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Booker and Swalwell holding campaign kickoffs. TRANSCRIPT: 4/12/19. The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, John Gerstein, Rick Wilson, Laura Barron-Lopez,Juana Summers

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D) SOUTH BEND INDIANA:  That`s going to take real choice.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  CNBC`s John Harwood with Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  Again, this program reminder which you heard from Rachel earlier, Mayor Pete will be Rachel`s special guest on Monday night.  And that`s tonight`s LAST WORD."  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the countdown is on for Attorney General Barr to release the Mueller report.  However much we`re able to see of it as the President spends the weekend at home waiting like the rest of us.

Donald Trump was able to throw out a giant distraction, his threat to use migrants as a weapon and send them to sanctuary cities as punishment.

Then there`s today`s story that he promised a federal official a pardon in case he got in trouble for breaking the law in closing the southern border.

And he`s one of the men who brought us Donald Trump.  Now Steve Bannon, enemy of what he calls the administrative state is aiming even higher as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 813 of the Trump administration and it`s a weird feeling on this Friday night.  We don`t yet know how this story is going to change exactly in a few days.  It certainly feels like this coming week will be a consequential one for this presidency.

All we know is this.  Next week will bring the edited or redacted version of the Mueller report which right now remains entirely in the control of the Attorney General William Barr.  Bloomberg News reports Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave something of a preview of the report today during a private lunch in Washington.  Three people who were present told Bloomberg Rosenstein said, "Mueller`s report describes Russian cyber crimes during the 2016 election.  And that it will clear up questions about the Russian campaign to interfere in the election."  More on that later.

Last night we learned from "The Journal" that Rosenstein fresh from overseeing the Mueller case has been working alongside the A.G. on those redactions of sensitive material.  There are concerns about Bill Barr, concerns that he`s already tipped the scale somehow, that he sees the President and not the American people as his client.  And he tried this week to address some of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I was going to try to be as transparent as possible.

The fact that information is classified does not necessarily -- it doesn`t mean that Congress can`t see it, so I`m willing to work on some of these categories.  The category I think is the most inflexible under the law right now is the grand jury material.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS;  But then a few minutes after that, that`s when Barr`s comments about the early investigation into Trump`s 2016 campaign, that`s when it reignited Democrats fears about what they would see in the report, perhaps, and about the Attorney General himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.  I think there`s spying that did occur.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Note the "s" word, right there, spying.  Trump has given Barr high praise for that assessment.  Today lawmakers from both sides of the aisle made clear where they stood on those spying comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND:  I think when he used the obviously political charge expression of spying, he lost whatever credibility he may have had.  Because that was, again, music to President Trump`s ears.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R-LA) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Here`s my advice for my friends on the Democratic side. Leave Bill Barr alone. Let him do his job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Trump has said he doesn`t care about the Mueller report.  His tweets today notwithstanding, and we quote, "No matter what we do or give to the radical left, it will never be enough, and they should stop wasting time and money and get back to real legislating, especially on the," capital B, "border."

And further proof tonight that words have consequences and Barr`s use of the word spying was indeed a loaded term.  Politico reporter Kyle Cheney tells us the Trump reelection campaign is already fundraising based on that word.  Despite that not being remotely true they have written this to their supporters and we quote, "A.G. Barr believes the Obama administration illegally spied on President Trump.  We need answers.  Fight back."

There you have it.  And here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday evening, Shannon Pettypiece, White House Correspondent for Bloomberg.  Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor for Politico.  And not one but two former federal prosecutors, our friends Paul Butler and Joyce Vance.  Welcome to you all.

I`ll start with the journalists tonight.  Shannon, the Attorney General gave Trump the characterization advantage.  Trump turned it into taking, you know, Trumpetic (ph) license, no collusion, no obstruction, and as we saw there fundraising on the word spying.  That, however, could change by Tuesday night.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes. I mean, I think that the narrative of all this is going to shift dramatically.  And whether or not President Trump has gotten enough of a head start on setting the narrative on his own because he has had this window of time with Barr`s letter out there, we are certainly going to be getting a more nuance and a fuller version of this investigation on that four-page letter.

