LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: And so no matter how bad the Trump appointees get, no matter how far down in the barrel Donald Trump reaches for his next nominee to a federal position, the worst person in the Trump administration is always going to be Donald Trump. That`s tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, pressure mounting on Attorney General William Barr to release the Mueller report. The DOJ on defense amidst leaks from the Special Counsel`s office is there more to what Mueller found about obstruction than Barr let on.
The President does an about-face on his border shutdown threat while battling pressure from Democrats to release his tax returns next week.
And Joe Biden today spotted in his hometown of Scranton. Was he shooting his first campaign ad? THE 11TH HOUR on a Thursday night starts right now.
Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams. Day 805 of the Trump administration. And the President is now facing new challenges after a rough 36 hours, including stepped up investigations from Democrats in Congress and new questions about the Attorney General`s handling of the Mueller report.
House Democrats have now formally demanded six years of Trump`s tax returns. Trump`s accounting firm says it plans to respond to any forthcoming subpoenas for financial records. Lawmakers now want to talk to Trump`s top inauguration organizer. He has walked back his threat to close the southern border this week and subpoenas have been served in the security clearance investigation.
There are also those reports which broke last night that some members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s team are accusing Attorney General Bill Barr of downplaying some of their findings. Their frustrations were first reported in "The New York Times" and then "The Washington Post," and today a U.S. official confirmed it to NBC News. This is how the evidence against Trump was characterized in these reports, which are all based on anonymous sources, so it`s unclear exactly who on Mueller`s team feels this way, including Mueller himself.
The "Times"` sources claiming the Mueller`s team`s findings were, "more damaging for the President than Barr revealed." The "Post" sources pointing specifically at the evidence on the question of potential obstruction, "alarming and significant." The NBC News, also on the question of obstruction, "compelling." The reports also indicate some on Mueller`s team wanted Barr to include -- excuse me, include more of the material from their summaries in his four-page letter to Congress on March 24th, summaries that laid out key conclusions.
One U.S. official telling "The Washington Post," "There was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the Attorney General had characterized their work instead."
NBC News quotes an official saying, "At least one faction within Mueller`s office says their intent was to leave the legal question open for Congress and the public to examine the evidence." Today the Justice Department defended its actions writing, "Every page of the confidential report provided to Attorney General Barr on March 22nd, 2019 was marked may contain material protected under federal rule of criminal procedure 6-e, a law that protects federally protected grand jury information and therefore could not be released. Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the Attorney General decided to release the report`s bottom-line findings in his conclusions immediately without attempting to summarize the report with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redaction process."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose committee has authorized a subpoena for the full unredacted Mueller report fired off a new letter to Attorney General Barr writing, "If these recent reports are accurate and the Special Counsel`s office prepared summaries in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, then those summaries should be publicly released as soon as possible. We also request that you produce to the committee all communications between the Special Counsel`s office and the Department regarding the report, including those regarding the disclosure of the report to Congress, the disclosure of the report to the public and those regarding your March 24th letter." Nadler also had this to say about the A.G.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK JUDICIAY CMTE. CHAIR: Barr is an agent to the President. He was put there for that purpose.
So that`s his job, to protect the President personally, and one could not therefore trust the accuracy of anything he produced.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Trump said nothing about these latest reports on Mueller`s findings during his public appearances today. Saving his opinions for his online post in writing, "The New York Times" had no legitimate sources which would be totally illegal concerning the Mueller report. In fact, they probably had no sources at all. They are a fake newspaper who have already been forced to apologize for their incorrect and very bad reporting on me."
"Times" reporters have said none of that is true and the paper stands by its story.
Let`s bring in our leadoff panel for a Thursday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Carol Lam, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, and Michael Crowley White House and National Security Editor for Politico. Thank you all for being with us.
Peter, I`ll start with you. Well, okay, we see what the President is saying there on Twitter about your newspaper, but let me ask you, behind the scenes there, what is your sense about how this is -- this news, this development reported in the "Times," in the "Post," by NBC News, that some number of folks who were part of this Mueller investigation have some issues with how it was characterized by the Attorney General, how their findings were characterized. What are the conversations like within the White House about this?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it`s a great question. Some of these people who were on Bob Mueller`s team, they looked at what the Attorney General had done in terms of -- if he didn`t want to summarize, whatever word you want to use, in wrapping up their investigation into basically two sentence fragments that were quoted from the report itself, and they were disturbed. They found that this after two years of work, two years of intensive investigation was not, you know, a fulsome and comprehensive, you know, and even really, you know, captured the subtleties and the nuances of whatever they found in that investigation.
