2020 race heats up. TRANSCRIPT: 3/18/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Nancy Cooak, Bill Kristol, Jeffrey Cramer, Tessa Berenson, KenThomas, Laura Barron-Lopez

PATRICK SVITEK, REPORTER, "THE TEXAS TRIBUNE":  And right in the middle of the campaign, there unfortunately was the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas.  And so he had very intimate experience with dealing with survivors of gun violence.  And so I think on O`Rourke on these counts has a great story to tell.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  You made it under the count.  Patrick Svitek and Danielle Moody-Mills, thank you, tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, was a distraction, boredom, or some are saying, an unraveling in plain sight from the President of the United States on his cell phone, averaging little more than one tweet per hour.  One of our guests tonight, urging his fellow Republicans to think seriously about the president`s mental condition and psychological state.

Tomorrow, we see details of the search warrant that was served on Michael Cohen.  What investigators were looking for back when they entered his home and office.

And he leads the Democrats in fund-raising and hand gestures, but does he really make the Republicans worry the most?  As THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 788 of the Trump Administration, and we are coming off a weekend that had many people openly questioning the president`s sense.  His state of mind and his ability to display anything approaching the kind of stewardship we`ve come to expect from our presidents.

This has to do with what we witnessed from the President on his cell phone this weekend.  A string of 50 messages over the course of a couple of days.  His attacks were angry and unsparing.  His targets ranged from Robert Mueller, to a comedy show that originates five floors above us here in this building that he, himself, has hosted, to an auto union leader, to the late senator and former prisoner of war, John McCain.

"Washington Post" points out he averaged just over a tweet per hour through the weekend.  Late this afternoon, the President made his first and only public appearance of the day.  No mention of what we witnessed from him his weekend.  Just a mention of his own administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The world is talking.  When presidents and prime ministers and others come to see me, they all say, "Congratulations on this great economy that you`ve built."  And they try and do the same thing but it doesn`t work out so well but that`s OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The president`s Twitter feed, however, reveals wt else may be on his mind.  Perhaps, the most pressing issue is the upcoming widely expected Mueller Report on the Russia investigation and the potential legal and political battles that could follow.

At one point, Trump attempted to create a new narrative by writing, "On the recent nonbinding vote, 420-0, in Congress, about releasing the Mueller Report, I told leadership to let all Republicans vote for transparency.  Makes us look good and doesn`t matter.  Play along with the game."  Trump may also be hoping the report brings the investigation to a close, but former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara who ran the Southern District of New York says he expects more to come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

PREET BHARARA, FMR U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  It may be coming to an end, but I keep seeing conflicting pieces of evidence.  Sort of like things are not what they seem.  So on the one hand, Andrew Weissmann, is top deputy, is leaving.  There`s lots of people who are reporting who I presume have decent sources and are very smart who say it`s winding down.  But then on the other hand you have Rick Gates whose sentencing has been postponed yet again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  For the fifth time.

BHARARA:  The fifth time.  That makes seem like the work of the special counsel is not done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Another apparent area of concern for the president is this man, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York.  He`s leading one of several congressional investigations.  More on that just ahead.

And as we mentioned, Trump also lashed out at Arizona senator John McCain who died almost seven months ago.  He slammed McCain for passing the Christopher Steele dossier along to the FBI back in 2016.  "So it was, indeed, just proven in court papers that last in his class at Annapolis, John McCain, that sent that fake dossier to the FBI and media hoping to have it printed before the election.  He and the Democrats working together failed as usual, even the fake news refused this garbage."

Trump`s allegation there is false.  NBC News has reported McCain gave the dossier to the FBI in December of 2016.  That would be after the presidential election.  Further, there`s no evidence he ever gave the dossier to the media, and for the record, John McCain was not last in his class at the U.S. Naval academy.  The late senator`s daughter, Meghan, responded to Trump earlier today on "The View."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN`S DAUGTHER:  He spends his weekend obsessing over great men because he knows it and I know it and all of you know it, he will never be a great man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

MCCAIN:  And so, he`s -- my father was his kryptonite in life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

MCCAIN:  Was his kryptonite in death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Trump`s weekend messages also asked whether the federal government should, "look into why "Saturday Night Live" is allowed to make fun of him."  Also for the record, the show he apparently saw this weekend was a rerun and he defended Fox News host Jeanine Pirro who did not appear on her own show Saturday night following her anti-Muslim comments about a member of Congress.

