Trump defends Kim Jong Un. TRANSCRIPT: 2/28/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Michael Schmidt, Jessica Roth, Josh Gerstein, Nicholas Kristof,Rick Wilson

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Because if we pretend that the people who say and do racist things aren`t racist, then we are denying the very existence of racism and that is a grave crime against the truth of life in America and American history.

If Mark Meadows isn`t a racist, no one is.  Even George Wallace eventually apologized for his racist tactics as governor of Alabama before he died.

Tonight America awaits Mark Meadows` apology.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORLD.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight President Trump back at home but hardly out of the woods.  In fact quite the opposite.  Having left Vietnam after a summit blowout with North Korea, arriving back in Washington where a former friend turned enemy has been dominating the headlines.

This was day three of testimony for Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen who`s been rewarded with an invitation to come back for more testimony a week from now.

Then tonight came another bombshell from "The New York Times", Trump ordered officials to give Jared Kushner a security clearance, something both the President and his daughter, Ivanka, had publicly denied.  For his part, Kushner, is in the Middle East tonight as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday evening.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 770 of the Trump administration.  And the President has arrived back from a derailed summit in Vietnam.  Just in time for new reporting on Trump`s role in getting a security clearance for his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, who is right now, at this very minute, in the Middle East trying to bring about peace in the Middle East.

Four "New York Times" journalists share the by line, one of them Michael Schmidt is joining us in just a moment.  They report that Donald Trump, "ordered his commander in chief to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House`s top lawyer.

Trump`s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John Kelly, wrote an internal memo about how he had been ordered to give Mr. Kushner the top- secret clearance."

The "Times" goes on, "The White House counsel at the time, Don McGahn, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that has been raised about Mr. Kushner including by the CIA.  And how McGahn recommended that he not be given a top secret clearance."

The "Times" also reports the memos contradict remarks the President made during an Oval Office interview just last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  You tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials --

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No.

HABERMAN:  The career clearance.

TRUMP:  No, I don`t think I have the authority to do that.  I`m not sure I do.  But I wouldn`t do it.

HABERMAN:  OK.  You never --

TRUMP:  Jared is a good -- I was never involved with his security.

I know that he, you know, just from reading, I know there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually.  But I don`t want to get involved in that stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Then there`s this.  The President`s daughter Ivanka also directly denied her father`s involvement in security clearances during an interview with ABC News earlier this month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IVANKA TRUMP, PRES. TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER:  The President had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband`s clearance.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, ABC NEWS HOST:  So no special treatment.

I. TRUMP:  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  This new "New York Times" reporting also says a senior administration official confirms NBC News reporting earlier this year that two security officials had rejected top secret clearance for Kushner but were overruled by a superior.

Tonight the White House Press Secretary respond to the "Times" story by saying "we don`t comment on security clearances."

The President also facing the fallout from three days of Congressional testimony by his personal -- former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.  Today was Cohen`s last day on the Hill for now.  He appeared before House Intel in a closed-door meeting.

Late this afternoon we learned he`ll be back before that committee March 6th, that`s next Wednesday and a transcript of his testimony will be made public after that.

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gave this assessment of Cohen`s testimony today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE CMTE.:  He was fully cooperative and answered all of our questions.  None of the questions we had for him went unanswered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Earlier on this network, committee member and Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro went a bit further laying out the legal implications of what Cohen said while under oath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO, (D) TEXAS INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Based on what he described I think, you know, there`s a good chance that the Southern District of New York investigation will I think implicate President Trump or his family members, his direct family members.  And I also think that the investigation could go on quite longer possibly, that`s my impression, than the special counsel`s investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And then tonight, speaking with Rachel Maddow, Cohen`s lawyer, Lanny Davis, went even further hinting that something consequential came up on the hearing today on the Russia front.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN`S ATTORNEY:  Today new information was developed that really could be game changing.  This new information is the reason that he`s coming back next Wednesday.

It`s not core to the Russia investigation, but Mr. Trump has missed the big picture.  There is plenty of evidence of a conspiracy to collude with Russia.  But this is about lying and obstruction evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That same committee also turning its attention to an associate of Trump and Cohen.  Late today it announced that Felix Sater who worked with Cohen on the Trump Tower Moscow deal will testify at a public hearing March 14th.

