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Mayor Pete Buttigieg surges in Iowa. TRANSCRIPT: 4/11/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Annie Karni, Katie Benner, Carol Lam, David Jolly, Jonathan Ward

GEORGE WILL, THE WASHINTON POST COLUMNIST:  Well, Stephen Moore has said that Chairman Powell of the Federal Reserve board is incompetent.  The interesting thing is that therefore he`s committed to the standard of competence, and I don`t think that`s in Stephen Moore`s interests.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  George Will gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  George, thank you very much for joining us.  And "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, the tag team of a President and his Attorney General, Donald Trump praises Bill Barr`s spying comments as accurate and absolutely true.  Can`t help adding it was illegal and unprecedented.  All of this as the President knows just days from now we`ll all be reading about him in the Mueller report.

James Comey has weighed in on the Attorney General.  So has Rod Rosenstein.  His new comments tonight on how the Mueller report is being handled.

We got a rare glimpse of Julian Assange today.  The problem for him is it came as he was arrested, dragged off to the slammer, indicted in London, and in this country, Trump has now changed his tune on WikiLeaks.

And an exclusive in "The Washington Post" tonight about where the White House wanted to send the people coming in over the border as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 812 of the Trump administration.  And as we await the release of the Mueller report, days away, there are increasing questions about whether Attorney General William Barr sees the American people as his client or the President.  After Barr said in an open hearing yesterday that he thinks the Trump campaign was spied upon, Barr received the President`s full-throated endorsement today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you pleased that your Attorney General, yesterday, said that there was spying into your campaign in 2016?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, I am.  I think what he said was absolutely true.  There was absolutely spying into my campaign.

There was illegal spying, unprecedented spying.  And something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.

There was spying in my campaign and his answer was a very accurate one.


WILLIAMS:  Barr offered no evidence.  He says he plans to review how the inquiry was conducted and that he`s also focussing on the Counterintelligence investigation that took place during 2016, more on that a bit later in our broadcast.

NBC News reports multiple sources familiar with Barr`s thinking say Barr doesn`t see much of a semantic difference between spying and surveillance.  His choice, however, his decision to use the specific and loaded term spying alarmed a lot of people, many of whom have been defending Barr as an institutionalist who will do the right thing for the country.

But then there`s this.  As our own Geoff Bennett reported on this broadcast last night, one Trump White House official told him, "Keep in mind, Bill Barr is nod t adverse to the White House, the DOJ or the President`s attorneys."

Former FBI director James Comey was of course leading the Russia investigation until Trump fired him May of 2017.  This afternoon Comey was asked for his reaction to Barr`s spying comments.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR:  I don`t understand what the heck he`s talking about.

When I hear that kind of language used, it`s concerning because the FBI and the Department of Justice conduct court-ordered electronic surveillance.  I have never thought of that as spying.  And the reason I`m interested to know what he means by that is, if the Attorney General has come to the belief that that should be called spying, wow.  That`s going to require a whole lot of conversations inside the Department of Justice.

But I don`t know what he meant by that term.  And factually I don`t know what he meant because I don`t know of any electronic surveillance aimed -- court-ordered electronic surveillance aimed at the Trump campaign.


WILLIAMS:  Tonight Rod Rosenstein is offering some air cover to his boss, the Attorney General Bill Barr, not on the spying thing but defending Barr`s handling thus far of the Mueller report.  It`s in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal," "He`s being as forthcoming as he can" -- this is Rosenstein on Barr -- "and so this notion that he`s trying to mislead people I think is just completely bizarre."

"The Journal" also spoke with Rosenstein about the criticism of Barr`s initial four-page summary letter and concerns that the full report may be more damning for Trump on the issue of obstruction than Barr indicated.  Again, quoting Rosenstein, "It would be one thing if you put out a letter and said I`m not going to give you the report.  What he said is, "Look, it`s going to take awhile to process the report.  In the meantime, people really want to know what`s in it.  I`m going to give you the top-line conclusions."  That`s all he was trying to do."

"The Journal" also goes on to write that when it comes to these redactions of sensitive material, "Mr. Rosenstein, Mr. Barr and critically here, and their top advisers and a member of Mr. Mueller`s team have been involved in reviewing the report."  And they report that Rosenstein says "the public should have tremendous confidence in Mr. Barr."