And I even think there`s hints in that four-page letter that tell us that there`s going to be more coming out of this 400-page report than a more nuanced picture than we have right now.  Barr mentioned things like, say, most of the incidents of obstruction have been publicly reported.  So suggesting there`s some that will be included in the report that we don`t know about obstruction.

He mentions multiple attempts at the Russians to reach out to the Trump campaign, you know, even though we, you know, really only know kind of about one or two of those.  So, I mean, I think that there`s still the possibility that this moment either Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or sometime next week could be one of those really sort of pivotal moments in American politics.  And I`ve been going back and reading about the Starr report and the news coverage around that and I still think there is some -- the potential for that to set the narrative for these next two years and how it goes into Trump`s reelection campaign.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  Josh, this is your chance to clear your reporter`s notebook.  Tell us everything you know about the suspected and expected timing of this.  How will we come to read it?  How will we come to digest it based on what you know?

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, I think that it probably is coming, if I had to guess, somewhere around Tuesday of next week.  I think it`s going to probably take officials about a day to put in process the various procedures that they want to have in place to make sure that their release goes in a smooth way.  I think it`s officially going to be released to the public probably via Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s website which is still active.  He is still in sort of a wine down phase.  So, he has still not officially left his position.

And I think it will be simultaneously publicly released and delivered to people up on the Hill, although most of those representatives are going to be out on recess, so reporters will then be scrambling to get reaction from lawmakers who are out in different parts of the country.  So that`s how I think it`s going to roll out.

Of course, there`s still a little bit of mystery about how much of a heads up the White House gets.  Will the President or his lawyers get sort of any chance to look at this and prepare comments on it in any sort of meaningful amount of time before the public sees it?  I think the answer probably will be no.  But we`ll see how that plays out in the middle of next week.

WILLIAMS:  On a rare visit to us in New York city, Joyce Vance is here in the studio.  Joyce, we had a former U.S. attorney on the broadcast last night.  Her guess was this could be up to 60 percent redaction.  So that`s interesting.  Number two, you have a rule about the Justice Department the more we mention Tuesday?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Well, I think this is how things tend to work.  Just when you think everything is done and ready to be released, someone wants to go back and look it over one last time where there`s a question.  So, typically things happen a little bit later than we expect, maybe with something like the Mueller report that won`t be true.

WILLIAMS:  And this may call for a judgment on your part, but what the heck, let`s ask anyway.  What do you think Rosenstein is up to?  He`s still number two in DOJ.  He`s still got, at least one foot, out the door.  In the last 24 hours, we`ve read of his defense of Barr.  And then today what was supposed to be a private lunch, they never turn out to be as private as you think.  Offering a tidbit or two about what might be in the report.

VANCE:  Rosenstein surely knew that lunch was slightly less private than it was being billed at and may have even been deliberate in making those comments.  No huge surprise that we will learn more about the contours of the Russian side of interference in the election from Mueller`s report.  We already knew that because it was the subject of one of his indictments.

I think, though, that Rosenstein is still an institutionalist.  People can disagree about what he`s done the right thing or not, but he is clearly down to the end trying to do what he believes is the right thing to protect the integrity of the Justice Department.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Paul Butler, one of the words you lawyers love is declinations.  And it`s a fancy word for the indictments and charges declined and not charged.  Do you think we`ll see any of that evidence involving, say, some of the big names that people expected to be indicted and charged long before now?

PAUL BUTLER, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  How much we`ll get to see is up to the Attorney General of the United States, which is not confidence inspiring for people who would like to see transparency and accountability, because Mr. Barr`s acting more like a private lawyer for the President than he is like a representative of the United States.  So yes, when a prosecutor declines a case, that is, he elects not to bring charges.  He writes a long detailed memo explaining why.

And so, we should be able to learn why people like Don Junior were not charged with perjury when apparently he told some of the same lies to the House and Senate that other people who were charged with perjury were.  Why wasn`t Jerome Corsi charged?  Mueller sent a draft indictment to him and then elected not to charge him.