The White House, they want to move on, in the sense that they want to just stick with those two sentences. Those two sentences that Bill Barr sent to the Congress are all they want to hear. No conspiracy found with Russia, and, you know, he`s not going to accuse him of obstruction, even if he doesn`t exonerate the President of that. That`s all they want to hear.
The President who once said he thought the report should be put out, he had no problem if it was put out, now is acting as if the idea of putting it out is some sort of a, you know, presidential harassment, as he says.
KOTNACKI: Carol Lam, in terms of what is at issue here, apparently, at least according to the reporting here. There is this idea that`s put out there in the reporting that there were summaries that Mueller`s team had prepared that some folks on Mueller`s team believe should have been put out there, could be put out there before the full report is that would be more comprehensive and perhaps, again, according to this reporting, perhaps a little bit more troubling for the President than the four-page summary from Barr. So you have that contention here. You then have DOJ, you have Barr`s side saying today that no, no, no, everything that came from Mueller`s report had -- from Mueller`s team had on it this label "may contain grand jury information" in other words, cannot be made public. Do you have a sense who is right here?
CAROL LAM, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CA: Yes, I do. In the sense that, you know, on the one side we have maybe one, maybe two. We don`t know how many individuals the reporting has been that they -- they said this to their associates and then their associates have said this to the press, so we don`t really know exactly what`s been said. But I think when DOJ says every single page had that boilerplate marker that this may contain grand jury information or what they call 6-e information, that tells me that those pages did not say this -- this page does not contain grand jury information and therefore can be released to the public.
I think this was DOJ`s way of saying there was no separately set off summary that was specifically designated by the Special Counsel`s office to be given out in public or to Congress because it contained no grand jury information. There may have been summaries to make it easier to digest the information for the Attorney General or for whomever ultimately reads it, but it`s telling me there were no sections that were actually devoid of grand jury information.
KORNACKI: So where does this leave us, Michael Crowley, in terms of the public finding out? You have this commitment from Barr to get it out there. You have Nadler, you know, and his committee putting that subpoena there trying to hurry the process along. What is your sense of when and how much of this report becomes available to the public?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can`t know for sure that`s what everyone in Washington wants to know. Barr has essentially, you know, he has committed himself to say that he expects that it will be out by I believe the language was mid-April or sooner. So, you know, I know that in our newsroom we`re going to be on high alert basically by the middle end of next week with the possibility that we could see something.
At the same time, there is a lot of leeway, given that, you know, Barr and the Justice Department have this report and they have leeway and flexibility to say, "Oh, well, you know, we found some more material that we need to take another run at. It might have to be redacted." This could be interpreted as derogatory information about certain individuals.
If they wanted to slow-walk it, given that only they can see what`s in there, and the Mueller team, you know, I think is going to be fairly disciplined about how much they fight back. It was very dramatic to see that -- their voices kind of coming through indirectly in the reporting, but I think they`re going to basically keep their powder dry. Barr and DOJ have a lot of leeway to slow-walk this, redact it, gum it up and I think it is possible that it could drag longer. It`s sort of unpredictable at this point. But he has committed himself to mid-April, and that, you know, I think we can call it mid-April by the end of next week.
KORNACKI: Yes. And, Carol, just in terms of what we can expect, assuming, again, that at some point we do just get to take a look at this full report here. You have this question of redactions, of grand jury material that`s in there.
I know some of the President`s defenders have been pull out what Jerry Nadler said 20 years ago when the issue was the Ken Starr report involving Bill Clinton and Jerry Nadler is a congressman back then against that full report coming out saying, "Hey, basically there`s it can be hearsay in here. There`s going to be all sorts of negative aspersions that wouldn`t hold up in the court of law necessarily. But is that what he was warning about maybe 20 years ago? Is that the level of what you`re going to find in this report?
LAM: Yes, and that`s the problem. We really so much of this investigation that the Special Counsel`s team did was through the grand jury. And when you have somebody in the grand jury, when you have a witness on the witness stand in the grand jury, you know, there`s no judge there, there is no defense attorney there and it`s just the prosecutor asking questions. All sorts of stuff comes out. Hearsay, things that are overheard, speculation, guess work, and I think that`s the concern. And that`s why grand jury information is usually kept secret.
