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Probe erases line drawn after Watergate. TRANSCRIPT: 3/26/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Jessica Roth, Kelsey Snell, Alexi McCammond, Bill Kristol

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Have an answer to the question what would you not do to win re-election.  And no matter how many compromises you make as a politician if you hold on to that one defining point about yourself, if you always know the lines you will not cross to win re- election, then your family, your friends, will always recognize the person they knew before you became a politician. That`s tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the drum beat to release the Mueller report. Justice says it will be weeks not months until Americans see what Robert Mueller found and wrote about with a poll now showing eight in 10 Americans want to see it.

Plus, James Comey`s first public comments on the Barr letter, we have a reporter who was at the event tonight standing by.

And after his victory lap on collusion, the Trump administration has shows on to take on Obamacare and the millions insured by it as one official joked to a "New York Times" reporter, "Too much positive news, we needed to change the subject."  THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway on a Tuesday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 796 of the Trump administration.  And as Congress tries to get its hands on the Mueller report, we are learning more about when some version of it may be made public and it`s another necessary reminder.  What people are reacting to this week on both sides is not the Mueller report, but rather a four-page letter summarizing it by the Attorney General.

Well, today a Justice Department official told NBC News the Attorney General, William Barr, will make a version of the report publicly available in weeks not months.  The official already said there are no plans to give a copy of the report to the White House in advance.

Earlier today, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters he could talk to Barr as early as tonight about a process on how to proceed with releasing the report.  This as President Trump visited Capitol Hill today to have lunch with Senate Republicans.

According to senators who were in attendance and emboldened an exuberant Trump took a victory lap over Barr`s summary of the Mueller report before lunch.  Trump was asked about his recent comments on the people who launched the Russia investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think the people who launched the investigation into your campaign of treasonous acts?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How high up do you think it went?

TRUMP:  I think it went very high up.  I think what happened is a disgrace.  I don`t believe our country should allow this ever to happen again.  This will never happen again.  We cannot not let it ever happen again.  It went very high up and it started fairly low, with instructions from the high up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think it reached the West Wing of the Obama White House?

TRUMP:  I don`t want to say that, but I think you know the answer.


WILLIAMS:  Tonight, D.C. lawyer, George Conway, who again happens to be married to White House aide, Kellyanne Conway, wrote an op-ed on the "Washington Post" about Barr`s summary, all four pages of it.  Conway points out that Mueller did not exonerate Trump on obstruction and adds, "Mueller isn`t prone to cheap shots, he plays by the rules every step of the way.  If his report doesn`t exonerate the President there must be something pretty damning in it about him, even if it might not suffice to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt."

And earlier today former CIA Chief of Staff, Jeremy Bash laid out his thoughts when it comes to Attorney General Barr`s summary on conspiracy.


JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  I accept Bob Mueller`s conclusion that no federal criminal law was broken by the President`s own conduct.  But let`s review that conduct.  The President requested Russian assistance, he received Russian assistance, he benefited from Russian assistance and he rewarded Russian assistance.

Now maybe if you request a guy to rob a bank and then you -- the guy robs a bank, and you get the money and you reward that guy, maybe that`s not conspiracy.  I don`t know.  It sure sounds like troubling conduct.


WILLIAMS:  Our next guest Peter Baker of "The New York Times" writes tonight that, Mueller`s investigation has erased a line drawn decades ago, "After Watergate it was unthinkable that a president would fire an FBI director who was investigating him or his associates.  Or force out an attorney general for failing to protect him from an investigation.  Or dangle pardons from potential witnesses against him.  But the end of the inquiry by Robert Mueller made clear that President Trump had successfully thrown out the unwritten rules that had bound other chief executives in the 45 years since President Richard M. Nixon resigned under fire, effectively expanding presidential power in a dramatic way."

With that, let us bring in our lead off guest for a Tuesday night, Julia Ainsley, NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter.  Peter Baker, Chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times".  And Robert Costa, National Political reporter for the "Washington Post", also happens to be moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS.

Julia, I`d like to begin with you, because of where you are, Charlotte, North Carolina, where tonight you attended an event -- James Comey appeared at which also became his first reaction to what we`ve seen of the Barr letter summation of the Mueller report, and what was it?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NTL. SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER:  Well, that`s right, Brian, I mean, it`s not that James Comey has ever been short on words since he left his post, his FBI director.  But tonight was the first night he`s spoken publicly since Barr`s summary of the Mueller report.  And we had a lot of questions.  I wanted to know what he made of this, considering it was under his per view as FBI director that this probe was open in the first place.  He spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 at an event sponsored by Queen`s College in downtown Charlotte.  Only one question dealt with the news of the day, about his reaction, to Barr`s letter.