And finally, there was that bizarre meeting in the cigar bar between the Ukrainian Russian operative, Konstantin Kilimnick and Paul Manafort at the heat of the campaign and Manafort gives Kilimnick private polling data.  At one court proceeding Mueller`s team said that goes to the heart of the investigation.

So, what`s up with no evidence of collusion according to the Attorney General?  That seemed pretty incriminating to me.

WILLIAMS:  You asked only good questions for which there are no answers yet.

Hey, Shannon, we note that the President is not in Mar-a-Lago this weekend.  He`ll be bouncing around the White House all weekend.  Is there a stated plan for White House rebuttal other than Rudy`s constant mentions that they have a counter report ready and on the skids?

PETTYPIECE:  Right.  Well, they do have a counter report and that`s something they`ve been working on for months, actually, since the summer.  Jane Raskin, one of the lawyers down in Florida has been leading that.

You know, this is something that we`ve seen -- we saw in the Whitewater investigation where Clinton`s lawyers quickly came out with their own I think it was a 70 something page counter report immediately after the Starr report came out.  So, I think we can expect for that to come out.

Of course, they don`t know everything that`s going to be in Mueller`s report.  But the big concern for them all along has been this obstruction charge.  And I think in their counter argument, there will be a lot of their own analysis about what the law is around obstruction and what the President`s constitutional authority is.

But I think on a broader scale, the President`s strategy in responding to this is going to be focused on no collusion, no collusion, no co collusion.  There are details that are going to come out but he is going to try and simplify it and say focus on the bottom line here, no one is being charged with collusion, which is a word he made up and not one Mueller has used.  So, any other details I think they are going to try and say put those aside to try and make this confusing and try and keep things simple is a binary choice between either collusion and no collusion and say they found no collusion, stop paying attention to this, nothing here folks.

WILLIAMS:  And Josh, I want you to share something even further.  Using your thumb if it comes out on paper and your cursor if not, what section will you go to out of sheer urgency and interest if you have a choice and an index?

GERSTEIN:  I think I`m probably going to jump to see what the unknowns in this report are to borrow a Rumsfeldian phrase.  I mean, what things has Mueller investigated or begun investigating and then spun off that we haven`t heard about?  There are perhaps billions of words, bits and bites that have been spilled on news coverage of this investigation.  But I remain convinced that there are probably whole branches of it that we don`t know about at this point.

We may not learn about all of that if it`s still active next week, but I think we`ll learn about at least some of it, what the contours of this investigation were, which are still not entirely clear.  And I think there could be some real nuggets in those matters that really haven`t been turned over by the press up to this point.

WILLIAMS:  Joyce, do you think we will learn why it is that Mueller took a pass on obstruction?  Do you think the supporting reasoning and documentation will be there?

VANCE:  You know, i had thought we would see that in the full text of the report, but when Barr testified on the Hill this week, he testified that Mueller had not told him he was leaving the question for Congress.  But also that Mueller had not asked him to make a decision on obstruction.  That left me wondering exactly how much we`ll learn from the report itself.

WILLIAMS:  Paul, we have a lot of things still out there, Gates, Flynn, Stone`s trial, and U.S. attorney investigations, those will all continue to revolve like the mini hurricanes that they are?

BUTLER:  That`s right.  And we have people who it will be in their interest in avoiding jail to come clean to say everything they know.  And so while the Mueller investigation is over, I think it`s way too soon to exonerate the President and his men on obstruction or even on conspiracy, so we know from Rod Rosenstein today that the Russians were active not just in trying to influence the election, but in trying to get Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

There was considerable evidence that folks in the Trump campaign knew about some of the WikiLeaks information in advance.  So, again, it`s hard to believe that all of that information is out there and there`s no connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians, so maybe they don`t amount to the level that a prosecutor would want to bring a case, but they definitely implicate national scurrility.

