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Attorney General Barr to face public questions. TRANSCRIPT: 4/8/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Franco Ordonez, Nancy Cook, Clint Watts, Glenn Kirschner, A. B.Stoddard

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight more departures than arrivals as a number of big names have been shown the door and a Trump administration with a lot of vacancies now in some big permanent jobs.  The kind of jobs that affect the safety of the American people.

Plus, tough questions are awaiting Attorney General Bill Barr when he appears before Congress just hours from now.  And most folks have the same questions.  Where`s the Mueller report, what`s in it, when do we get to see it?

And the rare political speech that broke through and might just echo for some time.  Tonight the words of a 37-year-old mayor of a small midwestern city as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 809 of this Trump administration.  The President is shaking up the top ranks of the nation`s immigration and security leadership.  Within the past 24 hours Donald Trump has forced out the secretary of Homeland Security and the director of the U.S. Secret Service, a man who happens to be a 35-year veteran of the Marine Corp and retired Two Star general.  And there are reports tonight there may be more to come.

"New York Times" reports the latest move as, "appeared to be a housecleaning of officials associated with John Kelly, the President`s former chief of staff and his first Homeland Security secretary who was pushed out at the end of last year after months of tension with Mr. Trump."

Kirstjen Nielsen who was Kelly`s chief of staff when he ran DHS took over Kelly`s old job as DHS secretary back in December 2017.  She will be forever associated with the separation of migrant children from their parents at our border.  Trump ended the separation policy officially in June with an Executive Order.

Tonight NBC News is reporting that according to three different officials Trump has been pressing to reinstate the separation policy, which led to the latest clash with Nielsen in this telling who has resisted.  Last night Donald Trump announced Nielsen`s departure on Twitter.  This morning she says she still supports the President.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  I assure the President`s goal of securing the border.  I will continue to address all efforts to address the humanitarian and security crisis on the border.


WILLIAMS:  Nielsen`s 10-year at DHS was apparently marked by several clashes with Trump who reportedly held her responsible for not reducing the number of undocumented migrants.  She`ll be replaced by on an acting basis by Kevin McAleenan, the current Customs and Border Protection Commissioner.  He comes to the job just days after the President signaled that he wanted to, "go in a tougher direction on immigration if that`s possible."  This weekend Trump summed up his policy with these words.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This is our new statement.  The system is full, can`t take you anymore. Whether it`s asylum, whether it`s anything you wanted, illegal immigration.  Can`t take you anymore.  We can`t take you, our country is full.

What can you do?  We can`t handle it anymore.  Our country is full.  Can`t come in.  I`m sorry.  It`s very simple.


WILLIAMS:  The reasons for the removal of the director of the U.S. Secret Service, Randolph Alles are less clear.  He sent a message to Secrete Service staff today saying that weeks ago the administration had alerted him about a coming transition in leadership.

However, again "The New York Times" reporting tonight according to two officials, "The President had sourced -- had soured," forgive me, "on Mr. Alles a while ago, even making fun of his looks, calling him "Dumbo" because of his ears."

His departure comes as security procedures around the President come under scrutiny after a Chinese national was arrested at Mar-a-Lago with multiple electronics devices.  The staffing purge also coincides with the rise of Trump senior aid Stephen Miller, who according to many has been the one pressing for tougher administration policies and has been pressing for a more aggressive crack down at the border.

Politico reports it this way, "Miller has been telephoning mid-level officials at several federal departments and agencies to demand they do more to stem the influx of immigrants."

All of this has highlighted Trump`s reliance on acting top officials in his administration.  Some of whom hold positions that usually require Senate confirmation.  Earlier this year the President explained why he was in no hurry to make permanent appointments.


TRUMP:  But I sort of like acting, gives me more flexibility.  Do you understand that?  I like acting.


WILLIAMS:  With that, let`s bring in our lead off panel on a Monday night.  Phil Rucker here with us in New York, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post."  Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for Politico.  And Franco Ordonez is back with us, White House Correspondent for McClatchy Newspaper covering immigration and foreign affairs.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Phil, we`re very happy to have you on home turf for this brief shining moment.  What happened today, and I know that yes, we`re talking about what happened today.  We likely will not be by tomorrow night.