At one point, Trump addressed Fox News directly.  "Fox must stay strong and fight back with vigor. Stop working so hard on being politically correct which will only bring you down.  Be strong and prosper.  Be weak and die.  They can`t beat you.  You can only beat yourselves."

While the President exhorted a sympathetic cable news channel, he made no mention of the 50 Muslims who were murdered in New Zealand.  This followed his statement that he didn`t think white nationalists posed a growing threat globally.  Yesterday, the acting White House chief of staff defended his boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  You`ve seen the President stand up for religious liberties, individual liberties.  The President is not a white supremacist.  I`m not sure how many times we have to say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  This morning, Trump posted this, "The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand.  They will have to work very hard to prove that one.  So ridiculous."  But then a lot of people took note, when Bill Kristol, one of our next guests, a veteran of Republican politics said this.  "To Republicans who`ve been inclined to acquiesce in a Trump renomination in 2020, read his tweets this morning, think seriously about his mental condition and psychological state.  Then tell me you`re fine with him as President of the United States for an additional four years."

That Sunday posting prompted this response from D.C. lawyer, George Conway, who happens to be husband of Kellyanne Conway.  "Agree with this, but would add that all Americans should be thinking seriously now about Trump`s mental condition and psychological state, including and especially the media, Congress, and the Vice President and Cabinet."

Conway followed with a series of posts today that included images from the American Psychiatric Association`s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  He included a diagnostic checklist for narcissistic personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder.  This morning, his wife, Kellyanne, was asked about her husband`s continued critiques of Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Kellyanne, your husband has been tweeting his concerns about the President`s mental fitness for office.  Are those concerns that you share or how do you deal --

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT:  No, I don`t share those concerns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Monday night. Sam Stein, Politics Editor for the Daily Beast.  Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for POLITICO.  And the aforementioned Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations. These days editor-at-large of "The Bullwork."

And Bill, anyone with the ability to do anything about it, come forward to you and agree with you, anyone willing to say so publicly?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE:  I mean, a couple of Republicans I`ve known a long time who have so far been more accommodating of Trump or sort of thought, well, what`s the point of even trying to mount the challenge, e-mailed and said, gee, maybe you`re right, that these are people who might support a challenger, they`re not the challengers, themselves.

I think the great virtue of what you just did, Brian, in showing a lot of the tweets is the content of the tweets is what`s important.  I mean, some of the coverage has been, gee, there`s 50 of them, how can he tweet 50 times? That`s not that impossible.  And if he tweeted 50 times, showing good GDP numbers and resumes of some of the judges he`s appointed, you`d say OK, he`s having a slow weekend and just promoting his own achievements.

But the bitterness, the randomness, the flakiness, the retweeting conspiracy theorists, you know, they were tweets that revealed him in a way very different from sort of someone just saying, I`m going to get a couple of messages out there.  I think that`s what -- I just was reading them, I had no -- you know, I just -- I don`t have a very high opinion of President Trump, anyway.  But even for me, I mean, the degree of sort of mental, I don`t know what the right word is, instability or unhappiness or lashing out that the tweets show was really what struck me.

WILLIAMS:  Let me add a word, Bill, that I associate with hymns and that exhortation.  Our presidents have in the past exhorted us when we have troops in the field, maybe even the U.S. Olympic team on a field of competition overseas.  Maybe it`s a community hit by natural disaster, or another country after losing 50 of its citizens to a massacre.  This weekend, though, he was exhorting the staff of Fox News, a cable network that`s known to be in line with his thinking.

KRISTOL:  Yes, I mean he`s -- he`s unhappy about everything, and that makes you wonder maybe he knows something is coming that`s going to make his life more difficult politically, or maybe this is just the way he is, but it`s - - as someone who`s an incumbent president who has so far a pretty good economy and can talk about judges and so forth, whatever his deep, personal, you know, psychological situation is, you think he might want to project confidence and calm, as you say, to a country, and comment on maybe reassuring, you know, send best wishes to people who are suffering that natural disasters in the center of the country, comment on some of the sports playoffs and the NCAA, getting into the tournament and all that.