You know, it`s baked into prosecutors, federal prosecutors that, frankly, you either put up or you shut up. And if you don`t bring an indictment, you don`t talk about what you heard or found in the investigation. So this is not the normal course for prosecutors. It`s very unnatural to be talking about things learned during an investigation that did not result in an indictment.
And so I think a lot of judgment calls have to be made by the Special Counsel, by the Attorney General and, frankly, by the offices to whom they have given evidence, you know the Southern District of New York, Eastern District of Virginia, District of Columbia. Those U.S. attorney`s offices they may have to be consulted with respect to what grand jury information, even if they were to apply to a court to be released, those offices probably have to consent as well. So it could be a long and complicated process.
KORNACKI: And along those same lines, Peter Baker, I wonder are we potentially being set up here for almost a parallel to what we saw a couple of years ago, Hillary Clinton and the email case. You remember James Comey came out there and said, "Hey, look, not going to recommend charges here, but then sort of in the court of public opinion indicted her and put enough material out into -- for public consumption that allowed her opponents to just say the rest of the way, "Oh, she should have been indicted, she should have been prosecuted." Trump certainly I think says that to this day.
Are we potentially putting a -- heading into a situation here where you had those bottom line findings that Barr put out there, but then the full report comes out and there`s plenty of sort of a gray area for Trump`s critics to say, "Well, hey, this should have gone a different way?"
BAKER: Yes, there`s certainly a lot of sensitivity, I think, both in terms of Bob Mueller and Bill Barr about, you know, what happened with 2016 and Jim Comey in July when he did, as you said, declined to indict and yet still cast a judgment about Hillary Clinton`s action as being reckless and inappropriate.
To repeat that in effect in this case, to say that we`re not going to charge President Trump with any of these things but here are the things we think he did wrong, that`s obviously a sensitive matter. Now the difference is, of course, he`s a sitting President. And the DOJ policy, Department of Justice policy is you can`t indict a sitting President. So with then, if the only recourse or accountability for a President then is impeachment, then how is the House supposed to make its judgment if it doesn`t have this information? It`s kind of a conundrum.
The Special Counsel regulations that were set up that Robert Mueller is operating under doesn`t really contemplate that, doesn`t sort of give, you know, an obvious answer to how he is supposed to give information to the public or the House that may be of interest or relevant to the public discourse, and yet is something short of a criminal indictment. We don`t know. And that`s one of the things that I think that has, you know, been a real issue for this prosecution all along.
KORNACKI: And it seems, Michael, also there is a big moment shaping up for Barr just in that he put his name on that four-page letter.
KORNACKI: Obviously put his name on that summary of it. And, again, if this full report does come out, everybody gets to inspect it. His summary will then be held up against what the whole world can see.
CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely. You know, his reputation is on the line to some degree and it will be on trial to some degree when we see the report, assuming that we do. My colleague Darren Samuelsohn in Politico has a story that`s up right now that looks at this test of Barr`s legacy.
You know, people have to remember that Barr is, you know, basically an establishment guy. He was U.S. Attorney General once before in the George H.W. bush administration, was part of the Republican establishment in Washington for a long time. You think back to his confirmation hearings, I know people have been skeptical about him and skeptical that anyone Trump would pick for this job, you know, people who don`t like Trump think that he can`t possibly be on the level, but he did say a lot of things that were reassuring even to Democrats in his confirmation hearings, including reminding people or informing people that he`s known Robert Mueller for many years. And I believe if i recall correctly Barr`s wife is very close with Mueller`s wife.
And so a lot of people I think came away thinking, boy, you know, Donald Trump could have picked somebody who would have a lot less confidence, you know, somebody more in a Matt Whitaker mold. But now people are looking at Barr again I think with a more gimlet eye, thinking what exactly is going on here and what is -- who is Barr really?
And I think that there`s going to be a kind of judgment day. And it could be that it turns out he played it straight and people are not giving him the benefit of the doubt, but it could be that there is a very harsh verdict, indeed, when we see potential differences between his summary letter and what the report actually says.
KORNACKI: All right. Michael Crowley, Carol Lam, Peter Baker, thank you all for joining us.
And coming up, as he faces increasing pressure over his tax returns, Donald Trump is now retreating on two major issues.
And later, there are a number of official, unofficial and maybe very soon to be democratic candidates for President. That number is getting bigger and bigger. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you willing to tell the commissioner of the IRS not to disclose to the House Ways and Means Committee your tax returns.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They`ll speak to my lawyers. They`ll speak to the Attorney General.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you direct the IRS to do that?