WILLIAMS:  Terrific front four to get us started on a Friday night.  Shannon Pettypiece, Josh Gerstein, Paul Butler, Joyce Vance, our thanks for being with us.

And coming up, what the President reportedly offered one of his top officials if he was willing to break the law.

And later one of Trump`s former advisers undertakes a new crusade against an establishment that dates back pretty much to the actual crusades.  "The 11th Hour," as we say, just getting started on a Friday night as Abe Lincoln looks on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Welcome back and we are tracking a number of striking headlines this Friday night related to border security and immigration.  Fair warning, some or all could amount to a giant distraction.

After seeing that just the idea of it caused outrage last night, today the President confirmed he`s in fact considering strongly as he put it bussing migrants to various so-called sanctuary cities.  This was first reported by "The Washington Post" and reported by us as well last night.  Administration officials quickly said it was just a suggestion that had been floated and knocked down, rejected.  That`s when the President doubled down on it to threaten Democrats if they can`t reach a deal on border security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`ll bring the illegal -- early I call them the illegals, I call them the illegals, they came across the border illegally, we`ll bring them to sanctuary city areas.  And let that particular area take care of it, whether it`s a state or whatever it might be.

California certainly is always saying, "Oh, we want more people."  And they want more people in their sanctuary cities, well, we`ll give them more people.  We can give them a lot.  We can give them an unlimited supply.  And let`s see if they`re so happy.

They say, "We have open arms," they`re always saying they have open arms.  Let`s see if they have open arms.

The alternative is to change the laws and we can do it very, very quickly, very easily.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  More later on the notion of using humans as punishment.

Tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting that during his visit to California a week ago tonight, Trump urge, Kevin McAleenan, the person who he was about to top as acting Homeland Security secretary to close the southwestern border.

No matter -- days earlier, the President had pledge to delay that border closing decision for a year.  According to "The Times," "It was not clear what Mr. Trump meant by his request or his additional comment to Mr. McAleenan that he would pardon him if he encountered any legal problems as a result of taking the action," closing the border.

"Federal judges have already blocked the administrations attempts to limit asylum seekers who illegally enter the country, and it is not likely Mr. McAleenan would have ended up in jail if he had followed the President`s directive.  One of the people briefed on the conversation said it was unclear whether Mr. Trump had intended the comments to Mr. McAleenan as a joke."

There`s one more immigration headlines, today, our own Courtney Kube and Julia Ainsley report some of Trump`s advisors have discussed whether the military could be use to build and run migrant detentions camps.

Still with us here in our studio is Joyce Vance.  And joining our conversation, the aforementioned Julia Ainsley, NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter.

And Julia, we try to keep our ball -- our eye on the ball around here and we try to call stuff for what it is.  Are both of these stories, the using migrants as a political weapon, the offering a pardon as a get out of jail free card, are they both chum radio chatter?  And do they both just dull (ph) down expectations?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NTL. SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER:  So, Brian, I think that that was a worthwhile conversation in newsrooms across Washington today is should we keep giving air and lip service to these ideas that seem to be coming from the dark corners of a mine of someone inside the White House?  Maybe the President, maybe Stephen Miller, but they`re actually meant as scare tactics.  And they actually won`t go anywhere.

And I think the answer in why we ultimately came down on publishing stories like these is because this administration has been known to act on things that are not legally or logistically possible and then they`re immediately challenged by the courts, but they happened.  It was the same conversation I had with my editors in February of 2017 when we heard that they were thinking about separating families at the border.  It`s something they went ahead with.

Same thing with the idea of stopping all asylum seekers if they entered the country between legal ports of entry.  They went ahead with that.  It was enjoined by the court, but we did it.  And so we have to put out this information that`s being talked about.

And as Courtney Kube and I reported, there was an emergency meeting at the White House on Tuesday night where they brought in officials from the Defense Department and talked about a plan to use troops not just to build tent cities, but also to run them which would be in direct violation of a law that keeps the military from enforcing domestic law.  They are not supposed to interact with immigrants.