But there`s a degree of disquiet in him that has gotten worse, not better.  I mean this is a -- you know, remember two years ago, a little over two years ago, people hoped including people like me who didn`t vote for him, maybe he`ll settle down, maybe he`ll grow into the office.  Presidents have grown in the past.  It`s the opposite.  You don`t see psychological -- you don`t see maturation or stability there.  I think you see the opposite.

WILLIAMS:  Sam Stein, "The New York Times" tells it this way, "There was no golf, there were no meetings, there were no activities other than a rare visit to church so President Trump did what he could do.  He tweeted."  And Sam, you know, on the Sunday shows, you had his acting chief of staff denying the boss is a white supremacist.

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICAL EDITOR:  Yes.  I don`t know how -- what Mick Mulvaney was supposed to say.  I can`t imagine he`d cop to it.  So yes, I wasn`t surprised by that answer.  But to add to Bill`s point, there was an intense loneliness to what Trump was going through this weekend.  Think about it, you`re President of the United States, you can do virtually anything.  You can have people, scholars, movie stars, academics, renowned lawyers, anyone to talk about the issues of the day.  You can go virtually anywhere, even play golf at your club.

And what he essentially did was he spent the weekend watching Fox News and reacting in real time to the programming or lack of programming in some cases that was happening there.  And so there is an intense loneliness to this, putting aside all the other elements of it.

And the other thing I was struck by is just the reason he can do this.  The reason that he feels fine going on these tangents online.  I was struck by the fact that the reason is because he`s never been scolded or punished in a way for acting in this way.

In this case, specifically, I`m referencing the attacks on John McCain.  Usually, there is a punishment for admonishing and ridiculing a war hero who had recently passed.  In this case, Trump`s done this before.  He`s attacked McCain both when he was alive, when he was sick, and after he was deceased and no one ever punished him for it.  In this case, Lindsey Graham, John McCain`s best friend in Senate did put out a tweet in response but it was tempted (ph) at best and never referenced Donald Trump. And so I have to draw the conclusion that Trump does the stuff because there`s no penalty he ever has to pay.

WILLIAMS:  Nancy, how does New Zealand make for a kind of unique, troubling issue for him?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOSUE REPORTER:  Well, he`s definitely had a lot of different problems over the past expressing empathy, and in this case, this is sort of a perfect storm for him.  It`s a situation that requires him to express empathy, but also have to confront the fact that there white nationalists that are part of his base.  And he`s had a very hard time in the past distancing himself from that group.

We saw that with Charlottesville, where he refused to back down from the idea of saying, you know, there were both sides at fault and that was a situation that really, you know, caused a lot of political damage for him.

So we`re seeing the same thing here.  He minimized the idea that the shooter was a white nationalist and said that`s just a small group, it`s not a big deal.  And he hasn`t really come out yet and given what I think a lot of people, a lot of Americans had hoped, which would be a broader statement.

He`s basically left the defense of his response to top White House advisers like Kellyanne Conway or his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, but he hasn`t sort of been that president to all Americans or that consoler in chief that in times like this a lot of people want to see.

WILLIAMS:  Bill, back to Sam`s point, any repercussions for the president`s behavior or lack of it on New Zealand?

KRISTOL:  Yes, I mean, so far, he hasn`t been criticized or chastised.  I mean, I -- it is striking, though, I don`t know, you know, keeps expecting Republicans, in particular, to say maybe that`s enough.  I mean is there no one close to him who can call him up?  I mean is there -- I mean Jared or Ivanka, his chief of staff.  Old friends of his from New York or from elsewhere, from business, who can call him up in the middle of this weekend and say, Mr. President, this isn`t good.  I mean, really, it`s not appropriate.  There was this huge tragedy elsewhere in the world, and other things going on in the country, and you look a little nuts and you should just stop it.  Any of us would call a friend, I think, who was doing something like this in public or try to stop him or figure out who might stop him.

One has the impression that might have happened, incidentally, a year and a half ago.  I don`t think it happens in this White House.  For me, the big story is a going forward story, what I tried to say in that tweet, which is, you know, he is who he is.  And a lot of people -- senators probably thought maybe I should defend my former colleague, John McCain, this is really kind of disgusting.  But what good will it do?  I`ll get criticized.  It won`t help, you know.  Any one real, so I won`t do anything.  But they do have a choice.