Our panel standing by to join us, but first we want to go to one of the four reporters on this multiple sourced, multiple by line breaking story.  Pulitzer Prize Winning Washington Correspondent for the "New York Times," Michael  Schmidt joins us tonight by telephone.

Michael, this was troubling enough, this development with Jared Kushner`s security clearance application, that senior aides were hiding and hoarding and developing contemporaneous evidence in realtime about the case that can`t be a good sign.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT. THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone):  No. There was deep concern about this and how the process was playing out.  And these folks wanted to document how the President had overridden what the intelligence community was saying, and what his own White House lawyer, the White House counsel, Don McGahn who recommended that Kushner not get this.

But the President controls security clearances.  It`s something he derives as the head of the Executive Branch and he ignored that and did what he wanted.

WILLIAMS:  Remind us why he had been flagged in the first place.  Why did they come back from the full field investigation and say this guy shouldn`t qualify for this?

SCHMIDT:  So there was a wide range of issues, Kushner has very complicated finances in different holdings and different things with different investments including with foreign countries.  He also had these contacts including with Russians that had not been disclosed during the transition.  And he was also in that famous meeting during the campaign at Trump Tower where the Russians offered the dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And there were things that we still don`t know about that were flagged.  But there`s a wide range of issues that at the end of the day the Intelligence Community, the CIA specifically, did not believe he should have the highest level of clearance.  They were not comfortable with that.  And they told the White House that.

WILLIAMS:  We often talk about your bucket metaphor for all the different areas of this investigation.  Is this likely to open a new one or was there already an active bucket or sub bucket looking into security clearances?

SCHMIDT:  This is probably a pail in a bucket.  In this case it is the issues that these contacts with Russia that has been looked at by Mueller.  Mueller has examined those, has questioned them about it, has questioned Kushner about what he knew about Flynn`s contacts and such.

I don`t think that the actual security clearance granting is a criminal issue.  It is simply something the President can give.  It`s something derived from the Executive Branch not governed or overseen by anyone else outside of it.  So criminally, there`s no indication that this is a problem.

WILLIAMS:  Mike Schmitt of the "New York Times," thank you once again for joining us by telephone tonight, talking about the story that might contributed too this evening in the paper.

And with that, let`s bring in our leadoff panel for another busy Thursday night.  Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Chief Counsel to House Intel.  Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor for Politico.  And Jessica Roth is back with us as well, former federal prosecutor with the Southern District of New York, now a professor at the Cardozo School of Law in Yeshiva University here in New York.  Welcome to you all.

Jeremy, I`d like to begin with you.  As we believe, yours is the top security clearance at least here and at least in this conversation.  How serious a story is this to you also as a subset?  How serious is it that this guy is in the Middle East tonight conducting diplomacy for our country?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Yes, I think the big story, Brian, is we have an envoy for the United States, Jared Kushner, meeting with foreign heads of state and heads of government and he does not have access to Intelligence because he`s not eligible for that sensitive compartmented information t SCI level intelligence.  And that`s a huge problem because he can`t do his job and defend America.

But the story tonight, Brian, I think is also very concerning which is that the President of the United States overrule the unanimous recommendation of the Intelligence Community leadership, those who are sworn to uphold and protect our nation`s secret, our nation`s security.  And he ordered his staff to override those recommendations and give his own son-in-law access to some of the most sensitive secret in the government.

It kind of goes against everything that the Intelligence Community stands for and shows you the extent to which the President was willing to run rough shot over the rules to his get his family in the door.

WILLIAMS:  Jessica, I`ve already heard and theorized on television tonight that the President could have said to the world this is my guy and I need him to have this because he`s got a function.  Instead, here we are running recordings of the President and his daughter with direct denials.

But to my question to Mike Schmitt, this is another thing and every day there`s another thing and it makes you really doubt all the reporting that you and I have been told that Mueller`s wrapping up.

JESSICA ROTH, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Well, there does seem to be a lot of unresolved business connected to the Mueller probe, that`s central to the Mueller probe.  We know there was that redacted material in the --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

ROTH:  -- recent filings in the Manafort case --

WILLIAMS:  Just a few hundred pages.

