Trump ramps up attacks. TRANSCRIPT: 3/20/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Preet Bharara, Jill Colvin, Phil Murphy, Vicky Ward, Tim O`Brien

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Mayor Pete Buttigieg gets tonight`s last word.   "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, Trump goes after Mueller again and it`s personal.   He says 63 million Americans voted for him and none for Mueller.   Then he went after a top adviser`s husband again.   Then, he attack John McCain in a military setting in front of a silent crowd of Ohio voters who once chose McCain over Obama.   The President complained he didn`t get a thank you for John McCain`s funeral.   And tonight, the question is any of it, is all of it being driven by fear that the Mueller report will be completed and sent off at any moment?

With us tonight to talk about all of it, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York.  Day 790 of the Trump administration brought us a new level of vitriol from the President.  And this comes on this night of especially fevered speculation that Robert Swan Mueller III is prepared at any moment to transmit his final work product to the Department of Justice and to the US Attorney General.

For his part today, the President attacked Mueller but didn`t stop there.  He continued his line of attack against John McCain that he started over this past weekend.  Today in front of a backdrop of tanks in a plant in Ohio, in a county that voted for John McCain over Barack Obama, he silenced the crowd when he made his case that McCain was responsible for the Mueller investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  John McCain received the fake and phony dossier.  Did you hear about the dossier?  What did he do?  He didn`t call me.  He turned it over to the FBI hoping to put me in jeopardy.  He voted against repeal and replace.  He voted against at 2:00 in the morning.  Remember, thumbs down.  We said what the hell happened?

I endorsed him at his request, and I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve.  I don`t care about this.  I didn`t get a thank you.  That`s OK.  We sent him on the way.  But I wasn`t a fan of John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Trump today also kept up his criticism of conservative lawyer George Conway, the husband of Kellyanne Conway, one of the President`s senior and longest-serving advisers.  Conway has been using posts online to raise alarms about the President`s mental health and his fitness for office.  Trump was asked about that as he left for Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I don`t know him.  He`s a whack job.  There`s no question about it.  But I really don`t know him.  I think he`s doing a tremendous disservice to a wonderful wife.  Kellyanne is a wonderful woman.  And I call him Mr. Kellyanne.  The fact is that he`s doing a tremendous disservice to a wife and family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Before opening up with that Trump was posting about Conway on social media.  And we quote.  "Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him is very jealous of his wife`s success and angry that I with her help didn`t give him the job he so desperately wanted.  A stone cold loser and husband from hell."

Later Conway responded to a post asking why it`s considered an insult to be referred to as Mr. Kellyanne.  He said it isn`t and added, "What I really wouldn`t want to be called is individual blank," a reference to court documents that describe Trump as individual 1.

Conway`s wife spoke to POLITICO today and defended her boss, the President, saying "He left it alone for months out of respect for me, but you think he shouldn`t respond when somebody," and he`s talking about her husband here, "a non-medical professional accuses him of having a mental disorder?  You think he should just take that sitting down?"

And from Conway to Mueller the president again today itemized his grievances against the Special Counsel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Does the public have a right to see the Mueller report?

TRUMP:  I don`t mind.  I mean, frankly I told the House if you want let them see it.  I just won one of the greatest elections of all time in the history of this country and even you will admit that.  And now I have somebody writing a report that never got a vote?  It`s called the Mueller report.

I had a business transaction with him that I`ve reported many times, that you people don`t talk about.  But I had a nasty business transaction with him and other things.  I know that he put 13 highly conflicted and, you know, very angry -- I call them angry Democrats.  Let it come out.  Let people see it.  That`s up to the attorney general.  We have a very good attorney general.  He`s a very highly respected man.  And we`ll see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Former CIA Director John Brennan weighed in on Trump`s day of outrage with this.  "Your bizarre tweets and recent temper tantrums reveal your panic overt likelihood the Special Counsel will soon further complicate your life, putting your political and financial future in jeopardy.  Fortunately, lady justice does not do non-disclosure agreements."

A reminder of what Mueller has accomplished in nearly two years may explain some of the obvious discomfort, convictions and guilty pleas for seven of Trump`s former senior aides with another 27 individuals under indictment.  There`s also increased scrutiny of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, more on that ahead as well as Donald Trump Jr.  There are at least eight separate lines of inquiry by federal and state prosecutors spun off the Mueller investigation and the new inquiries on Capitol Hill from at least five standing committees in the House of Representatives.

