LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: And that would be as close as we would come to poetic justice.
That`s tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight the attorney general of the United States echoes a talking point from the President and those around him, telling Congress spying did occur on the Trump campaign. It`s a loaded word and a weighty charge, and Democrats exploded in response.
On the Mueller front, William Barr said he hopes to put the report out next week, while the President describes it as an attempted coup that he defeated.
And "The Wall Street Journal" reports Trump insiders Keith Schiller and Hope Hicks have both spoken to the Feds about Trump hush-money payments. The reporter who broke the story is here with us as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Wednesday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 811 of the Trump administration. It`s a charge we have heard from the President and from several people on Fox News that the Trump campaign was somehow spied upon by our government in a way that circumvented due process in this country. Well, today we heard our Attorney General William Barr make that same charge. It came during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNET GENERAL: One of the things I want to do is pull together all the information from the various investigations that have gone on, including on the Hill and in the Department, and see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed.
We want to make sure that during -- I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. I`m not talking about the FBI, necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN, (D) NEW HAMPSHIRE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: So you`re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?
BARR: I don`t -- well, I guess you could -- I think spying did occur, yes. I think spying did occur.
SEN. JACK REED, (D) RHODE ISLAND APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: Have you any evidence that there was anything improper in those investigations?
BARR: I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That statement right there and some of Barr`s actions have left his critics with the notion that he views the President as his client and not the American people.
Barr`s comments were unexpected. Spying is a loaded word with legal ramifications, and noting that the Attorney General chose to use that word, he was then given an opportunity to clarify his remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ, (D) HAWAII APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: I want to give you a chance to rephrase something you said, because I think when the attorney general of the United States uses the word "spying" it`s rather provocative, and in my view, unnecessarily inflammatory.
BARR: Yes, unauthorized surveillance. I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance. Is that more appropriate in your mind?
SCHATZ: This is your call.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Not quite clear what Barr meant by either spying or unauthorized surveillance. He offered no evidence. But there has been speculation this may have been a reference to the case involving former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. "The New York Times" reminds us, "The FBI obtained a surveillance -- a secret surveillance warrant on Page after he left the campaign, and reports have suggested it used at least one confidential informer to collect information on campaign associates."
And from the "Wall Street Journal," "The Department`s inspector general is examining whether the FBI and federal prosecutors abused their authority in obtaining warrants from the nation`s secret spy court."
The Attorney General`s testimony came about half an hour after the President took his own shots at the nearly two-year-old Russia investigation. His comments seemed to serve as a preview to his Attorney General.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was an illegal investigation. This was an attempted coup, this was an attempted takedown of a president.
What I`m most interested in is getting started. Hopefully the Attorney General, he mentioned it yesterday, he`s doing a great job getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump added that he thinks Barr is "doing a great job."
The Attorney General has been on the job about eight weeks. Aaron Blake of "The Washington Post" writes this about their relationship, "Signs are increasing that Barr is at least saying the kinds of things Trump wants to hear."
Republicans in Congress welcomed Barr`s comments about spying on the Trump campaign. Congressman Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, steadfast Trump supporter, wrote, "We`ve seen two years worth of evidence that intelligence community executives did this. The A.G.`s willingness to investigate it is massive. Accountability is around the corner.
Meanwhile, Meadow`s fellow party members in the Senate say they have questions about the federal inquiry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: If you really believe Trump`s campaign was being infiltrated by Russians, why didn`t you tell him so he could do something about it? And how could Clinton get away with all of this and not have anything, no charges at all?
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R) LOUISIANA APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: I want to know, did they have credible evidence? Were they in good faith in investigating Secretary Clinton and her campaign and in investigating President Trump and his campaign?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, and as we mentioned, Democrats had a different reaction to the A.G.`s choice of words today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER: Let me just say how very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails yesterday and today.
SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VIRGINIA VICE CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE CMTE.: I`m flabbergasted. When you start linking spying with law enforcement or the Intelligent Community, that sets off red flags everywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night. Berit Berger is back with us, former Assistance U.S. Attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York. And tonight we`re happy to welcome her as an NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst. Geoff Bennett, White House Correspondent for NBC News. Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence. And Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The "Washington Post", moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Frank, given your experience, tell us how easy or hard it is to get a FISA warrant, and could the work being done under a FISA warrant be construed as spying in the name of that warrant?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Brian, look, the performance of this attorney general over the last two days has been abysmal. And what he did today by invoking the spying connotation was he threw flew what I would call a flash ban grenade into the room.
By that I mean, it`s -- anyone who has been involved or associated with tactical teams and law enforcement or the military will know that a flash ban grenade is design to disorient and distract with a flash of light and a loud noise, but it`s not made out to take out personnel. What he did today was he toss the flash band grenade into the room at the behalf of this President. He`s falling in line with this President.
And the notion that the FBI was somehow spying on a campaign when what it has proven to have done was lawfully investigate with predication allegations that the Russians were involved with this campaign. The Inspector General has looked at this and reviewed it. There`s been ad nauseam review of this scenario. And yet we have an Attorney General who seems to be serving as a conciliary for the mob boss, the President.
And the last two days have gravely disappointed me left me with little hope that this Attorney General is actually going to represent the law as suppose to represent the President.
WILLIAMS: Berit Berger, it`s a word with such a meaning and specificity, in all your time as a Fed, how often did the word spying come up?
BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Never. This is not how prosecutors talk. It`s not how agents talk. Nobody that I worked with at the Department of Justice ever referred to what we were doing as spying. We referred to it as investigating.
And there`s a reason because spying sort of aconitates that you are operating without -- outside the boundaries of the law. It has a negative connotation to it.
The amount of legal process that it takes to actually intercept communications, to start some sort of a criminal investigation, or a counterintelligence investigation, it`s not spying, it`s conducting lawful court-authorized investigative techniques. That`s what we refer to them as, not spying.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Geoff Bennett, judging from the sound we run, the Republicans have now taking this back a step. We`re back to the time of Hillary Clinton.
GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
WILLIAMS: The Democrats are reacting with anger, and as you heard the Speaker of the House, dismayed. Does that about get it right?
BENNETT: You got it right. You hear Democrats using all sorts of colorful train wreck metaphors. You heard Nancy Pelosi say that the country has gone off the rails given this performance by the Attorney General.
I think the most charitable interpretation of the Attorney General`s comments today, Brian, come tonight from people close to him who say, he doesn`t seem much of a difference between the words spying and surveillance. In fact, he`s not all that invested in the surveillance it self so much as he is wanting to make sure that the FBI followed the proper procedures.
But by his own admission today, he said he has no evidence of improprieties. And beyond that, we know because Congress, has investigated this as nauseam as Frank has pointed out.
The gang of eight, six of the eight members of the gang of eight have stated on the record that when they were briefed about the findings of one of these Congressional investigations, they said on the record that the FBI did nothing wrong. Trey Gowdy, the former congressman, he of the Benghazi hearings, said, the FBI -- there were no improprieties.
The two other members who didn`t comment were Devin Nunez and Mitch McConnell, they didn`t say anything at all. So there is nothing to the President`s claim that he was improperly spied upon.
WILLIAMS: Robert, Jeff Toobin said tonight, "William Barr talks like Sean Hannity, and we thought what better than to hear what Sean Hannity had to say tonight? We`ll talk about this on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: President Trump was right all along, we were right all along. They have no character, no ethics, no integrity. The media, the Democrats, they are so blinded by this hate, this rage, they are incapable of seeing the stone cold truth right before their eyes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Robert, I guess the question is the White House must be happy with their guy.
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, but the real story here, let`s just pause for a moment and think about what we`re actually talking about. It`s not just the political theater of what the Attorney General did today on Capitol Hill. It`s about the debate of the origin of the Russia investigation.
Congressional Republicans and Congressional Democrats have a totally different view. That`s why Sean Hannity is saying what he`s saying, that`s why people tonight on this program have their perspective. It comes down to what -- how did George Papadopoulos and Carter Page interact with different members who are associated with the U.S. government at some level, such as a former Cambridge professor Stefan Halper.