And what he said, Brian, is that he was confused.  He was confused by two things.  One is that Robert Mueller did not make a decision on obstruction.  He said the very reason a special counsel is appointed is to take those charging decisions out of the hands of political appointees.  So he thought with more coming to light, if there`s more transparency into Mueller`s report, we might understand why he made that decision.

And then he doesn`t understand why the Attorney General decided to weigh the fact that there was no underlying crime, when he decided not to pursue obstruction charges.  The thing he did not say, Brian, is -- he was not critical of the Attorney General for weighing in at all.  I wonder if that is in part to protect himself because as we know, Comey was under criticism for perhaps weighing into an area where he shouldn`t have, when he came out and talked about Hillary Clinton not being under investigation, and then reopening the investigation shortly before the election.  I thought that was an interesting piece he did not pick up on.

But in large, he said he was glad that the report was done, that Robert Mueller was able to do his work.  And he said that it should be good news for the American people.  And he wanted to point out that he did not have an outcome that he desired, that he just wanted the work to be done.

WILLIAMS:  And Peter Baker, your piece in today`s -- tonight`s times clearly labeled news analysis goes into the breakage of norms.  Which norms specifically, and those unforeseen by the regs that governed Mueller`s appointment and behavior?

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, no, that`s exactly right.  I think that what we already know about the question of obstruction has been out in front of us, and in our faces, you know, the President did fire Jim Comey after, you know, not getting the answers he wanted.  He did fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions because he was mad that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and couldn`t protect him.  He did leave open the possibility of pardons even as people were being brought to testify against him.

All of these acts, you know, his defenders say are perfectly legitimate because they are within the scope of his executive power.  And therefore, you cannot interpret them as obstruction of justice.  That he is under the Constitution`s Article II, he cannot be questioned in the use of that authority.

And in effect, Robert Mueller may or may not agree with that, but the net result of not finding that there is obstruction out of these, is to say that there`s not obstruction.  And if there`s not obstruction, what that means that lines the other Presidents had observed since Watergate worried that they would be perceived anyway as being obstructed now have been moved.  And I think future presidents will take note of that.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, you are notoriously well sourced, especially among Republicans on the Hill.  I know that the President had lunch among Republicans on the Hill, give us some flavor if you`re able to, from that event, starting with, from whom did the invitation originate?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  The invitation in essence is always open for President Trump to visit Senate Republicans.  It was not expected for him to visit today.

But talking to White House officials, they told me the President wanted to take a victory lap of sorts and visit the Capitol, talk to Republican colleagues.  They were a bit taken aback by the President`s decision along with his administration, to pursue changes to the Affordable Care Act, President Obama healthcare law, so soon after this report finished by Robert Mueller and the attorney general made his summary.  And they also thought the President should not perhaps move toward maybe considering a second special counsel to investigate the Justice Department.

That as much as the President and some of his top allies inside and outside the White House are seeking vengeance against perceived rivals and enemies.  They are telling him behind the scenes today at the Capitol and elsewhere, take this victory politically, and move on.

WILLIAMS:  Julia Ainsley, you are notoriously well sourced at the Justice Department, and have spent enough time there of late, to have your mail forwarded.  What are you learning, if anything, that may describe the contours of this Mueller report when we see it?  Voluminous?  Are we talking about tens of pages, are we talking hundreds?  And how much redactions can you shed any light on it at all?

AINSLEY:  That quantity is something I`ve been pressing on for some time.  Even before we saw the summary or even before the report was delivered.  I tried to figure out what exactly we`re talking about.  And yesterday I was talking to a Department of Justice official where with I said, "Are we talking tens, hundreds, thousands, they wouldn`t get into how long the Mueller report was?"  But then, I started talking about when we might see Barr`s version of this.  And I weeks, months or a year.

They said, certainly not a year.  And as of today, we know it will be weeks not months.  So I think that gives us some idea of what they`re combing through.

But I do think they should give us an outline of how much material there is, because then we`ll know how much it`s filtered.

The other thing that keeps being emphasized to me, Brian, is the fact that it`s not just up to the Attorney General when and how much we see, because Robert Mueller is not done with his job, because he needs to go through and identify what`s known as 6-e material.  That`s material that is privileged because it`s grand jury testimony.  And the way our laws work, is that if you testify before a grand jury, what you say there is protected. That`s why it`s a closed door testimony.

