someone who was engaged with autocrats throughout the world, likes strongmen and just like President Trump likes strong autocratic leaders throughout the world, and he sees Paul Manafort in that sympathetic light.  Not through the sentencing memo that we saw today.

And Congressional Republicans are privately telling the White House, we are already in containment mode with this Mueller report on the horizon.  We`re going to have to probably spend the rest of the year talking about the president`s conduct.  Don`t add another problem, another headache to the mix.

WILLIAMS:  And can you believe that publicly we had here today Manafort`s attorney, who felt the assignment, felt the need to go outside that courthouse, use those two words, "no collusion," as we said, directed at one man, and that talking point continues to be generated by one man.

COSTA:  That talking point is generated by one man.  It`s President Trump`s chief talking point.  Yet inside of this White House there is an acknowledgment on the president`s legal team inside of the White House Counsel`s Office, that even if there is not seen to be interference that directly involves President Trump or top members of his campaign with Russian collusion during the 2016 race it is now the president`s conduct that will be in the spotlight.

Sure, Republicans and the president`s lawyers will argue some things came under the purview of being the executive, whether it was firing FBI director James Comey or other similar matters.  But if he adds a pardon to this discussion, his conduct again will come to the fore.  And as much as he wants to keep the idea of no collusion at the forefront of the national debate, it`s those decisions he has made as president, whether it`s a pardon or meddling with the investigation.  That`s the thing that the American people are going to have to investigate and think about politically as much as the Mueller report.

WILLIAMS:  And Bob, what if Nadler`s right and we just hit another beehive with another baseball bat and this Whitaker matter starts getting spun up into its whole own thing?

COSTA:  The president had Jeff Session.  There`s as attorney general from the start in 2017.  We all know how much he hated the attorney general`s recusal.  He wanted a loyalist in there.  What did he always tell his top advisers?  He wanted a Roy Cohn.  He didn`t get Roy Cohn but he got an Iowa attorney in Matthew Whitaker, someone I`ve covered for years, going back to his time in Iowa politics.  And he did get a loyalist.  But that`s come with immense challenges.  And that`s all unfolding today. These are things this White House has brought upon itself based on the personnel it has chosen.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, long-time friend of this broadcast, thank you so much for making time to talk with us tonight, as always.  And coming up, why today is just the latest in a string of losses for this president of note lately.  When we come back.



TRUMP:  There hasn`t been collusion and it was all a big hoax.  And you know it.  It was done and stated by the Democrats because they lost an election that they should have won because the Electoral College is a big advantage for Democrats, not for Republicans.  And they should have, and I ran the clock out.  We ran the whole thing.  You ran up the east coast from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.  Then we go up to Wisconsin and Michigan.  States that hadn`t been won for many, many years.  We won those states.


WILLIAMS:  Think it`s important to him?  The President today relitigating his victory hours after learning that his old campaign chairman was headed to federal prison for about seven years.  With us to talk about all of today`s events, Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor of Bloomberg Opinion.  Happens to be the author of "Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald."  And David Jolly, former republican member of Congress from the great State of Florida who has since left the grand old party.  But on the up side he`s joined us as an MSNBC political analyst.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Let`s take our newest political analyst out for a spin.  David, I`ll ask you a question that has crumpled most mortal men not named Meacham or Beschloss.  When they write the history books, how big will just today, what we`ve witnessed today loom, do you think, in the timeline of the trump presidency?

DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think the actions of today reflect what we know have been a pervasive pattern of this presidency and of the president himself.  You`ve covered it tonight, Brian, from the statement of Manafort`s attorney suggesting that there was no collusion, something he knew was a lie.  As an attorney he knew it was a lie, but he was --


JOLLY:  -- making that statement, if you will, for the president himself, to suggest that Paul had been a loyal foot soldier.  And then within hours we saw Chairman Nadler suggest that in fact Whitaker would not deny that they had tried to interfere with personnel at the Southern District of New York.

Those are not the actions of a political organization or of a presidency.  Those are the actions typically manifested within a crime ring, within a crime syndicate, a crime family.  And it is those actions that will be remembered in the long lens of history, that that is a president that continues to ignore the traditional trappings of the office but also the barriers, if you will, to some of these behaviors, ignores them.  And ultimately what might be his undoing over the next couple of years.

