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Attorney General Barr testifies for first time. TRANSCRIPT: 4/9/19. The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Neal Katyal, Anita Kumar, Jon Meacham

JULIAN CASTRO, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT:  -- other big corporations, but I believe in small business.  And one of the things I look forward to doing during the course of the campaign is to releasing a plan on how I would make small business more successful.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And we will hear more about that next time.  Secretary Julian Castro, thank you very much for joining us, and I really appreciate it.

Julian Castro gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the Attorney General promises the Mueller report within a week, but the question remains what will Congress and the people not be allowed to see?  How much will be covered by the black lines of redaction?

Democrats in Congress are on guard after today because the top lawyer in our land sounded like he was protecting the boss.  Among the questions he would not answer has the White House seen the Mueller report?  It`s likely to come up again when he next appears hours from now.

Plus the first reaction from Putin since the Mueller investigation wrapped up, and it involves a mountain and a mouse.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 810 of the Trump administration.  And today we heard from the Attorney General William Barr for the first time in public, at least since the Mueller investigation wrapped up.  As expected he took a pass on some questions entirely, and hedged on others.  But he did talk about the ongoing process of removing information, sensitive information, from the report during the preparation of releasing it to the public.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We will color code the excisions from the report.  And we will provide explanatory notes describing the basis for each redaction.

This process is going along very well.  And my original timetable of being able to release this by mid-April stands within a week.  I will be in a position to release the report to the public.


WILLIAMS:  Interesting. Barr added he would engage the chairs of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees about any further requests they may have.

As we`ve mentioned, back on March 29th, Barr told lawmakers he is redacting grand jury material, information that could compromise Intelligence sources, ongoing investigations, and material that could violate the privacy of people not charged.  Today Democrats peppered Barr with questions, including whether or not Mueller`s team had a chance to review that now-famous four-page summary letter he released back on Sunday, March 24th.


BARR:  The letter of the 24th, Mr. Mueller`s team did not play a role in drafting that document, although we offered him the opportunity to review it before we sent it out and he declined that.  The letter on the 29th, I don`t believe that that was reviewed by Mr. Mueller or that they participated in drafting that letter.


WILLIAMS:  Democrats are insisting they want to see a clean version, an unredacted version of the Mueller report.

During Barr`s testimony, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Democrat from New York, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, asked Barr if the White House had had a chance to see Mueller`s report.


REP. NITA LOWEY, (D-NY) CHAIR, APPROPRIATIONS CMTES.:  Did the White House see the report before you released your summarizing letter?  Has the White House seen it since then?  Have they been briefed on the contents beyond what was in your summarizing letter to the Judiciary Committee?

BARR:  I`ve said what I`m going to say about the report today.  I`ve issued three letters about it.

LOWEY:  Will we have the complete report?  Or are you going to be selective as to what you give members of Congress?

BARR:  You mean the unredacted report?

LOWEY:  Uh-huh.

BARR:  No.  The first pass at this is going to produce a report that makes these redactions based on these four categories.


WILLIAMS:  Here`s how "The New York Times" reported on that moment specifically. "In the past, Justice Department officials have said that Mr. Barr had not shown the White House any part of the Mueller report or briefed Mr. Trump`s team about its contents.  His demurral on Tuesday raised the possibility that the situation has shifted and the White House knows more than the public or Congress about what Mueller said."

The Attorney General was also asked about Mueller not having reached a conclusion on that question of whether or not the President obstructed justice.


CHARLIE CHRIST, (D) FLORIDA:  Can you elaborate on what is meant by, does not exonerate the President?

BARR:  I think that`s the language from the report.

CHRIST:  Right. I understand that.

BARR:  That`s -- that`s a statement made by the Special Counsel.

CHRIST:  Right.

BARR:  I report it as one of his bottom-line conclusions.  I`m not in a position to discuss that further until the report is all out, and then what is meant by exonerate is really a question that I can`t answer, what he meant by that.


WILLIAMS:  Also today you`ll be happy to know Vladimir Putin has weighed in.  The Associated Press reporting, "Putin on Tuesday mocked Mueller`s investigation, saying, "a mountain gave birth to a mouse."  Putin sought to cast the 22-month investigation as a failure and disregarded the Special Counsel`s exposure of a Russian operation to put Donald Trump in the White House.  "It was clear for us from the start that it would end like this," the Russian leader said."