Those interactions are what Congressional Republicans Devin Nunez has been scrutinizing for months. The FBI maintains that it`s acted in all proper ways since the origin of the Russia investigation going back to George Papadopoulos` conversation with the Australian ambassador and the talk of the Clinton e-mails. And they have maintained that from the beginning that all these FISA warrants are based on evidence, and based on conduct they wanted to investigate.
But George Papadopoulos and Carter Page talking Congress constantly and on television have always said that they felt like they were almost in trapped by the way the government handled the investigation. And that`s what the Attorney General was referencing today. That`s what`s important. If he`s actually seen that as a legitimate argument, that`s what he`s pursuing, that`s why it matters.
WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi, your reaction to that.
FIGLIUZZI: Well, look, I invite any scrutiny of FBI operations and the Intelligence agency operations. And if he wants to -- if the Attorney General wants to occupy his time with, let`s bring it on and let`s see what he finds, but he`ll be redundant. And unless he has completely gone over to the Trump side, then we`re going to get the truth out and the truth is going to upset him because we already know what it is.
Look, we got an attorney general who has 400 pages of evidence that he has yet to release and that he has conceded he has no intention of fully releasing. Yet without one scintilla of evidence, he`ll use the word spying and imply that something was wrong with the origins of the special counsel inquiry. To me that sounds a lot like preparing the field for a battle.
It sounds like saying, look, eventually this will all get out, but I`m telling you, I think it`s tainted. That`s what we saw happen today.
WILLIAMS: Berit, let`s take Robert`s advice, take a little bit of a step back. What is FISA? What does it stand for? Who gets to be a federal FISA judge?
How hard would it be for federal prosecutor, Berit Berger, to get a FISA warrant to surveil someone suspected of a crime?
BERGER: Right. So, FISA is a process that if you think that somebody has connections with a foreign power, that they`re being used as an agent of a foreign power. You can start an Intelligence investigation. There are special FISA courts. There are judges assigned to sit on those courts and they rotate.
So, for example in this case with respect to Carter Page, you had a FISA application that doesn`t just signed by some line (ph)prosecutor, it has to go all the way up the chain in the Department of Justice. Here, I believe you actually had Rod Rosenstein who had signed off on, at least, one of the iterations of the FISA warrant that went before the court. Then you have to take this to the FISA court. You have to have them sign off on this.
There are some circumstances where you can get kind of an emergency FISA warrant without going through some of that process. But here we know they did go through that process. This is not something that you can just wake up and decide you want to start to surveilling somebody. Like I said, it is a process, there`s a lot of checks and balances to this.
And that`s why this concept of calling it spying, not only is it involuntary term, it`s also just inaccurate. It`s just not what it is. It is a valid, court-authorized investigative technique that law enforcement and our Intelligence communities do every day. There`s nothing suspicious about it, and yes, obviously, if it`s used improperly, it should be scrutinized, but this is a regular technique that`s used commonly, and if the procedures are followed, there`s nothing wrong with it.
WILLIAMS: Let me just take a second and remind our viewers what the President has had to say on this very topic in past months.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country.
Well, when I said there could be somebody spying on my campaign, a lot of things happened. There was like -- it went wild out there.
They spied on me. They spied on our campaign. Who would think that`s possible?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, Robert Costa, here we are. The S word has now been uttered by the head law enforcement officer in our land who will next be heard from when he releases his redactions of the Mueller report as Americans hope he will be a steady hand and an honest broker.
COSTA: Like almost everyone involved in this discussion, from President Trump to the Attorney General, this is, of course, loaded language to use language like spying, and that`s why Congressional Democrats today came back to him and questioned him about that use of language.
His role now constitutionally is to be an impartial broker of information when it comes to the Mueller report. But the Attorney General clearly is someone who is not just a Republican, who served with George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, this is someone who also has skepticism of prosecutors. Remember his history, his biography. He did not come out of the prosecutorial ranks. He was a Chinese analyst, he was Intelligence analyst.
And so he comes into this job even as a former A.G., as someone who is not immediately siding with a lot of people who are in the media who come from law enforcement with the prosecutors. And this is a lot of people in the law enforcement community, because they`re not sure what he is up to. Is he working in President Trump`s interest, they`re wondering. Is he working -- what`s his agenda? And that has created this whole situation now where everybody is on edge.