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF:  Well, that`s Brian because there could be a further move in this purge by tomorrow.

What`s happening is pretty extraordinary, the President is completely cleaning house in the Department of Homeland Security, and this is not just an agency that oversees immigration policy.  This agency created after the terror attacks of 9/11 is designed to keep our country safe, to prevent cyber attacks, to prevent future terrorist attacks and right now there is instability throughout the Department.  People don`t know whether they are going to be fire next.  They don`t know who they are going to be reporting to.

And the President is acting out and making these changes because he`s so frustrated with what`s happening at the border, the influx of migrants at the border, the crossings.  It is infuriating him.  And he`s looking for somebody to blame and tonight that`s Kirstjen Nielsen, that`s the Secret Service.  And tomorrow it could be future people.

WILLIAMS:  Franco, I`d like to read you two different quotes, one from "The New York Times" just in the last 24 hours, the other from "The Washington Post" almost a year ago.  This is about the President`s treatment of his now former DHS secretary.  "The President called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the morning to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country including things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum."

And here is a year ago on "The Post," "Trump has fumed at Nielsen telling her to close the border and growing impatient at her explanations of why that`s not possible.  He has also blamed her at times for not securing enough money to finish the border wall even though she was not party to the spending deal struck by senior White House aides."

Franco, let`s point out the obvious.  Number one this is exculpatory towards Nielsen, the outgoing Cabinet secretary who knows enough about how the world works and develops some friendship in the news media.  Having said that who is this President going to find who is willing to do that kind of thing if she wasn`t?

FRANCO ORDONEZ, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS WHITE HOUSE CORRESONDENT:  It`s going to be really hard to find that person.  I mean all my sources on the left and the right are saying, "Look, you cannot just put a new face in DHS and expect the world to change.  The reality is Congress hasn`t acted and they are unlikely to act without serious concessions, without legalization or some type of asylum rule changes.  And the fact is the law is the law.

What we found, what Trump realized is after his kind of honeymoon period after the first year when human smugglers were trying to figure out kind of how the things work under the Trump administration.  They soon learned the asylum rules are still the asylum rules.  You cannot hold children for more than a month and they started coming back.  And you saw the illegal crossings creep up at about the same time that Nielsen came in.  And it was just bad -- and frankly it was bad timing for her and it`s going to be bad timing for the next person.

WILLIAMS:  Nancy, other than being a political cartoonist dream, let`s talk about Mr. Miller.  And let me ask you just how vast is his portfolio right now?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, his portfolio is quite large.  I mean, he really is the architect of the administration`s immigration policy.  And in an administration where there`s often a lot of back biting he is someone who has manage to have huge staying power, he has stayed in Trump`s good graces.  He has operated under the radar.  He has stayed in the good graces of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

And, you know, no matter what happens, he never really becomes the face of the crisis.  Kirstjen Nielsen, for instance, took all of the blame for separating children and parents when that policy was under way even though that was something that Stephen Miller really advocated for.  And he is someone that sort of continues to play under the radar and had a huge role in this huge leadership shakeup at DHS.  He is someone who is urging the President to do what he considers fulfilling the campaign promises that Trump made in 2016, and he views part of that as his housecleaning at DHS.

WILLIAMS:  Franco, let me go back to you because I note you spoke with an Obama era enforcement lawyer, let`s say, in this area.  Give us a reality check.  By how much has policy changed compared to the original initiatives in the Obama administration?

ORDONEZ:  Yes, I mean absolutely.  I talked to Obama, you know, enforcement lawyer earlier today who was just telling me, "Look, Trump wants different changes.  You pointed out in the intro that Nielsen was pushing backing -- pushing back on efforts to do illegal things.

The reality is, those things have been tried.  Obama tried to do the vast majority of things that Trump is trying to do, short of family separation policy.  President Obama detained families for over a year.  You know there were children in detention centers for a year until the court stopped it and said, "No, no, you can only do 20 days."

Obama also tried to prevent immigrants from being released on bond.  The court again said no.  Obama tried to keep children, immigrant children in HHS shelters for a longer time until they could be processed.  That also was enjoined.