With that let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Tuesday night.  We welcome to the broadcast, former Democratic senator from the great state of Missouri, Claire McCaskill.  And back with us, two of our returning veterans, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staffs at both CIA and Pentagon, and Neal Katyal, former Acting General Solicitor General during the Obama administration, also happens to be veteran of the Justice Department where, importantly, he drafted the special counsel regs under which Mueller was appointed.

And Neal Katyal, I would like to begin with you.  You tell us what happened today?

NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL:  Well, I think what happened, it`s fitting you just started by talking about Vladimir Putin because what happened today was really very Kremlin-y.  I mean, I think we saw the Attorney General Barr testify before Congress about how much -- how many efforts he`s taken to prevent the American people and the Congress from getting information, setting out these categories, these four categories, which are really expansive.  I mean, privacy about peripheral third-parties we`re not going to see information about.

He has this now color coding chart and this and that.  I mean, it reminds me of the color coding after the horrible September 11th attacks, which was much more security theater than anything else.  And I fear this is going to be much more public release theater.  And it`s sounding like he is laying the seeds to not tell the American people everything that`s in the Mueller report, to not tell Congress everything that is in it.

I mean, in one very telling fact today, as you just mentioned, he wouldn`t even tell the American people if Donald Trump has been briefed on the report ahead of Congress, ahead of the American people.  I mean, that is the way Putin operates.  It`s not the way American governments operate.

And in the past we`ve had special counsels likely on Jaworski and Ken Starr and they went to court to try and get -- and got all of the information to be given to Congress.  They got court orders to do that.

And Barr further today said, "Oh, I`m not even going to bother doing that.  I`m not even going to try and get grand jury information released."  That`s not American.  It`s not democratic.  And it`s not consistent with the rule of law.

WILLIAMS:  So Senator, let`s agree that patriotic Americans don`t want to burn sources and methods overseas.


WILLIAMS:  And they don`t want to scorch people who were called before a grand jury and are otherwise innocent bystanders.  That said, if you were a senator on tomorrow`s Appropriation subcommittee, how would you go back at Barr, knowing, having seen that he`s going to be a tough witness?

MCCASKILL:  Well, I think, first of all, he`s a really smart lawyer.  He didn`t want to make news today.  He wanted to be very low key.  He was very smart in the way he answered the questions.

I think I`d ask him, who`s peripheral?  Is Ivanka Trump peripheral?  Is Jared peripheral?  Is his son peripheral?

I mean, he`s saying that he wants to protect people that are on the -- not in the center of this.  Well, that probably needs to be defined.  I would try to get that out of him.

The other thing -- the term he used today, Brian, that was really interesting, he said at the first pass --

WILLIAMS:  I noticed that.

MCCASKILL:  -- we`re only going to show this.

WILLIAMS:  Does that mean he`s anticipating a fight with steps along the way?

MCCASKILL:  Evidently.  Because why would he use that terminology?  It`s almost like he`s acknowledging, I`m going to try to keep as much possible from you, but it may be that there will be another iteration where I will reveal even more, which tells you really all you need to know.  And then finally, why would he not want to tell us -- I bet you a dollar, the White House has seen this report.

WILLIAMS:  I`m a little short.

MCCASKILL:  I`ll bet you a dollar because the President went nuts over the weekend on the Mueller report again.  I mean, a few minutes ago he was, oh, I`m exonerated, this is great, you know, this is wonderful. And now he is trashing the Mueller report, which tells me they`ve seen it and now they are very hopeful that Barr will do their bidding.  Because after all, the President thinks Barr is his lawyer, not America`s lawyer.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, what`s the chance that the White House has seen the report, and as the senator is implying, it may explain some of the emphasis, the almost maniacal emphasis on the border we`ve seen these past 72 hours?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Very high, Brian.  I think if a question is posed to the Attorney General and he`s asked, "have you shared the report with the White House," and he says, "I can`t tell you," I think we all know what that means, that means yes.  I agree with Senator McCaskill

The other thing that struck me, Brian, is that the fact that the Special Counsel himself chose not to review the four-page summary.  I think in some ways it`s make clear that Bob Mueller kind of wants to wash his hands of any characterization of his work.  I think it sounds to me like he was concerned that Bill Barr was issuing somewhat of a misleading, perhaps, summary of the conclusions.  And you have to look no further than the fact that with respect to the part of the Barr letter in which he said, "yes, the President was not exonerated, there was criminal conduct," that said, within 48 hours, I`m going to clear the President completely even though the Special Counsel has taken two years to investigate this matter.