With all that as backdrop, let`s bring in our lead-off panel for this busy Wednesday night.  We are so pleased to welcome to the broadcast Preet Bharara, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York until he was freed up by Donald Trump to spend more time with his family and perhaps write a book.  It happens to be called "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor`s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law," discussion to follow.  Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.  By coming on tonight Phil has agreed to spend part of the last hour of his birthday with his friends here at THE 11TH HOUR.  And we welcome back to our broadcast Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press.

Mr. Rucker, I`d like to begin with you.  First, can you clear up the President just dropped nasty business transaction?  He`s talked about this before, part of why he feels Mueller is conflicted.  I know this involved a Trump property.  What`s your memory of what it is he`s talking about?

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Yes, Brian.  Well, nasty business transaction has you thinking there was some huge, you know, multimillion-dollar deal gone awry, but in fact it was a dispute over club membership at one of Trump`s golf properties.  I believe the one here in Northern Virginia where Mueller was at some time a regular and, of course, is no longer a member of that club.  But that`s the dispute to which the President has been referring.

WILLIAMS:  And, Philip, I know we`re going off mostly feeling here, but is it indeed the feeling of high anxiety?  Are you picking the same thing up and might that explain the President`s verbiage today? 

RUCKER:  You know, Brian, I think it does explain his verbiage today, and frankly I think it helps explain his antics over the last several days.  This is a President who time and again when faced with a moment of crisis or peril for his presidency he basically kicks up dust.  He tries to create alternative story lines.  He tries to distract the news media scrutiny.  He tries to sort of shift the spotlight in one direction or another.

We saw that with the extraordinary barrage of tweets overt weekend attacking all sorts of people, and parties and institutions.  And we saw that again yesterday and today with his attacks on George Conway sort of elevating the Kellyanne and George Conway story to major news.  And with his attacks today in Ohio on Senator John McCain, he knows that this Mueller report is coming.  We don`t know exactly when it will come.  It could be later this week.  It could be next week.  It could even be next month.  But it is coming soon and Trump I believe is worried about that.

WILLIAMS:  Jill Colvin, the McCain attacks are indeed breath taking in a civilized society, especially considering the stature John McCain had in public life when we said farewell to him.  There we are in Ohio, in a factory that makes some of the armor that our men and women have fought the two longest wars in our history with overseas, absolute crickets in the room when the President decided to go after this decorated former POW in a factory that employs about a third of its workforce is military veterans.  And, Jill, this makes it very tough for Republicans, I would assume.

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Yes, absolutely.  This has always been one of these attack lines where you just feel and you hear the groans from Republicans coming at him in that room.  You heard the reaction of just silence.  Many veterans standing there as the President bashed a man who has been dead, basically accused him of not being grateful and not thanking him for the funeral that was held on his behalf.  I mean, just really based attacks on him.

But we`ve also seen a pattern where the President hasn`t really faced any serious consequences for these kinds of attacks.  You hear a couple of rumblings from different Republicans.  You hear Mitt Romney, for instance, come out today.  But it was early in his campaign when the president stood up there.  He was on stage being interviewed in Iowa, where he first really kind of publicly came out about John McCain saying he didn`t think he was a war hero because he`d been captured.

That was one of those moments early on in the campaign.  I remember covering it.  Where you heard a lot of chatter of everyone saying, "You know, this is it, this is it, he`s gone.  No candidate can possibly recover from this kind of thing."  And we saw that that didn`t happen.

Trump didn`t really feel any consequences from it.  So he has learned that these kinds of attacks are effective in distracting the media, in creating a firestorm when he wants to distract, and don`t really have any personal consequences for him.

WILLIAMS:  And, Counselor, here we are on a Wednesday night.  You can go back and find media reports that always say it`s coming next week for weeks into the holiday season.  Am I correct that there`s no real rules of the road here?  Mueller`s free to send in a five-page outline with exhibits, a 500-page binder, 5,000 pages if he wants, the only rule is that the AG has to say, "It`s here.  I`ve received it.  It`s with us?"

PREET BHARARA, FORMER US ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  Yes, essentially.  It can be a long report.  It can be a short report.  It can be of inter-immediate yacht size.  It can be tomorrow.  It can be in a month.  It can be in two months.  He is required to provide a report that supposed to be confidential and provides an explanation for decisions made to prosecute individuals, and also decisions made not to prosecute individuals, otherwise known as declinations.  And that`s it.

I think one of the questions that I have is how long will the report be?  Will it be sparse or will it be full and detailed?  The more full and detailed it is I think the more pressure there is upon the Attorney General and the more fight there will be with respect to Congress as to how much becomes public.