And another piece is how much information is in the Mueller report that is needed for other investigations.  You can`t give away information that is critical for other prosecutors in a different district when they`re trying to build their case.  So, right now, Barr is working with Rosenstein and he`s working with Robert Mueller to come up with this.  But it`s emphasized to me a lot, we shouldn`t just see this through Barr`s filter, although because of the position he was in on the obstruction question, he`s been placed there already in a lot of people`s minds.

WILLIAMS:  And Peter Baker, equally notoriously well sourced at the White House.  Peter, let`s speak English, does President Trump and the folks around him, do they view this as the time to make hey while the sun shines?  Because this is the interim, it`s hard to prove or disprove anything in the Mueller report that wasn`t talked about, and all we have to go on which is a four-page letter after all.

BAKER:  Yes.  They`re obviously making an of a lot out of basically what would amount to a couple sentences quoted by Attorney General Barr in his letter.  They are important sentences.  And they are, in fact, the bottom line as far as we understand which is to say that the Mueller investigation found no conspiracy with Russia.  And it chose not any way to make a decision on obstruction of justice.  Those bottom lines are important.

But when we see this report, and we don`t know when it will be.  And I thought, you know, weeks, not months is one thing, but that also means weeks not days.  Remember six House chairman -- committee chairman just yesterday sent a letter demanding the report be delivered to them by next Tuesday.  So we`re about to have a collision at some point it seems like between the Justice Department and the Democrats in the House.

But once we actually see it, it may be that Robert Mueller lays out a damning portrayal of actions that may be questionable or criticizable but not criminal in his mind.  We do not know that.  We do not know that this is a clean bill of health.  What we know is that there`s not going to be an indictment out of it.

And of course so the White House is going to fill that vacuum and make sure that that is cemented as the main takeaway from the support in advance of the actual text being examined by the public.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa?

COSTA:  Well, when you look at the news on Capitol Hill today, was the President`s visit the headline?  Yes, it was.  But there was another big headline, Speaker Pelosi urging her party to hold off on impeachment proceedings to push for a full release of the Mueller report, and to pressure the Attorney General to share more with the Congress and with the public.  But this is a speaker taking the lead and taking command of her party.  Setting the pace for her own party`s Presidential field as well to talk about health care, jobs, the economy.  To move away from a focus on Russia and a focus even on the President`s conduct even as they push the Attorney General to do more.

WILLIAMS:  And Robert, help me out on something else, I need you to be the Trump whisperer, again, very little of what he says is said by accident.  Especially if it`s a repeated talking point, and this is now two or three days we`ve heard him say, no president should ever have to go through this again.  And it really gets your notice.

I`ve read that it could be a precursor of an executive privilege argument, of a pardons argument or an argument to change future prosecutor regs.

COSTA:  It has people inside of the Department of Justice on edge because the President is not prepared at this moment talking to his confidants to walk away from a battle with DOJ.  And he believes that his allies on Capitol Hill, such as Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and others like that are prepared to try to investigate the origins again of the Russia investigation to go back to the Department of Justice, to people like James Comey, maybe bring them back to Capitol Hill.

For many Republicans, close to the President, this is the path to a victory in 2020.  To not let this rest, to put this on the Democrats again and again, and frame what has happened over the past two years in deeply partisan terms.

WILLIAMS:  From Charlotte to Washington tonight, our thanks to Julia Ainsley, to Peter Baker, to Robert Costa, for starting off our broadcast in such fine fashion.

And coming up for us, as Trump enjoys his victory lap, others warn he isn`t in the clear just yet.  Two veteran federal prosecutors who worked for that office still investigating the President, join us next.

And later, the 2020 gift the Democrats say the Republicans handed them today.  We`ll see about that.  THE 11TH HOUR, however, is just getting started with signs of spring evident on a Tuesday night.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back, new reporting from NBC News today revealing President Trump`s lawyers were worried about obstruction and not so much collusion during Mueller`s investigation.  Our own Ken Dilanian reports that by last April, Mueller`s team rarely asked probing questions about Russia, "Instead, the Special Counsel`s office wanted to know what was in Trump`s head when he fired FBI Director James Comey, and what his intent was when he denounced the Russia investigation on Twitter.  And to find that out, Mueller`s team wanted to interview Trump.  Mueller made several formal request for a sit down Trump`s legal team resisted in Trump`s legal team resisted without ever saying no.  And the subpoena never materialized."