I think that`s something that when the report finally comes out, I sincerely hope there`s not a lot of redactions there because there is going to be a lot to learn about the President`s conduct in that section.

WILLIAMS:  And Neal Katyal, to Jeremy`s second point, his friends over at the Pentagon gave us the term standoff to describe certain weapons that don`t need to be fired while over the target.  Are you surprised that Mueller is taking a standoff position?  Because I sure thought we were being told a few days back that he was going to be part of the review process.  This is his work product, after all.  And he`s about to have it - - a judgment cast upon it.  So he was going to be part of the team deciding on which redactions were fine, which were perhaps too severe.

KATYAL:  Yes, I guess I`m not surprised because I think this attorney general has acted with I think a little bit of -- not totally on the up and up.  And I think Mueller recognizes that.  I mean, this all started last summer when Barr wrote a 19-page memo that basically said, the President can`t be guilty of obstruction of justice.

And it continued, as Jeremy just said, with, within 48 hours of Barr getting Mueller`s report in which Mueller pointedly says, "I can`t resolve the obstruction of justice inquiry, presumably because he wanted to give to it Congress.  Barr goes and just grabs it for himself and clears the President.  Then the President says, "Oh, the report totally clears me."

So all of these things are happening and I think it`s really smart of Mueller to recognize that had he reviewed this four-page letter, Barr very well may have said, "Oh, Mueller`s behind this, he supports what I`m doing and the like.  So by washing his hands of it, I think he protects his ability to come forward in the future."

And you know, if there`s something that gives me hope in all of this saga, it`s that, that Barr has to recognize that Mueller at the end of the day can go and testify in the Congress.  When he wrote the special counsel regulations, we presupposed that the special counsel would come from outside the Justice Department so that they couldn`t be subject to a presidential order.  And so that`s the ultimate safeguard.

 At the end of the day, Mueller can go and testify before Congress and say, "Here`s what I found."

WILLIAMS:  While I happen to know you were preparing today for your next Supreme Court argument, here`s what you missed in realtime.  ou were not by name but by work product invoked today. I`ll play this we`ll talk about on it the other side.


BARR:  It`s interesting because this whole mechanism for the Special Counsel, as I said, was established during the Clinton administration in the wake of Ken Starr`s report.  And that`s why the current rule says that the report should be kept confidential.  Because there was a lot of reaction against the publication of Ken Starr`s report, I think the situation here requires me to exercise my discretion to get as much information out as I can, and I think these categories -- I think most fair-minded people would agree are things that have to be redacted.


WILLIAMS:  Neal, what`s the short version about what he might have gotten right or wrong about your work on the regs?

KATYAL:  Thank you for playing that.  It`s flatly wrong.

So, he said the report must be confidential and that`s what the regulations say?  They say no such thing, Brian.  They say the special counsel is to give a confidential report to the attorney general.  The attorney general should review it for stuff, you know, sources and methods and things like that.  Those can be appropriately redacted from a public version.

But there`s nothing in the regulations that requires the report to be confidential, and indeed, there`s a provision we wrote in the regulations which Mr. Barr didn`t talk about which provides for the public release of the attorney general`s report.  Barr is not a special counsel.  He is the attorney general.

The provision about confidentiality only governs the special counsel, not the attorney general.  Of course the attorney general can give such information to the Congress and the American people.  That`s, after all, the job the attorney general, to provide public confidence in the administration of justice.

WILLIAMS:  Senator, we did pay for 22 months` worth of work.  And on behalf of the Democrats who are demanding the clean version of this report, the folks watching tonight know how leaks work in Washington.  And they`re worried that perhaps information we don`t want in the public realm might get out.

MCCASKIL:  I think that`s a fair concern.  But I do think one of the things that is going to end up governing this going forward is going to be Mueller`s loyalty to the hard work of the law enforcement professionals that did this work.  We know that Bob Mueller is somebody who has deep and abiding respect for the rule of law.

I think he took his job seriously.  They didn`t leak.  They did their work.  And I think he`s going to want that work to be respected.

