Mueller's top prosecutor plans to exit team. TRANSCRIPT: 3/14/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Eric Tucker, Tal Kopan, Melanie Zanona, Gromer Jeffers, MichaelScherer

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, two of Robert Mueller`s top staffers depart signaling the potential end phase of the Russia investigation.  While across town, in a Congress that can`t agree on anything, unanimous support in the House, 420 to zero to publicly release Mueller`s findings.

Plus, a dozen Republican senators break ranks and vote against Trump`s border wall national emergency.  His response is to promise his first veto.

And he ran and lost for senate now he`s running for President.  A glossy magazine rollout for a former Texas congressman that excites the left and has the right in attack mode starting today as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 784 of the Trump administration, and there are brand new signs that we may indeed be witnessing the end stage of Robert Mueller`s investigation into Russian interference in our presidential election.

And please note here. when covering an entity that does not leak, we are forced to watch for other things like personnel moves.  And for starters, one of Mueller`s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, plans to leave the team.  The news came from the special council`s office itself which sent out the statement today and we quote, "Andrew Weissmann will be concluding his detail to the special counsel`s office in the near future."

Weissmann was the architect of the case against Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who`s been sentenced to prison for almost 7 1/2 years.  You may may recall that last month, Weissmann said that Manafort`s August 2016 meeting with a Russian associate and his lies about it go "to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think the motive here is.  This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel`s office is investigating, that meeting and what happened to that meeting is of significance to the special counsel."

Weissmann has been involved in other high profile cases, including, but not limited to the prosecution of the Gambino crime family and the investigation and subsequent prosecution of Enron.  He was also the FBI general counsel when Mueller led the bureau.

In the book "Fire and Fury," remember that one?  Michael Wolff writes, that Steve Bannon describes Weissmann as "the Lebrun James of money laundering investigations."

Mueller`s attackers have often trained their sites on Weissmann.  Trump went after him on Twitter, sighting, "Andrew Weissmann`s horrible and vicious prosecutorial past."

Trumps allies on Fox News have targeted him for prosecution of Manafort and his larger role in the Mueller inquiry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Why would Robert Mueller hire a guy like Andrew Weissmann with that atrocious track record?  Why was he ever appointed?  The answer is, it was a fishing expedition and it was an effort to get Trump from the beginning.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST:  The plan for Paul Manafort, meanwhile, is to ensure that he dies behind bars.  Mueller`s lead prosecutor in this case, Andrew Weissmann, is working hard to make sure that happens.

JOE DIGENOVA, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY:  What the special counsel has done, Mr. Mueller, is he has chosen his Jack the Ripper like leader Andrew Weissmann to use the type of tactics that are properly reserved for Mafia gangs for terrorists.

SIDNEY POWELL, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  I`ve called Mr. Weissmann the poster boy for prosecutorial misconduct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  You get the drift.  There`s another telling personnel shift at the special counsel`s office.  NBC News reporting it this way, "Mueller`s top FBI investigator, David Archey, has also left to become the agent in charge of the Richmond field office.  A top counterintelligence official, Archey had been the senior FBI agent assigned to Mueller`s team.  Multiple law enforcement officials tell NBC News that Mueller has farmed out cases not directly related to Russia, to other Justice Department offices."

Today we learned that the case against Roger Stone will go to trial November 5 of this year.  The judge also declined to change Stone`s gag order wording for now.

Former Trump National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn`s sentencing has been delayed until mid June.  His lawyers say in the meantime, he plans to cooperate with prosecutors on a different case.

Ex-Trump campaign official, Rick Gates, may well find out about his sentencing tomorrow.  If he has not given a sentencing date that will likely mean he is still worthwhile and cooperating with Mueller.

Amid the movement at the special counsel`s office and the outstanding cases, Congress is now suddenly taking an increased interest in the pending report on the investigation.  Today Republicans joined Democrats in the House to pass a nonbinding resolution to make Mueller`s full report public.  This passed with a vote of 420 to nothing.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Thursday night.  Mimi Rocah, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a Distinguished Fellow and Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law.  Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR Boston`s NPR new station.  Also with us tonight, Eric Tucker, Justice Department Reporter with the Associated Press.

Mimi Rocah, to start with you, you and I have alternately doubted some of the reporting that`s come out and been rather dire.  Mueller`s going to be done by Tuesday.  And Mueller`s going to be done a week from -- this, however, as I mention, in a case with no leaks, where we have boxes to watch coming out the front door where we have attorneys departing, FBI agents departing, does that suffice for you as good an indicator as any?

MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  I wouldn`t call it strong circumstantial evidence.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  Being a lawyer.

ROCAH:  Right.  Someone comes in, it`s raining.  You know, you can tell it`s raining because they`re wet. The question still is, what is that something? I think the special counsel office as we know -- have known it for the past two years, it seems like that is going to dissolve, right?  The personnel that has made up that office, those people are going to go on to other things, as well they should.

I mean, I just want to take a moment here to say, you know, they`ve been attacked ruthlessly --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

ROCAH:  -- by Trump and his allies.  Many of them left their families for two years, have worked probably, you know, 80 to 100 hour weeks around the clock in something that they felt was a service to their country like Bob Mueller.  But the people who are under him doing the work, you know, I think won`t get any of the credit and are getting a lot of the attack.  And in many ways they should be thanked for what they`ve done, not attacked.

That said, I don`t think this means the end of the investigations, though or the prosecutions, certainly.  I mean, we know now that Roger Stone is going to trial in November.  That`s a prosecution.  It is going to continue.  Prosecutors are going to do that.

And there`s a saying in the Department of Justice and all the different prosecutors offices, basically prosecutors are fungible.  The government is always ready.

So, while Andrew w Weissmann is a seller prosecutor and, you there`s a reason why Bob Mueller wanted him at his side, there are many Andrew Wiessmann`s, there are many wonderful prosecutors throughout the Department of Justice and FBI agents who will take up whatever Bob Mueller is handing off to them.  And this is not the end of the story as to the investigations.  But it may be the end of this unit investigating.

WILLIAMS:  Is that the right way to put it, that the home office may be shutting down, but this work has been sent out to regional district offices?

ROCAH:  Yes.  I think that`s a great analogy.  And that`s a good thing.  I mean, we have a strong Department of Justice that has handled complex important cases for decades in all different offices.

And I think seeing it sort of go out that way and state prosecutors stepping in as well.  That`s not a bad thing.  And I understand why Mueller, who is a creature of that Department of Justice would want it to go to the regular channels at some point.  And it seems like we`re nearing that point.

WILLIAMS:  So, Eric, that`s the view from a former Fed.  And I want you to you see another former Fed who is of counsel to us.  This is Frank Figliuzzi earlier on this network, and as we listen to him, remember, he was running counter intelligence for a time for the bureau.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  I`m more intrigued by the departure of David Archey, because he is the counterintelligence lead here.  So that`s the seminal Russia question that Mueller was supposed to answer.

We should expect to report that isn`t so dramatic, but rather one that rolls out and spins cases everywhere.  It diffuses targets for Trump to aim at.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So, Eric, there`s a lot there.  Do you concur based on your reporting?  And about the spin offs, when are we going to find all of them?

ERIC TUCKER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS JUSTICE DEPT. REPORTER:  So I think what is clear at this point is that much of the investigative work, including the central "collusion question" probably is complete.  I think the question becomes, what Bob Mueller does with that information, how long it takes to produce some sort of report about that.

WILLIAMS:  And Kim, today`s House vote you normally can`t get a vote 420 to nothing to agree that today is Thursday.  What does this vote say about Republicans and Democrats about a feeling of urgency, and perhaps about Robert Mueller himself?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, THE BOSTON HERALD CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER:  Yes.  It`s really extraordinary.  Obviously for Democrats this is a statement that they want to make.  They want to send a very strong message to the Department of Justice and Attorney General Barr that this report needs to be made public.  And the American people ought to see it.

I think the Republicans, at least some of them, may have a different motivation, they want to get it out and make it be public so that, possibly, they can discredit it especially those who are close allies with the President.  But it is -- it was an extraordinary moment of unanimity heading into the final stages, what we think based on the tea leaves are the final stages of this investigation, knowing it will end up in a report.  And there will probably be a push by the white house not to let it see the light of day.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Eric, back over to you.  Give us a preview of tomorrow with Rick Gates.  What could happen here?

TUCKER:  So, I think like you mentioned earlier, the central question is going to be whether he`s ready for sentencing.  We saw earlier this week that Michael Flynn does not yet want to be sentenced because he says, "I still have additional cooperation I want to offer."