ROTH:  Just a good portion of it.  And so there is this un -- lots of unresolved matter.  We also know there`s the outstanding grand jury subpoena to the foreign owned company that has been fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The subpoena on pains of having to pay $50,000 a day, that`s a huge unfinished area of business, if you will, when those documents eventually come, assuming they do to Mueller, that would be fodder for his investigation.

The Roger Stone case is still just getting underway.  So there`s lots that still seems to be central to the Mueller probe that we don`t know how it ends yet.

It`s possible there will be a grand finale some times soon.  There been reports about this sealed indictments on the DACA in D.C.--

WILLIAMS: 

ROTH:  -- in the D.C. court.  We don`t know if those are Mueller related or not, but apparently it`s an unusual amount to have sealed on the DACA.  So perhaps soon those will all be unsealed and they will relate to Mueller.  We just don`t know.

We do know that Mueller is putting in place, if you will, the structure to turn over important parts of the case if he decides to wrap up.  So he`s brought in prosecutors from different U.S. attorneys offices, not just the Southern District of New York, but prosecutors of the D.C. office, and in Virginia.  So if he does decide to wrap it up because he`s decided he`s done with the main part of his mission, then those prosecutors will be in place to carry the mission forward.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Josh, while we wait, we can at least listen to former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie who said this tonight on CNN about the President and this particular Kushner case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  What he`s done at times, which has been unfortunate is in my view lie about things that he hasn`t need to lie about.  That`s worse in many respects whether it`s the Stormy Daniels payment or whether it`s this instance.  It doesn`t serve him well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Josh, the former New Jersey governor may have a point there.

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes.  I mean, it`s curious to me that the President often seems to lie about things that he doesn`t need to lie about as the former governor is saying.  And then he will claim authority for things that he doesn`t have authority to do.

So, here he said he couldn`t get involved in somebody`s clearance security case and he apparently went ahead and did that anyway for his son-in-law.  And then, you know, on another thing like the wall, he`ll claim he has authority when the notion that he has authority to do something like that without Congress buying, it`s very dubious.  So, his statements seem to be all over the map and it seems like sometimes he`s even covering up things he doesn`t need to cover up.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, what happened with his first filing?  Is it alleged he wasn`t all in, in filling out the form?  You`ve done this, the form takes you back and pretty much asks you to empty out what we used to call a roll la index, and remember every contact you`ve ever had.  You have to take it deathly seriously for the reasons we`re discussing here tonight.

BASH:  Well, importantly, it requires you to disclose your foreign connections where there`s an ongoing relationship or some sort of bond of affection or loyalty.  It also requires you to disclose your foreign government relationships.

And of course if you look at, for example, the Trump Tower meeting, that was obviously a Russian government delegation and it would have been important for Jared Kushner to disclose every aspect of that meeting, the people he met with and the time and sequence of that meeting.

So, all of these things are required.  The form is about 100 pages long.  It is pretty in-depth.  It requires you to go back seven, in some cases 10 years, every placed you`ve lived, and disclose everything about your family members, your associates, your business and financial relationships, anything that could be a basis for foreign leverage over you.  Either he disclosed it incorrectly, incompletely or there was concerning information on there.  And that lead to this cascade of events.

WILLIAMS:  Our guests have agreed to stick with us.  We`re just going to take a break and we`ll come back and continue our conversation after this.

And coming up, after Michael Cohen`s week on the Hill, there`s one longtime Trump associate whose name keeps coming up and Congress would like to speak to him next.

And later, President Trump, once again, choosing to take the word of an authoritarian leader, this time it`s a matter involving the death of a young American.  THE 11TH HOUR as we say just getting started on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Allen Weisselberg of New York will apparently be called to testify before the House Intel and perhaps Oversight Committees.  Now you may wonder what put the name Allen Weisselberg in their heads all of a sudden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER:  In the office with me was Allen Weisselberg the chief financial officer of the Trump organization.  I was at the time with Allen Weisselberg, the bottom signature, I believe is Allen Weisselberg`s.

Allen Weisselberg.

Allen Weisselberg.

Allen Weisselberg.

That`s signed by Allen Weisselberg.

Oh, he`s Allen Weisselberg on the check.

EWP. STACEY PLASKET (D) U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS HOUSE OVERSIGHT & REFORM CMTE.:  There are other people that we should be meeting with.