So, if Barr goes too far with redactions, I think Barr probably knows that Mueller -- that`s when Mueller would be, I think, willing to push back because he doesn`t want the work that his people did to be dismissed behind a lot of green shading, red shading, yellow shading, and blue shading, or whatever colors the attorney general picks.

So I think that Mueller wanting to protect the process that his people went through and to show the public the facts, that the public should have a right to know.  I think that will help keep Barr on this side of obnoxious in terms of trying to protect the President.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, perhaps because I`m sitting with a former member of the national -- the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate, I want to at least get you on the record with a word on what`s going on in that Cabinet Department, excuse me.  This is not the division of weights and measures inside commerce, though they do important work.  This is a vitally important Cabinet Department.

We learned today secretary -- outgoing Secretary Nielsen`s former deputy is herself leaving, clearing the way for the guy Trump wants to become acting secretary.  What`s going on and what are the ramifications?

BASH:  Well, the President not only fired Kirstjen Nielsen, but he also pushed aside a 28-year veteran of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Grady -- Ms. Grady, excuse me, who has been in that role as the under secretary.  By law she is the next in line, the succession.  But of course this administration doesn`t really respect the rule of law.  So they fired her, pushed her aside and put in their own individual.

I think it shows you, Brian, just the lengths to which the administration`s going to go to violate norms, violate policy, violate laws, and undermine the Senate`s ability to confirm a leader of that Cabinet department.  We now have acting officials at both Defense and Homeland Security.

Again, a Tuesday night massacre down at a couple of yards from here at our studios on Nebraska Avenue at DHS.

WILLIAMS:  Senator, you`re nodding.  I have a few seconds to give you.

MCCASKILL:  Few seconds, one of the most important things that happened today is they`re firing the lawyer at Homeland Security.  He is tired of being told that what he wants them to do is illegal.  So, Stephen Miller is going to try to figure out how to put a lawyer in there that`s going to tell the President what he wants to hear, rather than what the law is.

WILLIAMS:  Our great thanks to our guests tonight, former Senator Claire McCaskill, Jeremy Bash, Neal Katyal, greatly appreciate your time starting off our broadcast on a Tuesday.

And coming up, more reaction to this Barr testimony today as the Senate gears up for its turn tomorrow.

And later, the President says migrants are coming here to go to Disneyland.  We have two reporters here to break it down as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Tuesday night.



REP. JERRY NADLER, (D-NY) CHAIRMAN JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Congress has need of the entire report, including the grand jury material, including all the -- including everything.  If we don`t get everything, we will issue the subpoena and go to court.


WILLIAMS:  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York, already getting to the go ahead from his committee to subpoena the full Mueller report, the clean version without the black lines of redactions.  And from what he said there, he`s prepared to do exactly that.  Democrats have made their frustration with Barr`s four-page summary very clear.  Something the A.G. addressed today.


BARR:  In my judgment, it was important for people to know the bottom-line conclusions of the report while we worked on the necessary redactions to make the whole thing available.  And as you know from your own experience, from a prosecutor`s standpoint, the bottom line is binary, which is charges or no charges?


WILLIAMS:  Here with us to talk about it tonight, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor over at "Politico."  And John Heilemann, MSNBC National Affairs Analyst, also happens to be coauthor "Game Change" and co-host of "The Circus" over on Showtime.  Welcome to you both.

Anita, what was the White House reaction to the testimony?  And let`s take on the Democrats` worst fear is that the top lawyer in the land has the President`s back.  Is there confidence at the White House that that is indeed true?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  You know, it`s really interesting that he did not -- he declined to say whether the White House has seen the report.  Because the White House has told us repeatedly they haven`t seen the report.  So there is either a disconnect there or the Attorney General doesn`t want to reveal what those conversations were about.  But they claim they haven`t seen them.

You know, I don`t think that their worry is any more worry than any other day when they`re getting a lot of requests, threats of subpoena from House Democrats on a variety of things.  They have pushed back hard.  They have sort of a strategy now on how to deal with the House Democrats, which is not to give much of anything, not to give anything personal for sure of the President`s.

And just to say, we`re going to ignore it.  I mean, in many instances they`re not even responding by letter.  The customary letter that you send back.  So, I think they`re feeling sort of the same about it.

WILLIAMS:  John Heilemann, point one is a pure aside.  As a fellow linguist, I love watching intelligential words rise and fall under popularity.