WILLIAMS:  There are feelings among people who have been following the organic granular details in this story.  It causes some folks anxiety to hear us say Mueller`s wrapping up, Mueller`s done, Mueller`s about ready to hand in his work, because they look at the story and say how can it be done?  We keep hearing of all these other tranches of misbehavior.  What do you say to people? 

BHARARA:  Look, Bob Mueller is a man of integrity.  He works hard.  He served his country.  I know there are a lot of people in the country, in the world these days who want to substitute a result that they want, which is the arrest and imprisonment of lots of people they don`t agree with, including associates and perhaps even relatives of the President.  But it doesn`t work that way.

So I say you let Mueller finish his work, accept whatever his results will be and the conclusions will be, and that`s it.  And I think we need to, you know, get back to basics and think about allowing a person of Mueller`s stature to make his determinations.  And ultimately what`s going to happen with respect to the President will be I think a political resolution, depending on what kinds of allegations are made, if any, with respect to the President`s conduct.

The people need to be a little bit patient.  It may happen soon.  It may not happen soon.  There may be a lot in it.  It may incriminate a lot of folks.  It may incriminate not very many people at all beyond what has already been done.  You know, I`ve been following as closely as anyone, and I think either one of those eventualities is possible. 

WILLIAMS:  And what`s the chance, to use a legal term of art, he gives us a fade away jump shot and leaves by way of a group of indictments?  What`s the chance that US Attorney`s Offices elsewhere come out with something of a coordinated group of indictments?

BHARARA:  I`m not going to put a number on it, especially after 11:00 pm.  But look, that`s one reasonable theory.  And the theory on which it could be possible, given how many things are still ongoing including with respect to Rick Gates, about whom the Special Counsel said he`s still cooperating in multiple investigations.

One reason to think that the Special Counsel can wind down and say his work is over and under the regulation at the close of the Special Counsel`s work, that`s what it says, he provides a report to the AG.  One way that that could be possible is that the Special Counsel is slowly, as he did with respect to Michael Cohen, giving that case over to my old office, the Southern District of New York.  That`s happening with some of these other matters also.

And so with the departure of Andrew Weissmann and the wrapping up of some investigations and handing off of other investigations, maybe Bob Mueller can make short work of whatever is left.  That does not mean that all sorts of people won`t remain in jeopardy.  But I don`t know.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  That was a firm maybe on one part and an I don`t know on another.  Phil Rucker, let me ask you about the politics of this.

RUCKER:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  If we indeed are about to go into a kind of dark side of the moon phase where the report will reside with the Attorney General who takes his time, he`s under no time constraint to move quickly, the Democrats on the Hill, I`m presuming, are going to make their presence known to this West Wing each and every day of the President`s life.

RUCKER:  I think that`s right, Brian.  And they`re going to do so in a couple of ways.  One is I think as soon as we get word that the report has been transmitted to the Attorney General, you`re going to hear a drumbeat from the Democrats in Congress about releasing the report in full to the Congress, which is effectively releasing it to the American people.

They`re going to consider this a historical document, something that they need to see in full, as opposed to some sort of abbreviated summary that could come from the Attorney General.  But secondly, there`s a series of oversight investigations that you alluded to in the opening of the show including by the Judiciary Committee in the House but other committees as well, and they`ve been seeking documents and receiving thousands of pages of documents from, you know, over 80 officials who have worked for or connected to the President.

They will likely be seeking documents and interviews with many more officials in the months to come.  And there`s no sign of those investigations slowing down.  In fact, they`re ramping up right now.  So that is a big concern of the White House.  It`s one of the reasons why the White House Counsel`s Office has been expanding the number of lawyers there, to try to get ready for this.  But they are not I don`t believe fully prepared for the political war that is going to come this spring over both the Mueller report and the other concurrent investigations occurring in Congress.

WILLIAMS:  And, Jill, while Republicans support or at minimum lack of criticism for this President has been kind of awe-inspiring to watch, they will want to count on friends on the hill when this comes out.  Is that directly related to whatever this says?

COLVIN:  Absolutely.  I mean, at this point everyone is really in this waiting mode.  You`ve seen sort of the rage of the President boiling over this weekend into today even as he lashed out with John McCain, you know, connecting his anger at John McCain with the fact that he, you know, referred that dossier over to the FBI.  The President is in a state where he`s really hoping that he will have -- Republicans will have his back.  They will stand up for him.