Rick gates has been cooperating for a really, really long time, both with Mueller and with prosecutors in New York.  So, the central question really is, has he completed his cooperation to his own satisfaction and to the government`s satisfaction?

WILLIAMS:  And Mimi, this goes back to your point.  Let`s say this time tomorrow night, we`re reporting that Gates has been continued, because his work continues.  What you`re saying is, you don`t need the core office for that you need individual prosecutors to pursue that, correct?

ROCAH:  Right.  I mean, you need an office to pursue it.  And so Gates could conceivably be turned over as a cooperator to another U.S. attorneys office who is making use of his information.  If he`s useful in the inauguration investigation, for example, the Southern District might take over his cooperation.

And really, I mean, once you`re within the Department of Justice, those things happen actually quite frequently.  Where different offices work together and share information, and even hand over cooperators.

You know, I think, though, that it doesn`t mean that we`re not going to hear more from Mueller.  I do still think that there are probably one more round of indictments to go.

I do not believe that Jerome Corsi would have been given a plea agreement and an information and then just left, you know, to walk the streets free forever.  So -- because I don`t think that Mueller buffs.  So, if he did that, he was able to charge him.

Now, could he hand that off to someone else to charge him?  Yes.  But it could be that he was waiting to charge Corsi along with other people.  And that`s why he hasn`t been charged yet.

Corsi isn`t really important in the grand scheme of things, but it`s just an example of something that is sort hanging out there unfinished and I think will be finished in indictments.  And I think we haven`t yet seen all the fruits of all the cooperators, including Gates, including Flynn.  We know Flynn met for, I forgot what the number of hours, but some, you know, a very large number of hours with them.  And we haven`t seen the fruits of that yet.

I think we will see some of it through Mueller, but we may have to wait longer and see some of it through other prosecutions, through other offices.

WILLIAMS:  And you`re not getting out of here that easy.  Do you think this last round could include some big names?

ROCAH:  I do.  I mean, I have always thought that there seemed, even in public reporting, almost enough to charge Don Jr. in some kind of conspiracy.  That`s, you know, a big one to hand off to someone.  So, if he is going to be charged, if there is more evidence than what we know, because I think what we know is sort of right on the cusp.  If Mueller has more evidence than that that can put it over the edge, I would think he would charge that and then hand it off to someone not let someone else charge it.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Kim, the Democrats in the House, certainly, have become all about investigations, as you cover the place, and as you learn what you learn. Is there anything, any committee perhaps that we are not focusing on, that we should be focused on as this week gives way to next?

ATKINS:  I think we should be focused on all of them.  I think one thing that I`m looking at certainly is Ways and Means.  The decision that the chairman there, Richard Neil, will make about whether and when he will pursue President Trump`s tax returns, that will probably lead to a protracted legal fight.  But it certainly will cause this White House to push back.

But I think the investigations, the committees we`ve already been watching, we see the Oversight Committee and the appearance of Michael Cohen before that committee that led to a flood of action out of New York State investigating Donald Trump and his businesses, and his dealings with banks and insurance companies.

I think this will continue to spin off in that way as House investigators continue to look really closely at every aspect of Donald Trump`s White House and his businesses.

WILLIAMS:  Terrific conversation tonight.  To Mimi Rocah, to Kimberly Atkins, and Eric Tucker, thank you all of you for joining our broadcast this evening.

And coming up, a big defeat for the President today.  Delivered by senators as we said from his own party.

And then later, after much speculation, a young man from Texas is officially doing what he says he was born to do.

We have another story to tell you about, breaking news just coming in from New Zealand, news of a mass shooting there.  As we nail that story down, we will bring it to you, all of it, though, as `The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  As we mentioned before the break, let`s records keep on some breaking news tonight that`s coming in to us from the other side of the world.  This is from police in New Zealand.  They are responding to two different shooting locations, both believed to be at mosques in Central Christchurch New Zealand.

Reports of fatalities, reports of one individual down and in custody.  Multiple fatalities in fact, again.  Two mosques are being listed as the locations by the Commissioner of Police in New Zealand. Mike Bush.

For us, our long time NBC News Correspondent Sara James is on the phone for us from Melbourne, Australia.  Sara, what can you add to this reporting?

SARA JAMES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone):  What we understand is that the police are still investigating the situation.  It is still very much an active situation, Brian.

We also know that there are reports of potentially multiple casualties.  The hospital which is not very far from the site of one of these mosques is in lockdown and that is where some of those who were injured have been -- are being treated as we speak now.