Here to talk with us about it tonight, two former assistant attorneys for the Southern District of New York, Maya Wiley, now with the New School here in New York and Jessica Roth, now a professor at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.  Welcome to you both.

Jessica, the Trump lawyers worried more about obstruction.  We learned tonight Comey is confused, are you confused at what we so far know about Mueller`s work product and the decisions or non decisions that he came to.

JESSICA ROTH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  I find the part of the Barr letter summarizing the Mueller report --

WILLIAMS:  Right.  To be specific.  Yes.

ROTH:  -- on the obstruction question to be the most confusing part of the letter.  And I find two parts of it confusing.  The first is Mueller`s apparent non decision about whether to recommend a charge of the President for obstruction of justice.

Then the second part is Barr`s decision to make a decision.  Mueller having essentially said, "I`m not going to decide one way or the other."

Both parts of that are confusing to me, the first part, because Mueller was appointed to make the prosecutorial decisions in the first instance in this case.  That was his mandate.  He didn`t do it here, and we don`t know why, instead he, according to Barr, laid out the evidence on one side or the other and essentially the legal arguments on one side or the other.  Usually for prosecutor things that they are compelling legal reasons not to bring a particular charge or the evidence against the charge is very compelling, they might well decline to bring the charge and say so.

They also could decline to bring a charge because they think it`s not at the end of the day and the federal interest to do so, especially if it`s a potentially weak case and we have a sitting President.  And also if there are other avenues or other remedies available to address the conduct for example here, possible impeachment.

And so, all of those things, insufficient evidence, novel legal theory, another remedy, could have been cited by Mueller as a reason to decline to charge.  And he could have said that.  He didn`t do that.  And so, it`s just a big question mark about why he decided not to decide.

And then on Barr`s decision to step in and say, "I find that there was not obstruction of the justice," we just need more again to understand why he did that.  Especially given that he is a recent political appointee who authored a memo, before he was appointed to this precise job.

WILLIAMS:  Unsolicited.

ROTH:  On this precise legal question.  I mean, you could not have more perfect overlap between this final critical question that Mueller was facing and what Barr wrote about in that memo right before he was appointed for this position.  And that to me is tragic, because the whole point of appointing a special counsel is to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.  And now we have precisely that issue.

WILLIAMS:  Maya Wiley, what confuses you about all this?

MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Well, I feel like I could just -- could say ditto.  Jessica just did a quite comprehensive job, and I agree.

So, I will zoom in to the part of that discussion of obstruction in the Barr letter where he literally lists as one of the reasons why he and Rod Rosenstein, as he states in the letter, decided not, you know, to make a finding around obstruction.  Being that they did not find -- establish -- I`m going to use Mueller`s language that`s quoted in the Barr letter, evidence sufficient to establish whether there was conspiracy or coordination with Russia, as if you needed to find that in order to have obstruction of justice.  You don`t.

So the fact that he even references something that is not a legal requirement to determine whether there was obstruction of justice as at least one of the reasons why he is suggesting that they didn`t think they could find it.  That in and of itself is confounding.  That`s confusing.

And I think it raises -- going back to Jessica`s other point, it goes back to this central point about the American public`s ability to understand what the evidence showed for themselves.  Because at the end of this, what we most need is to understand who has operated, how, and make our own judgments as citizens about our leaders.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  We just want to see it.  You or I may not have the same reaction, and you certainly bring a lot more knowledge to it than I do, but we just want to see it.

I want to show you both what happened tonight.  One item of news, Senator Graham has had dinner with the Attorney General tonight and they had this initial discussion about how and when to release the report.  This interplay with Rudolph Giuliani took place in the last hour on Fox News.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Well, the President said the report couldn`t have been better, is that -- do you agree with that.  The report couldn`t have been better?

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY:  I probably did a 100 of those declination letters, I`ve never seen one stronger.

And with that slight little -- but I can`t exonerate him, I can`t charge him, but I can`t exonerate --

INGRAHAM:  I thought that was a week sister moment --

GIULIANA:  Not only week, it`s totally inappropriate and totally unethical.  You`re not supposed to say that in the declination letter.  You`re not suppose to stay --

INGRAHAM:  Why did he?

GIULIANI:  I think -- I think there are two sides of Mueller, there`s the good guy side and the wise man side,  And I think wise man won a few of the battles.  And I do think it`s pathetic that Mueller couldn`t make up his mind.  I actually do.


WILLIAMS:  Use the word pathetic.  Maya Wiley, is that good lawyering?  Because at some point we`re going to hear from Bob Mueller.