WILLIAMS: Geoff Bennett, I don`t imagine people are cynical enough. I keep hearing the reports coming out next week. I look at the calendar it shows Congress is out of town next week.
BENNETT: They are, in fact, they take a two-week break starting next week, and some of those members are not just on recess, they`ll be out of the country. You have Democratic leadership who are planning to go on kodels, those are those government-paid for foreign trips.
And so, what`s interesting -- as Bob points out, the Republicans who are invested in learning more about the origins of this FBI probe, yes, they believe they have it right on the merits, but it also allows them politically to counter-program against the Democrats. Against the Democrats who are pushing to get the full unredacted report. Against the Democrats who are pushing to learn more about how the White House handles security clearances. Against the Democrats who are pushing to get President Trump`s tax returns and to potentially launch investigations to - - into abuses of power and corruption and conflicts of interest.
This allows them to say that there`s something that wasn`t completely on the level about the FBI investigation into President Trump. And if there are land mines in the redacted report, this also allows the President to weaponize the findings and say that, you know, the FBI had it in for him all along.
WILLIAMS: All right, this being a consequential night, we have asked all our guests to stay with us for a bit. They`ve all agreed.
Coming up for us, what the Attorney General had to say today about when the public exactly will see this report and who may have already seen it.
And later, a look back in time when the papers called the Russians the soviets or perhaps the reds back when something they did scared a lot of folks in this country and spurred the U.S. to action. THE 11TH HOUR on this consequential Wednesday night continues.
TRUMP: I look forward to seeing the report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don`t you think the public have a right to see the Mueller report?
TRUMP: I don`t mind. I mean, frankly, I told the House if you want, let them see it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want the report to be released?
TRUMP: I`ll leave it to the Attorney General, but it wouldn`t bother me at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, today the Attorney General told senators the Mueller report will be released next week. A slight change from yesterday when he said the report would be released within a week. At the end of the day, though, we just don`t know when. Law makers also asked Barr who else might know what`s in that report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) DELAWARE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: Who, if anyone, outside the Justice Department has seen portions or all of the Special Counsel`s report? Has anyone in the White House seen any of the report?
BARR: You know, I`m not -- as I say, I`m landing the plane right now, and, you know, I`ve been willing to discuss my letters and the process going forward. And I`m just not going to get into the details of the process until the plane is on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: This morning President Trump was asked whether he had had an advance look at Mueller`s findings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have not seen the Mueller report. I have not read the Mueller report.
I won. No collusion, no obstruction. I won.
As far as I`m concerned, I don`t care about the Mueller report. I`ve been totally exonerated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Not mentioned there, of course, had he been briefed on the Mueller report. Still with us, Berit Berger, Geoff Bennett, Frank Figliuzzi, and Robert Costa.
Berit Berger, I`d like to play for you an exchange on the topic of obstruction. This is leading to questioning Senator Van Hollen of Maryland.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: You said that the President is not guilty of criminal obstruction of criminal justice. I`m asking you, in your review of the report, did you agree with Mueller that there were difficult issues of law and fact?
BARR: I`m going to give my reaction and comments, you know, about the report after the --
HOLLEN: Well, it would have been -- but you put your view of the report out here on this issue of obstruction of justice, right? Nobody ask you to do that.
BARR: I didn`t put out my view of the report.
HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?
BARR: I don`t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: What do you make of that? What interested you in that exchange?
BERGER: Yes. I mean, the first part, I guess, is that he doesn`t know if Bob Mueller supported his conclusion, which is interesting. It`s interesting that the person who did this long, exhaustive investigation, one, would not have been consulted about Barr`s conclusion on the obstruction question. And two, wouldn`t have weighed in on sort of the summary that Barr gave Congress.
Now, presumably that`s because Mueller, you know, Mueller did not necessarily want to bless this summary. It`s, you know, what he said is included in his report. And perhaps that`s all he wants to say on the topic is, you know, what`s in the four corners of that 400-page report. But it is interesting to me that he wasn`t consulted about this conclusion.