They have a party nominee to nominate in 2020.  And it`s one thing to say you can`t do much about the status quo, but the fact he`s the President.  It`s another thing to just acquiesce in his renomination in a fatalistic way, oh, there`s nothing to be done.

I do think in this heightens the sense that, gee, for Republicans to do nothing, to simply go along with the renomination of the president is to go along with the renomination of someone who gets more and more problematic in office and to suggest he should be there for four additional years, I really wonder how many people will balk at that.

WILLIAMS:  Nancy, let`s speak to the small circle that could, could, potentially speak truth to power.  Who`s around on the weekend, who`s within his reach, who he trusts, whose word he would take?

COOK:  Well, I would say throughout the presidency, White House aides have always been freaked out by these kinds of weekends where Trump is not traveling to Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster, he`s not golfing, he has no public events.  This always terrified them, that he will do exactly what he did this weekend, which is watch TV, tweet, and respond in real time.

I would say that it`s a little bit different this time because increasingly there`s just fewer and fewer people around him in the White House who he trusts.  I would say he still really likes and trusts White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but he doesn`t really have much of a relationship with a lot of the other White House aides at this point, apart from Jared and Ivanka, and so he just, you know, it`s sort of isolating and as people have left, we`ve seen the president prefer to be his own political strategist, his own communications director in the wake of Bill Shine`s departure.  You know, his own communicator.  And he`s just taking on those roles without necessarily having the support that you see in the White House, and these types of weekends is when you see that play out and how he`s governing.

WILLIAMS:  Sam Stein, this may be called home-field advantage, but we do have a pretty vast archive, and we tend to roll tape on the broadcasts that come out of this building, to it the following piece of evidence.  We`ll discuss it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  You u you used to call me on the cell phone.  People dance like this.  Call me on the cell phone.  I swear it`s cool to dance like that

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So just to remind everybody, cheap shot? Absolutely.  That former guest host of "Saturday Night Live," Donald Trump.  Here`s the tweet this weekend.  Apparently he was watching this weekend`s repeat. "It`s truly incredible that shows like "Saturday Night Live," not funny, no talent, can spend all their time knocking the same person, me, over and over, without so much of a mention of the other side like an advertisement without consequences.  Same with late-night shows." Sam, have at it.

STEIN:  It`s just so ridiculous.  This was a rerun.  But, I mean, this is what he does.  Whenever something is happening, he takes the posture of the victim here.  In this case, he is the victim of, you know, programmers at "Saturday Night Live" running a rerun episode, apparently.

But it`s, you know, it extends obviously beyond late-night television.  He`s a victim of a political process, even though he`s the most powerful politician in Washington, D.C.  He`s the victim of his own party for the defections that they have on a bill for the emergency declaration.  Even though he, himself, was lobbying intensely to get them to not defect.

So, you know, this is the posture he likes to take. It`s off-putting for a lot of people, but to go back to my original point is he views it and the people around him view it as a formula for success.  They used it in the 2016 campaign.  They`re using it again in the 2020 campaign.  And until he`s proven otherwise, I would expect this type of, you know, victimization and this lashing out on Twitter to continue.

WILLIAMS:  And yet, let me echo what some viewers are no doubt saying and thinking.  Here we are talking about it.  Look what we`re not talking about, but we`re about to talk about it.  After we thank our first segment guests.  Sam Stein, Nancy Cook, Bill Kristol.  Appreciate you coming on tonight.

STEIN:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  And starting off this week`s conversation.

And coming up, more on the many legal challenges that may, indeed, be distracting this president.

And later, as Americans hear from the 20 hopefuls, we look at the money they are raising, the headlines they are making, and not just that young man.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL GOSAR (R), ARIZONA:  You`ve been in contact with the Southern District of New York, is that true?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I am in constant contact with the Southern District of New York, regarding ongoing investigations.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS, OVERSIGHT AND REFORM COMMITTEE:  Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven`t yet discussed today?