Probably one of the most disturbing features of these attacks is, that it seems that some of them have been posted to social media.  So that`s a particularly disturbing aspect to these crimes.  The police, as I said, are investigating at this moment, and trying to find out exactly who is responsible and, you know, if there was more than one person or if there is just one person who is involved.

The reports from the witnesses and those who were in the mosque at the time are really quite shocking.  Descriptions of a quiet service and just a peaceful setting, suddenly disrupted with the sound of gunfire.  Police and emergency services responded very quickly.  This is in the center of a very beautiful town as you know.  And it`s just a situation that is ongoing now.

WILLIAMS:  Sara James, our thanks.  And thanks for getting in touch with us, and adding what we already know about this to your reporting.

Again, a massive shooting is in the news from the other side of the world.  Mass casualty event perhaps.  One suspect down and in custody.  But there`s a whole lot we don`t know.  Two mosques apparently targeted.

You heard Sara`s reporting that apparently instantly posted on the social media.

If we learn substantially more, we`ll update you in this hour, and obviously as night gives way to day in this country.  Come tomorrow morning, we will probably learn many more details about this.  But our thanks to Sara James.

Back to our domestic politics, today, senators from his own party as we mentioned, voted to defeat the President`s signature campaign issue as the President was today handed a major political blow with the U.S. Senate voting to block his self-declared national emergency to fund the border wall.

A dozen Republican senators defected.  They crossed over and voted in favor of the resolution.  But in this case, a yes vote meant no to his emergency declaration.  Those 12 included both Republican senators from Utah.

It`s the first time congress has ever voted to block a presidential emergency declaration.  And it likely means another first for President Trump.

Earlier today he said, "I look forward to vetoing the just passed Democrat inspired resolution which would open borders while increasing crime, drugs and trafficking in our country."

Minutes before Trump had said "veto" in all capital letters.  He has never issued a veto before in his presidency.

"New York Times" reporting the President had been lobbying hard for GOP support for his national emergency, "In a volley of phone calls with Senate Republicans over the past few weeks, the President warned of the electoral consequences of defying him, and dismissed concerns of the constitutional precedent of his order.  During a meeting on trade Wednesday afternoon at the White House, Mr. Trump tried to cajole a handful of members to vote his way emphasizing that a vote against border security would be noticed by his party`s base."

We have two terrific journalist with us tonight who covered this bid (ph) for a living, Tal Kopan returns to our broadcast, Washington Correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.  We also welcome to our broadcast, Melanie Zanona, Congressional Reporter for Politico.  Welcome to you both

Tal, to begin you, what does this vote say about the President, about the Republicans in that body, and potentially about future votes?

TAL KOPAN, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, there`s no way to spin that it`s a stunning rebuke of the President.  To issue a veto during a presidency is relatively normal.  Presidents do it from time to time.

What was fascinating about this one is it comes as the President`s own party controls one of the chambers of Congress.  And so to have 12 Republicans, you know, this is not a veto proof majority, the President still can sustain a veto over it.  But to have that many Republicans signal this, it definitely shows that the President may not be able to sort of exert his will over the direction of the votes in the Senate every time he wants to.

And it is a pretty resounding message from Congress that they do not like the way the President is trying to divert funds using this national emergency power.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Melanie, by way of welcoming you to the broadcast, please tell us about Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican.  He`s up next time around, February 25th, he comes out and says publicly that he`s going to break ranks, that he has to vote against the national emergency, fast forward to today, not so much.  He voted the President`s way.  What`s his underpinning?  What`s his reasoning?

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO:  It`s simple.  He caved to the pressure.  He had come out in an op-ed and said I`m going to vote with the resolution and vote against the President, and he got a lot of conservative backlash.

Of course he`s up for re-election in 2020, so this is going to be a difficult vote for him either way. If he voted against the President, he was going to be vulnerable to primary challenges and face criticism from the right.  But now that he flip-flopped his position and voted against the resolution and voted in favor of the President, he`s going to be facing challenges in the general election from Democrats who are going to say he`s unprincipled.  That he doesn`t stand up for what he believes, that he`s hypocritical.

And so I think he was going to be facing a tough vote either way here.  But he made it even worse through himself by reversing his position.

WILLIAMS:  And, Tal, I got one for you.  Denver Post publicly regretting heir support for Cory Gardner who went with the President after all.  These votes of course are remembered in very up and down, black and white terms.  Were you with Trump or did you go against him?  And I guess the Denver Post wants to call this to viewers, to reader`s attention.