But, you know, as we all know the sort of more important question is, what are we going to actually see in the report that indicates what Mueller`s intention was with respect to the conclusion on the obstruction point? What we don`t know is, did Mueller think this is a question that is so difficult because there`s facts on both sides, I`m going to leave it for the Attorney General to decide, or did he decide, as I think many people think, this is a question better left for Congress because it`s really within their purview.
WILLIAMS: So Frank Figliuzzi, same question to you. Let me add Barr`s refusal yesterday to talk about whether the White House had seen the report. And on top of that, this kind of standoff position by Mueller, no back and forth between those two guys on the Barr summary.
FIGLIUZZI: Yes, let me try to decipher the code that the Attorney General seems to be using here. First with regard to his response on whether Mueller agreed with him or not. He seems -- the answer seems to be I don`t care if Mueller agrees with me or not. And that to me, Brian, is symbolic of some dysfunction. I`m really sensing some dysfunction either in the principles and beliefs of what a special counsel is and what the attorney general is supposed to do with the results, or there`s even a deeper tension between the two of them perhaps developing.
And then the second issue as to whether the White House has seen this or not, his response again is kind of coded responses. Actually non-response to me means probably he`s given a briefing, someone has given a briefing to the White House. Otherwise the answer would have been easy. No. No one at the White House has been briefed or seen this report. That`s the code we`re seeing and it`s symptom or it`s illustrative of what we`re about to see moving ahead to next week, which is a battle is about to ensue.
We`ve heard Barr already say and use the phrase, this first pass of the report that I`m going to give you. This first pass, what does that mean? This is someone who does not intent to be fully transparent when he gives everything he could possibly give, but rather he`s going to give a first pass, there`s going to be battle debate discussion and he might give a little bit more. That`s what we`re going to be dealing with.
WILLIAMS: Yes. It was pointed out yesterday, somebody who says first pass is expecting perhaps many more steps along the line.
Hey, Geoff Bennett, let me record-keep on something else. This was Wednesday after all, what about the tax returns that were due on Wednesday?
BENNETT: Well, it appears as if the Trump administration is of no mind to turn those over as has been demanded by Richard Neal, the chairman of that relevant committee. You have a letter that`s been sent by the Treasury Department saying that they`re going to confer with this Justice Department on this issue. So this will likely end up being a classic dispute between the legislative and executive branches that works its way straight up to the Supreme Court.
On this other question, though, about whether or not the White House has been briefed on the Mueller report, I`ll tell you about one of my conversations with White House officials on this topic. Because when it became clear that my questions were coming from a place of assuming that the Justice Department acted independently, free from the will and the political desires of the White House, this White House official stopped me in my tracks and said, "Geoff, you should know, the Attorney General is not adverse to this White House, the Attorney General is part of this administration. The DOJ`s lawyers are the President`s lawyers."
And days before the Barr released his summary on March 24, the White House said on the record that they had not been briefed on the report or had read the entire thing.
Yesterday, after Attorney General Barr dodged the question from Nita Lowey, the Appropriations chairman -- chairwoman on the House side, went back to the White House, asked on the record, they refuse to comment. So, that I think is instructive.
WILLIAMS: It is instructive.
And, Robert, this would not be the first White House to adopt the policy of delay, delay, delay, but is that exactly what we`re seeing here at the halfway mark of an administration?
COSTA: And there could be more delay based on my conversations with White House officials. You could see Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, try to exert executive privilege to some extent in discussion to either with the Attorney General or members of the Department of Justice. So as the Attorney General makes his decision of what he`s going to redact, he may consult with the White House at some point.
But every Congressional Republican I`m talking to for "The Post" and Congressional Democrat, at the end of the day, they believe the American people deserve to know what was President Trump`s conduct with regard to obstruction. I mean, some of the intelligence with the Russia aspect, maybe that has to be put on a shelf. But we know about the President`s bullying tweets of Attorney General Sessions, we know about different things we`ve reported at "The Post," "The Times" has reported and others. But what else? And that`s for Congress to decide whether they want to move toward impeachment and maybe even toward a trial in the Senate.
WILLIAMS: Fascinating conversation, guys. Our thanks, Berit Berger, Geoff Bennett, Frank Figliuzzi, Robert Costa, appreciate it for starting off our conversation.