The President says he`s not worried about what might come out once the Mueller report is released.


TRUMP:  I`m not concerned about anything because, frankly, there was no collusion and there was no obstruction.  And we never did anything wrong.  The people that did something wrong were the other side, the dirty cops and a lot of the problems that were caused.

You`re just lucky I happen to be the president, because a lot of other presidents would have reacted much differently than I reacted.


WILLIAMS:  So there`s that.  And there`s this.  A new sign tonight that Mueller`s work is continuing to result in charges.  This time the target is a prominent big name Democrat, President Obama`s former White House Counsel Greg Craig, charged with lying to the government about work he did in 2012 for Russia, the Russian-aligned government of Ukraine, more specifically.  The case stems from the Manafort prosecution.

It`s the first indictment since the Special Counsel ended his inquiry.  Greg Craig is denying the charges.  He is set to appear in court tomorrow.

With that, here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Carol Lam, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.  Annie Karni, White House Reporter for "The New York Times."  And Katie Benner, Justice Department Reporter for "The New York Times".  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Annie, I`d like to begin with you.  Does the President feel good right about now that he has his nonrecusing spy-believing man in place at Justice?

ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  He does.  And I just want to take us back to when Bill Barr was kind of thrust upon him.  He didn`t know Bill Barr at all, and the weekend before the Barr letter came out, her -- I heard from allies of the President that he was calling around asking people, what do you think of Bill Barr?  What do we know about Bill Barr?  So he was nervous.

He didn`t know -- he know he -- I think he would have preferred originally a loyalist like Rudy Giuliani, but he knew he couldn`t install someone like that at the head of the Justice Department and he didn`t know this guy, so I think he`s incredibly relieved that the spy language seems to mimic the language that Trump and his supporters have used in the past, and he was thrilled about the letter.  He`s trying to make the letter be the report, so, yes, right now I think he`s feeling incredibly happy with Bill Barr.

Especially, let`s remember, you know, he -- there was no one he hated more in his Cabinet than Jeff Sessions.  So it`s night and day.

WILLIAMS:  And I think you`re totally right.  Bill Barr steeped in the modern history of the Republican Party, the Bush-led Republican Party a complete stranger to the President, who ended up giving him his second appointment at DOJ.

Hey, Katie, inside DOJ, how have these Barr comments gone down, if you`re able to measure that?

KATIE BENNER, THE NEW YORK TIMES JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER:  Sure, of course.  I think that overall in terms of Bill Barr and his performance, Justice Department employees and longtime career people are going to wait and see what the report looks like when he issues it.  What do the redactions look like and do they really think he`s going to be fair?  I do think they want to hold off on judgment.

But there is a recognition that Bill Barr did something that depending on your point of view of what the Justice Department has been through under Trump so far was good or bad.

In the first day of testimony before the Hill, when he went to the -- before the Appropriations Committee he said he was going to investigate the roots of the Counterintelligence investigation that began in the summer of 2016, what we know as the investigation of the Trump campaign.  Nothing really came of that.  The press didn`t really pick it up.  It was very quiet.

He then went back to the Hill to speak to the Senate committee, and he said essentially the same thing, but he used much more bombastic language.  That`s when he brought out the term spy.  It is a term that would certainly please the President.  And this is a Justice Department that has been attacked by President Trump for two years under Jeff Sessions.  A lot of heat there.  Now they`re being attacked by the Democrats.

The difference is that Bill Barr and the Justice Department work for the President, not for Congress.  So depending on your point of view, having that heat taken off of them could be a good thing, at least until the report comes out and we see what it says about Trump.

WILLIAMS:  Just days from now.

Hey, Carol, I want to read you something from Ben Wittes, a lawyer and well-regarded journalist on the law.  He was among those saying give Attorney General Barr time and space, and kind of defending him, lowercase "d."  He was written now about Barr, "the use of terminology like spying and spying on a political campaign is bound to play into ongoing conspiracy theories, promoted by the President himself, about the origins of the Russia investigation.  Barr needs to articulate publicly what factors have given rise to concerns that are not amply being addressed in existing reviews.  If he can`t do this, he needs to apologize and back down."