But at the same time as you sort of feel this rage coming from the White House, there also is the sense of quiet optimism where they are hoping, crossing their fingers, and are under the impression that if there`s been no bombshell that has come out yet that it might be that there is no kind of big, you know, bombshell in this report and that the President will then be able to run with that, be able to run on the idea that this entire Mueller investigation was nothing but an instance of government overreach, this witch hunt that he has been railing against.  And he`s going to hope that the allies in Congress can help him to do that.

However, you`re going to have Democrats on the Hill continuing with their investigation saying look, the Mueller report was only investigating this one sliver of Trump`s conduct, looking specifically at Russian election interference.  We have all of these other avenues that we are looking into.  Trump`s other foreign dealings, issues like money laundering, looking into security clearances, all of these other things where the President is going to need Republicans to have his back.

WILLIAMS:  We walked our viewers up to the edge in the first 17 minutes of this broadcast, and with it our thanks to Jill Colvin, our thanks and added happy birthday wishes to our friend Phil Rucker as well.  Preet Bharara is staying with us.  As we ask the former US attorney in the segment coming up, for the Southern District of New York, we might add, about an element of the work for the feds in this case that he writes about in the aforementioned new book.

And later another big book is focusing some unwelcome attention onto big names in this West Wing, Jared and Ivanka, as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP`S LAWYER:  I regret the day I said yes to Mr. Trump.  I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.  I am ashamed of my own failings and publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Michael Cohen is perhaps the most high-profile cooperating witness of the past several years although he didn`t enter into a formal agreement with the Southern District of New York.  He did provide the Southern District, in effect the Justice Department`s Manhattan Office, with information on individuals in the Trump Organization.

He also spoke with Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s team at least seven different occasions last year.  Former US attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara highlights the troubling twilight zone cooperators pose for law enforcement in the new book he`s written called "Doing Justice."

He writes, "Cooperators assist cops and as a result may literally get away with murder.  They operate as double agents against the people closest to them.  It is a bit fantastical and murky, this partnership between criminal and law man lurking at opposite ends of the legal spectrum.  It requires a reciprocal leap of faith and forces a bond in which each side is counting on and putting its faith and trust in the other.  It is the most unholy alliance in the whole business of justice."

The author goes on to write about Cohen`s case, "Cohen`s reversal was dramatic and breathtakingly reported because of his proximity to elected power.  But his decision is echoed through the annals of law enforcement in story after story, where real people waver between resolve and anger, and back again."

Preet Bharara, the pride of Eatontown, New Jersey remains with us.  And tonight the full title of the book, "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor`s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law" happens to be in bookstores now.  Again, a formal welcome to you.

BHARARA:  Thank you for having me.

WILLIAMS:  It`s great to have you in our studios.  So how long of a walk is it between what Cohen entered into and agreed to and what we would call flipping, working for the home team, full cooperation?

BHARARA:  He`s kind of in sort of a hazy intermediate stage.  Usually it`s the case you get people to cooperate into a formal cooperation agreement either with the Southern District of New York or whatever office is trying to bring a prosecution against other people, generally higher up in the food chain.  And he didn`t do that.  And he elected to continue with his case, plead guilty, accept a prison sentence.  My suspicion is that`s partly because he may have been selective in what information he was giving the Southern District that I led for seven and a half  years, has a somewhat different policy from other offices.

We, as I say in the book, require a defendant to confess all his sins and not just the sins that have been charged against him that the government can prove.  And it may be the case that he was, you know, interested in giving them some information and information about other people.  But maybe not all of his own activities and all the other criminal information that he might have against perhaps associates or members of his own family.

And he looks like he`s desperately now trying to get what`s called a rule 35 motion, which is post-sentencing, post-conviction cooperation.  And he`s providing evidence.  We saw a document that was put in just recently that reflected the search warrant that the Southern District helped to execute and 19 or 20 pages was redacted relating to the campaign finance charges.  That seems to indicate that there are things going on still.

And the point about cooperators in the lengthy -- I thank you for that, the lengthy quote you read from the book.  Is that cooperating is the bread and butter of a lot of kinds of prosecution.  You would still have a mob ten times the strength than it is now if there was no cooperation.  That is not to say, though, that thoughtful people in the justice system shouldn`t be appreciating and understanding, and be sensitive to the idea that it`s a little bit unseemly.  It`s this thing that we recognize in law enforcement as very utilitarian, you know, the greatest good for the greatest number, which is not how all moral systems operate.  But it is with cooperation.