COHEN:  Allen Weisselberg.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  His name in fact might have come up just a few times yesterday.  Allen Weisselberg, this man is the long time chief financial officer of the Trump organization dating back generations really to when Donald Trump`s father ran the place.

Today Committee Chairman, Elijah Cummings, was asked about the committee`s next moves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You said you were going to be following up with some people, are those some people like Allen Weisselberg that you sort of seems to --

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARRYLAND CHAIRMAN HOUSE OVERSIGHT CMTE.:  All you have to do is follow the transcript.  We`ll go through.  We`ll figure out who we want to talk to and we`ll bring them in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- People in the Trump family?  Ivanka Trump?  Donald Trump Jr.?

CUMMINGS:  Just follow the transcript.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Well, in Watergate it was follow the money, now tonight we`re following the transcript.

And still with us to do that, Jeremy Bash, Josh Gerstein, and Jessica Roth.

Jessica, here in New York, if you follow the transcript, how much more legal peril are people like Allen Weisselberg and the Trump children and then before Cohen started testifying?

ROTH:  Well, I don`t think that they`re in anymore peril as a consequence of Cohen testifying --

WILLIAMS:  They`re just not to be called to testify?

ROTH:  Yes.  And I`m assuming that the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are familiar already with everything that was said yesterday by Michael Cohen.  He`s testified yesterday, he`s been in, I think, he said, constant contact with the Southern District prosecutors.

So, I`m assuming they know everything that we heard yesterday publicly, and much, much more.  So I think the big question is, what do they know from Allen Weisselberg already.  It`s been reported that he was some limited form of immunity, so maybe they have not fully debriefed him.  That`s what that would suggest, that he is not fully cooperating yet, but he has given limited immunity perhaps to testify in the grand jury about the hush money payments.

But there`s clearly much more information that he has to offer.  And if I were in the Southern District now, I would be actually be quite concerned about Allen Weisselberg being called as a witness specially in an open session before Congress, before I had the chance to debrief him.

WILLIAMS:  Josh we keep seeing the worry, for good reason, has been about Russia and Mueller but whether they are buckets or pails, they just keep opening up all over the horizon.

GERSTEIN:  They do.  And I do think that some of the more damaging and potentially troublesome testimony from Cohen during his lengthy appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday was more of the garden variety type stuff.  You know, even the campaign finance violations that we`ve all heard alleged and that Cohen has admitted to involving Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal obviously very titillating stories and significant if the law was broken.

But actually very hard cases to prosecute in federal court, it requires specific intent not just that the lobby broken, but you`re going to need memos or some kind of indication that Trump knew that it was illegal despite the fact that he had lawyers who were participating in this process.

I think much simpler potential charges and more problematic for the White House and the Trump organization are these claims that Cohen made of regularly inflating financial statements, being given for insurance purposes, for bank purposes, for applications for financing, for various real estate projects and for also for tax purposes.  All those things not just federal crimes, but remember if they were done in New York City or done regarding Trump properties in New Jersey or California, subject to potential prosecution in those jurisdictions by state authorities and those people are not covered by this Justice Department memo that says you can`t indict the President.

So if you want to talk about a worst-case scenario or at least a very bad scenario for the President, it might be time to be thinking about what those prosecutors are going to do not just to someone like Paul Manafort but possibly to the President himself.

WILLIAMS:  Jessica you were agreeing.

ROTH:  I agree entirely.  I think those more garden variety cases are much easier to prove.  They`re less likely to be credibility contest between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump or anyone else in that organization.  They`re likely to backed up by documentary evidence.

It`s pretty hard to explain why you submitted a financial statement that shows you net worth to be one thing for one purpose.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

ROTH:  And to someone else for another purpose.  Those are going to be easier cases to make.  We don`t have an airtight case yet but certainly what Michael Cohen talked about yesterday does show the kinds of things that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and in New York State would be pursuing and where they could possibly have the easiest road to build that case that would be solid enough to convict.

WILLIAMS:  And to Jeremy Bash, Jeremy speaking of garden variety.  At least something that sounds so simple, when you hear the chairman say follow the transcript, it`s right there in front of us, is there anything or moment that either watching yesterday in realtime or reading it back today jumps out at you?