TRUMP: They`ll speak to my lawyers and they`ll speak to the Attorney General.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The battle over the President`s tax returns is heating up after the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee requested Trump`s returns from 2013 to 2018. Chairman Richard Neal wants the documents from the IRS by April 10th, that`s next Wednesday. Earlier today Neal was asked what happens if the administration does not comply.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RICHARD NEAL, (D-MA) CHAIRMAN WAYS & MEANS CMTE.: We intend to do follow-up within the 10-day period as described in the letter in the overture that we made. And then I think there are a series of other options going forward that we will explore, but we`ve already begun to think about them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you considering subpoenas?
NEAL: Well, that`s something that we will have to consider down the road, but I don`t want to kind of at this stage answer really what if questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: On a different front, the President has also been feeling increasing pressure from members of his own party this week. Just days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said closing the border could be potentially catastrophic for the economy, Trump backed off that threat to close the southern border this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We`re going to give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don`t stop or largely stop, we`re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, in particular cars. The whole ball game is cars. It`s the big ball game. With many countries it`s cars. And if that doesn`t stop the drugs, we close the border.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Hours later, Trump had this to say to reporters in the Oval Office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t think we`ll ever have to close the border because the penalty of tariffs on cars coming into the United States from Mexico at 25 percent will be massive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the border stays open at least for a year?
TRUMP: No, I didn`t say that. We`re going to -- we would start with the tariffs and we`ll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And there was another Trump about-face this week. Remember, it was just Monday when the President suddenly hit the brakes on the idea of replacing Obamacare before the 2020 election. That coming after Mitch McConnell told him the Senate would not take up comprehensive health care reform.
Here to talk about all of this, Pulitzer Prize-winning Reporter David Fahrenthold of "The Washington Post" and Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press.
John, let me start with you. OK. Congress wants the President`s tax returns. Sent the letter to the IRS. The IRS, under the Treasury Department, part of the Trump administration. Who is making the call on whether the IRS is going to comply with this and what`s the call going to be, do we have a sense?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We know this, the President -- these taxes have loomed large for this President for a long time. While he was a candidate he broke with decades of tradition and did not release his returns. You know, he`s certainly has made no move to do so once taking office. Claiming time and time again that they are -- he`s under audit, though he has provided no evidence thereof.
And in fact, Michael Cohen when he testified before the House a few weeks ago suggested when he worked for the President he never saw any evidence of either. He went on to say, "I don`t believe they are under audit."
The sound clip, the video clip you guys just played is very telling. Where the President said, well, they`ll have to talk to the Attorney General which shows you, again, how he believes the Attorney General works for him. It sort of his personal lawyer rather than, you know, be the lawyer for the United States of America.
The White House, people I`ve talked to in the last day or so, they`re still trying to figure out strategy of what they`re going to do. But I think it`s a pretty safe bet, they`re not just going to hand over these returns by the deadline next week. The President, you know, he pushed -- there`s some good reporting there in the "Times" tonight about how he wanted the IRS counsel to be one of the -- to be sort of his confirmation to be expedited earlier this year.
Even the head of Attorney General William Barr, when that sit was open, this is something that`s on his mind. White House people I talked to said they`re devising him, whether it`s Steve Mnuchin being involved or Barr or leaning on the IRS or just simply slow-walking. This is not something that they`re going to cooperate with any time soon.
KORNACKI: I mean, it sound like a future that does involve potentially subpoenas and in court spread --
LEMIRE: Yes. That`s a safe guess, yes.
KORNACKI: -- getting involved. David, let me ask you about this, too, because, look, obviously intense curiosity around the question of Donald Trump`s taxes. There is a tradition, a modern tradition in presidential politics that candidates from both parties release their returns. But we should say that`s a voluntary tradition. Trump voluntarily said, "Hey, I`m not going to turn them over in 2016." There is no law compelling candidates to do that.
Now, there is this 1924 law that allows a couple of chairmen in Congress to request tax returns. But what is the pretense that Neal, the chairman of the committee, is invoking? What`s the justification for saying, "Hey, I want to see the taxes beyond curiosity."
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, THE WASHINGTON POST REPORTER: Well, I think the justification from Democrats and from Neal has been that there could be something in there that shows either the President is breaking tax laws or that the President is the subject of some sort of undo foreign influence. That we might learn something from those tax returns about sources of his funding or sources of leverage by foreign governments over him.