And so you have to tread very, very carefully.  Even with someone like Michael Cohen, no different than cases of robbery or homicide or bank fraud.  And you have to make sure the person is corroborated before you ask a jury to believe what he`s saying.

WILLIAMS:  The book, obviously non-fiction, has fiction-like portrayals of characters that you came to know along the way.  Some are people you met in the criminal justice system, some are judges, federal and otherwise.  We try to ask a lot of our guests that when this story, this Trump saga, comes to whatever end it`s going to come to what`s the lesson you hope people learn about the definition of being a fed, and in your case a federal prosecutor? 

BHARARA:  Part of the reason I wrote the book was I want people to understand how in the federal system, in particular the office that I`m aware of, the Southern District, how thoughtful people are, how deliberative people are, how they didn`t see the mission and shouldn`t have seen the mission as simply locking people up or sending people to prison.  That the job and the mission in that place as it should be was to do justice.  And sometimes that meant prosecuting somebody.  Sometimes that meant walking away from a case.  Sometimes in a case that I outlined, the most inspiring story take recall from my time in the office, where an investigator and an assistant US attorney in my office worked round the clock to try to get six people exonerated of a crime they had not committed, a homicide for which they served 17 years prison, at the hands of another prosecutor`s office.

And that we followed and tried follow at least aspirationally the ideal that you`re supposed to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons every day and that`s it, no matter what, whether it`s a big case or a small case.  We didn`t always get it perfect.  We`re human beings too.  And the theme of the book is that everyone`s a human being and is fallible, and they have issues they have to deal with and they have pride and they have error.

But the ideal was you do the right thing for the right reasons in the right way every day.  And I want people to understand what the culture of that place was.  And if you read the book and you hear about the stories and all sorts of -- people know my name because my name was on every indictment, as it`s supposed to be.  But the people who did the work, the real heroes that people don`t know about in the country, are the men and women of the Southern District of New York and other places in the Justice Department who quietly do the work in a non-partisan way following the law wherever it leads, and the facts wherever they lead independently, aggressively and fearlessly. 

WILLIAMS:  We`re probably heading into protracted high-profile hearings of some sort.  If you are asked to be of counsel to any one of those committees, will you accept or decline it?

BHARARA:  I`m not going to comment on any offer of employment.  I haven`t gotten any.  And I`m very happy doing what I`m doing now.

WILLIAMS:  Counselor, thank you very much for visiting us.

BHARARA:  Thank you, Brian. 

WILLIAMS:  Appreciate it.  The book again, "Doing Justice."  You see there on the screen.  "A Prosecutor`s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law."

Coming up for us, the latest in the Democratic race for the presidency, one of the senior most elected Democrats in this country will be in this studio when we come back to talk about the field.  We`re back with that after this.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I know there`s a lot of folks who want to fight fire with fire.  I ran a fire department.  I don`t think that`s good strategy.  I`m appealing to the idea of reviving civic grace and bringing people together.

We have so much common cause in this country, a lot of common pain, and we really need -- I think leaders are going to call us -- not divide`s but call us back tie sense of common purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  New Jersey Senator Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker on "Ellen" today discussing how he`s distinguishing himself in a crowded field.  He`s one of 13 people officially running as a Democrat.  But according to the latest polling by Emerson College, Bernie Sanders and the still unannounced Joe Biden are tied at the top, 26 percent support.  We are happy to welcome to the broadcast the Democratic governor of the great State of New Jersey Phil Murphy.  Governor, thank you for coming in.  Big night for the State of New Jersey.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D), NEW JERSEY:  Huge Jersey night.

WILLIAMS:  We got exit 105, exit 109 and 114 here.  There are I think by casual counts like closer to 250 Democrats in this race.  At least it feels like that.  I always tell guests on this broadcast, no one can quite screw it up like the Democratic Party.  But if you had to pick a national bumper sticker slogan for your party to run on this time around, what would it be?

MURPHY:  Pro growth progressive.  That`s who I think we are as a party.  That`s who we are in New Jersey.  So, we can prove that those are not at odds with each other.  We can be proudly progressive, fund Planned Parenthood, equal pay, minimum wage to $15.  I hope soon legalize adult use marijuana and erase social injustices.  And at the same time we can grow the economy.  We can be responsible stewards of our -- balancing our fiscal reality.  Those two should not be at odds with each other.  That`s a space that we should comfortably occupy.

WILLIAMS:  I want to ask you how you bring Republicans into that tent.  I looked up on Fox News this evening during primetime they were doing a segment and the graphic said "Pot Psychosis, Dangers of Marijuana."  That`s the same headline as in army training films in 1950, but that is a constituency that is alive and well and out there including in your state.  Why legalize it in New Jersey?  The most densely populated state in the union.