So these are things that are on the law, unless Congress is going to act and there`s no sign that they will, we`re going to continue to see this problem over and over and over again.

WILLIAMS:  Franco, I know you don`t deal in the world of opinion.  But what`s your guess as to why there weren`t protests?  Where was the raised voices back then?  Was it just a liberal complicit news media?  What was it?

ORDONEZ:  I mean that is very difficult question to ask.  There were certainly immigration lawyers that I spoke to a lot who were very vocal and very outspoken.  But you`re right, there was a challenge because, you know, obviously Latino advocacy groups were very much aligned with the Obama administration, and there were challenges that they faced politically that they did not want to confront Obama.  Obama also provided some relief for, you know, the Latino advocacy`s when he passed or when he pushed the Dream Act -- pardon me, not the Dream Act, but DACA, the deferred childhood release allow children of undocumented kids to come into the country and remain legally.

So there was kind of like we`ll take what we can get, but we will -- we`ll be a little bit quiet on some of these other issues.

WILLIAMS:  Phil, to go back to a point you made about Homeland Security, I want to play for you a little bit from both chairs, House and Senate, Homeland Security Committees.  This speaks to the real business at hand.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON, (D) MISSISSIPPI, CHMN. HOMELAND SECURITY CMTE.:  It`s impossible to work in my estimation for President on immigration.  He has a mind-set that is absolutely unimaginable as it relates to immigration.

SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN, CHMN. HOMELAND SECURITY CMTE.:  I`m concerned of a growing void of leadership within the Department of Homeland Security, and this is department that is charged with really trying to grapple with some of the most significant challenges facing this nation.


WILLIAMS:  And Phil, you open the door to this.  This is behemoth.  This was created, built piece by piece during the 43 presidency as a result of 9/11.  When you have a Cabinet department you have corresponding committees in Congress.  We saw that there.  Pretty soon you`re talking about a serious charge to keep the American people safe.  When does this -- when do we get shocked out of our existence that this may be just a cable news story that we talk about?  This is among the more serious branches of our government.

RUCKER:  It is, Brian.  And thankfully there`s not been a crisis --


RUCKER:  -- to face this President.  We`ve not had a terror attack on our soil.  We`ve not had a major hacks since the Russian interference campaign in the 2016 election.  And that could happen at any point now, and the Department is simply not equipped with so much leadership change and turn over.  And DHS has been a place for stability and competence in government for the last two administrations.

You think about Tom Ridge, the first DHS secretary, you think about Jay Johnson, Janet Napolitano in the Obama administration, these were public servants who kept their heads down and did the work and managed that big bureaucracy and were competent.  And now you see President Trump trying to politicize this Department to make it tool for his re-election campaign effectively by pursuing this aggressive immigration agenda that he and Stephen Miller are really pushing inside the White House and is clearly is alarming leaders in Congress.

Senator Grassley, for example, was speaking out to my colleague, Seung Min Kim, tonight warning President Trump against firing other officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

WILLIAMS:  And Nancy Cook, let`s turn to the U.S. Secret Service.  Here`s a gentleman, 35 years in his beloved Marine Corp, retires with Two Stars on his shoulders, a veteran of the Iraq war.  And what do you get for that?  Reports tonight that the President made fun of his ears.  Walk us through this process.

COOK:  Well, it`s kind of extraordinary that the head of the Secret Service, their whole mission really is to keep the President and his family safe, and this President has a very large family.  So there are Secret Service agents with, you know, each one of his children, his wife.  You know, it`s just a huge burden on the Secret Service.  These people are working around the clock, weekends, nights to protect the whole extended family.

And, you know, the President was making fun of the way that the head of the Secret Service looked, the way his ears were on his face, behind his back.  And that was mostly because this man was appointed by General John Kelly.  The President has ill feelings towards Kelly still and, you know, was just swept up in it.

And this was really part of this DHS purge is about the President`s frustration with the migrant crossings at the border and the fact that he hasn`t been able to stem those and hasn`t ben able to do things that he wants to do even if they`re considered illegal.  But part of it is just a personal vendetta.  He does not like Kelly, and what happened today was a sweep of administration of Kelly allies and the Secret Service had was among them.

