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Trumps says he's smarter than "elites." TRANSCRIPT: 3/28/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Tessa Berenson, Andrew Desiderio, Rick Wilson, Tim O`Brien

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The candidates owe the voters transparency about their taxes in return.  It is nothing less than their moral responsibility.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight Donald Trump has decided he`s been cleared.  The President takes his vindication towards Michigan all of it based none out the Mueller report but on that four-page summary letter from his attorney general.

And tonight, it included blue language from the President in front of a solidly red crowd.  Also tonight, the President`s loyal Republicans using this period before we get to see the Mueller report to go on attack in Congress.  They want a major Democratic committee chairman to resign. Today they got their answer.

And weeks after Michael Cohen called him a cheat, new reporting on attempts by Donald Trump, the businessman, to cook some of the numbers as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 798 of the Trump administration.  And as we all continue to react to a four-page letter summarizing the Mueller report and not the actual Mueller report, not yet, it`s clear the President has interpreted the letter from his own attorney general as his vindication, and he made it the theme of his rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan tonight.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Russia hoax is finally dead.

Robert Mueller was a god to the Democrats, was a god to them until he said there was no collusion.

The crazy attempt by the Democrat Party and the fake news media right back there and the deep state to overturn the results of the 2016 election have failed.

The Russia witch hunt was a plan by those who lost the election to try and illegally regain power by framing innocent Americans, many of them.  They suffered with an elaborate hoax.


WILLIAMS:  One reported detail about the Mueller report has emerged.  Today "The New York Times," NBC News and "The Washington Post" separately reported that the document is more than 300 pages.  Two people on Fox News have said it`s 700 pages, and to be fair, the CNN website has a report that it`s 1,000 pages.  Either way, it`s longer than the four-page summary that everyone so far is reacting to.

The "Times" writes the size of the report, "suggests Mr. Mueller went well beyond the bare-bones summery required by Justice Department regulation and detailed his conclusions at length and it raises questions about what Mr. Barr might have left out."

Our own Julia Ainsley writes that this, "suggest Mueller provided substantial evidence to backup conclusions, raising new questions about how much of that evidence the public will see."

House Democrats have told Barr they want the report by next Tuesday but Barr has already told the House Judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York that he is unlikely to be able to meet that deadline.

Our own Kasie Hunt reports that the delay could result in a major confrontation next week between Democrats and the attorney general

Earlier today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Barr`s handling of the Mueller report.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CAIFORNIA HOUSE SPEAKER:  No thank you, Mr. Attorney General.  We do not need your interpretation.  Show us the report and we can draw our own conclusions.  We don`t need you interpreting for us.  It was condescending, it was arrogant and wasn`t the right thing to do.


WILLIAMS:  And again, in the meantime, in this period before we are able to see what we`re allowed to see of the Mueller report, Republicans have launched an effort to unseat House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff, Democrat of California to get him to resign.

At his rally tonight, the President called Schiff a pencil neck for what that`s worth.

Today at a committee hearing it all bust out into the open when the top Republican member said this to Chairman Schiff.


REP. MIKE CONAWAY, (R) TEXAS INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  You`ve been at the center of well-orchestrated media campaign claiming, among other things, that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.

We have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties in a manner consistent with you Constitutional responsibility and urge your immediate resignation as chairman of the committee.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE CMTE:  My colleagues may think it`s OK that the Russians offered dirt on a Democratic candidate for President as part of what was described as the Russian government`s effort to help the Trump campaign.

You might think that`s OK.  I don`t.


WILLIAMS:  Speculation about possible pardons is back in the news tonight after the President declined to shut it down during an interview just last night.

Former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, the former campaign chairman Paul Manafort seemed to be the names most often mentioned.  Tonight, the Associated Press reporting Trump has privately expressed sympathy for Manafort who was sentenced to seven years in prison, you recall.  According to the AP some of Trump`s closest advisors and GOP allies are advising against pardons because of the sheer political cost.

On another front today, Jared Kushner showed up in Congress, NBC News reporting Trump`s son-in-law and senior advisor was there to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee.  It was the first time Kushner was questioned by senators.  His appearance back in 2017 only involved questioning by committee staff.  That committee still looking at the Trump campaign and Russia`s election interference, Kushner`s questioning today may indicate that investigation is closer to wrapping up the end of the Senate inquiry would leave just the House with open inquiries into the President.