And carol, what`s interesting here is the next time we hear from our Attorney General, Bill Barr, will be his most significant work product yet, the post reduction Mueller report.

CAROL LAM, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CA:  Right.  I will say that the use of the word spying was a big disappointment to me coming from the Attorney General.  You know, the word spy or spying carries with it a connotation of some sort of off the books, unauthorized snooping.

And as far as I can tell, that is not what the Attorney General was talking about.  Perhaps he was talking about the FISA wiretap that was authorized but has been the subject of a lot of debate about whether it was, as he put it, you know, predicated appropriately, but that is a court-ordered authorized wiretap.  And that -- that means that -- that`s not terminology we use to talk about court-authorized wiretaps.  We don`t use the word spying.  That`s sort of a colloquial term.  It`s not an official legal term.

So, he did walk it back when invited to by Senator Schatz, but he seemed annoyed in doing that, and as if he didn`t understand what the difference was between the word spy and surveil, and that is a disappointment to me.

WILLIAMS:  Annie, without further delay or long introduction, I`m going to give you something from Devin Nunez.  We`ll all watch and listen to it and comment on the other side.


REP. DEVIN NUNEZ, (R-CA) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER:  Thank god we have an Attorney General who calls spying for what it is.

You have the culmination of the ultimate spying where you have the FBI director spying on the President, taking notes, illegally leaking those notes of classified information.  Why?  So they could appoint a special counsel to spy on an acting president again.


WILLIAMS:  So that was on Mr. Hannity`s broadcast tonight.  In case you didn`t catch that, the net effect is Mueller was spying on the President.

Annie, this gives life to a huge rolling talking point for at least a few days in this interregnum until we get the report.

KARNI:  That`s right.  And if it`s on Hannity it means it`s  kind of a direct line into what Trump is probably watching tonight or on delay later.

Trump has been actually what I`ve heard as lighter since the letter came out and he`s using this word "total exoneration," that a lot of people around him actually are cringing at and thinking that he`s being his own worst surrogate because the report is unlikely to meet that standard.  But he is enjoying it right now.  He wants to set the narrative and he`s going to start going on the offense against his critics and against Mueller`s team.  And we`re going to see that ramping up in the days while we`re waiting.

The White House doesn`t have a copy of the report.  The President said he`s not going to read the report.  They have decided not to request one early, although they legally could do so, so they`re going to be getting it at the same time we are.  The White House`s counsel`s office is going to be pouring through it.

I`ve been told that they`re going to skip over the whole conspiracy/collusion part of it and go straight to the obstruction parts because that`s where the big unknowns are for them and they know that`s where the questions are going to be coming from.  But until then, we should see Trump going on offense like this, for sure.

WILLIAMS:  So Annie, you`re convince, as far as your reporting, they not only don`t have the report, do you think it`s also true they have not received even a heads up, a verbal briefing?

KARNI:  From what I see, they don`t want to look like they`re meddling or asserting executive privilege.  That could change still.  There are still days before and they could change their minds.  But from what I understand, they have not received any sort of advanced notice of what`s in this thing.

WILLIAMS:  And Katie, let`s talk about Rod Rosenstein for a second.  Still number two at DOJ.  Almost literally on his way out the door.  Did that give him the air cover to be able to give an interview to "The Journal" to give in turn air cover to his boss?  Do you think it was ordered or blessed or do you think he just talked to "The Journal"?

BENNER:  I think that Rod Rosenstein does the press that Rod Rosenstein wants to do.  He has been a prolific public speaker for the last couple of years.

And certainly in defending Bill Barr and Bill Barr`s handling of the report, Rod Rosenstein is also defending himself.  Don`t forget that Bill Barr, when he wrote the four-page letter, he wrote it with Rod Rosenstein.  He came to those what he called the bottom line conclusions of the report in conjunction with Rod Rosenstein.

And nobody in the Department knows the report better front and back than Rod Rosenstein because he`s overseen the investigation for the duration and he has been getting briefings and updates from the Special Counsel`s Office over what`s in it.  He is essentially been birddogging the report and he is the person for the most part, for almost the entire process who, would have said yes or no to decisions that Robert Mueller wanted to make.

So even though he is defending his boss, he is also defending the decisions of the Department that largely he made, and it is going to be his reputation on the line as well when the report comes out.