WILLIAMS:  It is the news we come on the air reporting tonight.  With our thanks to Philip Rucker, to Nancy Cook, to Franco Ordonez, we really appreciate you guys starting us off our first hour of the week.

And coming up for us, we are just hours away from the Attorney General appearing before Congress.  The man we haven`t heard speak since the Mueller report, the man who now controls the release and the contents of the Mueller report.

And later, millions of Americans don`t yet know his name, millions more have given up trying to pronouns it, but something he said yesterday may cement his position on the political map.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Monday night.


WILLIAMS:  Attorney General Barr heads to Capitol Hill first thing tomorrow morning for his first public hearing since Robert Mueller completed his investigation.  Barr -- here is the important part, will be testifying before a House appropriations subcommittee about the budget of his department.  But to repeat, this is subcommittee of the appropriations committee, but it might as well be the judiciary committee for the questions we expect he will be asked about the Mueller report.  Because this Attorney General is the man right now standing between said Mueller report and we, the people.

So, expect it to come up once or twice in questioning.  There`s also reason to expect to see Robert Mueller himself testifying before the powerful House Judiciary Committee.  We don`t know when, but we do know that the Democratic chairman and the top Republican agree on the need for Mueller to come testify.

First things first, tomorrow morning we get to hear from the A.G. himself.  Here with a preview tonight Clint Watts, former FBI special agent, former member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.  He is now a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.  And Glenn Kirschner also back with us, a former federal prosecutor from the U.S. attorney`s office in Washington.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

And Clint, just as a primer here, we are living as you may have notice in a cable T.V. and internet age.  There will be questions.  There will be camera aware members of the subcommittee tomorrow who will want their moment.  Do you think the Attorney General can very effectively shut it down and give a blanket statement that says, "You can ask me any which way you want, I ain`t going to talk about it until it`s released?"

CLINT WATTS, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  I think he can probably do that.  And I am somewhat sympathetic to him having done a redaction process before.  It takes a long time.  It does take a lot of time to do that.  You want to make sure you get it right because we`ve seen several mistakes in recent trials now where some things have slipped out.  Maybe there is this WikiLeaks connection that`s in the southern trial.  And so they don`t want to make those mistakes.

The other part is the classified info.  We`ve already heard some senators, I believe it was Senator Kenny who said, you know, people could die --


WATTS:  -- if some of these informations comes out.  I think he can probably move around very quickly and say, "We`re almost done as it is.  You know, I told you in mid-April."

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  And nobody wants members of the home team in danger of doing their job especially overseas.

So Glenn, walk me through this redaction process.  Is it our belief that Mueller and Rosenstein are still of counsel standing by around for this effort going on being led by the Attorney General?  This is Mueller`s work product, after all.  And there`s been some reporting that his intentions have already been shifted a little bit.

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTORS:  Yes, you know, Brian, there are more questions than answers when it comes to this redaction process.  We have heard reporting that Mueller already did some summaries presumably redacting out things that would not be appropriate for release.  We`ll need to know ultimately why is it that Barr can`t rely on those summaries.  And then the redaction process itself that`s being undertaken by Barr, and if you can credit Barr`s assertion by Rosenstein and perhaps by Mueller as well.

You know, there are a number of rather murky areas for these redactions.  Grand jury secrecy is a bedrock principle with respect to what we can and can`t turn over, but then there are these other vague categories that the Attorney General has set out, like the peripheral person privacy privilege.  I don`t know, but for alliteration I don`t think that privilege has much going for it.  It seems to be one that Barr has come up with himself.

I understand the principle that if prosecutors at the end of an investigation decide not to charge someone, you don`t want to sort of air their dirty laundry, but I don`t think what we`re dealing with here is a typical investigation or typical prosecutorial decision.  So I think more information rather than less really does need to go to Congress so Congress can fulfill its important oversight responsibilities and it can at least begin to think about the important topic of whether impeachment proceedings are perhaps in the offing.

WILLIAMS:  Glenn, if I had a magic wand and made you a member of the subcommittee tomorrow and -- or made you a member of the House Judiciary and you had one shot, one question to ask this Attorney General, what would it be?