It`s hard to know I think until they see them, but those seem to be the kinds of arguments they`re making. And you`re right that this is not literally the kind of -- this provision from 1920 hasn`t really ever been tested, so it`s hard to know whether those arguments are going to be thrown back at them or whether they`re going to work.
KORNACKI: Right. I mean, that`s the question here. I guess if you`re the Trump administration, do you have a sense what is the -- what is the strongest argument you could make against this?
FAHRENTHOLD: The argument that they have made and will continue to make is that this is presidential harassment, it`s a fishing expedition. These are Democrats who don`t like Trump and they`re seeking to embarrass him by revealing the private details of his tax return. It`s not what the statute contemplates which is sort of an effort to make sure the tax laws are being faithfully executed. It`s an effort to, you know, sort of just embarrass Trump.
That said, the Trump administration is going to say no, no matter what. I mean, it matter that they usually for problems like this that they offer some token explanation, but they`re just not going to do this. I can`t see them ever doing this.
KORNACKI: John, this issue of, first, health care in the week, now the border. You`ve twice seen this, the President sort of having his instincts. It would appear, reined in by Mitch McConnell`s political judgment.
LEMIRE: Right. Let`s be clear. No one here is controlling Donald Trump. He makes his own decisions, often at a whim, often at a moment`s notice, on Twitter or because he`s reacting something he saw on television. But it is telling this last week, this is now twice where he has received pressure from his own party and has done an about-face.
You know, first earlier in the week as you just said was health care. You know the sort of, out of nowhere push again to make the Republican Party the party of health care, as he said. You know after time and time again failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. There was great division in the party and within the West Wing itself as to whether that was something they should do right now.
For at least a few days, for about a week the President was going forward and said we should do this, and then after a number of influential Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, suggested like, let`s tap the brakes here. He eventually backs off. He punts it and says we`re going to deal with it down the road.
And now today, even for him, his signature issue, of course, as we know is the border, it`s immigration, it`s fortifying with the wall at the Mexican border, but also now this threat of closing that border because of -- to try to stop what he says is the threat of illegal immigration. And it was an avalanche of worry from fellow Republicans about this. Suggesting it would devastate the economy, that it would be a terrible issue heading in the next year`s elections. That it would just be -- there were moral concerns.
It was just sort of -- he was told time and time again don`t do this. McConnell very clearly saying like this is a mistake. Other Trump advisers taking to the airwaves, often the best way to reach the President is to do so through an interview on Fox News and "Fox & Friends." We saw a lot of that, including Newt Gingrich saying that Mr. President should not do this. And then suddenly today we have him reversing himself saying it won`t be necessary.
And suggesting that Mexico, you know, he would need to be because Mexico really up their enforcement at the border. Mexican officials said they`ve done nothing different. This was seems pretty clear the President was looking for a way out. He didn`t want to have to follow through on this now.
KORNACKI: It`s interesting, though, David, when Republicans from the Mitch McConnell wing of the party, if you want it call it that, relieved the President not going down that health care road like he was talking about, perhaps relieved on this issue with the border. But also maybe a reminder to them that, hey, as you look ahead to 2020, it is still April of 2019 and you have that possibility at any given moment you`re going to turn on Twitter perhaps and see the President taking you in the direction you weren`t expecting to go.
FAHRENTHOLD: I think that`s right. I mean, what they`ve learned also is that the President rarely -- with exceptions, the President rarely follows these policy whims very far. He`ll throw them out and talk about them for a few days, but he doesn`t have any substance behind them.
And the two things you`ve cited, those were instances where there wasn`t some significant faction of the Republican Party that wanted to go forward with Trump`s idea. Everybody thought it was a terrible idea or something they didn`t want to get involved in. So it wasn`t like that he had anybody to sort of pick up the ball and run with it after he threw the idea out.
I think the way Mitch McConnell views the political problem of the next election is that they`re going to hunker down, not propose very much and then cast the Democrats into a party of radicalism, as a party of socialism. And so I think he`s trying to get through to Trump, look, the best way to win this election is to keep your mouth shut and hunker down. Trump maybe listening to that.
KORNACKI: David Farenthold and Jonathan Lemire, thank you both.