WILLIAMS:  We`re winning on narrative, the word everyone had to use ones in a sentence.  Binary.  Go invest in the word binary because everybody is starting to use it.  Now --

HEILEMANN:  You know, I`ve been a fan for a long time of the false binary, which is where people say either/or, when in fact it could easily be and/both.  But, yes --

WILLIAMS:  I knew you were going to add value to that.  Number two in the actual question for you, can this report contain real good news for this White House?  And another way of asking that is, where are we going from here?

HEILEMANN:  Well, no, I think it`s pretty evident that things are bad, are getting -- going to get worse for the White House as it goes forward.  Which actually brings into question the political strategy and that`s what it is, right?  It`s increasingly difficult.

You listen to the guests on your first -- the first block tonight.  You think about -- you listen to the Attorney General today in congress.  It is increasingly hard for people of good will, who wish, as I think all Americans, should for the Attorney General to be not a political actor at this moment in particular, and in general, it`s almost impossible now to not see him as a political actor given where we`re headed, given the flimsiness of the explanations, given the lengths to which he seems to be going to protect the President.  He made a political and PR judgment to do this.

And it strikes me as a foolish one in that there was a theory of the case seems to have been, get the best possible case out early, cement perceptions, and then the President will be able to claim exoneration and when the bad news comes out people won`t notice because everyone will have already bought the exoneration line.

WILLIAMS:  Part one has happened.

HEILEMANN:  I just think the Part 1 has happened.  But I think it`s a woeful misreading of the news environment we live in now where everything is evanescing, where everything jut vanishes into the air.  Winning the day now is not winning the first day.  It`s winning the last day in the argument.

And it seems to me that the trajectory of this only gets worse for the President and that the strategy fails on its own merits in that sense.  But also looks increasingly bad as you go forward.

WILLIAMS:  Both our guest have agreed to stay with us over the break.

And coming up, the President says the record number of migrant families trying to cross the Southern border into this country are coming here, "like it`s a picnic or Disneyland."  And he has taken credit for stopping child separation.  We`ll talk about that topic when we come back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  President Obama separated the children.  Those cages that were shown, I think they were very inappropriate.  They were built by President Obama`s administration, not by Trump.  President Obama had child separation.  I didn`t have -- I`m the one that stopped it.  President Obama had child separation.  Now I`ll tell you something, once you don`t have it, that`s why you see many more people coming.  They`re coming like it`s a picnic, because let`s go to Disneyland.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump today blaming, as you heard, the Obama administration for separating children from migrant families even as his White House is said to be preparing to take tougher action at the border, including, according to reports, reinstating that very policy.  Trump denied that today but his critics were quick to point out the Obama administration only separated families when a child`s welfare was in question.  And there was this fact check from the President`s preferred cable news network.


SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS:  Now separating rhetoric from reality when it comes to immigration in America.  The Trump administration did separate families.  The Trump Department of Homeland Security estimates more than 2,300 children had been separated from their families by last spring.  And the Trump administration did detain children in cages.


WILLIAMS:  Shepherd Smith at Fox News.  "The Washington Post" sums up the current state of play, "Trump`s increasingly erratic behavior over the past 12 days since he first threatened to seal the border in a series of tweets on March 29th has alarmed top Republicans, business officials, and foreign leaders who fear that his emotional response might exasperate -- exacerbate," forgive me, "problems at the border, harm the U.S. economy, and degrade national security."

Anita Kumar and John Heilemann have been kind enough to stay with us.

John, is this his go-to zen place?  You hear him now repeating the sound bites of the points he wants broadcasts like this to play.  And is, as someone said today, is that, that scene in the Oval Office, the evidence we need that he`s been offered a glimpse of the Mueller report?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  I`m having a little bit of difficulty starting here because I`m trying to contemplate the notion of compatibility between the notion of zen and Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS:  I know.

HEILEMANN:  But OK, that`s --

WILLIAMS:  You also survived LaGuardia tonight.


WILLIAMS:  And we appreciate that.

HEILEMANN:  I did.  I was not zen in that situation at all.  It is -- there`s no doubt it`s his go-to.  It`s his go-to place.  And I think there`s a lot of political calculation involved in what he does in this area.  I think he is looking towards 2020.  He understands how difficult re-election is going to be.  He thinks he can win.  He thinks -- as with everything, the only touchstone of his entire administration has been, to his deficit in some respects because he hasn`t grown his base at all, but feeding the base, stoking the ire of those who are with him, has been his sole political lodestar, right?  That`s been the thing.