KIRSCHNER:  It would be -- well, first of all it would be, I would like to see the unredacted report, please.  But it would also probably be, how in the world when Bob Mueller the lead investigator who spent 22 months delving into the facts when that person concluded he can`t clear the President on what factual basis not what legal basis you believe sort of supports an expansive executive power.  On what factual basis were you able to summarily say, "I`ll go ahead and clear the President of obstruction?"

WILLIAMS:  Clint, as the author of a book on Russia, I am guessing you would have a question about maybe Russian influence.

WATTS:  Yes.  What I`m super curious about is, in that report, did they speak to anybody that was part of the troll farm operations or the hacking operation?  What we saw in those two indictments was remarkable.  If you rewind a year, you look at the February and July indictments they were very detailed.  There were communication intercepts in there.  It was very specific.  It really put down a lot of the alternative conspiracies.

So I would be really fascinated in terms of the intelligence that they actually garnered.  This would obviously be behind closed doors, but in that intelligence did they speak to people or did they bring people in and get cooperating witnesses that told them how these operations work, because that`s really what this report was all about in the beginning.  How are we going to prevent this from happening in 2020?  How are we going to make sure our elections have integrity moving forward?  So it`d be great to know if they really got those insights from the inside.

WILLIAMS:  Let me ask you about something else, down in Florida, a very nice woman walks into Mar-a-Lago, turns out to be a Chinese national.  She`s just looking for the pool.  They look in her purse and found eight grand in Chinese and American currency.  I know you brought a list of what else they found in her purse.  What do you think she was intending to do?

WATTS:  I -- apparently she had a lot of data.  She needed to move a story.  It was --

WILLIAMS:  She had an I.T. department in her purse.

WATTS:  Yes.  A laptop with an external hard drive, four cellphones, five send cards, USB with malware, I`d love to know what kind of malware was on that.  Nine other USB, a signal detector to reveal hidden cameras.  So not your every day customer probably of Mar-a-Lago.

WILLIAMS:  Do you think she was a pros pro with Chinese Intel?  I heard theorize tonight that she would have had a cover story.  It would have been a little bit more discreet.

WATTS:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  What`s your thought as to what was going on?

WATTS:  It is a little weird because for all of this technical gadgetry that she was carrying around her cover story was really clumsy and she was sort of detected.  It makes me wonder if this operation ever been attempted before.  Did we miss this in previous attempts and maybe she was the least skilled person involved in this.  And was this a sort of money for hire kind of thing.  When can I get out of Mar-a-Lago?  Or was it attached to the Chinese government?  That is really not been discussed at all.

There had been no discussions other than she has no American contacts and does not really have any known American associates that`s why they said she could be out on bail.  So, lot of open questions in there, and just makes you wonder what did she think she was going to get out of Mar-a-Lago and why did she have to bring all this equipment in there.

WILLIAMS:  Just looking for the pool.  Of course that she didn`t have a bathing suit with her was the first clue.

To Clint Watts, to Glenn Kirschner, gentlemen, thank you both very much, two veteran guests on this broadcast.

And coming up the state of play and new efforts just today to get to see the President`s tax returns.  We`ll have the latest on that when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  The effort by various people to see this president`s tax returns is getting more creative.  A new plan by Democrats in his native State of New York to get a hold of Trump`s tax returns now has the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo.  The president will be happy to know.

The New York Times first reported that under a bill introduced today the commissioner of the New York remember state Department of Taxation and Finance would be permitted to release any state tax return requested by leaders of three congressional committees.

This renewed push on the state level comes as House Democrats, of course, have demanded six years of Trump`s federal returns.  The chair of the Ways and Means Committee gave the IRS until this Wednesday to respond, but the acting White House chief of staff says flatly Democrats shouldn`t hold their breath.


BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS SUNDAY:  To be clear you believe democrats will never see the president`s tax returns?

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  Oh, no, never.  Nor should they.  Keep in mind that`s an issue that was already litigated during the election.  Voters knew the President could have given his tax returns, they knew he didn`t and they elected him anyway.