MURPHY:  Two reasons.  Number one, we`re not inventing marijuana.  It exists.  Our kids are exposed to it.  The bad guys run the business and make all the money.  The social injustices that have been built up over decades, New Jersey is the largest white-non-white gap a person is incarcerated in America and the biggest contributing factor is low end drug possession.

So the first reason is let`s regulate this thing, protect kids, get the business out of the hands of the bad guys, and the second reason is social justice.  Let`s correct, let`s expunge those records.  If you`re currently serving let`s give you a chance to vacate a sentence.  And let`s make sure we give these licenses out, we make sure that give them out across entire society, minorities, women, disabled veterans, et cetera.

WILLIAMS:  If you`re one of these candidates, you get all these litmus test questions this time around like reparations, like court packing, like are you in favor of tossing aside the Electoral College.  The other one is the Green New Deal.

Now, the Green New Deal has us all riding around on high-speed rail.  We don`t have a legit high-speed rail system yet in this country.  You guys can`t get a new tunnel dug under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, where anywhere between 10 percent and 20 percent of our GDP passes through that corridor.  Why not?

MURPHY:  I`d say the "you guys" just with a little asterisk.  The Trump administration --

WILLIAMS:  You guys who run New Jersey and New York --

MURPHY:  Exactly.  New Jersey and New York are all in.  The port authority`s all in.  Across the Hudson and across the political aisle importantly, we need the Trump administration to get all in as the Obama administration had been before.

WILLIAMS:  Isn`t that infrastructure?

MURPHY:  It`s one area where President Trump or candidate Trump was running I kept saying you know, what, this is the one area I can see common ground.  But it`s a lot of rhetoric and no action.  So, I`m frustrated as heck.  I`m still cautiously optimistic.  As you suggest, Brian, 20 percent of the nation`s GDP rides in the northeast corridor.

WILLIAMS:  And, you know, there are people who have to memorize where the breaks are and the potholes are in the roads to navigate these heavily traveled roadways.  Looked at another way, this is American jobs.  Thousands American jobs.

MURPHY:  100 percent.  Union jobs too.  I mean this is a big deal.  And as you said, New Jersey`s the densest state in the nation.  You and I both know it well.  So, moving people around, moving things around is not of passing interest.  It`s existential.  So we`re fixing NJ transit.  We`re doing everything we can.  But we need help from the feds to get that tunnel built.

WILLIAMS:  Give me the bumper sticker one more time before we go.

MURPHY:  "Pro-growth progressive."  I`m proudly progressive and we`re going to grow the economy.

WILLIAMS:  Phil Murphy, governor of the great State of New Jersey.  Thank you for visiting tonight.

MURPHY:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Appreciate it.  Thank you very much.

MURPHY:  Honored.

WILILAMS:  Coming up, they are thought of as a moderating force inside this White House, but a new book digs into the roles that Ivanka and Jared play behind the scenes.  The author of that book joins us next when we continue.

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WILLIAMS:  While we wait for the Mueller report, we`re getting new insight into what might be in store for the president`s daughter and son-in-law.  A new book paints a clearer picture of just how much influence Jared and Ivanka have in this Trump White House and just how entangled they are in the Russia investigation writ large.

In fact, it was Jared Kushner who pushed the President to make the decision that ultimately led to Mueller`s naming.  The author, Vicky Ward, joins us in a moment.  She writes, "Kushner was exposed by the media as someone who would almost certainly have an increasingly prominent role in the Russian collusion investigation.  Not only had he met with Russian government officials, or connected officials, but he had left those meetings off his security clearance forms.  Steve Bannon and others noticed that Kushner became gung-ho about firing James Comey."

Interesting point.  We`ll stop there.  With us tonight, the aforementioned Vicky Ward, veteran journalist and author, editor-at-large at the Huffington Post, author of this new book, "Kushner Inc.: Greed, Ambition, Corruption, the Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump." Thank you for coming on.  I don`t think most people trace Jared`s involvement in the Comey matter because absent the Comey matter Jeff Sessions is still called Mr. Attorney general --

VICKY WARD, HUFFINGTON POST EDITOR-AT-LARGE:  Absolutely.

WILLIAMS:  -- there`s no Mueller and this is a presidency.

