White House rejects Democrats' request. TRANSCRIPT: 3/21/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Clint Watts, Tamara Keith, Val Demings, A.B. Stoddard, Anita Kumar

CHARLOTTE ALTER, JOURNALIST, TIME MAGAZINE:  So, I think she is -- I think a lot of people find her threatening, but I also think a lot of people find her exciting.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Thank you for a great article.

ALTER:  Thanks for having me.

VELSHI:  Charlotte Alter and her article is in the current issue of Time Magazine.  And that is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, high anxiety continued as the wait stretches through another night, as the Mueller report is now widely expected to be transmitted to the attorney general at any time.

And as reporters can only imagine the atmosphere inside the Trump West Wing.  And during the wait, the movement of the players closely watched like Robert Mueller driving himself in the pre dawn morning hours.  Like the attorney general leaving his house and spotted at the White House.

And in the midst of all of it, two new fights several reason over Jared Kushner talking with foreign leaders on WhatsApp and over Trump`s secret conversations with Vladimir Putin.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a consequential Thursday night.

Well, good evening, once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 791 of the Trump administration, and Washington is bracing for impact tonight, anxiously waiting for Robert Mueller to transmit his report to Attorney General Bill Barr.  All the fevered anticipation had photographers stationed around the D.C. metro area today, hoping to spot the key players.

As a result, look at what we learned this morning.  Robert Mueller drives a car, and owns a baseball cap.  We say this because viewers of this and other broadcasts have ample reason to wonder if Robert Mueller does anything other than walk down hallways carrying a briefcase.

Less exciting, but no less important, today`s photos of the attorney general, Bill Barr, seen leaving his home today.  Then hours later spotted entering the White House, for what we`re quickly told was a regularly scheduled meeting and not Mueller related.

Adding to the intrigue, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, also seen leaving the White House today.

Whenever Attorney General Barr does get this long awaited report, he will review it and decide what to make public.  And he is notably under no time constraints during that process.

Aaron Blake of the "Washington Post" wrote about some possible scenarios here, of what might happen, "One option that has been floated for Barr is releasing separate reports.  Former Justice Department officials have suggested he could deliver two reports to Congress, one with unclassified information that could be given to all lawmakers and would presumably leak to the public and a separate one that would be given to a much smaller universe of congressional leaders."

What could go wrong?  Blake points out another possible outcome could be the whole Mueller report eventually becomes public after a legal fight.

Former FBI Director James Comey weighed in on the Mueller report today and at "Times" op-ed he wrote that he has no idea what Mueller might conclude.  And adds this, "I also don`t care.  I care only that the work be done well and completely.  If it is, justice will have prevailed and core American values will have been protected at a time when so much of our national leadership has abandoned its commitment to truth and the rule of law."

"New York Times" keeps a running tally on all of Mueller`s work nearly two years into this investigation.  And the "Times" indeed writes that Mueller has "issued more than 100 criminal counts against dozens of people including six Trump advisers or officials."

Meanwhile, we`re also tracking important developments on congressional investigations into this White House today.  We learned this afternoon, the White House has rejected a request from House Democrats for documents relating to Trump`s private discussions with Vladimir Putin.

And Oversight Chairman, Elijah Cummings of Maryland wrote the White House today accusing the administration of obstructing his committee`s investigation into use of private e-mail accounts by White House officials.  He`s demanding documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

In the letter, Cummings said, a lawyer for Jared Kushner told the committee in December that Kushner had been using WhatsApp on his phone to communicate with foreign leaders.  Kushner`s attorney, Abby Lowell has said to have argued his client was in compliance with the law because he took screen shots of the individual text threat conversations and sent them to official e-mail accounts.

According to Cummings, Lowell told the company, Ivanka Trump continued to receive official e-males on her private account and did not always forward them to her White House address.  But today Abby Lowell denied he ever told law makers that Kushner WhatsApp to communicate with foreign leaders.

He also denied saying Ivanka continued to receive official e-mails on her personal account.  He said the conversation was about e-mail use prior to September 2017.  All this, of course, is a touchy subject with House Democrats, because as you may recall, private e-mails came up during the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It`s unbelievable how Hillary Clinton got away with the e-mail lie, the e-mail scam, the e-mail corruption.