KOPAN:  Yes.  And, you know, Melanie was talking about Thom Tillis.  I mean, you`re sort of in rock, in a hard place, right?  You know, if you`re talking about primary voters, the --breaking from the President can be a really difficult thing to sell.  In the general, however, spinning this is going to be more difficult if you stuck with the President.

So, it`s sort of a rock and a hard place.  And when look at Cory Gardner from Colorado, he may be at the top of Democrat`s target list for the Senate in 2020.  I mean that is the state that has been funding Democratic.  There was a Congressman, Mike Coffman, who in many ways broke with the President over and over, and was a moderate on many issues in the House, who lost his seat in the midterms in 2018.  That`s a terrible sign for Cory Gardner already coming into this cycle.

So to now have the paper rescind an endorsement in such stark terms, it`s - let`s just say that`s some great wins to go into going to this race.

WILLIAMS:  Melanie, of course the other way of looking at this is for the Republicans who did jump, who stood up and went against the President, it does give air cover sometimes to those who are something short of a profile in courage and may need it for next time.

ZANONA:  Yes, that`s exactly right.  I think when you look at these defections too, it`s interesting, you see someone like Susan Collins of Maine, who has really carved out an independent lane for herself.  She has stood up to the President on issues before.  You also saw someone like Lamar Alexander who is retiring and no longer has to fear the backlash of going against the President.

But what`s interesting is that these votes, these defections came from really all corners of the caucus.  You saw the Conservatives, the Institutionalists, like Rand Paul, the more Moderate like Collins and Murkowski.  So the opposition was really wide spread here, and it was pretty remarkable to see a dozen defections especially after the White House had campaigned so hard to get those defections down.  I think that makes it even more embarrassing for the President.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, you`re right, we shouldn`t lose sight of the larger story here.  To Melanie Zanona, to Tal Kopan, thank you so much for coming on the broadcast.  We appreciated

And coming up for us, the newest Democrat to make it official, drawing big campaign clouds in Iowa but was folks already asking for his ideas, can this guy win the race?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O`ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Every single American should want to ensure that whoever is president is successful, because our success depends on that.  But a president who has caused so much pain for so many of our fellow Americans cannot be allowed to continue another four years in office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Today he made it official, Beto O`Rourke, the Democrat from Texas, who nearly upset Senator Ted Cruz is running for president.  While his announcement had been expected, it`s also true, he told us not too long ago, there was no way he was going to run.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What are your thoughts on running for president?

O`ROURKE:  I don`t want to do it.  I will not do it.  Amy and I are raising an 11-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was November, now it`s March.  And now he`s the 13th Democrat in this race being called a glossy rollout, as rollouts go.  Along with a video posted this morning on Twitter, there was the cover of Vanity Fair`s April issue, with the accompanying caption "I`m just born to be in it."

O`Rourke hit the trail hard today in Iowa, visiting no less than four towns, kicking off his three-day tour in the state.  And according to his own post online, so far his team has raised money from all 50 states, but no details on how much yet.

With us tonight to talk about it, Michael Scherer, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post.  And we welcome to the broadcast Gromer Jeffers, Political Writer for the Dallas Morning News.  OK.

Gromer, by way of welcoming you, you get to go first and explain --

GROMER JEFFERS, POLITICAL WRITER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS:  All right.

WILLIAMS:  -- explain to viewers who may not have been following this guy.  What`s the deal with this guy, and what`s the appeal of this guy?

JEFFERS: Well -- And, Brian, you pointed it out beautifully, five months ago, I remember being with him as he was coaxing last minute voters to the polls, now he`s running for president.  Had a little depression in between, maybe listened to some B.B. King and got over it.

But I got to tell you, he has star power and his appeal is his positive inspirational message.  He has a way of making voters or potential voters feel good.  And they -- it sort of what you saw in 2008 with Barack Obama.  They show up at his rallies, they love him, they cheer him.  And he has these great speeches, he`s a great speaker.  And he makes them feel good with a message of everybody coming together to solve the problems, facing well four or five months ago, it was Texas and the nation (ph).  Now, it`s the nation.