Tonight, Trump worked in some blue language when warning the Democrats who are investigating him.


TRUMP:  The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit.


WILLIAMS:  So our President has just decided to let it fly.  Let`s bring in our lead off panel for a Thursday night, Peter Baker, chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times."  Barbara McQuade, veteran and federal prosector, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.  And Tessa Berenson, White House Correspondent for "Time Magazine," her latest is about Attorney General Barr and its headlined "The Decider."  Welcome to you all.

Peter Baker, do we have this about right?  All we have so far is the Barr interpretation.  We don`t have the Mueller report.  During this interim could be days, could be weeks, the President is trying to cement his story in the public mind.

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, I think that`s exactly right.  All we have really, not even four pages, we have two lines, two sentences in effect from Robert Mueller as quoted by Bill Barr in his memo.

And there are two important sentences.  One of them is that the Mueller investigation did not establish any conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.  That`s very important.  That was the main original mission.

And the other one was that Robert Mueller does not accuse the President of any crime obstruction but nor does he exonerate him from that.  Those are two things we know about this report at this point as quoted by Bill Barr.

The 300 pages more that we are going or possibly could see at some point, we hope to see, certainly, have a lot more information.  Now the bottom line is still going to be what`s important.  The President is obviously going to continue to go around saying he was exonerated.  And if there is not any further consequence because those are the two conclusions of this report, those still are very important.

But we`re going to learn more.  We`re going to learn more about what Robert Mueller discovered about contacts with Russia and what he thinks they might have added up to what was going on there even if they weren`t criminal.  We`re going to learn more about his view of the obstruction allegations.

Now, what we`re told is that most of the things that add up to this obstruction case, if one were to be made, are things we already know about presumably like the firing of Jim Comey, the FBI director, the discussion about whether to fire Robert Mueller himself, those kind of things.

So, you know, at that point, there`ll be, obviously, a big debate as to what the details of these 300 plus pages add up to.  And I think that`s going to, you know, that will obviously still continue to shadow over the President despite the bottom line conclusions that are more favorable to him.

WILLIAMS:  Tessa, to your reporting, how are things inside the West Wing these days?

TESSA BERENSON, TIME WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think what you saw at Trump`s rally tonight is a nice encapsulation of his mood and the mood in the White House, which is that they`re all sort of oscillating between being really exuberant and happy about what we know of Mueller`s report through Barr.  And also feeling incredibly angry and frustrated about the course of the investigation over the past two years, and so you really saw both on display at Trump`s rally tonight.

And he wants to move forward but he`s not quite ready to move on and he wants revenge.  And I was talking yesterday with Raj Shah, who was the former Deputy Press Secretary at the White House about how Trump might use this now, use this anger as a political weapon in 2020.  And Raj was saying, now whenever anyone criticizes Trump and the election fairly or unfairly on policy matters, Trump can point and say "Well, look, this person was wrong on -- dead wrong on this big -- the biggest thing and I was right and you shouldn`t trust them."  And Raj Shah at least thinks that will be a very effective strategy for Trump in the election.

WILLIAMS:  Barb, let me play something for you.  This is Liz Holtzman, former New York City member of Congress, former member House Judiciary who voted for impeachment during the Watergate matter.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN, (D) NEW YORK:  The real question here is whether we`re seeing a coverup in slow motion or fast motion or whether the American people are going to get the facts.

We have Mr. Barr`s version --


HOLTZMAN:  -- of what is criminal and not.  But maybe Mr. Mueller`s assessment of the evidence suggestions something else.


WILLIAMS:  So barb, what`s the real chance of that, that there is the Barr version and then the Mueller version, the baseline what we`re dealing with here is markedly different or different at all.

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, my guess is that William Barr would not make overt misrepresentations in that letter.  But there may be certainly is detail that is not included there.  And what`s interesting about his analysis is he analyzes these issues of both conspiracy and obstruction of justice as if President Trump were someone who could be indicted by a grand jury.  We know that the Department of Justice has an opinion that says a President cannot be indicted by a grand jury.