I guarantee you one thing, we`re going to be talking about those e-mails every moment of every day.

This is the biggest scandal since Watergate.

She lied like a dog on her e-mails.

As far as briefings and all, I will do much better than Hillary Clinton ever did with her e-mails which she exposed the entire country to whatever she`s learning as Secretary of State.  You don`t get any worse than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Our panel is standing by.  But first, we want to get the very latest from our own Julia Ainsley, our NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter.

Julia, by my count you`ve been spending 12 hours a day at the Justice Department.  And we keep talking about high anxiety, answer this to the extent you can.  Why is it we believe we`re close?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NTL. SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER:  Yes.  Brian, something is fundamentally different in these past, I would say, 72 to 48 hours around this probe.  I`ve been down there every day, basically for the last month, when we heard it might be coming soon.  Now we`re told that it is on a day by day basis, hour by hour, we could really get it any time.

We do not, however, expect it to come during the wee hours of the morning.  We expect it to be during the central daylight business hours of Washington.  But when it does come, it`s key to remember two things, first, Attorney General William Barr will have to tell Congress, and he will have to send them a letter.  And he will, of course, notify the public.  We expect he will do that.  He doesn`t have to do that, it`s not laid out in the memo given that explains what goes on with the special counsel`s investigation, but we understand he will do that.

And then secondly, he will decide how to do that report that Aaron Blake lays out and he has multitude of options there.  It could be just a fraction of what he gets from the Mueller report.  But right now it`s all high anxiety.

I will say, the thing that has changed, the people who are in a position to be prepared to receive this report have told Justice Department reporters, Capitol Hill reporters, White House reporters that they really do expect it any day now.  This is not just Washington reporters working each other into a frenzy.  I know that`s probably what it looks like from the outside.

WILLIAMS:  And of course there`s the Friday factor in Washington, and we note the President has a 9:30 a.m. wheels up from the south lawn for Mar-a- Lago tomorrow.  And you`ve been watching all the individuals in this as best you can and it`s important to reemphasize the obligation is not on Mueller to say it`s away, it`s left here.  The obligation is on Barr to say, we`ve got it over here.

AINSLEY:  Absolutely.  The spoke person for this information then becomes William Barr or his spokesperson becomes the Justice Department.  It leaves the hands of the special counsel.  We`ve been keeping a lot of tabs on these moving players throughout the day.

It was surprising, actually, how many public appearances we did see today from William Barr.  There was actually a commemoration ceremony to give Jeff Sessions his Cabinet chair today.  And we all got to go see that, so we saw Jeff Sessions, William Barr and Rod Rosenstein all on a stage where they gave remarks, of course, not surprisingly he did not take questions from the press at this kind of event.  And is not surprising given the timing of today, but it was amazing, Brian, to see those three critical players in this investigation all on stage together at such a critical juncture as this.

WILLIAMS:  Julia, we`ll let you go back to your Winnebago parked outside the Justice Department.  Thank you very much for staying up late with us tonight and giving us the latest as you see it.

Julia Ainsley in our Washington bureau.

Let`s bring in the rest of our leadoff panel on a Thursday night.  Tamara Keith, White House Correspondent for NPR.  Mimi Rocah, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law.  And Clint Watts is here, former FBI Special Agent and the Author of "Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social World of Hackers, Terrorist, Russians, and Fake News."

Mimi, I`d like to begin with you.  And let`s take half a step back.  What do you hope happens, starting tomorrow or whenever Bill Barr gets this report?

MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  I hope -- that first of all, Mueller is allowed to finish doing whatever it is that he has planned and thinks he needs to do.  That`s the first thing.  And that whatever document information he turns over to Bill Barr, that the crux of that information gets turned over to Congress and made public.

I know that there are Justice Department guidelines about not releasing information about people who are not being charged.  I just don`t think that those rules should apply here.

WILLIAMS:  Why not?

ROCAH:  Because those rules are about the public interest.  They exist to protect the public interest.  Namely, if the Department of Justice is not pursuing its function of charging someone with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, we should not make the, you know, findings that are damaging to those people public.