WILLIAMS:  And, Michael, I`m going to come back to Gromer`s point because there`s a ton of evidence to bear that out, at least the dynamic at these rallies.  But, Michael, I also want to play for you and by extension our audience, a sample of the Fox News coverage tonight.  We`ll discuss it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST:  He`s not like everyone else.  He doesn`t do stuffy speeches or policy programs.  He`s not going to bore you with entitlement projections or some scary stuff about the Korean peninsula.  Beto`s got a skateboard and wears Nirvana t-shirts.  Beto`s got that magic dust, oh yes, he does, at least an eight ball.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST:  Another Democrat has jumped into the race, this case being former Congressman Robert Francis "Bozo" O`Rourke.  That`s what I call him.  Bozo got off to a hot start in Iowa.  If Bozo is elected, he plans to flush the constitution down the toilet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So, Michael, I`m guessing he can`t count on that Fox News endorsement?

MICHAEL SCHERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  No, he won`t be able to get them.

You know, I think there is significant concern in the Republican Party if Beto begins to catch fire.  And the reason is they`ve sort of laid out a political strategy about casting the Democratic Party and its candidates as socialists, as people on the far left.  And Beto has a lot of ways of defending himself on that score.

He is relatively moderate when it comes to many economic policies.  He has a long history in El Paso as a congressman, a city councilman, working very closely with Republicans there.  He`s boasted on the campaign trail about his desire to work with Republicans.  And I think even in the Democratic Party, there are a lot of more moderate policy long (ph) types who are excited about him getting into the race after a couple months now in which the far left is really dominated the discussion.  Of course, that`s not his biggest appeal at this point.  It is that charisma, the sort of punk rock authenticity that he brings to the campaign trail.  And we`ll just have to see if he can sort of scale up for what he needs to do to run a presidential campaign.

WILLIAMS:  And, Michael, you just mentioned Republicans go back to that and let our viewers who haven`t seen it yet know about your story tomorrow morning and what it`s going to say about him.

SCHERER:  And so, I did a story that will be in The Washington Post tomorrow, is online right now, about his long history with very wealthy Republicans in El Paso.  There were actually, for many years, his biggest donors were Republican donors.  These are people who give, you know, $1 million, $2 million a year to other Republican candidates, and that`s because he was working with them in El Paso on what -- until recently was really the project of his career of rebuilding and remaking his hometown into a more affluent middle class, well-educated community that could attract,, you know, college educated people like himself.

And so there is a story in his own biography that is very different from a lot of the Democrats running for Congress, who really come from blue bubbles in various parts of the country and have worked all their careers with Democrats.  O`Rourke is not one of those people.  He`s a progressive, he`s liberal, but he has a long history of working very closely with Republicans.

WILLIAMS:  And now, Gromer, to the point you made, I`m going to play something, this is a woman who showed up at -- a man, I`m told, sorry, who showed up at one of the events today.  We`ll play that, talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MITCHELL, IOWA VOTER:  I have been coming to these since 1984, and I have never seen a more dynamic speaker than he was.  And I`ve never seen this many people gather since Walter Mondale was out there on a hay wagon years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So what have we learned, definite non-woman, first off.  Second, Gromer, he`s doing a long reach back to Walter Mondale and that`s what you were talking about.

JEFFERS:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  We`ll see if the Texan politics travel north to Iowa, further east to New Hampshire, then you got South Carolina to think about.

JEFFERS:  Yes.  You got South Carolina, and Nevada, and then you have Texas and California, and Massachusetts, and several other states in March on Super Tuesday.  And so that`s why he`s spending a lot of time in Iowa.  He hopes to get off to a good start, do well there, and he`s looking at Texas and some other big states where he can make a splash there.

You know, but, you know, Michael is right.  He has a -- if you notice today at his first stop.  He talked about, I don`t care if you`re a Democrat or a Republican or what you are, he is -- he`s used to running in a sort of arena where he can be nonpartisan sort of.

This is a primary, so it will be interesting to see how he rolls up his sleeves and gets in there and fights for votes.  Where there are voters who, you know, when he was running for Senate, he had a united front, right, against Ted Cruz.  Now that vote is kind of split up and you have 13 candidates, all trying to divide the same pie up.  So it will be interesting to see how he maneuvers especially since he doesn`t really like to get that partisan.

WILLIAMS:  Gromer Jeffers thank you for that reporting, valuable to hear, as was Michael Scherer, thank you both gentlemen for coming on tonight.  As we look at the brand new candidacy of Beto O`Rourke.