And coming up for us. One year and a day after the FBI raided Michael Cohen`s home and office, we`ll talk to one of the reporters who broke today`s latest development about the alleged hush money payments at the center of it all.
WILLIAMS: The criminal investigation into attempts to cover up Donald Trump`s alleged extramarital affairs apparently goes deeper than we previously knew. According to new reporting on the "Wall Street Journal," the feds here in New York, the office called the Southern District New York have been gathering evidence from Trump`s inner circle.
Former Coms Director Hope Hicks, former bodyguard Keith Schiller, both reportedly spoke to investigators, both were constant fixtures at Trump`s side during the campaign, both followed him to the White House. According to the "Journal`s" reporting investigators asked Hicks about her contacts with David Pecker, the CEO of American Media, publisher of the "National Enquirer." We also find out today, "Investigators had learned of calls between Mr. Schiller and David Pecker."
Here with us tonight to talk to talk about it, Nicole Hong, a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" who broke the story and Berit Berger now takes on official co-host status as we`ve asked her to stick around still a few more minutes to talk us through this.
Very nice to have you, Nicole, thank you for coming in. A brief review of the characters. Hope Hicks grows up in Greenwich, Connecticut, briefly a clothing model for Ralph Lauren. Builds a P.R. career, gets picked up and works for the Trump Organization. Keith Schiller, former NYPD police officer, Navy veteran. I would argue few people were closer to Donald Trump during the early days, especially when he arrived in the White House and didn`t have a lot of friends around.
You were interview -- have interviewed 20 people, you and your team, you have reviewed a thousand documents. What`s the headline on your findings on this case which has been slowly and quietly growing?
NICOLE HONG, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTER: So the big takeaway here is that the Southern District has gathered a lot more evidence than they have made public, including testimony from two people who were extremely close to Trump, and that`s Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller. And these interviews happened last year in the spring as they were building this case against Cohen.
And I do want to caution, you know, it`s possible that none of this material will ever become public. We don`t know what they`re going to do with it, but we just wanted to sort of signal to the public and to readers that they have this information.
WILLIAMS: Berit Berger, how -- what lengths would they have gone to in this office to keep this secret, to develop what they needed to develop? This eventually became a raid by the defense.
BERIT BERGER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean I think it depends on how these interviews were conducted. So we know that they have a grand jury that`s been convene. So obviously to the extent that some of these interviews may have happen as part of the grand jury proceeding, those would be secret.
We`ve all now learned about Rule 6(e) --
WILLIAMS: Sure have.
BERGER: -- more than we maybe ever wanted to know. And so we know that matters of the cover up for the grand jury, you know, are protected by this rule. However, even things that didn`t happen in front of the grand jury would certainly be kept under wraps by the Southern District because they`re not ready, it seems, because they haven`t actually indicted anyone other than Michael Cohen for this yet. So it doesn`t seem that they`re in a position now to either make it public or to let us know what kind of evidence they have.
WILLIAMS: And, Nicole, for people who may not know how feds like Berit Berger work, talk about the lengths they went to, to keep things secret in this case.
HONG: Well, even in new court documents that came out a few weeks ago, I mean these are search warrants that they filed with the court to justify the raid on Michael Cohen. There were at least 18 pages in there that are still redacted that were under the campaign finance heading. So, again, the Southern District is very cautious about not releasing information about ongoing investigations, about not releasing grand jury material. So there is still a lot we don`t know.
WILLIAMS: And, Berit Berger, that seemed to be in keeping with these other cases, the black lines of redaction. Was my characterization something you`d agree with, these are two big fish that the feds would want to hear from?
BERGER: Yes. And in any sort of criminal investigation, the people that you most want to talk to as a prosecutor are the people that are in that inner circle.
BERGER: And especially people that have been with the President through out, you know, his time in the early stages of the campaign. They`re definitely going to know about conversations that were had. They`ll be able to corroborate things that Michael Cohen told him, that David Pecker told them. So I think those are invaluable witnesses both for what they say but also what they can corroborate that other witnesses have said.
WILLIAMS: Nicole, were you surprised to read tonight that the "National Enquirer" is apparently imminently up for sale because the hedge fun owners have decided they didn`t like their tactics?