And coming up, Trump supporters if they were hoping for a big bounce in his popularity with the end of the Mueller investigation may be disappointed with what the numbers are showing more than a week later. We`re going to dive into those when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction and none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Well, there you go. Remember that? That was Sunday, March 24th. That is when that letter from the Attorney General Bill Barr came out. It was two days after Barr got the Mueller report. Barr summarized, gave his version of the Mueller Report. The headlines there, you heard Trump say it, no collusion with Russia. The question there on obstruction, the attorney general gave his opinion. He said the report, though, hadn`t come to a conclusion.
But, anyway, the headlines that were generated immediately after March 24th were the headlines that Trump and his supporters had been waiting a couple of years for. And certainly he wasted no opportunity to trumpet them.
So the question was, OK, the President did get those headlines. The picture looks a little more complicated right now. But on March 24th, he sat on averaged approval rating. If you would average together all the polls of Trump`s approval rating, that day it was 43.1 percent. So what happened after that? Was there a bounce? We`ve had a number of polls that have been conducted since then, and his approval rating now, well, I guess you can call it a bounce. It`s 0.7 of 1 point on average from 43.1, the day that summary was released, tonight it sits, the average, at 43.8 percent. So very, very, very, very slight.
And, really, in a lot of ways shouldn`t be a surprise because it is the story of the Trump presidency. There has been swirling controversy, a lot of it of the president`s own making. There have been seemingly major earth-shattering news developments, those news developments has been followed by talk about and speculation about is this going to be a turning point in his approval rating, in the public`s perception of him? A lot of times we`re asking is it going to go down? We were asking a week ago if he was going to go up, but generally it barely moves anywhere.
Check this out. This is the president`s approval rating. His average approval rating since he became president. His high point, 47 percent. This was just after he was sworn in. You could call that his honeymoon. His low point, 37 percent. That was the end of his first year. Where it sits right now, somewhere in between. This is an incredibly narrow range for a president to be in.
You look at every single one of Trump`s modern predecessors, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, at some point in their first terms every single one of them cleared the 60 percent mark in their approval rating. At least at some point.
Donald Trump`s high point is 47. He cannot get higher than that, it would seem, but also his low point, 37. The ceiling, the floor always in between. It seems no matter what happens. How many major developments did we have before that Mueller report was submitted to the attorney general? How many major news developments did we have where the question was asked, is this where Trump`s approval rating is going to crash, where the bottom falls out? But it never falls lower than 37. Never seems to get higher, really, than the mid-40s. It`s existed in that zone.
And here`s the other thing, these are what his poll numbers looked like as a candidate in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. On a bad day he would fall into the high 30s, on a good day, he would get somewhere into the mid-40s. Generally on average he was right around there.
I don`t know as a candidate and as a president we`re talking three years, three-plus years now, very, very few people it would seem have changed their mind on Donald Trump, and it certainly raises the possibility that basically no one`s going to change their mind on him between now and election day 2020.
So it raises for him the way to win re-election in 2020 would be the way he won it in 2016. Very narrowly and by making sure that his opponent ends up just as unpopular or close to unpopular as he is on election day. That`s how he got there in `16. Probably how he`s going to have to get there in `20.
Coming up, our panel will be here for more on how the developments the last 24 hours could affect that 2020 Trump playbook. THE 11TH HOUR back after this.
KORNACKI: We can likely expect more of that exoneration talk from Donald Trump as the 2020 campaign ramps up, but as we mentioned, Trump did not get a bounce from Mueller, and that could mean a narrow path to re-election. A Republican donor with close ties to the White House tells politico tonight, "I think the administration blew it. The Mueller report was good news. They failed to take advantage of is now look where we are."
Back with us, Jim Warren, a veteran print journalist, now executive editor of the new start-up NewsGuard. It rates the veracity of news and information sites. And Laura Barron-Lopez, National Political Reporter for POLITICO. Thank you both for being with us.
And Jim, let me start with you. Sort of talking about this a minute ago, looking at the president`s poll numbers, and looking at -- there`s almost this disconnect, it seems, with the news we`ve had for the last two years, three years counting his campaign, and the lack of movement in either direction.
JIM WARREN, VETERAN JOURNALIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To that extent, living in Chicago helps out, away from the media echo chamber and bubble. And there is a disengagement that I think interesting in. It`s also been manifest recently in a bunch of election, Wisconsin, city of Chicago mayoral, city council elections where you think people would be enthused, but they`re not. They`re just opting out which is --
KORNACKI: Are they overwhelmed by the news? Is that --
WARREN: No, I think they`re just disengaged with government that`s why its a year of the insurgence. So you had some interesting races, not just the mayoral election where an openly gay African-American female without much political experience at all wins. More interesting even, city council elections where a bunch of stalwart Alderman City council members in a low turnout race, which you would figure, right, conventional wisdom is establishment is going to win that, incumbent is going to win that, organization is going to win that. You had a bunch of sort it Chicago versions of AOC here in New York, who won.