WILEY:  Well, I think unfortunately for Rudy Giuliani`s legacy as an attorney.  He`s actually had several moments in the past year that weren`t exactly pillars of good lawyering.

It`s also -- it`s just not professionally done.  We don`t do name calls even for people who are on the other side of any of our cases, it`s not how we operate.  It`s never been how we operate.  It`s not who we are.

But, I do want to say the idea that he is suggesting that somehow Robert Mueller -- I mean, what Robert Mueller did --

WILLIAMS:  Was affected by someone.

WILEY:  Was affected by someone.  Robert Mueller?  I mean, who is he talking about here?  But also that`s sort of what Robert Mueller did was just be influenced and make a decision.  Actually what Robert Mueller did, if we can understand -- as I read Barr`s letter, is what he did is said, this is a tough one.  I`m actually going to pun and leave it to you.  Not that he essentially did what Rudy Giuliani is describing, but that`s just spin.

WILLIAMS:  And Jessica, is it just smart to speak the way Rudy was speaking tonight?

ROTH:  No, it`s unprofessional.  Also as Maya was saying, it`s also just wrong.  I think empirically it`s wrong to describe Robert Mueller as pathetic.

WILLIAMS:  And we`re in an interim here, we just don`t know what`s in the report.

ROTH:  No, we don`t know what`s in the report.  I believe that we will at some point, relatively soon know lot more.  We may not know the entirety of it due to the presence of classified material or some grand jury material that needs to be redacted or some ongoing investigations that need to be preserved.  But I do believe that we will get a lot of the material at some point relatively soon.  And then we`ll have more context in which to evaluate this decision or non decision by Robert Mueller.

WILLIAMS:  Counselor, Counselor, thank you both for coming by, we appreciate the conversation tonight.

Coming up, the message Trump issued in the halls of Congress today.  That could, could, end up helping the other side in 2020.  We have a lot more to tell you about when we come back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Let me just tell you exactly what my message is.  The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care, you watch.


WILLIAMS:  OK, to that point right there, coming off what arguably were two of the more positive news days of his presidency.  The Trump administration surprised a lot of people today, even folks on the home team within the GOP, with a move to obliterate Obamacare.

The administration initially argued parts of the law were unconstitutional but with a two sentence letter released in the dead of night, the Trump DOJ declared the whole thing should be thrown out.  If successful, over 20 million people will lose their health care and protections for people with preexisting conditions will disappear.

POLITICO characterized the move as a gift to the Democrats.  Phil Bump for the "Washington Post" offered this, "It`s hard to overstate what a strange political decision this is for Trump.  He`s up for reelection next year, and as he showed in 2016, understands that health care coverage is an important issue to voters."

But according to the Daily Beast, "Over the past 24 hours, Republican officials have watched in horror as the Trump administration once again fully embraced the repeal of Obamacare."

Well, here with us to talk about it, Kelsey Snell, congressional reporter for NPR.  And we`re very happy to introduce to our audience Alexi McCammond, politics reporter for Axios.  Thank you both for coming on.

Kelsey, factoring in the very real chance of Democratic overreach, I want to show what Maggie Haberman tweeted on this subject today, we mentioned it at the top of our broadcast.  "Asked an administration official why the ACA suit would be filed now on the heels of Trump`s best two days in two days.  Official deadpanned, too much positive news.  We needed to change the subject."

Is this the gift of the Democrats it appears to be, Kelsey?

KELSEY SNELL, NPR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER:  Oh it absolutely is because Democrats basically say they won the House in 2018 by presenting voters with a binary choice.  They set up a message where Democrats said that they were the party protecting preexisting conditions and protecting health care.  And they were telling voters that Republicans were the ones who wanted to take all of that away.

Now, the President with, you know, this change in legal strategy is essentially saying, yes, that is the party that I want this party to be, I want to bring back the conversation about health care, and make it easier for Democrats to set that message going into 2020.  The Democrats are all too happy to take that as an alternative talking about, well, the Mueller report and the ways that didn`t meet their expectations.

WILLIAMS:  And, Alexi, the polling isn`t great for Trump quoting a Fox News poll, he`s under water, disapprove 52 to 37 and then there`s the library of comments that President Trump has given us on this topic.  Let`s listen to that.  We`ll discuss it on the other side.


TRUMP:  A lot of people don`t know about it, but we`ve set up some incredible health care programs that are far better than Obamacare and a lot less expensive.