We mentioned this earlier.  President Trump issued something of a threat to his detractors this week.  This was contained in an interview with Breitbart.  And in it he said this, "You know, the left plays a tougher game, it`s very funny.  I actually think that the people on the right are tougher.  But they don`t play it tougher.  I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump.  I have the tough people, but they don`t play it tough until they go to a certain point.  And then it would be very bad, very bad."

This is not the first time Donald Trump has issued a not so veiled warning that where his supporters of all stripes are concerned.  We all better hope they aren`t pushed to violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  They`re tough guys, right?  Where are the Bikers for Trump?  Where are they?  Police?  Where are the military?  Where are the ICE? 

Don`t forget, we`ve got the police.  Law enforcement loves us.  But they wear -- they wear the tough black outfits.  I would never suggest this, but I will tell you, "Oy, they`re so lucky, that we`re peaceful.  Bikers for Trump.  How about Bikers for Trump?

These are tough people.  These are great people.  But they`re peaceful people.  And antifa and all, they better hope they stay that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  To talk about it, we are joined by once again tonight by Jeremy Peters, Veteran Political Reporter for the New York Times.  And I join the audience wondering why is this man smiling.

OK, Jeremy, take it on.  What`s going on here? 

JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  I`m just glad to be here with you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  OK, I do know. Back at you.

PETERS:  No, this is how Trump looks at the world, right?  He`s a very binary thinker.  People are either beautiful or ugly.  They`re smart or they`re stupid.  They`re winners or they`re losers.  And one of the most important assessments he makes when he`s sizing people up, are you weak or are you strong?  And he sees the people around him -- or the people at least, he -- in his mind associates himself with, as strong people, as tough people.

And so, when he says this, he truly believes that he is -- what he has on his side is strength and toughness.  And it`s really kind of -- part of his whole macho ethos, of his way of looking at the world.  And, of course, when you`re looking at it from a political perspective, it`s very convenient for Republicans and Conservatives to demonize the left this way, right?

Like they are the ones who are the violent ones, the thuggish ones.  It`s a lot easier to demonize your opponents and explain why they are scoring points against you, and in some cases beating you, as the Democrats did in the midterm elections this past November, when you claim that they are not playing by the rules.  When they`re being violent and ruthless and it becomes a lot easier than to excuse away your own failures.  But also to justify the more extreme actions that you want to take yourself. 

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy, I want to submit two pieces of evidence to the court, one from a former Trump lawyer, the other from a former four star US Army general.  Here is the first bit of evidence.  This is Mr. Cohen before the House Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY:  Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So that`s number one, and that makes your ears perk up.  And then we saw this from retired General Barry McCaffrey today.  "This Trump language is incredibly provocative and dangerous.  This is an incitement to violence.  Trump misreads law enforcement and the US Armed Forces, they are nonpolitical and law based institutions.  Swear to support the constitution, not a person."

And you see there, Jeremy, a lot of people on the other side politically did hear shades of Maduro in those words today.

PETERS:  This is fitting with a pattern of Trump`s although it`s not quite as bad I think as some of the other things he said, although it certainly is in line with that.  He has said in the past, remember when he was running against Hillary Clinton that if she was elected that maybe the Second Amendment people could do something about it.

He has offered to pay the legal bills for people at his rallies who roughed up anti-Trump demonstrators.  So he has a -- you know, this certain kind of macho lusting for seeing violence perpetrated against his enemies.  And it`s really, at this point, I don`t think we should be surprised to hear him say anything.  But sadly, it fits with his political persona.

WILLIAMS:  And sadly that`s why, because you cover both sides of this, sadly that`s why your name occurred to us today to come on tonight and talk about this dynamic that we witnessed today.  Jeremy Peters, good to see you.  Thank you for coming on, as always, Jeremy Peters of the New York Times.

Coming up, the President suggests that we all study something that he finds crazy about his newest rival.  We`ll have those instructions when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Beto O`Rourke conducts an orchestra with his hands while he speaks.  He has a specific speaking style.  He`s highly caffeinated, highly energetic guy.  And look, if that`s what it takes to, you know, get people to recognize him, yes.  I supposed the O`Rourke people would be perfectly happy with that, if that`s the worst that Donald Trump can bring against him on day one, I think they would be pretty happy with him too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  As you heard from Native Texan Garrett Haake there, Beto O`Rourke, in the news today, not just because he declared for president, but because of how he declares just about anything.