So instead of applying the criminal statutes that would apply to an ordinary defendant, what Congress would apply in an impeachment standard is no standard at all.  It`s not articulated in the constitution.  It`s whatever they decide amounts to a high crime or misdemeanor.

And so, looking at the facts is very important and I think in many ways, William Barr has now prejudged the evidence and told America this does not amount to any kind of crime.  It may not amount to a violation of the federal statutes, that doesn`t mean Congress wouldn`t find it an impeachable offense.  But I think this delay that they have built in, which I don`t understand, gives President Trump, he says weeks for the public to let this news settle in before Congress gets a look at it.

I don`t see any reason why Robert Mueller could not have written a report that was written in such a way as to minimize the inclusion of grand jury material so that the public and Congress could see it.  There are witness interviews and at least 500 search warrants that are not subject to grand jury secrecy.  So, I don`t know why Congress can`t see at least part of that report today.  But I wonder, the cynic in me, I guess, wonders whether it is an effort by William Barr to sort of sensitize the public and Congress that there is no crime here so that by the time they see it weeks from now, people will have moved on.

WILLIAMS:  And as we remind folks, Barr did kind of prelitigate this matter prior to coming to office and he was the President`s choice for attorney general after all.

Tessa, back over to your reporting at DOJ, what have you been able to learn how Barr viewed his role here?

BERENSON:  Well, you -- I think what you were referencing was his letter from last summer where he wrote -- this was before he was in contention to be A.G. where he wrote that he was skeptical of Mueller`s obstruction probe.  And so one thing that Democrats are upset with now is he -- they feel that he prejudged the obstruction question and then he became attorney general.  And basically in two days rendered his judgment on obstruction when Mueller declined to.

Now, what a Justice Department official told me was that Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had received a briefing from Robert Mueller three weeks prior to receiving his report in which he told them that he was not going to be rendering a judgment on obstruction and gave them a briefing on it.  So, this official said it would be a mistake to think that Barr had just made that decision in the course of a weekend out of thin air and that he and Rod Rosenstein had had more time to prepare on that question.

WILLIAMS:  It that does make sense because that would explain the insanely quick turn around on his findings.


WILLIAMS:  Hey, Peter, a lot of folks are wondering if we are headed for a necessary confrontation between Democrats and the attorney general.  And you hear a lot of people saying why can`t we hear from Robert Mueller, must he be happy or content with the kind of public pasting he is taking in the press over the judgments he has made or judgments he has failed to make.  How do you see what`s coming?

BAKER:  Yes, I think we`re not at the end of this yet, obviously, because in fact, if Bill Barr declines to turnover the entire report, the Democrats are seeking, gives them something less than they are looking for that they decide to litigate this, we could see this go all the way, you know, through the course and we could see it very interesting battle, very interesting constitutional struggle between two branches of government, who has the right to this information.

We`re not talking about the, you know, things that would be giving away classified intercepts for instance used by the Intelligence agencies or perhaps even grand jury information.  But if Bill Barr declines to give them, you know, at least the substantial amount of information that Robert Mueller has given him, I imagine you`re going to see a fight about it.

And the reason why the House has, you know, an argument in court here is it does have the exclusive power of impeachment under the Constitution.  And as such, you know, the argument is going to be that it is entitled to all the information possible in order to render that kind of judgment.  That would seem to be a pretty compelling argument for a court.

Now, as a practical matter, it doesn`t look like the House is heading toward impeachment.  I do think that the bottom line, as at least summarized by Bill Barr has taken air out of the tire when it comes to any potential impeachment.  But, that doesn`t mean that they`re not going to see the support and make their own judgment about the facts as Robert Mueller has discovered them and outlines them in the report.

WILLIAMS:  Barbara, Peter started by correctly reminding us we`re dealing with two sentences from Robert Mueller here.  But -- so, with that in mind, has Donald Trump`s legal jeopardy changed at all with what we know so far and what remains his largest legal threat in your view?

NCQUADE:  Well, I think it probably has to some extent.  Robert Mueller, I think his -- I think the letter using his own sentence was that the evidence did not establish conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

I think that Robert Mueller is someone who looked pretty hard who is a very good investigator.  If he reached that conclusion, I think that is likely to stick.  I think the obstruction of justice question is very different however because he says in his words that he did not exonerate President Trump.  And so I think Congress has a right and very much wants to see that material.  And has a right to see the grand jury material if a judge so finds.