But here, we have a person who literally, because of a Department of Justice policy cannot be charged.  And so, we the public deserve to know and need to know.  The public interest here weighs in favor of transparency because we need to know, is he not being charged.  Is the President not going to be charged, if he`s charged, but I`m assuming there`s no charges against him forth coming from Robert Mueller in the next, you know, few days or months.

Is that because he`s the President and it`s under that policy?  Or is it because whatever Mueller found was -- did not rise to the level of beyond a reasonable doubt, which I believe is the standard that Robert Mueller will apply for himself.  Even though he`s not in a court of law at the moment.

WILLIAMS:  Clint Watts, starting with your graduation from West Point, you`ve been in the fight for the home team.  And then in your adult life you were in the fight against Russia as an electronic matter.  Given that background, what do you hope happens starting whenever Barr gets this report?

CLINT WATTS, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  I hope we get a full understanding of what the Russia influence and cyber attack essentially on our elections comes out to be.  We have parts of it and we`ve kind of forgot that.  That happened last year.  I would like to see what the entire influence effort was, that way we know what was successful, what wasn`t successful and what we need to prepare for in the future, that was the reason we started this for.

WILLIAMS:  I remember.  Yes.  Yes.

WATTS:  I think the other part that we definitely need to know is to what degree do people in the Trump campaign know they were interacting with Russia or not?  This has sort of been left into the public space.  We just hear this constant, no, I didn`t and yes, I did, this person knew, this person didn`t, and this meeting was for that.  I would like those connections to be sewn up.

And the third part, which I think has to be talked about, is money.  The influence of money, it`s the one piece that no one really knows that`s out in the public.  We see speculation on one side.  We see condemnation on the other.

What is it really that is happening in terms of all these money relationships, if it`s just natural business and we don`t like it, maybe we need to write some laws.  You know, in our constitution, we say, President has to divest his business.  The President can`t take help or aid from overseas.  The President cannot call for Russia if you`ve got those e- mails. T hose are things that we can do from this report, I think, that provides the insights about what is good legislation moving forward, so we don`t have to go through this again.

WILLIAMS:  Or share campaign polling data perhaps.

WATTS:  That`s right.

WILLIAMS:  Tamara, and luckily for you, I can`t ask about your hopes and dreams and goals from this, because you`re a journalist.  I can ask you what you expect to come out of the White House the minute we learn it`s been transmitted.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, they have a number of contingencies in place.  So, it kind of depends on what is transmitted and whether they actually get a head`s up about that.  And it`s not clear whether or not they will.

So, you know, they are standing by as we are standing by as everyone else is standing to see what happens.

You know, it`s pretty safe to bet, though, that the President`s rhetoric is not going to change much, no matter what is in the report.  And the President`s rhetoric is that this is a witch hunt.  He`s used that word to describe the investigation more than 200 times since it started.  And he will continue pushing that line.

And if you look at public polling, public opinion has shifted somewhat, in favor of the President`s view of this.  In part, because Mueller has been completely silent, aside from some pretty juicy indictments and other court filings.  And the President and his allies have been beating up on the investigation day after day after day after day.

WILLIAMS:  On the upside, Mueller seems to have a valid driver`s license, so that`s one of the things we learned today.

Hey, Clint, back to your expertise, and let`s shift this a little bit from what we reported from the Hill today.  E-mails have been litigated in the public space.

WATTS:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  What is, however, the real danger of an Ivanka Trump using private e-mails, Gmail or whatever the one of her choosing is?  What`s the danger of Jared on WhatsApp with a foreign leader, perhaps the unsavory kind?

WATTS:  It`s interesting, this story came out at the same time in "The New York Times" today.  We see a story about internet mercenaries, private security companies working for foreign governments in order to target people in their communications at the point of origin, at the phone.  This is what it`s about now.

It`s not about this intercepting enroute.  It`s about companies now that have the ability and this is well known in cyber security circles.  I hear about it all the time.  Going in and targeting anyone`s phone and being able to tap into those communications.  We cannot have this.

We heard e-mails, lock her up.  E-mails, lock her up.  To me this is far more egregious, this is foreign business interactions.