So, if I`m the Democrats with a big, untidy field, I`d watch out for that, but those figures are still fascinating. At the same time, as you know, you listen to serious political scientists and they will make the case in the last few months that this is the Democrats` to lose. There is a softening among working class Trump voters in the Midwest in particular. And there are a bunch of other factors. Folks moving to the left a little bit on immigration, other social issues, on racial issues, on aid to the poor, which would seem to assist the Democrats, but who runs against this person?
And is it possible that the wrong candidate comes out of a 10, 15-person field, and like the new mayor of Chicago, mayor-elect, who was in eighth place a month before the primary -- eighth place, snuck into a run-off with 17 percent. Now she`s the mayor. What happens in a big democratic field where maybe people don`t get out as early as they used to.
KORNACKI: And I think that`s one of the questions, Laura, too. It would appear that, look, if Donald Trump is going to win re-election in 2020, like I was saying in that board segment a minute ago, the formula he`s going to have to rely on probably is the same he had in 2016. His numbers are not going to be great. He`ll need his opponent`s numbers to be bad and he`ll need folks, a certain number of folks to just necessarily decide, hey, I don`t necessarily like Trump but I don`t like the Democrats even more.
One of the sort of fundamental questions that I ask myself looking at 2020 is, is there a Democratic candidate out there -- will we see a Democratic candidate out there who can emerge with some measure of popularity after having direct political combat for months with Donald Trump or is there something about this era, this Trump era we`re in, something about the media political landscape that all but guarantees that anybody that gets in the arena with Trump is going to see those negatives rise? It`s just a function of the intense polarization he kind of brings about.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, POLITICO NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think that 2016 was unique in that, yes, there was a Democrat at the top of the ticket that had to battle a lot of things. Hillary Clinton had to deal with James Comey. She had to deal with negatives that were brought on her by her husband, Bill Clinton, and so I think that the Democratic field have -- field has a number of different options they can choose from, whether it`s Joe Biden or Sanders. No matter what, I think we can expect this race to be a difficult and brutal one and potentially get ugly, given the fact that we know that President Trump likes to really prod his opponents and engage in what you could call schoolyard taunts. He likes to give them nicknames.
So, I don`t expect this to be a pretty, breezy race. That being said, Trump may pull from his playbook in 2016, but we also saw that he played up immigration heading into 2018, and that didn`t work. Democrats flipped the House, gaining 40 seats, so, again, even with the cloud of Mueller, even as he tries to focus on immigration, Democrats are going do focus as much as possible on health care because they consider that their winning issue.
KORNACKI: All right. Jim and Laura are going to stick with us.
Coming up, despite a week`s worth of bad headlines, the latest piece of evidence showing Joe Biden may be getting ready to get into the race. Maybe soon. Back right after this.
KORNACKI: Well, this may be the surest sign we have seen that Joe Biden is about to jump into the 2020 race. An eagle-eyed Scranton, Pennsylvania resident snapped this photograph outside Joe Biden`s childhood home today. A source close to the former VP confirms to NBC News that he was there to film a video, that prompting speculation that Biden is finally ready to officially launch a presidential campaign.
It will come on the heels of a week of reports from multiple women who said they`ve had encounters with Biden in the past that made them feel uncomfortable. If or when Biden jumps in, he will join an ever-expanding field of 2020 candidates, which grew by one more today. An announcement from Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio that he is running for president as well.
Still with us, Jim Warren and Laura Barron-Lopez. Well, Laura, let me just start with you. There has been some skepticism just because how long this had been dragged out on Biden parts that he was getting cold feet, then you add in the week of headlines he`s endured. But wow, I got to say, you look at -- what else would bring him for Scranton, Pennsylvania, to his childhood block with a camera crew?
BARRON-LOPEZ: I think it`s safe to assume that Biden is going to jump in. We also saw the video earlier this week where he addressed the allegations of inappropriate behavior against himself. And we`ve heard him stumble where he`s pretty much alluding to his president run. And again, going back to those allegations, Biden has fully addressed them head on in a way a number of these women want him to. So we have to wait and see whether or not this continues and whether or not he`s able to survive this once he finally jumps in the race.