In that Watergate case, Judge Sirica, in that case found that in the balancing test of protecting grand jury secrecy, versus the Congress` right to know that information, the Congress` right to know over road any interest in secrecy and allow that material to be shared with Congress.  I would think that if a judge were to look at this, they would make the same decision and agree that the information should be shared with Congress.

And so, I think the Russia conspiracy maybe off the table, but that doesn`t mean that President Trump doesn`t face exposure in the court of public opinion among voters to find out all of the facts.  And the letter says that most of the facts about obstruction of justice are known to the public, that suggestion that at least some of the facts are not known to the public and I think we all deserve to know what those are.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  We are much obliged to our big three for starting us off tonight, returning veterans Peter Baker and Barbara McQuade, and Tessa Berenson, our thanks.

Coming up for us after the first break, how Trump and Republicans on the Hill are weaponizing these four pages before any of us have seen the actual Mueller report.

And later, is it fraud or just harmless creative accounting?  The new reporting tonight on the various ways Donald Trump has reported his net worth over the years as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Thursday night as Thomas Jefferson looks on.



TRUMP:  Little pencil neck Adam Schiff got the smallest, thinnest neck I`ve ever seen.  He is not a long ball hitter, but I saw him today, well, we don`t really know.  There could still have been some Russia collusion.  Sick, sick, these are sick people.


WILLIAMS:  Again, we don`t know yet what`s in the Mueller report but President Trump is contending that it fully clears him of wrongdoing.  Republicans in Congress are now going after as you may have heard mentioned this big target, this man Democratic House Intel Chair, Adam Schiff of California.  Trump called for his forced resignation from Congress today on Twitter.

Republicans on Schiff`s committee signed on to a letter questioning his ability to provide effective oversight and repeating this call for his immediate resignation.  Schiff today forcefully responded.


SCHIFF:  You might think it`s OK that the President himself called on Russia to hack his opponent`s e-mails if they were listening.  You might think it`s OK that later that day, in fact, the Russians attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign, but I don`t think it`s okay.  I think it`s immoral.  I think it`s unethical.  I think it`s unpatriotic.  And yes, I think it`s corrupt and evidence of collusion.

I do not think that conduct criminal or not is OK.  And the day we do think that`s OK is the day we will look back and say that is the day America lost its way.

I don`t think it`s OK that during a Presidential campaign Mr. Trump sought the Kremlin`s help to consummate a real estate deal in Moscow that would make him a fortune.  I don`t think it`s OK that his attorney lied to our committee.  There is a different word for that than collusion.  And it`s called compromise and that is the subject of the hearing today.


WILLIAMS:  Again, it will be interesting to see if the argument is laid out that way in the Mueller report.

And back with us tonight, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Price-winning White House Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post" and Andrew Desiderio, Congressional reporter for Politico.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Andrew, you spent a good deal of time around Chairman Schiff in the House, what did you make of today`s insurrection movement and his attempt to put it down?

ANDREW DESIDERIO, POLITICO CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER:  Well, I talked to Chairman Schiff almost every day on Capitol Hill and he`s usually very calm and very measured.  But today you saw him very, very animated, very emotional at times when he was sort of batting back these Republican criticisms.  Chairman Schiff has long had a target on his back from Republicans and the President.

And unfortunately, the House Intelligence Committee, you know, it`s this committee that has a long history of bipartisanship.  But over the last few years unfortunately it has often found itself devolving into this bitter infighting that we saw today.  And I think that this is, you know, just, you know, another example of that obviously and it`s coming to ahead.

We know that Attorney General Bill Barr in interpreting Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s report said that he could not establish that there was a criminal conspiracy of Republicans interpret that to mean that there was no collusion at all.  And you heard Chairman Schiff making completely separate argument which is saying that yes, there is evidence of collusion or at least a willingness to collude but maybe it might not rise to the level of being a criminal conspiracy and that he trusts the special counsel.  So there are three separate distinct arguments being made here and it`s often difficult to find the differences between the semantics of them.

WILLIAMS:  So, Phil Rucker, we`re in this interim period where you kind of get a free shot to say what you wish about the Mueller report, absent us being able to read what`s in the Mueller report.