And, by the way, it`s being blocked from other parts of the U.S. government.  This means foreign leaders have a better understanding of what the White House is communicating than our own intelligence community and our own law enforcement and our own allies.  This puts us in a dangerous position, because as an executive or legislative branch, we really don`t know what`s going on at the top, and we have no oversight of it.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s go to our counsel for this conversation.  To former Fed, Mimi Rocah, does the White House, Mimi, have any standing to tell the House Democrats, take your concerns elsewhere, we`re not going to participate?

ROCAH:  Well, they can say that.  I think the question really is, what can the House then do in reaction, right?

I mean, first of all, it just looks bad.  I mean, this is a President who, as we`ve just been discussing, says over and over, I mean, this is not a legal argument as much as a political one, how can you say I`m innocent, I`ve done nothing wrong, this is a witch hunt but I`m not going to, you know, cooperate in anyway.  I mean, he`s been doing that the same way he wouldn`t sit down with Mueller for an interview, and yet he has nothing to hide.  I mean, --

WILLIAMS:  No collusion, he has mentioned.

ROCAH:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

ROCAH:  He has mentioned that ones or twice.

But, you know, here, I mean, look, this was the result of the election.  The House now has subpoena power.  Will that play out in a way that is, you know, practical that we will see the results of it?  Probably not.

I mean, by the time they -- I mean, the White House has an interest in just dragging this out.  I mean, it could be 2020 before, you know, this gets resolved if they just keep saying no.  And the House has to litigate subpoenas.  It`s going to be complicated.

So, I think the better argument frankly is, you know, if you have nothing to hide, cooperate.  And while Robert Mueller wasn`t going to come out and have that argument, House members can.  They`re in a much different position.

WILLIAMS:  Tamara, as we mention, tomorrow is day 675 on the job for Robert Mueller.  If we get this thing tomorrow it ends waiting period number one.  It only begins waiting period number two.  While we go -- we transit to the dark side of the moon while this is inside the Justice Department.  What to expect from the White House during that interregnum where they are dealing with the active and ongoing threat of these House Democrats?

KEITH:  The White House has been trying to handle these things one at a time.  So today there was this big announcement regarding Kushner and WhatsApp and Ivanka Trump.  The White House responded to a letter from several weeks ago today, regarding the Putin meetings.  So they`re sort of moving through this -- in sort of a slow and deliberative way, which you could also call slow walking.

The White House is, you know, responding slowly and saying, "you aren`t going to get what you want.  You`re certainly not going to get it right now."

And Elijah Cummings in his letter today, the Oversight Committee chairman, the line unrelated to substance.  But the line that really stood out to me from that letter, is Elijah Cummings saying that in this Congress, the White House has not produced a single document, not a single page.  And that is by design.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, that gets your attention.  And of course slow walking is a time honored Washington tradition.

KEITH:  Oh, yes.

WILLIAMS:  To Tamara Keith, to Mimi Rocah, to Clint Watts, thank you all so much for starting off our broadcast tonight.

And coming up on this Thursday evening, as Mueller watch continues, Congress keeps this pressure on the President and his inner circle.  A member of those two critical House committees is standing by to join us next.

And later, the new twist in the wait for Joe Biden`s decision, and this is interesting about a different way at another run for the White House.  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on the aforementioned crucial Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

DEMINGS:  So, yes or no, did you --

WHITAKER:  No matter what the question is --

DEMINGS:  Yes or no, did you discuss with the -- President Trump anything about Michael Cohen.

WHITAKER:  Congresswoman, as I have expressed several times today, I am not -- DEMINGS:  Did you ever have any conversations with the President about firing or reassigning any personnel, U.S. attorneys or others who work with the Southern District of New York, with the President or anybody?  Anybody at all --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was our next guest, leading some of the tougher questioning of former AG Whitaker from her perch on a powerful committee.

As we mentioned, the White House is rejecting a request from House Democrats for documents relating to President Trump`s private meetings with Vladimir Putin.

Politico obtained a letter from White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, to Intelligence Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and others that reads in part, "The committee`s letters site no legal authority that another branch of the government can force the President to disclose diplomatic communications with foreign leaders or that support forcing disclosure of the confidential internal deliberations of the President`s national security advisors.

With us for more tonight, Congresswoman Val Demings, Democrat of Florida, she serves on both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, if you could sit down one on one with the White House counsel, how would you make your case that it is indeed your business.