WILLIAMS:  Tim, as you know, family usually off limits.  This president chose to bring his daughter into the West Wing and into the Administration.  I mention that because of this in the "New York Times."  "Of the 81 document requests sent, 52 individuals and organizations were asked to turn over documents related to Ms. Ivanka Trump or her business interests.  The inquiries related to Ms. Trump follow a side track.  They ask for documents related to any financial benefit that Ms. Trump or her businesses reaped from foreign and domestic governments after the 2016 election."

So I`m tempted to ask you what he`s probably like in the bunker these days and add on what`s it going to be like when they come after his daughter.

TIM O`BRIEN, BLOOMBERG OPINION EXECUTIVE EDITOR:  Well, you know, or when they come after possibly Don Jr. or Jared.


O`BRIEN:  I think these are all in that same category of what does the bear do when the bear gets cornered. And I think we`ve already seen Trump spend a lot of time disparaging the investigation, the investigators.  And they`ve sort of been on the periphery of him and his family.

I think as this moves forward and not just with the Mueller investigation but with what`s happening in the Southern District, I actually think that the investigation in Manhattan is going to get into the finances of the family and the family`s history of deal-making and the money trail.  In a way it`s much more perilous to the things that matter to Donald Trump than the Mueller investigation.

WILLIAMS:  And credit to you, you`ve been saying that from the start.

O`BRIEN:  Well, I think so.  But I, you know, I could be wrong.  I don`t think anybody knows anything other than there are two locomotives sort of that have been heading toward this family.  I think when you look at Ivanka she has real exposure.  She was on Air Force One the night President Trump dictated the cover story for the Trump Tower meeting.  She was one of the hubs at the inauguration for deciding who got hotel rooms and where some of the money went.

And according to what Congress is looking at, and I think it`s a good thing they`re looking at it, did she get any preferential treatment on trademarks or other business interests she had in locations like China?  And I think the family itself has been pretty flagrant about not trying to have very clear boundaries between their business interests and the public policy- making process.

And to me that`s not a partisan or ideological issue.  It`s about good government.  Anybody who`s in the White House, whether they`re Republican or Democrat, should be insulated from their own wallets.  And the Trumps, including Ivanka and including her husband, haven`t been very good about drawing clear boundaries around that.

WILLIAMS:  Let me sneak a break in.  Both gentlemen have agreed against their will to stay with us and keep talking.  We`ll be right back with more after this.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump could soon issue the first veto of his presidency as early as tomorrow if the Senate, as expected, blocks his so- called national emergency to fund the border wall.  Utah Senator Mike Lee became the latest Republican to say he will go against the White House.  Tonight, Josh Dossy of "The Washington Post" reported, "Senior White House official says tonight they expect 10 to 12 GOP defections on national emergency vote.  Trump is trying to wrangle votes but not having as much luck as he`d like.  Veto coming."

Only four Republican votes are needed, remember, for the veto to pass, blocking the national emergency.

Still with us, Tim O`Brien, David Jolly.  So Tim, we`ve been talking about this moment that may arrive tomorrow.  For all we know, Trump may be expecting a guy named veto.  He may be expecting him to use a pen, but how consequential will this be?  After all, it`s the Republican U.S. Senate.

O`BRIEN:  Well, I think it`s actually a seminal moment because it`s the first time we`re seeing his own party standing up on something that`s extremely important to him and saying no.  And I think one of the stories thus far in the Trump Administration is, where has the GOP been around reining Trump in when he`s actually not done good conservative things around policy or his public statements?  They`ve been absent.

And I think that part of this is this obvious struggle inside the party itself between the populist wing and the more traditional wing, but at some point I think the party has got to take a stand on what they think good governance is.  And you`ve got a very core principle at work here with Trump trying to self-fund a wall.  He`s reaching into Congress and essentially taking the power of the purse --


O`BRIEN:  -- out of their hands.  And that`s a core constitutional principle that should remain with the Congress.  Again, I think that`s a nonideological, nonpartisan issue, but it`s taken awhile I think for the GOP to stand up around those sorts of principles and I think you`re seeing this now.  That`s an outcome of the midterms.  I think it`s an outcome of his bad behavior.  And I think it`s hopefully the party itself finally deciding to stand up.