WILLIAMS:  So we know why now, but why Schiff among all the Democrats in the galaxy who are critics of or coming after this administration?

RUCKER:  Well, Schiff has been somebody who is really bothered the President from day one of the Russia investigation because he has been the Democrats front man on this issue.  He`s been on cable television a lot and we know the President watches that and the President has fumed for months and months and months about Adam Schiff along with advisors.  And so it`s not surprising he`s chosen to go after Schiff as if he were some sort of mascot or pinata for the Democratic Party.

But one thing that`s important to keep in mind, the President said in his rally tonight that what Schiff said in his speech today was sick.  Actually, Schiff was laying out a fact pattern.  The various actions that he detailed in his speech were things that actually happened and we know that based on U.S. Intelligence assessments, we know that based on some of the indictments that came out of the Mueller investigation.  We of course have not seen the 300 plus page Mueller report, but the things that Schiff laid out were not conspiracies, they were in fact actions and events that occurred.

WILLIAMS:  That`s important to remember.  And as this committee devolves into partisanship, Andrew, I`m reminded that you wrote "House Intelligence Committee Republicans concluded a year ago that the Trump campaign exercised poor judgment, took ill considered actions and at times acted inconsistent with U.S. national security interests, "those were Republicans.  "But on Thursday, they said they don`t need to see Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s report to know that no one in President Donald Trump`s orbit was compromised by Russia even unwittingly."

Andrew, the question is what changed in the interim?

DESIDERIO:  That`s right.  They wrote in this letter today in which they called on Chairman Schiff to step down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, that it was "demonstrably false" to suggest that anyone within Donald Trump`s orbit had been compromised by the Russians.  Of course, all they`re basing that off of is this four-page summery from Attorney General Bill Barr.

That four-page summary does not mention whether there even is a counterintelligence portion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s 300-plus page report.  And of course, we know that this entire inquiry began as a counter of a counterintelligence investigation into the Russians actions in 2016 and whether they had assistance from any Americans.

So it was interesting to see Republicans having concluded themselves in their own Russia investigation last year that yes, associates of the President took actions that were inconsistent with the interests of U.S. national security.  But today they`re saying something completely different which is that it`s that demonstrably false to suggest as Chairman Schiff has suggested that any of the President`s associates or advisors might be compromised by the Russians.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s put up our Phil Rucker quote on the screen.  Phil, from your work and your reporting today, this gets at a Mueller mystery how Trump dodged a Special Counsel interview, "What is known is that the President`s lawyers now believe keeping their client from sitting down with investigators was their greatest victory."

Indeed Phil, Laura Ingram congratulated Rudy Giuliani on live television just a few nights back.  Does that advantage, though, Phil, get diminished as days go by and the chance increases that we`ll have actual poll "from Mueller`s work?"

RUCKER:  Perhaps, Brian.  I mean, one of the things that Mueller may actually get into in his report is an explanation for the internal thought process seeking testimony from President Trump.  We know from our reporting that as far back as Thanksgiving of 2017, the special counsel`s office was trying to get an interview with President Trump because Robert Mueller and his investigators wanted to try to determine the President`s intent when he took actions that were under scrutiny in the obstruction of justice investigation.

The President`s legal team kept delaying that, kept trying to make legal arguments for why that wouldn`t be necessary and had a sort of multi- pronged campaign to thwart any sort of presidential interview or subpoena for an interview by cooperating, by providing documents, by providing other witnesses, by answering that set of written questions just at the end of last year.

And it ended up working for the Trump team and they did prevent indeed the President from sitting down in that interview, and they were very concerned if that would have happened because they knew the President does not tell the truth all the time.  And they figured if he sat down for an interview with Mueller, he would likely lie and therefore commit a crime by perjuring himself.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, gentlemen, thank you both for coming on.  Phil Rucker, Andrew Desiderio, helping us explain and figure all this out.

Coming up for us, new reporting tonight on something Michael Cohen flagged in his public testimony last month when we continue.



MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER:  Mr. Trump is a cheat.  It was my experience Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.


WILLIAMS:  The Washington Post has obtained evidence that appears to backup those allegations from the president`s former friend and attorney, a number of President Trump`s financial statements revealing an inflated picture of Trump`s wealth.