BASH:  Look, I think the significance of yesterday was that they gave the multiple -- multitude of committees in Congress road maps for future investigation.

And while it`s true that the prosecutors in the Mueller investigation and in the Southern District of New York probably knew all of this information, having spent time with many witnesses, having reviewed many documents, having spent time with Michael Cohen, I think this is for the first time the window into a way the House Democrats are going to proceed here, they`re going to look at the hush money campaign finance violations, these are acts that the President committed as President, and there`s documentary evidence.

They`re going to look at the Roger Stone channel, WikiLeaks.  And they`re going to, of course, look at the broader issue of what the President knew about the Moscow -- Trump Moscow tower deal.  So I think there`s a lot more investigating to come.

WILLIAMS:  Very much obliged to our big three tonight.  We got extra work out of everybody.  To Jeremy Bash, to Josh Gerstein, to Jessica Roth, our thanks for being on and helping us figure this out.

Coming up, the summit collapses.  The President then gives Chairman Kim cover on an issue sensitive to Americans prior to heading home from Vietnam.  That story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  It was a very interesting two days and I think actually it was a very productive two days.  But sometimes you have to walk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: President Trump left Vietnam today empty handed.  White House abruptly cut the summit short with North Korea`s leader Kim Jong-un after a breakdown in negotiations over nuclear weapons and sanctions relief.  But it was perhaps Trump`s decision to let Kim Jong-un off the hook for the torture and death of a captured American student that caused the most backlash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I don`t believe he knew about it.  He felt badly about it.  I did speak to him.  He felt very badly.  But he knew the case very well.  But he knew it later.  And, you know, you got a lot of people, big country, a lot of people.  And in those prisons and those camps, you have a lot of people.  And some really bad things happened to Otto, some really, really bad things.  But he tells me that he didn`t know about it.  And I will take him at his word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Otto Warmbier was arrested in North Korea, 2016.  He was detained and brutalized for 17 months, returned to the U.S. in a coma.  He died days later.  He was 22 years old.  His parents have called his death murder, and rightfully so.

Back with us again tonight to talk about all of this, Nick Kristof, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for "The New York Times."

Welcome, thank you for coming back.  A dual question to start you off, is there any chance in hell Kim Jong-un didn`t know about Otto Warmbier when he was in their possession?  And second, how do you process the way this summit ended?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, THE NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED COLUMNIST:  So look, I mean Otto Warmbier was taken as a hostage.  He wasn`t taken essentially because he had taken this poster.  He was taken as a hostage for leverage over the U.S. and that is a decision that Kim Jong-un was clearly involved in.

You know, the nature of his death I think is more complicated.  I think we don`t know exactly how that happened and Kim Jong-un may not -- that may not have been intentional.  But he was absolutely -- you know, Kim Jong-un knew that he was being sentenced to 15 years at a hard labor, that he was being taken and that`s what caused his death.  And to see an American president emerge as a spokesman for North Korea`s dictatorship is just painful.

WILLIAMS:  I`m glad you mentioned that.  We have a sampling of times when our President has, let`s just -- big charitable, bent over backwards to give authoritarian leaders the right side of the argument.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  They said they think it`s Russia.  I have President Putin, he just said it`s not Russia.  I will say this, I don`t see any reason why it would be.  So I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

I spoke with the king.  I spoke with the crown prince yesterday and he strongly said that he had nothing to do with this.  This was at a lower level.

And some really bad things happened to Otto, some really, really bad things.  But he tells me that he didn`t know about it.  And I will take him at his word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  What do you think that`s about?

KRISTOF:  In the case of Putin, I think there is something -- there may be something more going on.  There may be some leverage that we don`t know about.

WILLIAMS:  I might have read something about that.

KRISTOF:  But, you know, in the case of the others, I mean this has happened time and again, place and again.  I mean even the second tier people, President Duterte in the Philippines, Hun Sen in Cambodia.  And I think that there is a sense of admiration and awe for these strong men, these leaders who provide a model that perhaps in some sense President Trump aspires to and coupled with that a cavalier kind of dismissal of human rights as a consideration.

And so in the case of Saudi Arabia, you know, what counts is not the fact that he murdered a "Washington Post" columnist or is torturing and imprisoning women`s rights activists, but there`s an opportunity for some sales there.  And I think, you know, we see that around the globe.