WILLIAMS:  Quietly remarkable in its way.  Joining us tonight Tim O`Brien, Executive Director of Bloomberg Opinion and a biographer of this man, and A.B. Stoddard, Columnist and Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics.

A.B. or I`m going to ask you both the same questions, so that`s the part of this that`s a take home test.  Do you think we`ll ever see the president`s tax returns?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMIST:  I think it`s likely that we will, but I do think that the President is assured that he can run out the clock by stalling and then a legal battle would ensue that`s likely to go past the next election.  So even his effort at the state level in New York is designed to be a back stop.  If the Federal effort fails I just don`t see we`re going to see them between now and the election.

WILLIAMS:  And A.B. a follow-up.  Most people suspect what he doesn`t like is that the returns, show his net worth beginning with an "m" and not a "b."  What changes he was elected president absent the returns, what changes in that relationship between Donald Trump and his base?

STODDARD:  If they`re released or not if they`re not released?

WILLIAMS:  If they`re released and his net value doesn`t turn out to be what we were told?

STODDARD:  I think that there`s more concern beyond the numbers and inflated estimates of his own wealth.  I think the concern is the business dealings he was doing with Russia and Tim knows all about this, actually in the early 2000s which makes the requests by Chairman Neal interesting because they only go back to 2013.  But in the early 2000s his sons bragged in `07 and `08 on the record that they were doing all of their business, most of their business with Russia.  No properties there but getting loans when U.S. banks wouldn`t loan to them.

So, this will be -- the tailoring of the requests are interesting, and they`re trying to get at conflicts of interest which I think is, you know, a concern of President Trump`s beyond whether he bragged that he was a billionaire or millionaire.

WILIAMS:  Tim, same question.  Do you think will we ever see them?

TIM O`BRIEN, BLOOMBERG OPINION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:  I think we should see them.  I don`t know if we will.  I think they`re going to fight tooth and nail to keep those things out of the public purview.  Obviously what`s happening in New York is the New York state legislator and Andrew Cuomo realized that it may not happen at the federal level.  So now you`ve got Donald Trump sort of the crypt keeper of the 1980s.  We have Andrew Cuomo and Rudy Giuliani and Jerry Nadler and Chuck Schumer, the National Enquirer here if we can resurrect Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner back.

I think the think the New York state legislator is going to have a hard time getting some of this past the IRS because the New York state returns are based on the federal returns.  I think there`s going to be a lot of legal back and forth around this.

I think am Mick Mulvaney said this was litigated during the election and it was dispensed with -- I think that`s (INAUDIBLE), during the election the President originally said he`d be happy to release his tax returns.  Then when the consequences of releasing them and the kind of information that would come out if he did so dawned on him, he then began saying, well, no, I`m under audit and therefore I can`t, I can`t release them.  And the audit`s not an excuse for not being able to release them.  Richard Nixon released his while he was under audit.

I also don`t the salient issue in here is what it`s going to say about its wealth.  I think it`s going to get to what A.B. pointed to, which is what it says about his sources of financing.  And Neal is only asked for six years of returns.  That`s only going to get us back to say 2012 or 2013.

And I think the very interesting period that everyone is focused on with him are the midnots, when he sort of blows through his final inherence from Fred Trump yet comes up with enough cash to finance the construction of a golf course in Scotland, buy another one and do a lot of other deals that ultimately involve the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars.  And the source of that money is a bit of mystery.  And the tax returns would answer that.

WILLIAMS:  A.B., Tim correctly mentions the audit.  We have the same thought.  We`ll play this and talk on the other side.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, but as soon as my routine audit is finished, I`ll release my returns.  I`ll be very proud to.

Until such time the audit is finished by the IRS, which is a routine audit I think, but until such time its finished, I won`t be going and releasing because obviously that wouldn`t be a good thing to do.  Because it`s under audit.  I`ll release them when the audit is completed.


WILLIAMS:  A.B., interesting that his acting chief of staff didn`t mention the routine audit.

STODDARD:  Yes, I thought that was interesting that Mick Mulvaney threw the presidential line about the audit under the bus and said basically, you know, this was no problem for the voters in the election.  The polling has always showed a stronger majority than Trump`s approval rating, and so people within his own base would like to see his tax returns.