Right now the plan to build the tent cities has gone further.  That could end up in an agreement between DHS and DOD very soon.  The plan to rum them has not been operationalized yet, but it hasn`t been taken off the table.  None of these things have.

And the President made it clear today that he at least from a messaging standpoint is not taking away things like bussing immigrants to sanctuary cities.  So, at this point all of these things hang in the balance, especially at a time where we know the President is getting rid of people who say no to him and he`s filling these positions with acting secretaries and acting administrators who say yes more often.

WILLIAMS:  Joyce, last night when the idea of using migrants came out in "The Washington Post," there was actual hyper ventilation.  Maggie Haberman`s guess was that the President was watching T.V. and the idea sounds tough to him and being stopped by lawyers doesn`t.  Emily Singer tweeted about the idea, "Trump is so racist.  He thinks it`s punishment to send brown immigrants into someone`s city.  It`s disgusting."

On the law of it, Joyce, is it legal to do?

VANCE:  You know it`s an interesting question and we wouldn`t know a precise answer until we saw exactly what the President did.  There`s some question about whether ICE can transport people further once they`ve caught them.  Could they actually transport them for hours?  Would that be some form of lawful detention?

And then there will be questions about whether, for instance, sanctuary cities have first amendment rights and whether the President is punishing them for their exercise of those rights.  But this is all very speculative.  This is new.  This is unplowed territory.

And it`s, you know, you want to say that it`s dangerous for this administration, but nothing really seems to be dangerous.  No matter how far Trump goes stepping on these traditional norms and rights.  He never seems to be accountable.

WILLIAMS:  We haven`t even touched on the Posse Comitatus law which many of us thought was a lyric to Woolly Bully.

How about the legality of offering a pardon?  Is that a problem?

VANCE:  You know, we`re back I suppose to this issue that we`ve dealt with other times, but look, this story with Acting Secretary McAleenan, this is something that`s different.  This is the President who has, by the way just fired his secretary.  A secretary who loyalty -- loyally carried out everything that he asked her to in the area of separating kids from their parents and he fired her, we are told, because she would not violate the law.

Now, he`s got a new acting secretary and the first thing he says to him is, "I need you to violate the law for me and if you get in trouble I`ll give you a pardon."  We should all be concerned about that.

WILLIAMS:  And Julia, how will the idea that the President may have floated a pardon in conversation go over in the hallways at a place like DHS?

AINSLEY:  Gosh.  Well, in a place like DHS, I think it would make people want to, you know, maybe ask more questions about Kevin McAleenan, he`s someone who is a holdover from the Obama administration but he certainly seen as a fierce loyalist to this President.  People I`ve talked to said he will go far in order to show the President he will come through on these promises.

But, it does seem to be not taken seriously that they would seal the entire border mainly because of the impact of the economy and how hard that would be to do.  There was a big deficit I think it was $5 million lost just for shutting down one small sector, a few highway lanes overnight in November when that Honduran caravan came through California.  And so that seems like something they would rule out.  But the idea of now DHS officials being pulled into the pardon game, which DOJ knows all too well, would frighten some of the people there.

And I think they do worry that they are starting to have leaders that are part of these small circles at the White House and they`re not being as fourth coming with them about what operationally is around the corner.

WILLIAMS:  A note to our viewers.  When we get the Mueller report in the coming days, when we come on to air, these two women are going to be a critical part of the team reading, digesting and explaining it all to us.  So extra thanks to Joyce Vance, to Julia Ainsley for joining us on a Friday night.  We appreciate it.

And coming up, an outspoken Republican strategist has labeled William Barr the most dangerous man in America.  We`ll ask the author why he might have said a thing like that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, US ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I think there`s spying did occur.  Yes, I think spying did occur.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE:  Well, let me --

BARR:  The question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated and I`m not suggesting it wasn`t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  More on that moment.  The headline of our next guest`s latest op-ed is this, "Bill Barr is the most dangerous man in America."