WILLIAMS:  Terrific point.

Carol, perhaps because it`s just after 8:00 on the West Coast and you`re fresher than the rest of us, I`m going to ask you something very unfair.  Can you predict a percentage of the report that will be under the dreaded black lines of redaction?

LAM:  Yes, I can, and my concern is that there is going to be a lot of redaction, maybe -- I mean, I`ll put a number on it.  I`ll say 60 percent - -


LAM:   --or so.  And this is the reason why Bill Barr said something I think that was quite significant in his testimony yesterday.  He said, "we thought we might receive the report in a form that sort of cordoned off the grand jury information and other sensitive information."  He said it did not come to us in that format, and therefore we`re going through this process of going through the report and sort of color coding the redactions we have to make for different reasons.

The length of time it`s taking to do that redaction, the number of people who are involved in doing that, and I`ve previously said I think probably the districts that received other cases spinning out from the Special Counsel`s investigation have to be consulted as well.

I think because -- because so much of this investigation was done through the grand jury, I think a lot of this report is going to be redacted and a lot of people are going to be very unhappy when they see that.

WILLIAMS:  Wow.  Sixty percent is an attention-getting prediction.  Three terrific gets to start off our broadcast on a Thursday night, Carol Lam, Annie Karni, Katie Benner, our thanks to the three of you for starting us off.

And coming up as we approach our first break, how has the President gone from I love WikiLeaks to, just today saying, "it`s not my thing?"  A look at the evolution of our President now that Assange is in cuffs.

And later, the three Bs leading the Democratic pack, Biden, Bernie and the new name that doesn`t roll so easily off the tongue as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on a Thursday night.


WILLIAMS:  The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is in British police custody tonight, his arrest this morning in London ending his seven years of sheltering in place in the Ecuadorian embassy.  Dramatic video showed him getting dragged out of the building.  British authorities initially arrested him for skipping bail in 2012, but he`s also being held in connection with a charge from here in the U.S. federal prosecutors revealed today they`re charging Assange with conspiracy to hack a classified defense department computer.

U.S. wants him sent here, his lawyers fighting that.  The charge stems from a massive 2010 WikiLeaks release of classified information.  The prosecutors say Assange agreed to help Chelsea Manning obtain a password to a classified computer.  That particular plan didn`t work and in the end no documents were obtained.  Assange said the U.S. is trying to infringe on his journalistic freedoms.

In recent years, Assange became the face of WikiLeaks` release of thousands of e-mails stolen from the DNC and damaging to the Clinton campaign.  U.S. Intel community concluded the hack was orchestrated by the Russian government. We know the larger Mueller investigation has been looking at WikiLeaks.  In fact we know how the man is now President once regarded WikiLeaks.


TRUMP:  And all you have to do is take a look at WikiLeaks.

This just came out.  This just came out.  WikiLeaks.  I love WikiLeaks.



They`ve got to start talking about WikiLeaks.

The wonder of WikiLeaks.

Oh, we love WikiLeaks.  Boy, they have really -- WikiLeaks.  They have revealed a lot.



That came out on WikiLeaks.

Did you see another one?  Another one came in today.  This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.


WILLIAMS:  So that was during the campaign.  Here is that same man today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you still love WikiLeaks?

TRUMP:  I know nothing about WikiLeaks.  It`s not my thing.  And I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange.  I`ve been seeing what`s happened with Assange, and that will be a determination.  I would imagine mostly by the Attorney General, who is doing an excellent job.  So he`ll be making a determination.  I know nothing really about him.  It`s not my -- it`s not my deal in life.


WILLIAMS:  Back with us tonight, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.

This was his deal in life for a good long time in that role.  In fact, he worked on the WikiLeaks case in its early stages.  Frank, first of all, your reaction to this news, these pictures today and a subset question, do you think we`ll ever see Julian Assange in an American courtroom?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  So, my reaction is that in the past few days we`ve had nothing but bad news regarding justice and our institutions and our Attorney General.  Today was a bright spot for justice.  Today a bad guy got handcuffed and taken out of the Ecuadorian embassy.