This is the issue that he associates most firmly with it.  Of course, we could point out that he said he was going to build a great big wall with Mexico paying it.  We could point all that out.  The reality is he thinks that if he doesn`t keep riding this issue, that it could cost him re- election.

Now, there are -- we all would say there are a lot of other things that could cost him re-election, we could name like 30.  But this is one where he really believes he`s got -- a lot of people would say he`s got racism in his heart, he`s got xenophobia in his heart, he`s cruel, he doesn`t care about arguments about family separation, putting kids in cages, a lot of people would say all that and probably it`s true.  But most importantly why I think he`s animating a lot this is he doesn`t know much else about politics except how to keep those people with him, and he thinks this is the key to that.

WILLIAMS:  Anita Kumar, I don`t know where you were at 4:43 this afternoon but time will forever record that it was when we first saw a video with the President`s imprimatur on it, he put it out on social media and it`s dark.  It ends with the brand name of Trump 2020, it`s a re-election theme video.  It starts with a recitation of grievances.  The soundtrack is from "The Dark Knight" after all.

We`re told it`s a just a Trump super fan who put this together.  This does not have the stamp of approval of the campaign.  But conveniently now the President has put it out into the bloodstream.  First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they call you racist.  And that`s the opening credits.

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes.  I mean, I was sure it was from the Trump campaign, but as you say, they are saying it`s from a fan.  I think we`re going to continue to see things like this.  As you know, the President is a fan of these videos.  He put one out or put something out similar when he had the North Korea talks awhile back.  He`s very into this stagecraft.

So even if they didn`t put it out, we`re going to see all these themes coming back.  We`re going to see videos like this.  We`re going to see campaign like, you know, things like this.  But it was very interesting.  One -- you know, obviously, there was a lot in there about things that they say he has accomplished, right, the stock market, North Korea.  But there was an awful lot of Hillary Clinton still in there.  And Bill Clinton was in there.  So it`s still a look back at 2016 while they`re trying to go to 2020, which is sort of what President Trump does.

WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to our guests tonight, both returning veterans, Anita Kumar and John Heilemann, thank you very much for being with us as always.

And coming up, badly in need of historical perspective, we called the history boys, Meacham, Beshloss, here with us in this very studio right after this.


WILLIAMS:  As we have noted a time or two this administration seems to be in the habit of breaking norms and protocols.  But "Washington Post" columnist Max Boot puts it in more drastic terms.  He writes, "The real national emergency isn`t at the border, it`s in Washington.  Trump is trashing the rule of law to stay in power.  And the very same Republicans who excoriated President Barack Obama for his supposed misuse of executive power are meekly going along."

On that note, we are joined tonight by two of the most widely read authors of our age.  Our NBC News Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, his latest work is called "Presidents of War."  And Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Jon Meacham is here.  His newest work because it`s been a few weeks, coauthored with Tim McGraw, I guess we can expect a project with Yanni next, is "Songs of America" out on June 11th.

Full disclosure, I enjoyed a meal with these two gentlemen here in New York City tonight.  Welcome.  Thank you both for coming on.

Jon, before we veer into country music, I`ll start with you.  Yesterday alone, a purge at the Department of Homeland Security and orders apparently from the administration to tell folks to go ahead and break laws if they`ve been -- if they`ve come up against resistance.  As I always ask you, what is happening right now as we watch?

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENT HISTORIAN:  Well, it`s a rolling Saturday night massacre at this point.  And you have, to me, one of the things that I`ve heard many people comment on is if you believe in the mission of the Department of Homeland Security, aren`t we reaching a point where our Homeland Security now is in danger?  Because the people charged with executing the defense are not in place?

WILLIAMS:  It`s pretty important cabinet department.