DEMINGS:  Brian, thank you for having me.  And look, I believe this entire investigation is about more than diplomatic conversations with foreign leaders.  Look, Mueller`s entire investigation started out with Russia and interfering with our election.

The second part was, who conspiring against the United States up to and including the President.  The President or those around him have had over 100 contacts with Russian officials prior to the election.

Six people around the President have been indicted, pleaded guilty or on their way to prison.  I think that Congress has every right to understand the nature of the conversations, those private conversations that the President has gone to great lengths to conceal or shield from us and from the American people.

I believe we have every right to know.  And I know that Congress, especially our chairmans on all of the committees that are involved will not stop seeking that information.

WILLIAMS:  What do you worry about when you learn allegedly that Jarred Kushner has been using WhatsApp on his phone to communicate with leaders overseas?

DEMINGS:  It`s unbelievable.  But remember, we`re talking about someone who had issues obtaining a security clearance in the first place.  Obviously, the President`s son in law has absolutely no understanding of the seriousness and why those applications should not be used.  The vulnerable of using those applications, especially to communicate official business with a foreign power.

I wish I could say, Brian, that I`m surprised, but remember, we`re talking about someone who received a recommendation that they not get a clearance, and his father-in-law obviously interceded to help him get one.

WILLIAMS:  Congresswoman, there are people who actually have anxiety about what we might be awaiting as early as tomorrow, the end of the Mueller portion of this case.

You are -- let`s go ahead and label you a law and order Democrat, police officer for 27 years, if I have my math right.

DEMINGS:  That`s right.

WILLIAMS:  Former chief of the Orlando P.D., so what assurances can you give the people watching that your party in the House will try to avoid being thwarted and try to take up where other investigations leave off?

DEMINGS:  I think the American people send a clear and convincing message during the 2018 election that they wanted the Democratic Party to provide the necessary oversight the we are providing.  We have only been in the majority for a couple of months.  But Brian, you have seen the number of hearings that we`ve helped, the number of witnesses that we`ve had to bring before our committees.

And we voted overwhelmingly, unanimously to make the Russia -- I mean, the Mueller report public.  And so I believe that the President is interested at all and acted on good faith, providing the transparency that the American people want to see us provide.  Then he too will be glad to see the Mueller report come forward.

I am hoping that Attorney General Barr, who had served in that role before will listen to the American people, listen to Congress, the overwhelming vote that we took, and make the report public.  So we can move on and take the necessary action that I believe the American people elected us to take.

WILLIAMS:  Congresswoman Val Demings, Democrat of the State of Florida.  Congresswoman, thank you for coming on with us tonight.  We appreciate it.

DEMINGS:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us on a Thursday evening, new reporting on just how well the White House is reacting to all this pressure we`ve been talking about and their plan going-forward when we go forward.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  There are indictments in this president`s future.  They`re coming.  Whether they`re after his presidency or during it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Something right there that may be weighing on the president`s mind.  Even as the White House is hit with a barrage of document requests from Congress on everything from the president`s meetings with Putin to his business dealings, so far, Trump and his people have declined to hand anything over.

Anita Kumar of POLITICO who joins us in just a moment report Trump`s White House has had an unusually hostile reaction.  And we quote, "In their early response to an onslaught of Democratic requests, Trump officials are breaking from norms set by previous administrations of both parties, according to people who worked in the White House or Capitol Hill during the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama."

Here with us tonight to talk about all of this, A.B. Stoddard, columnist and associate editor at RealClearPolitics.  And the aforementioned Anita Kumar, White House correspondent and associate editor for POLITICO.  Anita, one of the days I`m going to meet this guy named norm.  But talk to us about these norms and by how much is this different from normal times?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well let`s be clear.  No president wants to turn over anything to Congress.  No matter what party, that`s just not what they want to do.  But what we`re finding that`s different this time is that generally, the White House of the past will respond to their letters that they get to the requests they get.  And they kind of open the door for negotiation.  They`ll say, we will provide these documents but not these.  We can do it by this day but not this day.