David Fahrenthold reports Trump`s statements of financial condition some apparently sent to lenders to make a good impression were often incorrect.  "These documents sometimes ran up to 20 pages.  They were full of numbers laying out Trump`s properties, debts and multi billion -- multi-million, no that`s billion dollar net worth.  But for someone trying to get a true picture of Trump`s net worth, the documents were deeply flawed.  Some simply omitted properties that carried big debts, some assets were over valued, and some key numbers were wrong."

Now, the Post points out that according to Trump`s documents, ten stories were added to Trump Tower in New York City, one of my favorites.  The documents said the building had 68 stories, it`s actually 58.  It`s right there on Fifth Avenue.  You can look up and count them.  800 acres were added to Trump`s winery in Virginia.  Trump`s statement said the property size was 2,000 acres.  The Post reports it`s actually 1,200.  And 24 ready to sell lots were added to his golf course in California.  Trump claimed there were 55 lots.  There were only 31.

The Post says investigators on the Hill and in New York are now examining all these documents to see if they amount to actual fraud.

With us for more tonight, two of our returning veterans, Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor of Bloomberg Opinion, he happens to be the Author of "Trump Nation:  The art of Being the Donald."  And Rick Wilson, Veteran Republican Strategist and the Author of "Everything Trump Touches Dies," recently released with new material and a fresh depth count in paper back.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.


Tim, you were in the Post piece today, though, not by name.  You were sued by Donald Trump for lowballing his finances so this must have brought a certain measure of PTSD to you today.

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION:  Well, he claimed I lowballed his finances.  And we went to court with that issue.  I got his tax returns, I got his bank records.  In the middle of the litigation, he turned over one of these statements of financial condition.  He claimed that they had given that to me while I was reporting, which they hadn`t and really discovered during the deposition that actually the date didn`t correspond on the documented with the time that I was reporting.

The document -- his own accountant said they couldn`t pass judgment on the document because it wasn`t prepared with generally accepted accounting practices.  It was full of inflation.  We then deposed Trump about that document under oath for 16 hours over two days.  We found in he lied, about 30 times, about everything from how much he got from condominium sales, how much the value of his properties worth on down the line, fact after fact after fact.

And he`s been doing this now for 45 years.  I aged myself saying this.  But Trump has been at this game since the mid-1970s.  At one point during my reporting, I had been after them quite a bit to offer a counter argument to what my sources were telling me his real net worth was at the time.  He said it was $5 million to $6 million.  My sources thought it was more like 250 million.

I go to Trump Tower, one day, I walked over there from the New York Times.  I sit down with them.  They have a bunch of documents on a table.  None of them help establish his net worth.  But his accountant, Alan Weisberg, is sitting there with a yellow legal pad and he begins just telling me what the value of everything was on his way to getting to 6 billion.  And we get to the bottom of the line and the total is only 5 billion.

And I said, "Alan, this doesn`t add to 6 million."  He said, "I`m go to my office, I`m going to find another billion."

WILLIAMS:  Wow.  One of the best quotes in modern media has to rank close to that.  Hey, Rick, I want to play you some David Fahrenthold earlier on this network.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST. The Mueller investigation got a lot of ink, it got a lot of press, but it was only one of many his.  Right now Trump`s business, his charity, his inaugural committee, his transition, basically every organization he`s led through his adult life is under investigation all at the same time.

So the end of the Mueller investigation takes away one little piece of that but a lot more is going on.


WILLIAMS:  Rick, a dual question for you.  Do you have faith that those investigations that David is talking about will all have legs and reach an actual results?  And what will the base, the folks who showed up in Michigan tonight, what will they make of it?  Will it change a whit? 

WILSON:  Well, first off, Brian, I don`t think it will change the base at all.  We saw this in focus groups in 2015 and `16 asking American voters, you know, telling them the truth about Donald Trump.  You know, the character you see on "The Apprentice", guys, isn`t the real person.  They believed after 15 years of television, that was the real Donald Trump.

They didn`t understand that in New York real estate circles he`s largely considered a joke, that he`s, you know, a serial bankrupt artist.  He is a guy who has been under, you know, hiding his taxes for a long time not because any sort of audit problems but because he doesn`t want us to see that he`s not worth, you know, $50 billion or $20 billion or whatever wild figure he pulls out of his backside at any given random moment.