WILLIAMS:  One of the reasons I was so happy to have you on tonight, happy is not the right word, is to tell folks what they need to know about India, Pakistan which has will all the other news we`re covering has heated up so violently this week.  The half joking way of describing Pakistan for years is an army with its own country.  India of course has the larger army.  Pakistan led by a new man, a former cricket player, India`s president is in the throws of re-election and there at the top of the map is Kashmir have added.  What`s going on?

KRISTOF:  So I`m glad you mentioned it because I mean the real risk of nuclear war in the last week did not involve North Korea.  It involved India and Pakistan.  And there was an incident in which a Pakistani terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, blew up a bus with 40 paramilitaries in India in Kashmir.  That started hostilities that began escalating and India is facing an election soon.  So the prime minister was under great pressure.  He then had air strikes on Pakistan.

We have two countries with nuclear weapons pointed at each other.  When people do war games, they very quickly escalate into actually using those warheads.  But today there`s actually progress.  Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, the cricket player you mentioned, he has promised to release the Indian pilot who was shot down and I think that that is actually going to be a way to deescalate this.

I was -- I think a lot of people were really concerned that this was just going to escalate and escalate and could be very, very scary and I think now we can foresee a path out of this.  But with a caveat that it is still absolutely outrageous for Pakistan to provide a base for groups like Jaish- e-Mohammed that engage in these kind of terrorist activities and I hope Pakistan does indeed try to rectify that broader problem.

WILLIAMS:  Sometimes amazing to realize the last and only nuclear weapons ever detonated were by the United States President Harry S. Truman so many years ago.

KRISTOF:  And I hope that record continues to last.

WILLIAMS:  We must keep the planet safe.  Thank you so much.  Always good to have you on.

KRISTOF:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Nicholas Kristof from "The New York Times."

Coming up, the one thing Michael Cohen said yesterday during seven hours of testimony that President Trump says is actually true when we come back.

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WILLIAMS:  Let`s see.  How do we put this?  The summit ended abruptly with no warning, the press corps scrambled, motorcades were assembled, equipment had to be broken down, flights had to been changed, bags had to be packed.  For his part, the President walked onto Air Force One for the almost 20- hour flight home.  He arrived in Washington to a news cycle dominated by a former friend and confidant who lowered the boom on Donald Trump prior to heading off for federal prison.

Just yesterday, Michael Cohen accused the President of committing crimes in front of a large television audience.  Before departing from Vietnam, Trump told reporters he tried to watch as much of the testimony as he could.  He of course said his former lawyer lied a lot but not about everything.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  He lied a lot but it was very interesting because he didn`t lie about one thing.  He said no collusion with the Russian hoax.  And I said I wonder why he didn`t just lie about that too like he did about everything else.  I mean he lied about so many different things.  And I was actually impress that had he didn`t say, well, I think there was collusion for this reason or that.  He didn`t say that.  He said no collusion.  And I was a little impressed by that frankly.  He could have gone all out.  He only went about 95% instead of 100%.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Susan Glasser of the New Yorker sums up an eventful week for Trump this way, writing, "Rarely has a President been so publicly humiliated, in different settings by such different actors, in such a short span of time."

With us tonight two of our returning veterans, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Price winning columnist for "The Washington Post" and Rick Wilson, veteran Republican strategist who have views about the President, our best encapsulated by the title of his book and I know he just finished the audio book renewed and expanded, "Everything Trump Touches Dies," just released with new material in paperback as well.  His titles on social media include the under secretary of understatement on Twitter and the prime minister of Periscope.

Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  And the master of disaster.

WILLIAMS:  Rick, in the pantheon of bad presidential weeks for this president, where will we rank this one do you think?

WILSON:  This one is a dumpster fire on top of burning tire mountain.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, good.

WILSON:  I mean he predicted and wanted a summit that was going to cover up the Michael Cohen problem this week, it was going to paper over the whole thing and almost from the moment he landed in Vietnam, finally, he ended up behind the eight ball with this guy.  You knew it was going to go south, you knew it was off the rails the first day when they leaked that they were going to give up the inventory of North Korea`s nuclear weapons.