Republicans will always protect patients with preexisting conditions.  We`re doing it.

Republicans will always protect patients with preexisting conditions, please remember that.

Republicans will always protect patients with preexisting conditions.  I wish people would get that into their heads.

We`re going to have another exciting news conference over the next, what, three weeks, four weeks, two weeks?  What do you think?  On health care.  We have great health care.


WILLIAMS:  Alexi, what do you think is going on here?

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, AXIOS POLITICS REPORTER:  I think it is a really strange political strategy, except for the three clips you showed in a row, in which it was just a couple days before the November 2018 midterm elections --


MCCAMMOND:  -- when it was this last ditch effort not just by President Trump, but by many congressional Republicans running in competitive races around the country who at the very last minute at the 11th hour if I might say --

WILLIAMS:  Yes, thank you for that.

MCCAMMOND:  -- were saying, oh, we`re going to protect people with preexisting conditions, we`ve got this, we are the party of health care, and now you hear Trump saying that again, which is just a ridiculous claim to make because we all know that the Republican Party is nothing more than the party of Donald Trump right now.

And if he`s deciding that he wants to repeal health care at a time when democrats are calling for universal health care, that presents a pretty clear binary choice to voters in 2020 who are looking at their two options and saying, maybe there are nuance disagreements among Democratic candidates running for president, about how they will achieve universal health care, but I`m choosing between health care and no health care between the Republicans and the Democrats.  And that is something Donald Trump is owning by himself as the Republicans, as that Daily Beast article you mentioned earlier are sort of watching in horror as he`s making this executive decision with no plan for a replacement.

WILLIAMS:  And, Alexi, as you reminded us today, I heard you say it, this could go away, because after all what about the middle class tax cut promised days before the midterms?

MCCAMMOND:  Yes.  Yes, yes, yes.  I`m glad that you brought that up and then I said that earlier because we`ve seen this time and again.  There`s a clear pattern of behavior with Donald Trump, that I think for the Republicans, unfortunately, sometimes trickles down to them in Congress, where they have to explain these things or eventually end up campaigning on these things, whether that`s now repealing Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act without any clear replacement or saying, the week before the midterms that he`s going to have a middle class tax cut after report after report came out showing that the GOP tax law is not helping those middle class voters or those rural voters that supported Donald Trump and carried him to the White House in 2016 in the way he promised them.

And doing something like health care which is a top issue polling consistently among voters, it`s also something I was reminded today that Democrats in 2018 spent half of their advertisement money on health care messages in the 2018 midterm elections.  This is a huge issue for both parties, and the President is simply ripping it away from Republicans, not just himself running in the presidential re-election in 2020, but from Republican candidates up and down the ticket who are running, and who are going to have to address this issue for themselves.

WILLIAMS:  And, Kelsey, I was also reminded today, politicians don`t tend to be subtle and they tend to be lousy actors.  Witness Nancy Pelosi saying to the "Washington Post" reporter, this is news, when she made her last statement on impeachment.  Well now -- and I`m paraphrasing, all the Democrats are about how this is just about issues for the American people and we`re not anxious to talk about the Mueller report.  That`s been a switch in two days.

SNELL:  It has, and it`s something that they really decided in meeting yesterday behind closed doors, it`s this weekly leadership meeting Pelosi holds.  And she held a meeting last night and I`m told that they -- she walked in the door and said, OK, we`re getting back to basics, and basics for Democrats.  And we saw it play out a little bit in the press conferences this -- that half and all day today, basics for them are talking about health care, talking about their anti-corruption and ethics legislation that they`re working on.  And infrastructure.

And those are the things they want to talk about.  They want to talk about going back to kitchen table issues because they think that voters really didn`t care about Russia to begin with, and they kind of feel like they got sidetracked.  So they want to reclaim part of the way they talk about everything they`re doing going forward because they want it to be about setting up policy decisions, making voters choose between President Trump and what he wants to do on trade, on infrastructure, health care, versus Democrats.  And they think that they win in these spaces where they talk about policy.

And whether or not that actually plays out in a Senate race or a presidential race, which is really, really different than the politics of house races, which is what they were running to, get the control they have in Washington now, that`s yet to be seen.  But this seems to be the way that Pelosi wants to push the conversation going-forward.

WILLIAMS:  Guys, let`s please have this conversation again.  Let`s do this again.  Our thanks to Kelsey Snell and to Alexi McCammond, especially for name checking the broadcaster first time out.  Thank you very much.

MCCAMMOND:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you very much to both of you for coming on.