And so they will open up a negotiation that may last weeks or months, or, you know, in some cases, might be into the next year.  What we`re finding with the Trump White House is they`re not responding most of the time.  Deadlines come and go.  And many cases they`re just not even centering the cursory, you know, the typical letter back.  They`re ignoring those deadlines, which basically tells us they don`t want to negotiate.  They`re not looking to have that back and forth at this time.  The one you mentioned the Putin letter that that they respond to today, there was a big batch of letters if you`ll recall that the House Judiciary sent to 81 people including the White House.  The deadline was Monday for everyone.  The White House didn`t respond to that.

WILLIAMS:  So A.B., I hate to be a cynic about this stuff, I truly do.  But a strong man, Republican president tells Democrats on the Hill to pound salt.  Doesn`t everyone just stay in their bubbles and the base is fine with that, correct?

A.B STODDARD, REALCLEARPOLITICS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR AND COLUMNIST:  I think the base loves the fact that he`s defiant and has no intention of giving an inch and is going to characterize this as partisan and overreaching.  When we get into subpoenas, that`s going to be different.  I mean it`s one thing to try to run out the clock.  And as Anita points out, you usually give with one hand, so you can take away with the other.  And this is a slammed door.

If the Democrats continue to get stonewalled by the administration, they choose to subpoena.  They`re going to have to choose their battles wisely and decide who to go after, and not just do a big spray of subpoenas, like they did with that 81 person document request.  Because that will be, you know, a more high stakes fight.  But this is not at all uncharacteristic, even during very consequential things, where the president needs to be involved bills to reopen the government, he`s often nowhere to be found.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  On that note, both of our guests have agreed to stay with us.  Coming up, we`re going to talk about 2020 politics, and this is interesting, the rumblings about Joe Biden and something he might just attempt to try to forge a unique path to the White House where he last served as number two.

The question is, is it a gimmick or brilliant or both when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT:  I`m told get criticized by the New Left.  I`m the most progressive record of anybody running for the united -- of anybody who would run.

Of anybody who would run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Joe Biden still hasn`t come any closer than that to announcing an actual run.  There are new reports that he is already considering a running mate, and this gets real interesting.  Axios reported today Biden`s advisers are debating Stacey Abrams as an out of the gate VP choice.  Abrams of course lost her race for Georgia governor.  She has said all options are on the table for 2020.

According to Axios, "The popular Georgia Democrat who at age 45 is 31 years younger than Biden would bring diversity and excitement to the ticket showing voters, in the words of a close source, that Biden isn`t just another old white guy."

New York Times adds this, "Also under discussion is a possible pledge to serve only one term.  And framing Mr. Biden`s 2020 campaign as a one-time rescue mission for a beleaguered country."  So much to discuss.  So little time.  But at least we have A.B. Stoddard and Anita Kumar with us to do so. So, A.B., desperate, brilliant or a little bit of both?

STODDARD:  It`s sort of simultaneously looks cocky and packing at the same time.  It`s either a genius (INAUDIBLE) to sort of tell the primary electorate I`m acknowledging my potential liabilities and then he won`t do this, or it`s really stupid.  And he really shouldn`t do it.

There is so much consensus yet to be formed in the Democratic primary electorate.  What if he paired up with Stacey Abrams now and down the road she calls for impeachment depending on something stumbling out of the Southern District of New York and he says no.

You can`t cement this pairing this early.  But I think this conversation has told the voters he understands, he could sort of -- you have to run as vibrant and strong enough to serve two terms, but you could hint, maybe it will be one, you know, say I`m a lame duck at the start.  This could start the conversation that makes them realize he`s self-aware and then he wants to shore up those vulnerabilities.

WILLIAMS:  Anita, we`re going to put the latest polling on the screen.  And I suppose there is a reason for the two guys both 77 plus years old that are in the top bracket.  Both at 26 percent.  And after them that`s a sizable bit of the electorate out there.  What do you make of this Biden story, Anita?

KUMAR:  Well, I mean, they`re on there because of name recognition, right?  They`re in the public eye more than some of these other people.  But I remember covering Hillary Clinton in the race in 2016, and there was a lot of talk about age and you had Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  I mean Donald trump is, you know, not much younger than Joe Biden.  I talked to a lot of voters, four years ago -- two years ago rather, who said they didn`t care.  Who said age was experience, and they kind of wanted that.