If we`re not going to know where their weapons are and how many they have, why are we negotiating?  This humiliated the President.  He`ll do anything to try to get a PR deal, not a real deal, and so of course it fell apart.  At the same time it fell apart, you know why, he was distracted by Michael Cohen who was opening up all these knew venues for investigation.  And every time he said Weisselberg, you could almost hear Trump just clinching 10 thousand miles away.

So it was a terrible, horrible, no good week for Donald Trump and it`s irredeemably bad.  So, tomorrow marks the end of another great infrastructure week.

WILLIAMS:  Oh that`s right.  Eugene, I want to show your latest headline of your latest column and it doesn`t get better next week.  Michael Cohen`s revelation advance Trump`s inevitable reckoning.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  To Rick`s point, there were so many new tranches and tributaries that came off of that.

ROBINSON:  There were and it`s hard to keep track of all of them, you know, the knowledge of criminal activity that he couldn`t tell us anything about.  Do you know anything about insurance fraud?  Well, yes, as a matter of fact.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  You know, other criminal activity.  I mean it is a -- and then these hints, these -- about Russia, well, I didn`t know.  I didn`t -- I don`t have any solid evidence that proves collusion, however, there was a whispered conversation between Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr.  There are, you know, other hints of -- well, of course the phone call involving Roger Stone and WikiLeaks.  So he did in fact advance our knowledge of collusion.  He didn`t, you know -- we don`t have the smoking gun there yet.  But a whole lot more smoke.

WILLIAMS:  Rick, I want to talk to you about your political party, at least the party you started your life in, and CPAC, the wood stock of conservatism going on now in Washington.  Maybe not the gathering it once was.  I want to show a tweet on the screen that went up tonight and talk about the new -- Dave Weigel, "The Washington Post."  "The Democrat appearing in CPAC videos and speeches, the most by far, Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez.  More than any 2020 Democrat.  An Oliver North-narrated NRA video just ended with the footage of her dancing outside her office with the color drained to make it look more ominous."

I have noticed that on Fox News every night she is already president of the United States.

WILSON:  Oh absolutely.

ROBINSON:  In her second term actually.

WILLIAMS:  And I`ve had colleagues of yours from the GOP rank say that they couldn`t have created her in a laboratory to make a better kind of opponent for the Republican Party.

WILSON:  Hillary Clinton is getting a little long in the tooth as the chief villain of the Trump Republican Party at this point.  And so she plays this role almost to the hilt.

WILLIAMS:  What is it about her?

WILSON:  She`s young, she`s got a edge to her, she`s great on social media.  She exist in the same kind of weird post-policy bubble that Trump does.  You know, CPAC used to be about arguing about big ideas and the movement about, you know, how they were going to pursue individual liberty and limited government.

And now it`s basically -- tonight was the big dance party for turning point USA.  And what used to be the Rhumspringe for the hills they`ll set has turned into like this, you know, diamond and silk owning the libs on the stage.  It really has collapse as an exemplary but conservative movement.  And now it`s just sort of a Retropalooza.

WILLIAMS:  I hate not --

ROBINSON:  Can I add one quick thing about --

WILLIAMS:  It has to be quick because they want me --

ROBINSON:  -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also Latina.

WILSON:  Oh yes.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, I have heard that.

ROBINSON:  And part of the conservative movement now is making people afraid of a Latino invasion or Latino overtaking of --

WILSON:  Did she come on the caravan?

WILLIAMS:  Both gentlemen are staying right with us.  We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  He`s a character.  And he`s a real personality.  And he`s very smart.  He`s sharp as you can be and he`s a real leader and he`s pretty mercurial.  I don`t say that necessarily in a bad way, but he`s a pretty me curial guy.  But he was talking to the press a little bit and, you know, he`s not big into talking to the press but the press came in.  Look, bottom line, I think he wants to get something done but this wasn`t the right time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Still with us, Eugene Robinson and Rick Wilson.  Rick, he is a character.  He has killed relatives with anti-aircraft fire.

WILSON:  Yes, burned people alive.

ROBINSON:  Starved millions of his people, yes.

WILLIAMS:  Where does this come from?

WILSON:  Look, Donald Trump is dictator curious.  This is a guy who loves these kind of authoritarians.  He loves these kind of tough guys, these thugs, these war lord types because he envisions how he`d love to lead.  And I`m not saying he wants to kill his relatives with an anti-aircraft gun.