And coming up, a veteran of Republican politics, what he makes of this moment we`re in right now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The long awaited Mueller report has just been submitted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Robert Mueller`s work is over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now, Americans want to see the report.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS:  I think the report needs to be made public.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  I would like for as much as possible of the Mueller report to be open.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA:  And so we want to learn as much as we possibly can.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R) LOUISIANA:  It`s really important that this report be made public.

REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R) 22ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA:  And I want everything Mueller said to be made public.

TRUMP:  I told the House, if you want it, let them see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Call your congressman and tell them to urge the Justice Department to release the Mueller report.


WILLIAMS:  As that political ad makes clear, Democrats are not the only ones who have called for the full Mueller report to be made public.  Back with us on the broadcast again, we`re so happy to have Bill Kristol here tonight, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, also among the founding fathers of Republicans for the Rule of Law, the group that put out that ad.

Bill, thank you.  Watching Lauren Ingram tonight which I try to do as part of a balanced cable network diet each night, I noted she called you Iraq war cheerleader Bill Kristol.  With that in mind, are you surprised at the reaction to a four-page letter, which is all we`re going on, and secondly are you surprised by the apparent choices or non-choices that Mueller made?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK, EDITOR-AT-LARGE:  I mean, on Mueller, I think we don`t know enough, I`m not so surprised.  I mean if you can`t indict the President anyway --


KRISTOL:  -- you in a way might just layout the arguments and assume Congress will make its judgment whether there`s something to proceed on in terms of impeachment or not and let citizens make their judgment about his behavior in office.  I think that`s totally appropriate.

Really, the shocking or the striking thing is that the attorney general decided to give us his opinion in those two paragraphs that he didn`t think an obstruction case could be made.  But that`s really based on what?  I mean Barr hasn`t looked at all the evidence.  Barr took -- he knew about this for the last couple of weeks, maybe he took a few days and looked at the report but that`s not really -- that doesn`t strike me as professional -- an entirely professional way to go about it.

Now Barr might say Mr. President support his attorney general, he`s entitled with his interpretation which is true enough.  I have a real problem with the Barr letter.  My problem is we need to see the Mueller report.  And the premature victory laps, the gloating --

WILLIAMS:  The recriminations.

KRISTO:  -- the recriminations, the -- they are the most sore winners in the world, you know.  If they -- they claim to have won.  They claim this is a huge victory.  Vindication, exoneration, Trump`s going to be reelected, but then all they are when you look on line, they`re bitter and angry and they want to punish people who made a mistake and there might be coalition.  Because you know what, there was a meeting at the Trump Tower and they lied about it.  And there was some -- maybe some follow-up.  Now, maybe it didn`t amount as Mueller says to providing evidence that would allow you to bring a conspiracy charge.  But the idea that it was ridiculous for the media to look into this, to look into what Manafort did, that`s equally ridiculous.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  I understand that a lot of people are out there with a lot of charges and quotes that don`t look good in the light of day just based on Barr`s letter.  But no one has answered to anyone`s satisfaction, then why all the lying on a single topic?

KRISTOL:  Right.  I really think that`s right.  And also in Iran-Contra, was that an illegitimate investigation?  President Reagan also at least survived it.  But it was reasonable to look into something that was clearly was irregular for which other people clearly did go to jail or pled guilty which was a serious breach of the norms of the way foreign policy should be made in terms of congressional accountability and so forth.

This was a more serious breach, I think.  So very -- an important investigation which we defended against President Trump and against a lot of his cheerleaders who now are sort of using it to try to declare exoneration.  But I am struck by the tone with which they`re now behaving.

And there is something about Trumpism that really -- I got to say, I think it just makes our politics even more -- clearly more bitter, more angry, more vindictive than -- politics will always have some of that, but a healthy politics keeps that in check.  And especially at a moment like this, I mean I don`t remember what President Reagan said exactly.  Even what Bill Clinton said after impeachment, he thought it was very unjust that he had been put through this.  But I think he said for hopefully something about, OK, now, let`s go on and govern the country.  He didn`t say, let`s investigate, you know, the people who he didn`t like much, but who had done what they had done.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Bill Kristol, who`s taken the position of coming out in favor of the rule of law, as controversial as that might be has agreed to stay with us for just a moment.

Coming up, both political parties hoping to win over 2020 voters, so what`s the message from some of the Republicans on that front these days?


WILLIAMS:  Republicans` celebration over what`s been revealed thus far from the Mueller report, and it`s a four-page letter synopsis from the attorney general, has included some controversial comments from Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks.  This is from the House floor yesterday.