COHEN:  Yes, and, again, those are part of the investigation that`s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Tomorrow, we may learn more about the Southern District of New York.  The feds in New York investigating Michael Cohen.  A federal judge in Manhattan has ordered prosecutors to publicly release redacted copies of warrants and other documents tied to last year`s FBI search of Cohen`s office and home.  There`s new reporting tonight from "The New York Times" concerning Trump`s many dealings with Deutsche Bank.  That topic, you`ll recall, came up during Cohen`s congressional testimony last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LACY CLAY (D), MISSOURI, OVERSIGHT AND REFOFRM COMMITTEE:  do you acknowledge that the President ever provide inflated assets to a bank in order to help him obtain a loan?  But you may answer that question.

COHEN:  These documents and others were provided to Deutsche Bank, in one occasion where I was with them in our attempt to obtain money so that we can put a bid on the Buffalo Bills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting that when it came to inflating assets, "Deutsche Bank executives had reached a similar conclusion.  They nonetheless agreed to vouch for Mr. Trump`s bid according to an executive involved."

Today was also the deadline for Trump associates and entities to submit documents to the House Judiciary Committee for its investigation.  Remember, all those letters went out.  While the Committee says it has received or expects to receive tens of thousands of documents, the "Daily Beast" reports Trump`s lawyers have refused to send anything.  Tonight, in this very studio, Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler warned that could mean future legal action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Seeing if he can reach accommodations with them, but ultimately people have to respond to us unless the president personally invokes an executive privilege.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  For me, we welcome two new faces to this broadcast, Jeffrey Cramer, former District Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.  Former Manhattan assistant D.A.  Now with the Berkeley Research Group.  And Tessa Berenson, White House correspondent for "Time" magazine.  Welcome to you both.

Tessa, interesting interview tonight with Nadler.  He talked about the volume they are receiving including a couple of thousand documents from Steve Bannon.  What is that a lesson of, do you think?

TESSA BERENSON, TIME WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, look, I mean, yes, they`ve received the tens of thousands of documents as you said, but you also mentioned that apparently, Trump`s lawyers are being difficult on this.  And so what I think it shows really is that the White House can make this hard for Congress by exerting executive privilege or simply refusing to turn over documents forcing them to issue a subpoena and then subpoenas are difficult to enforce.

So, if trump`s lawyers don`t want to turn over the documents to Congress, they can really draw this out and make it very hard if for Nadler to get his hands on the documents that he wants in his investigation.

WILLIAMS:  Jeff, if we already know from Cohen the kind of thing the feds took, what`s the value in tomorrow?  What might be gained if we look at these documents that speak to what the feds went in looking for?

JEFFREY CRAMER, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS:  I think it helps in two ways, really.  One, as you just said, what they were looking for.  That`s going to be really a glimpse that the public usually doesn`t get into these kind of document.

The first thing they`re going to get which I think is probably going to be a little more illustrative, is what did the Feds have when they went to the judge with the warrant?  There has to be a certain level of evidence.  And people, it`s hard for them to dismiss this once they looked at what they had.  It will be redacted, obviously.  But it`s going to give us a good sense of the level of evidence they had to go into that room.  It`s not a high burden, but there has to be something given to the judge to go into the president`s lawyer`s offices and homes.  So I think we`re going to get certainly an interesting look at what it was at that time.

WILLIAMS:  Tessa, it`s become vogue to say that the biggest legal jeopardy this President might face is, indeed, what we`ve started calling the Department of Justice New York Bureau because the Southern District of New York, for those who do not watch "Billions," can be a clunky and misleading title.  So having established that, what is your reporting on the status of the Southern District of New York, the Justice Department New York Bureau?

BERENSON:  Well, my reporting suggests what you just said, that everything the southern district is looking into, which ranges from Trump`s foundation, to his finances, to his business, potentially poses even more legal jeopardy for him than Mueller`s probe.  And I was speaking a couple days ago with Preet Bharara who, of course, used to be the U.S. attorney for SDNY, and he said he agrees and he thinks the work the southern district is doing is more dangerous for Trump because the southern district doesn`t have the same circumscribed mandate that Mueller does.  Mueller was tasked with looking at links and/or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, and maybe obstruction of justice.

But the Southern District can look at anything it wants.  And because of that, Trump could be facing a lot of legal problems, legal questions, whenever he leaves office.