Once he became president, he became officially under audit as all presidents are.  And there is no rule, of course, keeping him from releasing them.  And I think that not only the fact that he and his lieutenants can`t stay on the same page, it`s going to make it very hard on Republicans even if we never see these returns until after the 2020 election because of the court battle to defend.  It`s just going to be increasingly difficult for them to say he`s not hiding anything and this is completely fine for him to hide his returns and spend taxpayer money to fight this in court.

WILLIAMS:  Both of our gusts have agreed to stay with us.

And coming up when we come back, the latest big name departure, just the latest upheaval for a White House where chaos, at least a little bit of it every day seems to be the norm.  More on that when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  We are back.  A thought here.  The Trump administration has seen more turnover in the first two years than in any other modern president before him.  Reagan comes in with the second most turnover.  People are also quick to point out with Kirstjen Nielsen`s departure Trump`s cabinet has become even less diverse.  That`s saying something.  There are now just three women filling the top 23 seats, and there they are with only six to begin with when we started this thing.

Still with us, Tim O`Brien, A.B. Stoddard.  A.B., do you think diversity -- do you think a smooth running machine has been a priority at that place?

STODDARD:  Brian, it is not top of mind.  I think that the President has made it perfectly clear over and over again that he does not follow these rules and protocols everyone has taken so seriously for so long that having policy experts in all the right positions in the bureaucracy for stable and effective government.  He is actually on the record as we know saying he loves using acting positions because he could just get a new one when he feels like it, and he doesn`t want to bother with a Senate confirmation process

And so I think we can expect to see more of this.  I don`t know that it will be at the rate we`ve seen the last few days.  But it`s not a big concern to cycle through people at this unprecedented rate.

WILLIAMS:  Tim, I want to show you a bit of an interview nationally televised this weekend.  And have you comment on this prominent member of the Republican Party afterwards.  Oh, I`m told we don`t have it.

Anyway, it was -- you should have been there.  It was Mitt Romney talking about the pursuit of the president`s tax returns.  And you had a lot of people reacted that they were surprised in what he said -- I`m told by the control room, and just in the knick of time we have it.  We`ll talk about it in the other side.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH:  I think the republicans are playing his handbook which is going after his tax returns through a legislative action is moronic.  That`s not going to happen.


WILLIAMS:  What do you think is going on there?

O`BRIEN:  Well, one, I think Mitt Romney has flip-flopped so many times throughout his relationship with Donald Trump and now he`s playing the loyal party member in this.  The Congress doesn`t need legislative action.  The Congress is entitled to oversee the operations of the Executive Branch.  If they decide they`re having a window on the president`s tax returns helps give them a better sense of whether or not you have a financially conflicted president in the Oval Office, I think that`s part of their powers for the Constitution.  They don`t need to pass legislation to do that.

So when Mitt Romney is pointing at that, I think he`s being apparatchik.  I don`t think he`s being an honest analyst of the dynamics at work.

And Mitt Romney we may remember during the 2016 campaign was one of the most pronounced opponents of Trump.  And he routinely pointed with Trump`s financial conflict of interest, problems with Trump`s business relationships, questions about how Trump financed his businesses.  The only way to get to that in a meaningful way is through his tax returns.  And that`s why every president since 1973 has released them.

WILLIAMS:  Here we are tonight talking about tumult in the administration.  Turnover, we`re not talking about the Russia investigation.  Something tells me we will by tomorrow night.  But is any of this by design to use the quaint old quote?

O`BRIEN:  Nothing is by design in Trump land.  The Trump organization was a chaotic organization that essentially resolved around the cultive personality selling Donald Trump as a human shingle.  That`s morphed into the way that White House`s run.

You know, Axios had a great piece of Don McGahn giving the inside kind of pep talk --


O`BRIEN:  -- to Senate aides.  And he said, you know, I think the White House is run like a hub and spoke operation with Trump at the hub and blah, blah, blah.  Donald Trump is not Peter Drucker.  Donald Trump is a solo pilot who decides what he wants to do on a whimsy.