WILLIAMS:  And David Jolly, there is one more component Tim didn`t get to, and that is the chart of everyone up in 2020.  Now, let`s not be total cynics.  And as I asked you how you think this is going to go down, I guess we start with that chart, but we add any emerging profiles in courage.  Do you have any hope?

JOLLY:  I don`t know that this is a moment for profiles in courage.  I think this might be a pretty easy one for Republicans.  You`re going to hear descriptors like stunning rebuke, but -- and you`ll see those in cycle in 2020, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, maybe Susan Collins, push back against the President, vote to disapprove.  Outgoing senators like Lamar Alexander.

At the end of the day, though, I`m not sure that 2020 voters will actually care much about this national emergency declaration nor its disapproval.

But, Brian, we were talking earlier about the long lens of history.  It is remarkable that the president`s first veto to be remembered throughout history may be on the fact that he was -- he was pushed back upon by a Democratic House and a Republican Senate for acting outside of his constitutional authority.  History will remember that for a long time.

The president likes to suggest he`s been the most successful president in the first two years that history`s ever seen.  The reality is he`ll be remembered for moments like tomorrow, for the Mueller investigation, for lying about matters of national security on Russia, North Korea, but also for vetoing a disapproval that the President of the United States acted beyond his constitutional authority.

WILLIAMS:  Well done.  I`m going to write down that stunning rebuke phrase.  I think that may have legs.

JOLLY:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Two analysts and contributors for this network.  Both of them friends of this broadcast.  Tim O`Brien, David Jolly.  Gentlemen, thank you both so much.

And coming up, everything you need to know about the commercial airliners that have been ordered to be parked tonight at airports across this country and not flown as of this evening.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight is an update on the grounding of those 737 Max 8 aircraft.  The President announced it today after Canada ordered them all grounded and after our own FAA reported that the early data indicates similarities between the Lion Air crash of a MAX 8 and this latest Ethiopian airlines crash.  Both crashes killed all aboard.  Both jets were brand-new.  Just a few months old.  Both went down within minutes of takeoff.

And now reports indicate the crew of this Ethiopian airliner was struggling with the flight controls and was granted permission to circle back to the airport but never made it.

The problem investigators are looking at, the feature Boeing is rushing to fix via software, is a system of sensors in the nose designed to correct the jet if it`s flying at the wrong angle.  In both these cases it may be the jet itself lowered its nose and started flying towards the ground.  The pilot struggling with the controls, perhaps unaware of what was going on at first.

The system does have an override.  It can be switched off by toggling two switches in the center console, but some pilots have complained that the pilot`s manual is less than clear on these new avionics.  Boeing is scrambling, as you might imagine.  Their stock is down.  This had been their best-selling aircraft currently.  If this is confirmed be a fault of their systems, they will face enormous legal pressure

And tonight the U.S. airlines, three of them, are now also scrambling to get other aircraft on to these routes.  Southwest Airlines flies exclusively 737s, but these advanced MAX 8s are only 4 percent of their current fleet.  Similarly, American Airlines has grounded all 24 of their MAX 8s, but like Southwest, they have hundreds of other aircraft to rely on.  United has grounded its small fleet of 14 of these MAX 9s, just a different version.  They have over 700 other jets in their inventory.

Even though this was the crash of an African airliner on African soil, our own NTSB has been asking for those black boxes to bring them here to their lab.  First of all, because they`re good at it, but also because the jets were manufactured here.  They have been denied and the Canadian Globe and Mail report it tonight the black boxes will be opened and analyzed in Europe instead.  They report the decision in defines of U.S. requests is the latest sign of the world`s growing distrust of the United States on aviation safety issues.

They cite as evidence the U.S. regulators who were insisting through today that these jets didn`t need to be grounded, even as possible evidence to the contrary was starting to come in.

Well, that is our broadcast on this Wednesday night.  We thank you so much for being here with us.  Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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