More to the point, his endless and to be fair over-route hand gestures, very familiar to those like Garrett who`ve been around him but a new revelation to those who are just now dialing in and paying attention, because of events like this one in Iowa this morning where he and his hands spoke to a crowd of the faithful.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O`ROURKE:  I`m running to serve you as president of the United States of America.  Thank you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So here`s what Garrett Haake was referencing earlier.  Trump was asked today what he made of Beto O`Rourke`s entry into this race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What is your reaction to Beto O`Rourke announcing today, Mr. President? 

TRUMP:  Well, I think he`s got a lot of hand movement.  I`ve never seen so much hand movement.  I said, is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?  So I`ve never seen hand movement.  I`ve watched him a little while this morning, doing I assume it was some kind of a news conference, and I`ve actually never seen anything quite like it.  Study it.  I`m sure you`ll agree.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And since those comments, it`s been more than noted today that this President has his own vast collection of hand gestures.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Look at those hands.  Are they small hands?  And he referred to my hands, if they`re small, something else must be small.  I guarantee you there`s no problem.  I guarantee it, all right.

Oh, he has small hands.  I do?  I looked, I said I do?

This is fake news put out by the media.  I don`t mind bad stories when it`s true.  Can you imagine, seriously.

Where do these people come from?  Where do they come from?

I love to negotiate things.  I do it really well and all that stuff.

We`re going to build a big beautiful wall, a big beautiful wall.

I will do this and I will do that.

Now somebody from the conservative movement -- He is like a little baby. 

And he`s soaking wet. 

You know, he holds up his bible and then he lies.  Let me tell you, that guy lies.  He is a liar.

Oh, I wish.

I honestly think it`s a good idea both ways.

I would have, boom.

Any guy that can do a body slam, he`s my kind of --

Do that, do that and then gives grades of "f," fail, "f," "f," "f."

And then I don`t know if you saw the other day, we have little boats going out.

I`ve run it, bing, bing, bing.

Bing, bing.

Bing, bong, bong.

Bing, bong.

Bing, bing, bong and that.

Bing, bong.

Bing, bing.

Bing, bing, bong, bong, bing, bing, you know what that is, right?

And they`re going to say, oh, man, this guy`s freaking crazy.  We give up.  We give up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The verbal and manual stylings of our President say nothing of his newest challenger on the Democratic side.

Another break for us and coming up, how is it that a bright red state produced a man of deep blue politics who left a big imprint on the last half century of American life?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight is the death of a legislative giant of the last century.  Birch Bayh was a liberal Democrat from the Conservative State of Indiana.  He rose through a farming family, through Purdue University, US Army, and eventually law school.  And then years later after three terms in the US Senate, he was taken down by the Conservative Reagan Wave of 1980, beaten by a young upstart named Dan Quayle.

But while Birch Bayh was in the Senate, starting with his arrival in 1963, he left a mark.  He was the author of Title IX, the land mark federal legislation that outlawed gender discrimination in schools receiving federal funds.  It changed the face of women`s athletics by forcing schools to provide equal resources.  He was the only person since our founding fathers to author two amendments to our constitution.  Starting with the 25th Amendment, which has been back in the news of late, it deals with presidential fitness, disability and succession.  And the 26th Amendment, which enshrined our voting age of 18.  He also fought a Herculean but ultimately losing battle for the equal rights amendment.

Birch Bayh is less well known for what happened on the night of June 19th, 1964.  He and his fellow Senator Ted Kennedy had just voted for the Civil Rights Act.  They were late for an appearance in Massachusetts where the pilot of their small plane tried for an instrument landing in heavy fog.  The plane crash killed the pilot and an aide to Ted Kennedy.  Bayh and his wife were banged up but thrown clear.  Then Birch Bayh heard a noise.  Ted Kennedy was in the wreckage and still alive.  He had broken his back and could not move.  Fearing an explosion from leaking aviation fuel, Birch Bayh went back into the wreckage.  He told Ted Kennedy to put his arms around his neck and then he dragged him to safety through a hole in the fuselage.

The Bayh name has remained formidable back home in Indiana.  His son, Evan Bayh, of course has served as both governor and US senator.  Birch Bayh died of pneumonia at his home on the eastern shore of Maryland.  He was 91 years old.

And that is our broadcast on this Thursday evening.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  We start tonight, actually, with some breaking news out of a federal court case in Florida.

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