WILLIAMS:  And Jeff, because you`ve been both a fed and a former employee of the Manhattan D.A., help us sort out the notion that the Manhattan D.A., if they pursued charges against one Paul Manafort, does that make Manafort kind of pardon-proof?  What could go wrong there?

CRAMER:  I don`t think it makes him pardon proof, but it does create an interesting argument.  There`s a federal system and then the state system.  And there`s several very good obviously federal U.S. attorneys offices.  New York has a couple.  Certainly here in Chicago, Los Angeles.  The bigger offices can bring large cases.  You have to include the Manhattan D.A. in this.  My former boss, Robert Morgenthal, brought a lot of very sophisticated cases and see Cy Vance, the current D.A. doing the same kind of thing.

So they can bring cases that may be tangentially related to the federal charges, but there is also a double jeopardy law in New York.  So you can`t get prosecuted for a case in New York if you`re just prosecuted for that in the federal system.

Has it really been tested too much?  So we may see that tested but there is one exception, which is taxes.  If you don`t pay your federal taxes, that can be charged federally, but the New York system can then come after you for not paying New York taxes.  So that could be a little wrinkle in the double jeopardy argument for Manafort.

WILLIAMS:  My way of welcoming you both to our fine broadcast, we`d also very much like to have you both back on a future broadcast.  And that is thanks to Jeffrey Cramer and Tessa Berenson.  Greatly appreciate it.  Thank you. 

BERENSON:  Thank you.

CRAMER:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up, the potential Trump contender fired up ready to go.  As someone once said, and almost stepping on his own campaign announcement provided there is to be one.  That and more when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Mentioned this earlier, this weekend former Vice President Joe Biden may have given us his best indication yet on whether or not he`s running for president.  This was during an event in his home state of Delaware on Saturday.  Biden slipped up and almost for a second there said he`s running.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN. FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I`m told, I get criticized by the new left.  I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the United -- anybody who would run.  I didn`t mean -- anybody who would run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was a moment for Trump`s handling, and we quote, "Joe Biden got tongue-tied over the weekend when he was unable to properly deliver a very simple line about his decision to run for president.  Get used to it, another low IQ individual.

Lots to talk about tonight with Ken Thomas, Political Reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and Laura Barron-Lopez, National Political Reporter for POLITICO.

Ken, the Biden thing is fraught for a lot of Democrats.  There`s a whole new generation of voters coming up in the age of social media, quite empowered.  They`ve been told they are the new base of the party.  They may not know how Joe Biden dealt with Anita Hill.  And Joe Biden`s past, as litigated as it has been to old folks like us is all new to them, thus the theory of some Democrats who bemoan this that Joe Biden standing in the polls may be at its height right now. 

KEN THOMAS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Yes, the test of a Biden candidacy is electability.  That`s going to be the argument, that he`s somebody who could unite the divisions in the country, who could, you know, be palatable to Democrats across the board, and frankly, could challenge the President in the places that determine the election in 2016, the states that Biden went to repeatedly as President Obama`s vice president, states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

And so the question is whether he will be held accountable for these past votes, for these past policy positions that really have shifted within the party and whether he`ll be held accountable in the way that Hillary Clinton was often, you know, as people perused her past.  So that`s the issue with Biden.  It`s really just an electability issue. 

WILLIAMS:  And, Laura, allow me to quote POLITICO.  I figured you would not object.  "Behind closed doors, the President has fixated on Biden while top aides have tried to assure their boss that the former vice president is doomed.  In recent weeks, Trump has peppered aides on more than one occasion for updates on how Biden is faring in early Democratic primary polls.  A sign of just how seriously Trump takes the potential candidacy."

Laura, is that because he sees him as a peer, a fellow fighter, a warhorse?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO:  It might be that.  It also may be just the fact that Biden is at the top of so many of these polls and right behind him is Bernie Sanders.  But unlike Sanders, again, although Biden likes to say that he is among the most progressive that would run, or that are running.  He is going to have to face a very different Democratic Primary than he ever has before, and he`s going to appear more centrist, it would seem.  And so I think that is why Trump is worried about him and also worried about Beto O`Rourke.