And I do believe, Brian, that he`s on his way to the United States, because if this was done correctly through the diplomatic and legal channels that it should have been run through then the skids have been greased and we understand and the U.K. understands what`s going to happen.  We`ve explained the charges to the U.K.  They`re a strong ally.  And it`s likely that in fairly short order, unless there is some complication, we will see Julian Assange on U.S. soil and he will face justice that he deserves.  He is a bad actor.

WILLIAMS:  I mean, I referenced this tonight, I noticed it on Fox News.  This was Tucker Carlson`s show.  He said, "You`d think journalists would say something about this.  Assange is, after all, one of them.  What do you call a man who publishes news for a living?  Assange is no sleazier than many journalists in Washington.  He`s definitely not more anti-American."

And as you see there, the graphic at the bottom of the screen read, "Assange arrested.  The left makes it about Russia."

Frank, is it about Russia?

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, look at the face of the charging document.  What he`s charged with is a cyber hack.  This is computer fraud and abuse and that`s what he`s done.  And let`s please make a very clear distinction, because I am hearing people on all sides say this is a hand wringing decision, this is a journalistic entity, we`ve got to be very careful here, and I`m here to tell you as someone who was involved in the early stages of this investigation that this is a no-brainer.

This guy, Julian Assange, directed and led an organization that led to the largest breach of classified information in U.S. history.  This is not some do-gooder whistle-blower who wants to air out some terrible unrighteous situation for all to see.  He`s intent simply on divulging national security secrets and he did it with Chelsea Manning and he got her to do something that should never have been done, and he is no journalist and WikiLeaks is no media organization.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I`ve heard it speculated tonight that this puts the right, at least the Trump right, in a bad spot because this would normally be a straight-up slam dunk law and order equation for them and wouldn`t be a tough call at all.  Do you think, Frank, we will be reading about WikiLeaks in the unredacted portions of what we get in the next few days?

FIGLIUZZI:  Oh, Brian, I hope this is a significant portion addressed in the Counterintelligence side of the Mueller inquiry.  We need to know the relationship between WikiLeaks and the Russian intelligence service, how the hack occurred and then got turned over for release to WikiLeaks, the interaction between Don Jr., Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks and even Assange himself.  And you`re going to see Assange play into the report issued by Mueller if we`re allowed to see that portion.

WILLIAMS:  Frank, I want to play you this from Michael Cohen in front of Congress.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY:  I was in Mr. Trump`s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone.  Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speaker phone.  Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that within a couple of days there would be a massive dump of e-mails that would damage Hillary Clinton`s campaign.  Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect, wouldn`t that be great?


WILLIAMS:  Roger Stone has proclaimed his innocence.  Frank, if that story proves true, what will that mean?

FIGLIUZZI:  So, first, we`ve talked about it being a good day for justice.  It was a bad day for Roger Stone.  We haven`t heard a lot about Roger in the last few days, but today he must have been quite upset at the fact that he could be facing accusations by a cooperating Julian Assange.  If that happens and if that`s where this is going, and then we look toward the President`s knowledge of what the relationship is with WikiLeaks, the degree to which they aided the campaign.  Julian Assange could play right into the middle of all of this and we`re not done talking about WikiLeaks and we`re certainly not done talking about Roger Stone.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, a man who knows a thing or two because he`s seen a thing or two.  Thank you very much, as always, for coming on our broadcast.

And coming up for us, the new report out tonight that has Trump critics furious.  It`s about what the Trump administration considered doing with migrants coming in over the southern border.  That`s when we continue.


WILLIAMS:  The breaking news tonight, as we mentioned, from "The Washington Post" is that the Trump administration tried to play politics with immigrants detained at our southern border.  "The post" is reporting it this way tonight.  And we quote.  "White House officials have tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees on to the streets of sanctuary cities to retaliate against President Trump`s political adversaries."

That would include Speaker Nancy Pelosi`s congressional district in San Francisco and, yes, it would have meant putting them on busses at the U.S.- Mexico border and driving recent arrivals to San Francisco.

"The Post" goes on to say, "The attempt at political retribution raised alarm within ICE, with a top official responding that it was rife with budgetary and liability concerns, and noting that `there are PR risks as well`.  You ultimately ICE`s legal department rejected the idea as inappropriate and rebuffed the administration."