And. you know, we saw this remarkable -- thing that happened in 2016 where an older person got elected.  He had no experience at all, in government.  So, I`m just not sure that the age thing matters so much.  But it`s very interesting that he`s kind of fixating on that, when others are just as old as he is.  Or almost as old as he is.

WILLIAMS:  A.B., there`s a case to be made that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets more air time on Fox News than some of the people employed by Fox News.  There`s clearly an effort to brand her as the beating heart of the Democratic Party, the talk of socialism, the talk of the far left going- forward.

STODDARD:  There is no question that President Trump has starts his re- election campaign and he`s running against the scary socialists.  And the Democrats are giving him way too much of an opportunity be, especially the three freshmen congresswomen --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

STODDARD:  -- becoming punch line at Trump rallies.  They`re all too happy to be those sensations.  No one on the Democratic primary campaign trail is pushing back on them and they`re letting them take up all the action where Senator Klobuchar on this, where Senator Gillibrand on this, Warren, they don`t push back because they`re nervous about trying to sort of absorb the energy on the left, and being, you know, seen as sort of scary moderate centrists.  If they allow AOC to dictate the terms of the party and sort of become the identity of the party, they`re going to be in real trouble next year.

WILLIAMS:  And Anita, I don`t know how to say this gently, because the three of us in this conversation, this is not our first rodeo.  We know Joe Biden`s history, legislative and otherwise.  He`s been around a long time.  And if you have any years on you, you think it`s kind of been talked about and examined over the time.  A new generation is learning Joe Biden`s history, legislative and otherwise in Washington.  Things like Anita Hill, the Thomas hearings, and this is all new to them.  A lot of them are on the so-called progressive left.

KUMAR:  Yes, I mean, it`s definitely an issue, and it`s an issue for everyone who`s had a really long history like he has, right?  It was an issue for Hillary Clinton.  For people that have these really long histories where society has changed, culture has changed, the Democratic Party`s platform has changed.  It is something that he`s going to have to deal with and answer questions about.  And I think that his people are perfectly well aware that that`s going to happen.  You know, that they`re going to have to answer those questions about how things have changed and how he`s changed.

WILLIAMS:  A.B., is there a Democrat in the running in that polling graphic we saw just people declared add another 200 people considering running?

STODDARD:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  Is a Kamala Harris with a prosecutor background?  Any better able to rise forward after we get the Mueller report transmitted.  When we get more and more into investigations to make that more of a selling point?

STODDARD:  Perhaps, but it`s early stages, and right now she`s very worried about the primary, the sort of first voters of the party in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire.  And a very active base that`s concerned with criminal justice issues, and their very sort of anti-prosecutor.

And so she`s starting out kind of not wanting to talk about that.  Because that`s where a lot of the energy is that she`s going to have to face some kind of litmus test on that.  It would be interesting to see if she gets to be a sort of a law and order Democrat once we`re on the other side of these investigations.  But right now she`s trying to talk about, you know, her experience in solving problems, but not so much the cases she was involved in.

WILLIAMS:  Anita, it is true both parties have this burden.  You almost need to be a different candidate to succeed in primary politics as a Republican or a Democrat than you do in the general.

KUMAR:  I feel like that`s always the case.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

KUMAR:  So every time, every time this happens, you know, and there are so many people running right now in the Democratic Party, that`s all they can do is focus on these, you know, 12 plus other people that they`re running against.  They`ll get to Donald Trump eventually.  But they kind of need to distinguish themselves, and a lot of them are doing that.  They`re trying to do that, some of them on the policy issues, and they`re also trying to do that on -- as you said, age and experience but also gender diversity, racial diversity.

So, I mean, there`s a lot of things to look at for the Democratic Party.  They have a lot of different options.

WILLIAMS:  Two friends of our humble broadcast, A.B. Stoddard and Anita Kumar, thank you for joining us on this Thursday night.