We have seen already a number of Republican groups attacking O`Rourke probably because they think that he could be a formidable challenge to Trump.  But Biden, again, you know, going back to how he will fare in a Democratic Primary, he has not been put on the record on a Green New Deal.  He has not been put on the record on whether or not he is going to take corporate PAC money or continue to work with big money fund raisers and donors, and so that`s going to be a whole new world for him.

WILLIAMS:  And, Ken, let`s be honest, there`s no fire quite like blue on blue friendly fire.  Joe Biden could get savaged and not a word of it could come from Republicans. 

Thomas:  Right.  I mean, if he runs, he will be the establishment candidate, and in this primary, in this environment, if you`re that establishment figure, you`re going to have to answer a lot of questions and you`ll have a lot of incoming.  He`s also going to be, you know, when he gets in likely at the top of the polls, perhaps challenged by Sanders, but it`s a very difficult tightrope that he`s going to have to walk at the start of the primary.

WILLIAMS:  Both of our guests have agreed to stay with us.  We just have a sneak in a commercial break, and after that, we`re going to come back and talk about some other 2020 news including what Cory Booker says he wants before he`ll allow any talk of impeachment.

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CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, took impeachment off the table, at least for now, not to talk about it.  Where are you at on that? 

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY:  I`m waiting for the Mueller report.  This is another bipartisan report.  Lindsey Graham and I worked together on a bill.  Chris Coons got in, Tillis got in, to protect that counsel investigation.  Let him finish his work and then make our determinations after that.

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WILLIAMS:  Our own Chris Matthews there speaking to Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker of New Jersey earlier today in Davenport, Iowa.  Senator Booker also criticized Trump`s foreign policy.

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BOOKER:  This is a guy to me has weakened our nation abroad.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BOOKER:  Has weakened our alliances, which made us strong.  The way he cozies up to dictators, won`t even admit that America has been attacked by the Russians and they are still coming at us.  A president`s job is to be the commander in chief and he`s not making America stronger.  He`s making America weaker.

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WILLIAMS:  And meanwhile, there`s this.  Newly announced Democratic candidate Beto O`Rourke released fund raising numbers today that show he raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after his announcement, and while the campaign didn`t disclose the number of donors or the average dollar amount per donor, he narrowly beat out Senator Bernie Sanders who raised $5.9 million.

Back with us are Ken and Laura.  Laura, I`ve got to say, I was watching CNN tonight and the South Carolina Democrat Bakari Sellers said some version of, imagine how much Beto would have raised if he`d had an idea.  So that gives you an idea of how some, again, blue on blue, are going to come after this guy with the peripatetic schedule and the hand gestures.

BARRON-LOPEZ:  Yes, that`s right.  One of the biggest criticisms of O`Rourke right now is the fact that they feel as though he`s being too vague on specific policy issues.  That being said, O`Rourke does stand out in certain areas when it comes to immigration.  He`s known for being an open-border supporter, for not supporting any barrier on, along the border.

He also recently started saying that he is open to court packing the Supreme Court, which is a big idea on the left.  So as this progresses, like you said, we are going to see people attack him, pushing him, trying to get him to -- to make specific markers on where he is on these policy issues.  By contrast, you know, we saw Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Elizabeth Warren tonight in back-to-back town halls, and they were very specific in the policies that they are going to be laying out for their agenda in this primary. 

WILLIAMS:  Ken, we should establish a couple things here.  Number one, you can eat really well campaigning across Iowa.  It`s one of my favorite places to cover news.  But number two, Beto O`Rourke has changed the tempo of this campaign already.

THOMAS:  Yes, he certainly has.  I thought that was one of the more significant aspects of his launch, beyond the money.  He`s going to -- looks like he`ll do, you know, six to eight stops a day and so if you`re a Kirsten Gillibrand or Elizabeth Warren and you may only do two or three stops, that may not cut it anymore.

He, you know, also has been able to just garner a lot of free media.  There`s been a lot of interest in his appearances and when I was in Iowa earlier this month, you know, there was just a lot of interest in waiting for him to get in and what he would be like and his name just constantly comes up.  So i think the tempo will change and the others will have to, you know, follow through.

WILLIAMS:  Laura, is the Green New Deal becoming one of those kind of bellwether issues? 