Well, of all the nights to have our next two guests here with us, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for "The Washington Post," David Jolly, former Republican members of Congress from the great state of Florida, who has since left the grand old party.

Gentlemen, good evening.  Nothing more I need to say.  Eugene, you`re the one with the Pulitzer.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST:  Brian, this is an astounding story.  "The Post" story goes on to say this idea seemed to have originated with Stephen Miller, the White House adviser on immigration and other matters, who seems to be basically functioning as the White House Chief of Staff now.  He orchestrated a purge of the Department of Homeland Security in the past week and it appears that he had this bright idea of bussing these recent arrivals to Pacific Heights or wherever in San Francisco. 

WILLIAMS:  Could have also included Chicago, New York.  We don`t know the lengths to which they would have gone to.  And, Miller, to your point, is not only a survivor in this White House, he`s thriving in this White House.

ROBINSON:  He is thriving.  He is the ultimate survivor in this White House, and of the people who came in at the beginning, I mean, he`s the last man standing basically.  I mean, he`s there and Jared Kushner is still there and they`re at loggerheads, but it looks like Miller is winning that fight, certainly on the immigration issue.  He has Trump`s ear.  Trump agrees with his, frankly, draconian approach to immigration, and he`s functionally the chief of staff.

WILLIAMS:  Congressman, your reaction to this story.

DAVID JOLLY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN:  Importantly, in the article the White House confirms that, yes, this idea was floated.  So if the President tweets tomorrow that this is fake news, somebody at the White House is lying.  But, Brian, you know, you always open your show this is day 800 and whatever it is.  On most days this would be the top story because this reflects a certain unmitigated depravity, if you will, and I would suggest a sociopathy, and here`s why.

The President has been telling the American people that these people, these -- those coming from Central America and Mexico are dangerous.  These caravans are a threat.  That there are members of ISIS imbedded in these caravans.  If the President and his administration truly believed that, it takes a certain level of sociopathy to then say we`re going to deploy these people into U.S. cities to intentionally create crime rates against those who have political adverse positions to the President.  That is a sociopathy, and I don`t use that word lightly.  If the President believes these are criminals and his top adviser is saying we`re going to move these criminals into Nancy Pelosi`s district or perhaps into Rahm Emanuel`s city for the sole intent of causing crime rates to go up and settling a political vendetta, that`s sociopathy.

WILLIAMS:  Yet you would probably concede because you see and read everything that when a guy like Andrew Sullivan writes what he did this week about immigration and says, look, people, maybe a small "c," but it`s a crisis, it`s a flood at our border and Americans should pay attention to what immigration has done to Europe and prominent European leaders.  You`ll forgive the term.  There has been a little bit of a migration on the topic of immigration.

JOLLY:  Sure.  It is a humanitarian crisis.  And for a president who is willing to meet with the leader of North Korea, he should be willing to sit down with the leaders of the three Central American countries that are producing most of these migrants and say what is the root cause analysis for this current humanitarian crisis? How do we create an environment in Central America and Mexico that allows us to provide for border security while addressing the real human needs of those seeking safety and opportunity on our shores.

ROBINSON:  And we should also remember that kind of the point of America is that we`re not Europe, you know, and certainly with regards to immigration.  We have a completely -- totally different history on immigration.  And it`s what built this country.  So it`s not directly -- I mean, sure, there is some relevance, but it`s not -- it`s not the same thing as what`s happening in Europe.  This is a process that -- that we`re accustomed to.  This is -- this is the process of America. 

WILLIAMS:  Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stay with us over this break.

When we come back, it`s early yet, way early, but a funny thing has happened on the road to the Democratic nomination.  We`ll have that story when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Now we can explain whose shoes were standing on that chair.  Two new polls in two key early voting states are giving us an idea how the 2020 field is shifting and a previously little known underdog is making some big moves.  Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he`s not in the race, followed closely by Bernie Sanders, but he`s not a Democrat.  The standout headline here is this.  The 37-year- old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, has surged in third place.

Eugene Robinson, David Jolly Remain with us here tonight.  Gentlemen, I want to run just the shortest clip from the Buttigieg speech on Sunday followed by Mike Pence`s reaction today.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D) SOUTH BEND, INDIANA:  My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man, and, yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.  And that`s the thing I wish 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.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I work very closely with Mayor Pete when I was governor of the state of Indiana.  We had a great working relationship, and he said some things that are critical of my Christian faith and about me personally, and he knows better.  He knows me.