WARD:  Entirely correct.  I mean, you know, I think this is probably the biggest revelation of the book, actually.  You know, at the time when the President fired James Comey it was reported that Jared Kushner had just supported the decision.  That`s not what my reporting shows.

You know, what actually happened is that Jared, as you say, realized that the press had learned that he had had these meetings with a Russian ambassador, a Russian banker connected to the Kremlin, and he had not put them on his security clearance forms.

And very uncharacteristically he made a sort of impassioned argument to the president in front of people.  I mean, Jared`s normal method of communicating with Trump is to sort of corner him quietly, which really annoyed Reince Priebus, who was trying to manage the place.

But this time in front of everyone he said to the President you`ve got to fire James Comey and here are three reasons why.  The FBI doesn`t like him, the Democrats don`t like him, and the base will love it.  You know, Steve Bannon, you know, wily strategist, disagreed with him on every single point.  But you know, Jared won the day.  And to your point, Brian, there lies, you know, Trump`s catastrophic mistake.

WILLIAMS:  You can trace it back to there.

WARD:  Yes.

WILIAMS:  Charlie Kushner who, stay with us here, was put in prison by the last sitting governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie.  Charlie Kushner normally lives a private life.  Has written an op-ed in the "Washington Post."  Most believe it is because your book has come out. "Jared`s Service," we`ll quote from it, "to the country has brought on unprecedented scrutiny of the Kushner Companies from the media and government investigators.  We are happy to assist with all inquiries but I must note that we are already voluntarily adhering to the strictest standards to avoid even the appearance of conflicts."  You`re smiling.  Does that match --

WARD:  Sorry.

WILLIAMS:  Does that match your view of the family business and/or these two young individuals working at the president`s elbow?

WARD:  Well, I mean, it`s really simple.  Every single security agency made the recommendation that Jared Kushner should not get a security clearance based on his conflicts of interest and his diplomatic naivete.  And as we learned last week, the President had to overrule everyone to give him a security clearance.  That does not suggest that Jared is without the appearance of conflict of interest.

WILLIAMS:  A strong note to end on.  Here is the book. "Kushner Inc.: Greed, Ambition, Corruption, the Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump."  The author has now completed the trifecta of "Morning Joe" all the way through Nicolle Wallace`s broadcast and she`s gone up and stayed up until 11:45 Eastern Time with us.  Vicky Ward, thank you very much.

WARD:  Thank you so much.

WILLIAMS:  Good luck for this.  And coming up, two of our returning veterans are with us to talk about what just happened today and what it is we all seem to be waiting for as early as tomorrow.  When we come back.

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WILLIAMS:  After all we`ve been through, and we`re just talking about today, at this point we just wanted to talk about things with to smart people.  So we`re happy to welcome back to our broadcast tonight Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor at Bloomberg Opinion.  Also happens to be author of "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald."  And Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, former Lieutenant Governor of the great State of Maryland.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Tim, what Donald Trump qualities that you are familiar with, that you have written about, were on display in the Donald Trump you watched today?

TIM O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION":  I think his full-blown pettiness when he`s confronted with opposition, when people are criticizing him in ways he can`t control, when other people`s legacies, i.e. the legacy of somebody like Senator McCain, who was a war hero, present him with things he can`t either compete against or argue against.  He gets cornered, and he goes into this sort of grand mal slogging.

And while I think today was possibly a new low in his remarks about the senator`s funeral and the failure of the senator to thank him -- I don`t know how that was going to occur as he answer.  However, he expected to be thanked.

WILLIAMS:  Wow.

O`BRIEN:  It`s actually not new behavior.  He`s been doing this for decades.  Business opponents, business partners, politicians in New York.  New Yorkers are familiar with this side of Donald Trump.  It`s not casual behavior.  It`s really part and parcel of who he is.

And I think the thing to understand about him is for all of his bravado and for all his brag doe show, he`s deeply insecure.  And he`s easily wounded.  The odd thing about him is he can perpetually live in that state of being an open wound and move forward in a way most other can`t.  But he`s been lashing out now, you know, for the better part of five decades.  He`s about to turn 73 years old, and so we`ve had a half century of Donald Trump as Dennis the Menace.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you for that reminder.  Hey, Michael, I want to read you a tweet from the great Maggie Haberman over at "The New York Times."  Trump has usually gotten a positive reception at his rallies what he has gone after McCain.  Maggie traveled with the President in Ohio today.  But today at an army tank plant where POTUS said a third of the workforce is comprised of veterans, there was a very quiet response.