HONG: Well, you know, we know the company has sort of been struggling financially lately and obviously the "Enquirer" has been in the news a lot in the past years, so I guess it doesn`t surprise me that they were feeling some pressure from their hedge fund owners.
WILLIAMS: Great work to you and your team. Pleasure to have you on the air. Nicole Hong, Berit Berger, our thanks to both.
Coming up for us, John F. Kennedy famously said we had to go to the moon not because it was easy, he said, it would be hard. It was. We`ll talk to the author of a new book that race to the moon, what it did to our country, what it did for our country. By the way, the book is debuting in the top 10 of "The New York Times" best-seller list. Nice work if you can get it. That story when we continue.
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JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space. And none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: John f. Kennedy joined session of Congress 1961. This nation was able to do what he challenged us to do there. About four years earlier, in October of `57, the Space Race took off when the Soviets launched a satellite about the size of a basketball named Sputnik into orbit. In his new book "American Moonshot," historian and author Doug Brinkley describes how massive a wake-up call that moment was for our country.
He points out "The New York Times" devoted nearly half its front page to the satellite with the headline, "Soviet Fires Earth Satellite Into Space: It is Circling the Globe at 18,000 Miles Per Hour, Sphere Tracked in four Crossings Over U.S."
Brinkley writes, "Other newspapers were equally breathless. America`s pride had been deflated by a satellite composed of a battery, a radio transmitter, and a fanlike cooling device, orbiting the Earth elliptically every 90 minutes at an altitude of between 140 and 560 miles. All the U.S. government could do was ask the 70,000 members of the American Radio Relay League, a society of ham radio buffs, to help them track the Soviet beeps."
And as we know a decade later in the summer of `69, U.S. beat the Russians to the moon, accomplishing the President`s goal. On July 20th, Lunar Module from Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface. Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin soon followed him out, Michael Collins was circling above. And they ride home the Command Module.
We are so happy to be joined tonight by Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian, author of the new book "American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race," which will debut at number 10 on "The New York Times" best-seller list.
Doug, my friend, it`s great to see you. Sick of watching you on another network. Very happy for you. I have read and finished the book. Let`s start with how crazy it sounds today that this thing -- I said basketball. Somewhere between basketball and beach ball showed up in the skies over this country. It scared a lot of people in this country, including my late parents, and it scared President John F. Kennedy.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN MOONSHOT": Absolutely. I mean, Dwight Eisenhower was president and he kind of tried to just say it wasn`t that big of a deal. Some people were calling it a grapefruit satellite. But lo and behold with the headline you just showed on "The New York Times," a panic kind of swept the land. This was the era of McCarthyism Red Scare. And the idea that the Soviets have, nuclear weapon, they detonated in 1949 and had hydrogen weapons and now were beating us into space with satellites.
And Jack Kennedy seized on this. He started saying that there was some missile gap, a space gap. So did Lyndon Johnson. In fact, LBJ helped create NASA in 1958. Our whole creation of NASA was a response to Sputnik. And in the late `50s, everything became Nik. You know, they put a dog out the Soviet and became Poochnik or we put a vanguard rocket that blew up on. Cape Canaveral, it was Flopnik.
So Sputnik kind of motivated Jack Kennedy, so by 1960 in the debate with Richard Nixon, Kennedy charged Nixon, that if you`re president, I see a Soviet flag on the moon. If you elect me president, there will be an American flag on the moon.
WILLIAMS: Doug, this calls for a judgment, but you`re a historian, after all. How would LBJ and JFK take the news that on this very day, if we want to get our astronauts up to the International Space Station, our ride is the Russians`? We don`t have a spacecraft ready for the task. Where did we lose it along the way? Our jets still fly at the same speed that they carried John F. Kennedy and we can`t build a high speed train in this country.
BRINKLEY: What a great question. You know, I think when John F. Kennedy became president, he`s part of the World War II generation where we did big things after all, you know, industrial mobilization, you know, ginning up airplanes. We created things like radar in World War II. Obviously, the Manhattan project. Eisenhower did the Interstate Highway Project in the Saint Lawrence Seaway. So Kennedy is part of that World War II generation. When he did right was pick technology as the golden number, it becomes the new frontier.