WILLIAMS:  Congressman David Jolly, did he get that right?  Was Buttigieg calling out Pence`s Christian faith?

JOLLY:  As a Christian, Mike Pence is missing what an important moment this is for the Christian and evangelical community.  But it`s also an important moment for the country.  We have a LGBT candidate who legitimately could be considered a top tier presidential candidate at this point talking about his sexuality in the context of his Christian faith, and the Christian family, and I consider myself a part of that family, has to wrestle with this.  This is a moment not just for the Democratic Party, not just for the LGBT community, but for the country.

We need a candidate because we need this conversation, and, you know, the neat thing that he`s doing that no other Democratic candidate has done, he`s approaching these issues of intersectionalism and identity politics in a way that is not preaching to the Republican Party as though they`re not coming along.  Mayor Pete`s inviting people to that conversation.  When he says I disagree with Chick-fil-A`s policies but I love their chicken, he`s talking to a community that needs to be invited to this conversation.  It`s a very special moment for the country right now.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene Robinson, when a former mayor of New Orleans gives a speech on race, when a presidential candidate named Obama gives a speech on race, they had resonance.  They lived on.  People had a funny way of finding them on YouTube.  It seems to me this speech on Sunday that he gave has resonance. 

ROBINSON:  I think it does have resonance.  It was a hell of a speech.  It really was.  And this is, as David said, this is a moment for that speech, I think.  I saw some research the other day about explicit and implicit bias as determined by various kinds of tests that don`t directly ask you are you bias but show you pictures and how do you react, what words do you associate with pictures of brown people or white people or whatever.  And the point is that sexuality or sexual preference, sexual orientation, bias against gay people basically was way down.  Was down further than --

WILLIAMS:  Fastest-moving issue I`ve ever seen in this country. 

ROBINSON:  -- further than race, than, you know, the only one that was up actually was weight.  And sort of implicit bias against heavy people was up.  But all the biases were down.  But sexuality was down further and faster than any other, so this is a moment for the country.

WILLIAMS:  And that`s part of your answer as to why this is a moment for the country.

JOLLY:  We`ve never seen a public figure, and I know people do this privately and perhaps in different walks of life.  We have never seen a public figure talk so openly about their sexuality and their Christianity.  This is such an important national conversation.  It`s a special moment for the country.

WILLIAMS:  Gentlemen, thank you both for coming by.  It`s always a pleasure to have you both on.  Appreciate it.

JOLLY:  Thank you.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here.

WILLIAMS:  David Jolly, Eugene Robinson, thanks.

Coming up for us, the woman who just wanted to use the pool at a resort in Florida the President happens to own and what she`s ended up teaching us about China and what they may be up to.  We have an expert coming on to talk about that.


WILLIAMS:  With the news we`ve been covering, it got nowhere near the news coverage it would have received, as they say, in normal times.  A woman who turns out to be a Chinese national arrives at the President`s home and resort in Florida asking to use the pool.  She is later found to have basically an entire ID -- IT Department in her bag, including a thumb drive carrying a unique Malware and a device to detect surveillance cameras and microphones.

As former FBI counterterrorism Agent Ali Suffan wrote in "The Washington Post," "Mar-a-Lago may present the worst counterintelligence nightmare the country has faced since the Cold War."  Indeed, our own Secretary of State said this Chinese woman who wanted to use the pool at the President`s place is an example of the threat China poses to the United States.  And, again, what would we be doing about that threat in normal times?

We`re joined tonight by an expert in the field who studied China`s rise and intentions for a decade.  Dr. Jonathan Ward, the author of a new book appropriately titled "China`s Vision of Victory."  Also happens to be the founder of the Atlas Organization.

Jonathan Ward, what are the lessons of Mar-a-Lago?  If you had a chance to make this mandatory reading in every household in the country, to talk to every American, what should we be doing about China, what should we know about their intentions?