KORNACKI: So Jim, we see the polling. He would be the front-runner. About 30 percent right now. Strong, favorable rating with Democrats. A lot of folks who liked Obama like him as well. Big field. How do you think he would stack up if he joins that field?
WARREN: I think it`s going to be difficult. I can make a case on a lot of grounds other than these new allegations for why this doesn`t work. He`s too old. Don`t quite match the moment. He`s the polar opposite of the insurgent candidate who seems to be in these days.
And I`m not sure, Steve, what quite is the animating principle of a Biden campaign, animating notion other than I`m Joe Biden, I`m a nice guy and it`s kind of my turn. Beyond that, I`m not so sure.
That said, we`ve known by Trump the past is not necessarily prolog, but, boy, if you go back in history at this point before elections, the `88 campaign of who was going to do that? Mario Cuomo ultimately didn`t run. Reverend Jesse Jackson was key. Gary Hart --
KORNACKI: President Gary Hart.
WARREN: Nobody thought at this point Michael Dukakis. Go a few years later, it`s the `92 campaign and it`s probably going to be Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, maybe Jerry Brown of California. Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton at this point. There was no way. And then even closer to this, you know, 2008, new senator from Illinois who had been creamed in a congressional campaign by former Black Panther Bobby Rush. There was no possible way. So is it possible? But I just think that his very resume is his greatest obstacle.
KORNACKI: And Laura, I guess the selling point that I see folks from sort of promoting Biden point to, they say is electability. Hey, it was Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. Those are the three states that narrowly put Trump in there. Put the guy from Scranton, Pennsylvania on the ticket, and that`s how you beat Trump. Does that have resonance, do you think, with Democrats?
BARRON-LOPEZ: I think it does to some degree, but also Biden isn`t the only one that is trying to pitch himself in that manner. You have Senator Sanders, who has long said I could have won the states that Hillary lost. You also have a number of other people jumping in, one of them today, Tim Ryan, who says that he can beat Trump in Ohio, his home state, and thinks that he can win back the -- and bring back the blue -- rebuild the blue wall, if you will.
So Biden isn`t the only one that is running on that kind of campaign. There is also Beto O`Rourke, who is saying that he can be viable in a number of these states, and maybe even win ones like Texas, his home state.
KORNACKI: All right. Yes, it is -- the speculation was all about Joe Biden and, oh, by the way, yes, Tim Ryan, another candidate got in today. This thing grows by the minute it seems sometimes Laura Barron-Lopez, Jim Warren, thank you both for being with us.
Coming up, the blast from president elections past. Who is now Trump`s pick for a position at the fed? More on that when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
KORNACKI: The last thing before we go tonight is a familiar face potentially returning to the world of politics. Long ago in a simpler time, 2012, Herman Cain joined the list of Republicans challenging Barack Obama`s re-election. And during that 2012 campaign, pretty much every Republican who was running at some point got a chance to top the polls. Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, even Herman Cain was atop the national polls in late October of 2011, but now Cain is back in the news because President Trump is recommending him to join the Federal Reserve Board. Now Cain, we should say, was a chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. But here is a reminder of who Cain is. He is the man, of course, Trump wants overseeing the banking system of the wealthiest nation on earth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HERMAN CAIN, 2012 U.S. REPUBLICAN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But the 9, 9, 9 plan is catching on with people.
9, 9, 9.
9, 9, 9.
I`m ready for the gotcha questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you agreed with President Obama on Libya or not?
CAIN: OK, Libya.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, shucky-ducky, as the man would say.
CAIN: President Obama supported the uprising, correct?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, shucky-ducky.
CAIN: And when they ask me who is the president of Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki- stan-stan I`m going to say, "You know, I don`t know. Do you know?"
That`s what i`m talking about.
You don`t need foreign policy experience to know who your friends are and your enemies are.
Immigration is four problems, not one.
I believe these words came from the Pokemon movie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America`s never seen a candidate like Herman Cain. We need you to get involved because together we can do this. We can take this country back.
UNIDENTIED FEMALE: I am America one voice, united we stand. I am America one vote to heal our land
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The Cain 2012 campaign actually ended in December of 2011 after he faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, quoting now from "The Washington Post", "Both defiant and passionate Cain again denied allegations of sexual harassment and an extramarital affair while declaring I`m not going away."
That is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being with us and good night from 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