MEACHAM:  Created in the wake of the deadliest day in American history.  Created to -- and having, knock on wood, praise the lord, wherever you stand on the spectrum, whatever you wan to say remarkably successful.  And right now, because of this I would argue largely manufactured crisis at the border, we now have -- we`re in a position where the people charged with our safety are missing because the President is using this as an ideological paint ball field, as opposed to taking it seriously.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, we often cover these events as the shiny object of the day.  Because the ongoing, to coin a phrase, narrative of this administration has been the Russia investigation.  Something we deal with here every night.  But the shiny object suddenly become history over time, don`t they?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  They sure do.  And especially if, God forbid, they result in a catastrophe.  And one of the shiny objects that`s a consistent pattern but we`ve seen it a lot the last week is this President`s unbelievable disrespect for the rule of law, which again, especially in the Republican Party, is very much out of the pattern of history.

You know, I always used to think that Richard Nixon was a one-time fluke.  He considered something called the Houston Plan in 1970 to combat his domestic political enemies.  People who are against the Vietnam War with illegal mail ordering -- openings and domestic surveillance and burglaries and actually, you know, approved burglaries and some other things that led to the Watergate scandal.  But much of what we`ve seen from Donald Trump over the last two years has a very great potential to put Watergate in the shade.

WILLIAMS:  Jon, everyone who loves history, American history, knows the date April 12th.  And why it`s important in the last century.  Remind our viewers about what happened on that date upcoming, and how far we`ve traveled since that day.

MEACHAM:  Late that afternoon, Franklin Roosevelt is in his cottage at warm springs, Georgia, where he had gone to try to regain the use of his legs, where the saltwater ponds had enabled him to have the sense of movement.  The back of the cottage was built as the prow of a ship so he would feel he was moving because he couldn`t.  He was being painted by Russian portraitist, Madam Shoumatoff and had a cerebral hemorrhage, died that afternoon.  After 12 years the longest-running President.  We`ll never match that again.

BESCHLOSS:  Let`s hope.

MEACHAM:  Unless they start suspending elections.


MEACHAM:  And you had in that moment where a president had come into office at a moment where -- of existential crisis.  March 4th, 1933, he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Nameless, unreasoning fear that paralyzes our efforts and converts retreat into -- advance into retreat.  Fascinating isn`t it that he used the word paralyze.  Because he knew in his own life that you could overcome and he believed that he could make the country walk again.

Did during the depression, led us to victory in World War II.  Michael`s written a brilliant book about that.  And really you had a modern era that began in a way with William McKinley and his assassination, 1901, goes through FDR building the nuclear age.  Truman drops the bomb.  The possibilities of Armageddon are suddenly quite real.  And the entire modern presidency -- again, Michael knows more about this than I do -- the entire modern presidency in a way has been created by Roosevelt in order to govern both the relation of the state and the marketplace, and the relative projection of power against our foes and rivals.

And to me what`s so striking about this moment is, if you think about American history and the modern era as being a kind of figurative conversation between FDR and Reagan about those two questions, that was a coherent spectrum.  We`re not in a coherent, sequential chapter to that story.

WILLIAMS:  The history boys have agreed to stay with us.  And when we come back, there is more to discuss from just today in this unprecedented presidency when we continue.



TRUMP:  Somebody should run against John McCain who has been, you know, in my opinion, not so hot.  And I supported him.  I supported him for President.  I raised a million dollars for him.  It`s a lot of money.  I supported him, he lost, he let us down.  But, you know, he lost.  So I never liked him as much after that because I don`t like losers.  But, Frank, let me get to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He`s a war hero.

TRUMP:  He`s not a war hero.  He is a war --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Five and a half years --

TRUMP:  He`s a war hero because he was captured.  I like people who weren`t captured, OK?  I hate to tell you.


WILLIAMS:  That was a moment, July of 2015, and many people who saw that thought in the moment that it might end his month-old presidential campaign right then and there.  As we later learned, it did not.  The President has since doubled down on his dislike for the now-dead American hero, John McCain.  It sounds as though POWs have not been his thing.  Nonetheless, as President, he did what others have done on this date by declaring April 9th as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day.

Still with us, Michael Beschloss and John Meacham.  Michael, no mention, no reverence.  He was blocks away from the Hanoi Hilton where so many Americans were tortured in Vietnam.  No visit.  It`s not his thing.

BESCHLOSS:  It is gross and disrespectful to the memory of John McCain, and self-knowledge by name is not Donald Trump.  You sort of wonder if it occurred to him when he was approving the idea of National POW Day that this was not exactly in sync with the terrible comments he made about John McCain four years ago when he was beginning to run for president and those he made even after John McCain passed.  I just don`t get it.  This doesn`t help him in any way I can see.