And I think what happened to the Homeland Security Department today was the result of the fact that they`ve got an embarrassing failure on the southern border.  And rather than take responsibility for that mistake himself Trump is just going through and beheading people at DHS.

WILLIAMS:  A. B. Stoddard closing thoughts in 30 seconds or less.  Has Mitt Romney decided not to take a role of leadership in the Senate among Republicans?

STODDARD:  No, he`d want to do a two step which is why he said that he also would like to see the president`s tax returns, but the technique by Democrats was moronic.  He wants to be a Trump critic one day and be a loyal Senate Republican in the day.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you for the candor.  Tim O`Brien, A. B. Stoddard, two of our returning veterans, thank you as always.

And coming up, we haven`t heard a speech from a politician quite like this one.  We`ll have it for you when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  There are 18 Democrats officially running for president so far.  Pete Buttigieg, the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana would make it 19.  A lot of things make his resume stand out.  He served in Afghanistan and is veteran of the U.S. Navy.  He graduated and is Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar.  He`s also gay and his remarks on that topic in a speech on Sunday just might have the power to resonate beyond that event, not unlike Barack Obama`s now famous speech on race when he was a candidate.  Pete Buttigieg was passionate.  He got deeply personal, and as you`ll see toward the end, the remarks became pointed at a former governor of Indiana, now Vice President Mike Pence.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When I was younger I would have done anything to not be gay.  If you had offered me a pill to make me straight I would have swallowed it before you had time to give me a sip of water.  It was a hard thing to think about now.

It`s hard to face the truth of there were times in my life if you had shown exactly what it was inside me that made me gay, I would have cut it out with a knife.  People talked about things like marriage equality is a moral issue.  And it is a certainly a moral issue as far as I`m concerned.

It`s a moral issue because being married to Chasten has made be a better human being, because it`s made more me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent.  My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man, and yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to god.

Speaking only for myself, I can tell you if me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade.

And that`s the thing I wish that the Mike Pences of the world would understand.  That if you`ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me.  Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.


WILLIAMS:  Pete Buttigieg has not announced his candidacy but his campaign has already raised $7 million, and he started telling supporters to expect some announcement of some big news this coming Sunday.

Coming up for us tonight a prominent immigrant well-known to American audiences and readers has some surprising things to say on the state of immigration.  That when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, Andrew Sullivan is a lot of things starting with the fact he often mentions himself.  He`s an immigrant to this country.  He`s a British born American journalist and author, and sometimes polemicist.  He is always thought provoking.  We`re proud to say he`s been a guest on this broadcast.

It`s something he has just written in New York magazine on the topic immigration and the intersection of Democratic Party politics that is getting a lot of attention.  We`ll invite him back on our broadcast to discuss it, but for now here are his words.  And for reasons you`ll see they are causing a certain amount of hubub already.

He writes, quote, Another flaw is one that all the current Democrats have which is that they simply are on the wrong side of the immigration argument.  The core issue shaping western politics.  The issue will be dominant again because of a huge wave of migrants, many of them rural Guatemalans who are overwhelming the border trying to enter the U.S. at a current pace of 100,000 a month.

Their ability to claim asylum under current law permits them to show up at the border, get admitted and processed by the border patrol and then released in the interior to reside here until a court date which could come up years later.

The backlog in the underfunded immigration courts is vast with more than a million still in line for a hearing.  Many of the migrants won`t show up for a court date.  Those who do can still resist deportation indefinitely.

What this means is the U.S. has now an effectively open border with Mexico.  And according to the American Bar Association the immigration system is irredeemably dysfunctional and on the brink of collapse.  Repeating the Democratic mantra that there is no border crisis will not work for much longer.  The lesson from Europe in 2015 is that a migrant surge fuels itself as word gets back home.  And then white nationalism takes off.  We could, in other words, be in the mother of all immigration scares as the first primaries take place.  We could have a million more migrants to grapple with.  Currently no Democrat has any response to this.

The provocative words of Andrew Sullivan to take us off the air on a Monday night.  With my thanks to my friends Nicolle and Ali and Steve for stepping in so that I could sneak away for a week, and so that is our broadcast for tonight as we start a new week.

Our thanks to you for being here with us, and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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