And we went to the moon and the only problem with it was, we funded it a lot of NASA budget by the Space Race. We`re going to beat the Soviets. Well, we beat them in `69 and some of the TV ratings started dropping off and we had Apollo 13 a near disaster. And Nixon -- President Nixon cancelled the last few Apollo mission. And by 1975, Brian, with Gerald Ford as president, we did a joint docking with the Soviets in space and so it was kind of the end of the Space Race and we never caught the fervor again to be number one.
Without the competition of the Soviet Union, maybe now China will be the new spur, you know, but without that competition, you wouldn`t have gotten the $25 billion it cost to go to the moon. That`s 185 billion in today`s terms.
WILLIAMS: Can you still make the case that we would profit from getting back in the business? There is more science in the phone in my hand than was on board Apollo 11. There`s more science in Chevrolet I drive than was on board Apollo 11, but they made life better.
BRINKLEY: That`s a -- absolutely true what you`re saying. Some people might think that`s hyperbole. This was very primitive in early technology. In 1960, "Time" magazine picked scientist as the man of the year.
And by the late `60s, Vietnam and Agent Orange and environmental degradation, we didn`t honor scientists on a special way as we did in the early 1960s the experts. Today, many people, you know, just disregard scientist. The Trump administration kind of calls climate change a hoax quite often.
And so we`re lacking that kind of belief in doing technology in a big project that bring the country together. Joe Biden is talking about a cancer moonshot to cure cancer. Buzz Aldrin thinks the next, you know, moonshot, the Mars shot to go Mars, there many people that think we need an Earth shot something here on the planet to take care of our oceans and our environmental degradation of our forests and wetlands and wildlife quarters.
WILLIAMS: Some other of the subjects Doug has written about in his career. And ladies and gentlemen on our audience, the title of this book is "American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race." Doug Brinkley, the author. Happy to have you with us. Thank you for your kindness over the years. It`s great to see you. Good luck with the book.
BRINKLEY: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Doug Brinkley with us from Washington.
And coming up for us, we`ll talk about this picture. What it shows, what it means, and the work it took to get it.
WILLIAMS: Well imagine our good luck to have been joined by an historian who`s just written a book about the Space Race on the day when this photo comes out. This is the first ever photo of a black hole. It`s called M- 87, but that`s not important right now. You never want to be introduced to this thing anyway. What this does is proves that Einstein was right 100 years ago. It`s estimated this is 55 million light years away from us. It`s estimated its mass is 6.5 billion times as large as our sun.
It`s believe that a black hole is the point of no return. Beyond it is nothingness. All matter and all measurement of time goes away. And a tip of the hat to this young woman named Katie Bouman, an MIT educated scientist. She developed the algorithm that eventually helped to capture this photo. It took Katie and a global network of telescopes to capture what was believed at first to be unphotographable. Einstein would be proud of this young scientist and the team she was a part of.
Another break for us. And coming up, today`s stop on the journey that is the life of Donald Trump, when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, Donald Trump`s continuing journey of discovery while occupying the highest office in the land. Story in politico has given us details of the tour he took of Mt. Vernon with the French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife just about a year ago. Trump found the rooms there too small, the stairways too narrow and noted the uneven floorboards.
He wanted to know whether our first president was "really rich." He said George Washington should have named the place after himself. He apparently said, "If he was smart, he would have put his name on it. You`ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you."
The President was gently reminded by the tour guide that Washington is, after all, named for George Washington. As is the Washington Monument, the state called Washington, countless towns and colleges and universities. It was also pretty clear the French president seemed to know much more about Washington`s former home than the American president.
We also submit the President`s comments about the state of Texas today while in the state of Texas. And we quote here, "This is a vast state. The state is tremendous. We didn`t see that. I come -- we don`t see that," rather. "I come from New York. You have Fifth Avenue, and that connects to Park Avenue, and it`s not too far away. But this is, you know, hundreds of miles between places."
Today`s stop on Donald Trump`s journey, a journey that we all get to witness.
And that will do it for our Wednesday night broadcast. We thank you for being with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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