Barron-Lopez:  I think it`s definitely becoming a litmus test among the primary voters.  I mean, it`s also an issue that we`re seeing trickle down all the way to what are going to be competitive house races.  It`s something that has definitely become a rallying cry amongst progressive groups and just going back to what we were discussing earlier about how Biden will fare in this type of Democratic Primary, and even candidates like Beto O`Rourke, is that they don`t only have to deal with the candidates that they`re running against, the very progressive Warren and Sanders of the world, but they also have to deal with a very new progressive liberal base and outside groups.

We`re talking about groups like Indivisible and groups like Justice Democrats and these very aggressive grassroots efforts that are across the country and that will be holding their feet to the fire on a variety of policy issues. 

WILLIAMS:  You`re absolutely right about that.  Our thanks to two campaign veterans tonight, Ken Thomas and Laura Barron-Lopez, thank you, both, very much for coming on the broadcast, excuse me.

Coming up, the unusual promise New Zealand`s Prime Minister is making to the people there just days after 50 people were killed in attacks on two mosques.

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WILLIAMS:  We wanted to update ow this tonight.  Dozens of people are still hospitalized in New Zealand after that nation`s deadliest mass shooting in history.  The death toll rose, as you may know, from 49 to 50 just on Saturday after another victim was discovered inside one of the two mosques.

And in this aftermath period, the nation plans to take action.  Their Prime Minister said today New Zealand plans to announce gun law reforms within 10 days of the shooting.

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JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND:  The clear lesson from history around the world is that to make our community safe and the time to act is now.  This ultimately means within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms that will, I believe, make our community safer.

I strongly believe that the vast majority of gun owners will agree with the sentiment that change needs to occur.  I, in fact, believe they will be with us.

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WILLIAMS:  Washington Post reports today some possible measures could include "restricting the military-style semi-automatic weapons that were used in the attacks."

Stories of heroism amid the gunfire are still emerging.  The New York Times reports Abdul Aziz was praying with his four sons in one of the two mosques when he heard gunshots.  Rather than run from the noise, he ran towards it and grabbed the first thing he could find which was a credit card machine and flung it at the attacker.  The gunman dropped a shotgun and Mr. Aziz picked it up.

"I pulled the trigger and there was nothing," he recalled.  The gun man ran to his car where he had other weapons and Mr. Aziz followed throwing the shotgun at the vehicle and shattering a widow.  Aziz also spoke to NBC News about what he was thinking during all of that.

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ABDUL AZIZ, NEW ZEALAND HERO:  I just wanted to take his focus out of the mosque.  Anytime, anywhere I hope this never ever happens, but in the situation, if I see I can save a life, I will jump in.

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WILLIAMS:  The New York Times points out that Mr. Aziz`s actions may have prompted the gunman to speed away in his car rather than return to the site to kill even more people.

Another break for us and coming up, today the newest citizens in America got to hear from one of the biggest names in modern American political history right there in front of them.  That`s when we come back.

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GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principal.  We as a people have such a purpose today.  It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.

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WILLIAMS:  George Herbert Walker Bush`s inaugural address, 1989, almost bracing today because to most people, especially given what we cover and chronicle here night after night, that sounds so not like us right now.  A speech about another America from another era, fully a generation ago now.

Now too, we have a Republican president, but a man who shares nothing outwardly with that man or with that speech.  The last thing before we go tonight is a similar dynamic that played out just today.  The last Republican president also named Bush, George W. Bush, 43, spoke on immigration today.  If there are Republicans in Congress who agree with him over Donald Trump, it`s going require more than a show of hands, something closer to a show of force for this message to speak for the Republican Party of 2019.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  Across the world, good men and women still dream of starting life anew in America.  People that will bring energy and talent, and faith in the future, often they bring a special love of freedom because they have seen how life works without it.

The great yearning of so many to live in our country presents a significant challenge.  American`s elected representatives have a duty to regulate who comes in and when.  In meeting this responsibility, it helps to remember that America`s immigrant history made us who we are.

Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget immigration is a blessing and a strength.

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WILLIAMS:  Former President Bush speaking the way our politicians and presidents used to speak on this topic.  He made his remarks today in Dallas at a Naturalization Ceremony for those from other countries who became Americans today.

And with that that, is our broadcast for this Monday night as we start a new week.  Thank you so much for being here with us and 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