JONATHAN WARD, AUTHOR, "CHINA`S VISION OF VICTORY:  Absolutely.  Brian, thank you.  It`s great to be here.  The first thing we need to understand about China is this is the most comprehensive and, you know, real and clear strategic challenge that is facing the United States.  We haven`t seen this sort of thing since the end of the Cold War, really even since the early days of the USSR.  It was, you know, American policy in the 20th century was a great success.  We won the Second World War, we won the Cold War and I think we kind of took a break, took our eyes off the ball of the bigger powers as they started to rise.

And this lesson at Mar-a-Lago I think it tells us about the sense of confidence that the Chinese have even operating inside the United States.  I mean the facts are still I think coming out, but the bottom line is China believes that they can surpass the United States, replace us and become the dominant superpower in the 21st century and we`ve got to put a stop to that.

WILLIAMS:  Are they that good?  And a subset question, have we been naive or napping or both?

WARD:  I think it`s both and I think it`s actually something -- we were actually very generous with China, if anything.  I mean our vision of the post-Cold War era was when -- in which a series of nation states around the world were sort of joined into this Pox Americana, a liberal democratic world, in which -- one in which the authoritarian nations like China would gradually reform liberalize both economically and politically and eventually sort of join America in this sort of order.  You know, with us sort of at the head of that.

But what we didn`t realize was they very much had plans of their own.  And I think we lacked the expertise, we really lack the attention, we lacked the interest to know what they had in mind.  And that`s the story now is they`re succeeding well enough that we can discover what that is.

WILLIAMS:  Do we keep making the same mistake?  And that is we are patriots and we love our country and our system.  Do we keep assuming that if people are just exposed to Jefferson, Jeffersonian democracy and a capitalist system, of course they`d want what we have?

WARD:  I think that`s about right.  I think we also love other people, too, as the United States and we, you know, have this desire to really get along with so many countries fundamentally.  And we`re very surprised when it turns out that somebody is, you know, that some particular nation or organization is not open to that themselves.

I think we need to get better at understanding nation states, but right now we need to focus really on what it is that China wants, which is actually unique.  I mean, this idea that pretty much any nation is fundamentally similar to us or would reform towards an American system of values I think misses all the complexity of a nation`s history, of its aspirations, of its ambitions.

And in the case of China, these are all very clearly articulated.  I think in many senses they have the clearest sense of national destiny of any nation in the world right now.  It happens to be one that does involve surpassing us, realizing as they call it the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, which means that, you know, sort of in early modern history they were the world`s most powerful and wealthy country and that fell apart with the opium wars, et cetera.  And then they have to restore themselves to that position.  And we stand inconveniently for them in the way of that.  However, they`re very confident that now is the time in which they will begin to move towards that ultimate aim.

WILLIAMS:  It`s sobering stuff.  We`re left to hope that there`s a whole lot of people like you on the home team studying it and doing the work because they have roughly 1.5 billion people to enforce their view.  This is the book.  It`s called "China`s Vision of Victory."  Our thanks to the author, Dr. Jonathan Ward, for being here with us tonight.

WARD:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Appreciate it.  Thank you for your work as well.

Coming up, the second half of the old expression about what goes up.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, let`s speak candidly.  If you watch us a lot then you know we talk a lot around here about how somewhere between the landing on the moon and our current era, we lost something along the way as a country.  It has to do with innovation and drive and exceptionalism.  It is best exemplified by how much of the world has zoomed past us on high-speed rail and the uncomfortable reality that we don`t have a way to get American astronauts up to the international space station.  We rely on the Russian space program for that.

And on that front, we are at least getting closer to getting there.  The folks at SpaceX, the Elon Musk interplanetary division, successfully launched another spacecraft, this giant three-engine rocket called "Falcon Heavy."  Currently the most powerful form of propulsion on earth.  Thanks to paying customers, it delivered its payload into earth orbit.  It`s a new Saudi communications satellite.

And then came the hard part.  The space business in this way is kind of like gymnastics.  It`s really critical to stick the landing, and they did times three.  The return of those three rocket boosters is a sight to behold.  Nothing short of remarkable.  Two of them on land, one of them at sea.  It`s the kind of thing that gives you hope, until that is you take the train, pretty much any train in America or wait for your bags, pretty much any bag at any major airport in America, but first thing`s first, one step at a time.  Let`s be happy.

And on that note, that is our broadcast on this Thursday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with us and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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