REP. MO BROOKS, (R-AL) 5TH DISTRICT:  The Mueller report vindicates President Trump and his 2016 campaign from the socialist, baseless, reckless and false big lie charges of Russian election collusion.  "In the big lie, there is always a certain force of credibility because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily."  The author was socialist Adolph Hitler in his book "Mein Kampf."


WILLIAMS:  Bill Kristol remains with us tonight.  First of all, it`s Mueller.  There`s no excuse anymore.  If you`re still saying Mueller, you`re not paying attention.  Second, what are we doing quoting Hitler on the floor of the House and what on God`s green earth does it have to do with what we`re witnessing right now?  Can you help me out that?

KRISTOL:  It was some kind of Republican talking point that I don`t know attack your opponents who are socialists, and Hitler is a national socialist and this is a deep state conspiracy.  I mean it`s appalling obviously.  I mean does the Congressman think there wasn`t a meeting in the Trump Tower that there were the Russians -- that Don Jr. didn`t say we`d love it if the Russians presented evidence?  That doesn`t mean that they went through with the conspiracy, it doesn`t mean -- et cetera.  But it was ridiculous to investigate it?  What is the position here? 

WILLIAMS:  Are you a turncoat now because of your view?

KRISTOL:  Totally.  But this is really -- I mean the Trump cultism and the Trumpism and the hostility to anyone who dares suggest that maybe some of these things need to be looked into, this is a president who has repeatedly -- about the Trump Tower meeting, the President lied about it, right?  There`s no question that --

WILLIAMS:  Issued a cover story.

KRISTOL:  Yes.  So, OK, maybe again that doesn`t amount to obstruction and the underlying thing doesn`t amount to collusion, but no one was -- it was ridiculous to even raise this question, the attacks on the media, incidentally.  You know, we all made mistakes.


KRISTOL:  Some went further than others.  But the media wasn`t supposed to report about the Trump Tower meeting?  They weren`t supposed to dig in to find out that the original press release was a cover story, oh, thank you, Sarah Sanders, thank you, Mr. President.  That was an excellent press release about how the only thing discussed was adoptions.  They`re not supposed to dig into these things?  I mean what is the position really of Giuliani and this Republican congressmen and the Trump enablers?

WILLIAMS:  And the role of a free press in a free society.  Bill Kristol, please keep coming back.

KRISTOL:  I will do that.  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you very much.  Bill Kristol most recently of the Bulwark Online.

Coming up, an attempt to figure out the story behind one of the more bizarre videos of this day.  We`ll have that when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight.  You`ve heard, no doubt, the expression kiss the ring.  Well, for religious Catholics, it`s literal for centuries originating with European monarchies, people have knelt before Catholic bishops and the like and kissed the ring.  The practice is in the news today because of a bizarre video of Pope Francis in a receiving line at a reception.

Watch this.  Pulling back his hand before the ring can be kissed.  No explanation to the faithful who were approaching him.  Some of whom seemed genuinely puzzled.  He just jerks his hand away like, nope, sorry, not going to happen.  Nope, can`t touch this.  Can`t go near this.  Nope, not going to happen.

Vatican watchers explained that modern popes going back to John Paul II and including Benedict recently have been trying to end the custom, believing that even the vicar of Christ could stand to low-key it a little bit.  It`s a move, if so, toward modesty in the Catholic Church.  And if it`s a move indeed toward modesty then it`s coming at a good time.

For all the good it does and has done in the U.S. and around the world, especially Catholic charities, especially the nuns, especially those who are attending to the poor and sick right now, bad priests in the Catholic church have destroyed a lot of lives.

Viewed a certain way, the trappings and the elaborate costumes and the pomp and luxury surrounding senior members of the church is just plain offensive to those who were victimized by predators.  It`s still galling for those of us who are Catholics and journalists that we ever used the honorific title of your eminence when greeting or interviewing the likes of Bernard Law, the arrogant monster of the Boston archdiocese or Ted McCarrick.  He used to be called Cardinal McCarrick.  He`s not even Father McCarrick anymore, let alone his eminence.  He`s been de-frocked.  He`s just an 88-year-old guy, an accused sex abuser living out his life in church housing in Kansas.

Back to the Pope, almost seeming to wince as the faithful reached for his hand.  Maybe it is a move toward commonness and away from eminence, but it certainly made for an odd scene for those approaching him in the receiving line.

That is our broadcast for tonight.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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