And so, you know, the sensitivity of these cases particularly in New York State, they are going to peel back a lot of layers.  It`s going to show people Trump that is largely a guy as Michael Cohen flat out said, that Michael Cohen he`s a fraud.

And Cohen would know.  He`s been inside the camp for a very long time.  He watched this stuff up close and whether it rises to the level of bank fraud or mortgage fraud or wire fraud, any of these things.  You know, that`s up to the New York attorney general and the Southern District of New York and other folks that are taking a look at this stuff

But I think that the real thing that concerns Donald Trump is going to worry him.  Donald Trump would have been caught being a traitor, caught committing treason with Vladimir Putin, than for people who know he`s not as rich as he says he is.

That is his most sensitive spot and it shows in everything he does.  It`s always, you know, the boasting, the bragging, "I`ve got the best apartment, the biggest this, the most solid gold and that."  You know, all those things because he`s super conscious about the fact he knows he`s on this giant pyramid of BS that comprises his empire.  And then, it`s not worth what he says it is.  It`s all, you know, it`s all gold leaf and not all gold.

WILLIAMS:  Well, there are some rich imagery for everyone to contemplate as we take a break.  Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stick around.

When we come back, we`ll talk about what the President did this week that deeply worried Republicans, the ones who have names on ballots in 2020.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I always say, they say the elite.  They are the elite, I`m not.  Well, I have a better education than them.  I`m smarter than them.  I went to the best schools they didn`t, much more beautiful house, much more beautiful apartment, much more beautiful everything.  And I`m president and they`re not, right?


WILLIAMS:  Still with us, Tim O`Brien and Rick Wilson as the President almost as if watching Rick was quoting Rick back to Rick.  That was from tonight`s rally.  Also, Rick, there was this on healthcare.  We`ll talk about this on the other side.


TRUMP:  We have a chance of killing Obamacare.  We almost did it but somebody unfortunately surprised us with thumbs down, but we`ll do it a different way.  I said it the other day, the Republican Party will become the party of great healthcare.  It`s good.  It`s important.


WILLIAMS:  So note buried in the middle there, nice drive by hit on John McCain.  Rick, what is going on with -- for this rattled a lot of Republicans this week with the President raising healthcare again.  We are 19 months away from the entire House of Representatives being up for election. 

WILSON:  Every Republican recognized after the polling came out in the 20 - - before the 2018 elections the decision to go after repealing Obamacare had had reached its cell by point.  It was no longer the popular political move.  Only by the miracle of Trump could Obamacare become popular with American voters, but one fundamental underpinning of it that everybody in every poll, every focus group had said to us for years now that they love, is a protection for preexisting conditions.

Republican, Democrats, black, white, rich, poor, liberal, conservative, everybody wants preexisting condition coverage, and that`s what`s being taken away in the minds of voters now.  And it panics them and they don`t like it.

And I`ll tell you who today sent a very clear signal to the White House was Mitch McConnell, who is smarter than the average bear on this matter, and he came out today and said, "Well, whatever the President can work out with the speaker."

Oop, he just let -- I mean, he just dropped that rock as fast as he could.  This will go nowhere.  We will end up probably with the court saying, "OK, we`re going to blow up Obamacare, throw the healthcare markets into chaos, about, oh, 19 months as you said before Election Day."

This has got a lot of Republican strategists we are looking at Senate races in particular very nervous because last year Republicans had to pay defense at the end of the campaign on healthcare and our preexisting conditions, particularly.  And spent about $30 million on ad across the country in various race and say, "Oop, I`m for preexisting conditions.  I`m not going to blowup Obamacare.  It`s a crazy position to be as a Republican but here we are."

WILLIAMS:  Tim, give me 30 seconds of the psychological underpinnings of what we saw.  You were able to kind of mouth point by point this defense of Trump`s elitism.

O`BRIEN:  Well, you know, he -- the interesting thing about Donald Trump is, first and foremost, he`s a performance artist.  He doesn`t care about policy.  He doesn`t really care about the people around him.  All he cares about is winning what`s right in front of him by performing.

But what goes when he does this is he wears his insecurities on his sleeve all the time.  He always talks about what a great student he was, when he really wasn`t a great student.  I`m very smart, OK?  When he punctuate a sentence with OK, it`s always like to focus out.  It`s something that he`s deeply insecure about.