And coming up for us, it`s more than just one badly wounded navy veteran sticking up for another badly wounded navy veteran.  Tonight, the public request that`s been made to the President when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  President Trump`s attacks on a warrior who cannot fight back are not letting up.  In an interview with Maria Bartiromo airing on Fox Business tomorrow morning, Trump was asked why he keeps on criticizing the late Senator John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIA BARTIROMO, HOST, FOX BUSINESS:  You spent a good portion of your time in Ohio the other day trashing John McCain.  Senator John McCain is dead.  Why are you doing this?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  So it`s not a good portion of my time, it`s a very small portion.  But if you realize about three days ago it came out that his main person gave to the FBI the fake news dossier.  It was a fake.  It was a fraud.  It was paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.  They gave it to John McCain who gave it to the FBI.

BARTIROMO:  But, Mr. President, he`s dead.  He can`t punch back.  I know you punch back but he`s dead.

TRUMP:  No.  I don`t talk about it.  People ask me the question.  I didn`t bring this up.  You just brought it up.  You asked the question.

BARTIROMO:  Well, you talked about him this week.

TRUMP:  He was horrible what he did with repeal and replace.  It was -- What he did to the Republican Party and to the nation and to sick people that could have had great health care was not good.  So I`m not a fan of John McCain and that`s fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Trump`s rhetoric, as she noted, seemed to hit a new low yesterday during that speech in Ohio.  The President complained to a silent crowd about never having been thanked for McCain`s funeral, which he said as President he had to approve.  But McCain family friend and longtime adviser Rick Davis did thank the Trump administration last August, and he did so in front of TV cameras shortly before the multi-state funeral services were under way.

Today, the National Cathedral in Washington felt the need to point out, "No funeral at the Cathedral requires the approval of the President or any other government official."  Also today on "The View," Meghan McCain read on air what her little sister Bridget had shared online.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, HOST, "THE VIEW":  She felt inclined to say and tweet this, "Mr. Trump, everyone doesn`t have to agree with my dad or like him, but do I ask that you be decent and respectful.  If you can`t do those two things, be mindful.  We only said good-bye to him almost seven months ago.

Even if you were invited to my dad`s funeral, you would have only wanted to be there for the credit and not the condolences.  Unfortunately, you could not be counted on to be courteous, as you are a child in the most important role the world knows."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Criticism of Donald Trump from members of his own party remains somewhat sparse.  When asked if Trump is being disrespectful, the Senator from Arizona who now occupies John McCain`s seat in the Senate and also happens to be a decorated military veteran, Martha McSally, said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA:  There`s a lot of disrespect going on out there all the way around.  I did talk to the President yesterday.  I wanted to make sure he understood how I felt about Senator McCain and how Arizona felt about Senator John McCain.  And he heard me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Freshman Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas also a decorated and wounded veteran who lost an eye as a Navy SEAL said today, and this is quite simple, "Mr. President, seriously, stop talking about Senator McCain."

Another break for us.  And coming up, a milestone for the U.S. presidency will happen just minutes from now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight.  It`s roughly three minutes from midnight here, East Coast time, meaning that shortly it will be Friday March 22nd.  And to presidency buffs that date will bring an important milestone.

James Earl Carter Jr. will minutes from now break the record once held by the late George H.W. Bush and become the longest living former president in our nation`s history at age 94 years, 172 days.  He was the first American president born in a hospital and not at home.  And he was born during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge in 1924, five years before the Great Depression.

Often overlooked about Jimmy Carter is the fact that while in the Navy, he was a submariner, which can be a marker and a shaper of your life after service.  And, indeed, Jimmy Carter, a hearty and self-directed and deeply religious man has always been a man apart, even in this famous photograph among other living presidents at the time in the Oval Office.  He was quite literally the man apart.

While his presidency routinely gets low marks despite some great achievements and great pressions (ph) on matters like energy policy and fossil fuels.  He has lived easily the most exemplary post-presidency in our history.  It started way earlier than he wanted to in 1981, and in those intervening years, he has traveled the globe fighting to eradicate diseases, talking about peace, observing elections and writing over 30 books.  Put it this way, our taxpayer money paid for his college education at Annapolis.  Can we agree that it was a better return on investment than some federal spending programs?

Tonight, we congratulate President Carter on a long life and the milestone that takes place now just moments away.  That is our broadcast for this Thursday evening.  Thank you so very much for being here with us and good night from our 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