WILLIAMS:  John Meacham, last night on this broadcast we aired part of a speech delivered Sunday by Mayor Pete, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.  It was about his life in large part as a gay man in this country.  The last item on a long resume, as I said last night, he`s a lot of things.  He`s a Harvard grad, he`s a Road Scholar, he`s an Afghanistan, veteran, veteran of the U.S. Navy.  He`s also all but declared running for president.  We made the comparison to the Obama race speech in that it might live on past its moment.  Do you see the potential for echoes in what he said?

MEACHAM:  Absolutely.  And as we`ve discussed before the sociology on this --

WILLIAMS:  South Bend, not Fort Wayne.  Forgive me, I made a mistake.

BESCHLOSS:  They`re very close.


MEACHAM:  Nothing has moved closer than the question of broader acceptance of differing understandings of sexual identity.  One of the most fascinating days in modern American history was in June of 2015 which was the mourning of the marriage equality decision, President Obama greets in the Rose Garden and then he goes to Charleston to speak at the church where there`d been the terrible shooting.

BESCHLOSS:  Seems a lot longer ago than four years.

MEACHAM:  Isn`t it interesting?


MEACHAM:  But one day that was sort of you saw the new America and the tragic shadows of the old America.  And I think a figure like the mayor is at the time is exactly right for him to become a significant national player.  I don`t know what his vote getting ability is at all, but he`s already helped shape the conversation.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, I think this is the fastest moving public issue I`ve ever seen.  Based on sheer math, the number of American families with a friend or family member as part of the LGBT community.

BESCHLOSS:  Absolutely.  And go back to 2004, which was 15 years ago.


BESCHLOSS:  George W. Bush to some extent got re-elected on the basis of opposing gay marriage and generating voter support or voter opposition to the idea of marriage equality in a number of the states.  And that was considered to be something that got votes.  You know, the country has moved very fast and thank God.  It`s great to see.

MEACHAM:  It`s interesting.  One of the last -- when I wrote the book about President Bush Sr., one of the last exchanges we had before it went to press was there were some entries in his diary from the vice presidential years where he was pretty harsh on the politics of gay Americans.  And I said what are your thoughts at this point, and he wrote me a note that said he wish he`d love who they love and marry who they love.


MEACHAM:  And I guess you could say I`ve mellowed.

WILLIAMS:  That`s a migration.

MEACHAM:  The country has mellowed.

BESCHLOSS:  And it makes you feel better when you see presidents who mellow in the end.  Sometimes that even happens when they`re in office.

MEACHAM:  And they react to data.  They react to -- they use reason instead of --



WILLIAMS:  With special greetings to everybody in the home of Notre Dame University in Indiana, and thanks to our friends, Michael Beschloss and John Meacham.  I like the history boys thing.  I think there`s a future in that.

Coming up for us, that feeling when you realize you`re a member of a group you`ve been complaining about for years.  This man had that feeling today.  When we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight.  You have perhaps heard Bernie Sanders railing about a specific group in American life and society.  The people he constantly mentions in speeches, especially during his last run for president.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It`s the priorities up on the Hill are not for working people.  They are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.

Millionaires and billionaires.

Billionaires and billionaires.

Millionaires and billionaires.

We had in fact run a strong and, I believe, winning campaign without asking millionaires and billionaires for a nickel.

We will no longer tolerate the greed of Wall Street, greed of corporate America and the billionaire class.

Virtually every other campaign Republican and Democrat is dependent upon super packs funded by billion-airs and millionaires.


WILLIAMS:  Well, guess who`s a millionaire with all the hubub about Donald Trump not releasing his tax return, Bernie has had a problem on that front.  He`s only ever released one year.  That was as a candidate back in 2016 and naturally people have been curious as to why.  We don`t know the answer to that.  But we do know that he`ll release 10 years worth of returns between now and tax day next Monday.

Interestingly his recent speeches have mentioned billionaires more than millionaires.  And perhaps this is a related item.  He conceded today in an interview with "The New York Times" that while he`s not a billionaire, Bernie`s a millionaire as he put it.  And this sounds better in his native Brooklyn, "I wrote a best-selling book.  If you can write a best selling book, you can be a millionaire, too."

That`s going to do it for us and end our broadcast on this Tuesday night.  Good night from our 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