You know, I`m really rich.  I`m worth $10 billion, OK, women really love me.  I`m really good looking, OK.  I`ve got a great house, OK, on and on and on.  Because he wants to be reinforced by the crowd he`s in front of, that he`s worth something that he knows he`s not.  And I think the tricky line he`s towing right now is he`s telling this crowd I`m a populist just like you, when in fact he`s not and doesn`t really care about their struggles.

WILLIAMS:  I really appreciate both of our guest appearing tonight, OK?  Tim O`Brien and Rick Wilson -- just kidding about the OK.  Thank you, gentlemen, see both of you I`m sure on an upcoming broadcast of Bill Maher.

And coming up, that sound you might have heard earlier today, that could have been the administration backing a bus over the cabinet secretary in a major reversal when we come back.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  Do you personally approve this -- I think a yes or no will do, the $18 million cut of the funding for Special Olympics?

BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION:  I didn`t personally get involved in that.  I want to tell --

DURBIN:  Well I want to tell you, whoever came up with that idea at OMB gets a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity.


WILLIAMS:  This has not been a great week.  This wasn`t a particularly good day for the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.  She was back on the Hill as you saw today, this time before Senate Appropriations.

Members demanding to know why her Department planned to zero out government funding for the Special Olympics, of all thing, after a barrage of negative headlines.  Then we got this today from the President --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why cut money for the Special Olympics?  Why would you cut funding for that?

TRUMP:  The Special Olympics will be funded.  I just told my people, I want to fund the Special Olympics.  I had overridden my people.  We`re funding the Special Olympics.


WILLIAMS:  He has people.  DeVos defended herself and the administration`s change, writing this, "I`m pleased and grateful the President and I see eye-to-eye on the issue, and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant.  This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years."

While the folks at Deadspin weren`t having it as they put it, "Betsy DeVos who wants to defund the Special Olympic, smiles dumbly, gets thrown under the bus, then lies."

The uproar started Tuesday, when DeVos testified before the Wisconsin Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan.  The congressman noted today, this is the third time the administration has tried to eliminate funding.  He says, "This was not a one-off mistake, where President Trump is making a correction or having a change in heart.  Rather, President Trump and Secretary DeVos could not take one more day of a bad news cycle."  Then, he adds, "By the way, can someone pull Betsy from under the bus."

Another break for us, when we come back, celebrating an annual event that happened to take place just today.


WILLIAMS:  There it is last thing, before we go tonight.  Let`s take a moment to savor the closing minutes of opening day.  And while it would be a blessing to keep politics out of it entirely, we can`t, really.  As many baseball writers pointed out today, our presidents, after all, have thrown out the first ball, on and off, for over 100 years.  Jack Kennedy looked great doing it, so did FDR, Calvin Coolidge, not so much, kind of joyless.  And there was no sign of Donald Trump today.

But the baseball season got under way anyway.  In Washington, in fact, where the visiting Mets, powered by Jason deGrom shut out the home team Nationals.  DC being a political town, the crowd at one point started chanting, "lock him up."  No hidden political meeting however, it has to do with the fact that Anthony Rendon of the Nationals becomes a free agent at the end of this season if the Nats don`t lock him up with a contract extension.

Then, there`s the one that got away, sone Nats fans defaced their Bryce Harper jerseys, just their way of wishing him good luck, no doubt, with the Phillies.  Because opening day off and shoes up as a high attrition rate at the office, the league tweeted out this blank excuse form to use at work.  NASA tweeted out photos of ballparks taken from the Space Station.  And this year`s opening day ushers in a new era.  There are no active players left from the 20th century.

Let`s put this in another way.  Baseball is the first of the major sports without someone who played in the 1900s.  And if, by chance, that makes you feel old and creeky, reflect on the words of our own Mike Barnicle this morning.  "The days get longer, the weather gets warmer, it`s a relief from the everyday stress of things.  We talk about each and every day and it`s back, finally, today."

And for a few fractions of a second, you don`t have to worry about what`s happening in Washington, DC because you`re worried about the American League East.  At least he is, he`s from Boston.  Our closing thoughts for this opening day of 2019.

That is our broadcast for a Thursday night.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Goodnight 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