And then there was this tonight, Michael.  And this kind of broke my heart to see it.  At the McCain Institute felt the need to put out the facts ant John McCain`s life.  And it broke my heart I guess because in our line of work, you committed these to memory long ago.  You know the story of John McCain because John McCain`s story was the story of incredible military achievement of survival, as a POW for almost six years, and being one of the more consequential members of the Senate over the last half century.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Yes, Brian, you can say a lot about John McCain.  You can have political disputes with him, you can disagree on some policy, idea, or initiative, but you cannot take away the legacy of the man.  You cannot take away the commitment he made as a very, very young mid-shipman at the United States Naval Academy to this country.

And no matter what Donald Trump says, no matter how he says it, to whom he says or tweets it, any lifetime in any moment, John McCain will be the bigger and better man.  It is that simple.  And it gnaws at him at every turn because, you could hear the derision where he said, oh, you know, and I gave him the funeral he wanted.  Really?  Oh, you gave him a funeral he wanted.

John McCain didn`t need Donald Trump to give him a funeral.  The nation was fully prepared as we watched this man, you know, exhibit the kind of strength even at the moment of his own ending.  Again, it was not about McCain.  It was about a country.  He talked about the country, talk about the lifting of the country.

So, I just sweep all that aside.  It`s the pettiness of a petty man who is so afraid of the shadow of the man who`s gone before him.  So I think that`s where we need to leave it when it comes to Donald Trump and John McCain.

WILLIAMS:  Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stay with us.  We`re just going to fit in a break.  We`ll continue our conversation right after this.

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WILLIAMS:  Thanks to our guests for sticking around with us, Tim O`Brien and Michael Steele remain with us.  Tim, those of us who comb gray hair remember the moon missions and the expression "dark side of the moon" because they would pass along the dark side of the moon and lose communications with the mother planet.

I`ve been saying that once this Mueller report is over at justice, we may be in for a month of more of the dark side of the moon, just kind of crickets, nothing, with just House Democrats to make up the absence of noise.  What is this president, who you have written about and chronicled to closely going to be like during that?

O`BRIEN:  I think he`s going to be a lot like he`s been this last week.  I think, you know, he`s existing in the same void that the rest of the country is.  There`s been a lot of anticipation about when will the Mueller report end, and what will it contain.  And no one really knows.  There`s a lot of loose speculation on that.  Even when it does land, Bill Barr didn`t doesn`t have to do anything with it.

WILLIAMS:  No time constraints.

O`BRIEN:  No time constraints.  I suspect that Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler aren`t going to let him sit on it very long, but there`s going to be some time passing.  So there`s going to be another round ever speculation.  And every time that happens, Trump fills that void by lashing out.  So I think what we`re going to have is more of this national catharsis and Trump using these moments almost as a giant sort of psycho therapy, you know, couch.  And we all have to sit around and observe it.  So I don`t think -- I`m not anticipating a happy period.

The other thing to remember, though, is you`ve got ongoing investigations.  There are three states attorney generals looking at him, there are five congressional committees, and there`s the Southern District of New York.  They all are going to carry on probably in some -- possibly in New York past his presidency depending on whether or not he wins a second round in the White House.

WILLIAMS:  And Michael, if you`re Republicans, how do you whip up support for this guy, especially if, say, you served in the United States Senate with the man we were just talking about, John McCain.  Isn`t going to get tougher and tougher?  We`ve seen some incredible stories.

STEELE:  We have.  And I think it does get tougher to the extent that you have the report sitting in the attorney general -- on the attorney general`s desk.  And that period that you were just talking about where people are trying to figure out what`s in it, there is going to be pressure.  There is going to be this idea that we want to get this in front of the nation.

I think the test for Republicans will be how much they saddle up next to Democrats on that point to make the case to the attorney general and the president, who`s on the record today saying, you know, release the report, release the report.  I think that`s a smoke and mirror move by the president.

I think, in fact, he doesn`t really want the report released, and I think he`s probably anticipating or expecting Attorney General Barr to sort of leave it on the side, you know, not expose it at all and I think that`s going to put a lot of Republicans in conflict because the pressure will be real from the American people that we should all have the full exposed details of what this two-year plus investigation has been about.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, so many people who cover the white house are expecting to hear the phrase "No Smoking Gun" kind of independent and absent of whatever it is we read with our own eyes in this report --

STEELE:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  -- who are two friends Tim O`Brien and Michael Steele.  Gentlemen, thank you so much for being a part of our broadcast and taking us to the very end of a Wednesday bordering on Thursday but that is our Wednesday night broadcast.  Thank you so very 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