WILLIAMS:  That was Nick Kristof`s theory.

WILSON:  This is a guy who has a long sort of relationship with loving the strong man, loving the tough guy.  And I guess it`s projection in some ways but it really -- I mean it really shows us again and again.  Who does he trust?  Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin.  The tough guys in the world.  Who does he not trust?  The American intelligence agencies.  He doesn`t trust the press.  He doesn`t trust the institutions around him.  He doesn`t trust anybody who doesn`t suck up to him.

And so, you know, when Kim Jong-un learned to play Donald Trump`s ego and vanity, it got him to the point where he got him back there a second time so he could prank him a second time in front of the world.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene, you think about and write about big thoughts.  And it seems to me one of the last serious vestiges of the city where you live, Washington, D.C., is that foreign policy establishment from CIA to state to Pentagon and beyond, that still cares deeply about this.

ROBINSON:  It does. 

WILLIAMS:  We had Donald Trump playing with House money, conducting diplomacy for this country yesterday.  His son-in-law is trying to achieve Middle East peace, conducting diplomacy in the Middle East right now.

ROBINSON:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  Tonight.

ROBINSON:  Well, what`s left of that establishment, yes, cares deeply about our foreign policy, cares deeply about America`s place in the world, knows history.

WILLIAMS:  They`ve kept the peace.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  And -- but this president is trying to destroy, disrupt, dismantle that foreign policy establishment.  And he`s had an impact on it.  There`s no question.

WILLIAMS:  Sure.

ROBINSON:  I mean Rex Tillerson`s time at the State Department, while I think Tillerson was a pretty good guy, but he was a disaster at the State Department.  He didn`t fill a lot of slots.  You know, it just wasn`t happening.  President Trump in his whole national security apparatus in the White House has never functioned the way a national security apparatus -- you saw it in the summit.

When I see the headlines on the chyron saying summit collapses.  In order to collapse, I think it has to have been a thing.  It was never a thing.  It was never the scaffolding and preparation done to make it an actual summit.  So of course it collapsed, you know.  There was nothing there.  Can the world`s leading military and economic power try to conduct a foreign policy without substance?  That`s what we`re finding out.

WILLIAMS:  Rick, last word.  This is why India/Pakistan is keeping people up at night --

WILSON:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  -- because of the lack of rigor in areas like this.

WILSON:  We have dismantled a lot of the America`s moral status in the world and our ability to go out and influence behavior of countries that we have alliances and relationships with is diminished because we`ve killed off most of the State Department.  We`ve got a president who insists on doing everything principal to principle and he`s not very good at it, as we saw this week.  And so that`s why people are, you know, breathing a little sigh of relief that India and Pakistan seem to be backing away, but God forbid the guy tweets about it.  Who knows what`s going to happen after that.

WILLIAMS:  Two of our favorites here on the broadcast here on a Thursday night.  And we`re really grateful to have them.  Eugene Robinson, Rick Wilson, gentlemen, thank you.

And coming up, the emotional moment that was all but lost because it came at the end of a nationally televised marathon.  We`ll have that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, the emotional moment from yesterday that was almost lost in the news of Michael Cohen`s testimony because it came at the end of seven hours of testimony.  The committee chairman, Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, started out by thanking Michael Cohen.  It quickly became emotional and it ended with a call to a return to normal in our country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND, CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:  And I`m hoping that all of us can get back to this democracy that we want and that we should be passing on to our children so that they can do better than what we did.

And so you wonder whether people believe you.  I don`t know.  I don`t know whether they believe you.  But the fact is that you`ve come, you have your head down, and this has got to be one of the hardest things that you could do.  I know that this has been hard.  I know that you face a lot.  I know that you are worried about your family, but this is a part of your destiny.  And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better, a better, a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world.

And I mean that from the depth of my heart.  When we`re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do?  To make sure we kept our democracy in tact.  Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?  We can do more than one thing.  And we have got to get back to normal.  With that, this meeting is adjourned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  How about that?  That`s how it ended, the chairman thanking a controversial witness after a marathon day of testimony.

That is our broadcast on a Thursday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  And good night for all of us here at NBC News headquarters in New York.

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