In this piece, Rick Wilson tosses aside his customary shackles of journalistic restraint to write and we quote, "William Barr`s tone was calm, but his agenda was clear.  His job is to protect Donald Trump no matter the prerogatives of Congress or any consideration of the rule of law.  Bill Barr is not the attorney general of the United States.  He is the Roy Cohn whom the Donald has craved, an attorney general who sees his duty as serving Trump."

And we`re happy to say that with us tonight the aforementioned Rick Wilson, a Veteran Republican Strategist and the author of "Everything Trump Touches Dies" recently released with new material in paperback.  And there`s new material around here every day.

Rick, talk some more about Bill Barr and why he might see the President as his client and not the American people.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, Brian, thank you for having me.  And I will say that the reason I wrote this piece was because like a lot of other people, I had given Bill Barr the benefit of the doubt.  I had given Bill Barr, you know, based on his reputation in D.C. a moment to decide whether or not he was going to be an honest broker.

When the four-page memo came out it was pretty clear, and then when the testimony to Congress this week in both the House and Senate, Bill Barr very clearly flagged for the American people.  He doesn`t work for us.  He`s not a traditional attorney general who has an independence from the political desires of the White House.  Because as the chief law enforcement officer in which is reposed enormous power and he said basically this week flat-out, you know, "I`m here for Donald Trump.  I`m here to take care of protecting the President`s flank and protecting the President from legal jeopardy and it should have shocked the conscience of Americans.

And frankly, if the Democrats understood power, they would have recognized this moment was a man who was incredibly contemptuous of the rights of Congress to be informed of the things that are in the Mueller report.  He`s basically rubbing their nose in it right now and saying you`re not getting what you`re entitled to.  We`re not giving it you.  We`re protecting Donald Trump.  You don`t get to see the goods.

So I think it`s taking a very disturbing turn and I think Bill Barr is in a position of enormous power and the President like he does with everyone will exploit that power to the maximum advantage.

WILLIAMS:  Something I don`t think we do often enough is to ask if a judgment like that on Barr isn`t a painful exercise for you in this way.  This is a guy who was steeped in the modern history of your party.  He was in the Bush wing of the GOP.  He was Mr. Republican lawyer.  This is his second go around as attorney general of the United States and now this is the assessment that you reluctantly have come to.

WILSON:  It really is, Brian.  And, you know, I went back because I was a very junior guy in the Bush 41 administration.  I was a kid, you know.  But I went back and asked people that I knew.  And they said, you know, do you Bill Barr?  And everyone when he was named said, oh, he`s a solid guy, institutional guy.  You know, he`s not flashy.  He`s going to be -- he`s nuts and bolts, right up the middle.

Well, like every other person that gets in Donald Trump`s orbit, the moral corruption of Donald Trump is his super power.  And Bill Barr is displaying right now, I mean, by using the language of spying and witch hunts, and things like that, you know, Bill Barr needed to say when he was asked about spying, say no, it was legally constituted surveillance.  He sent the message to the FBI putting Donald Trump ahead of the people I supervise in the DOJ.  I`m putting people that I supervise ahead of the FBI and the DOJ because I`m going to tell them that Trump`s language of their behavior is how we`re going to describe it.

So I think this is, you know, a guy who is going to meet the "Everything Trump Touches Dies" test head on in the coming weeks.

WILLIAMS:  One aside here at 11:33 PM on a Friday night, the President of the United States, "It`s almost as if you can watch his viewing habits, has tweeted another fake story on NBC News that I offered pardons to Homeland Security personnel in case they broke the law regarding illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.  Of course this is not true.  Mainstream media, we did qualify for capital letters.  Mainstream media is corrupt and getting worse if that is possible every day."

Here`s Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reacting too said tweet, "CNN and the New York Times both reported this as well.  We reached out for a comment from the White House on this shortly after 11:00 am this morning, and asked for a comment three times.  In case the White House approach it`s not clear here, it`s not to comment and then have Trump say fake news" with an assist there by Maggie Haberman.

WILSON:  Absolutely.

WILLIAMS:  Back to the action, I know you`ve had fun this week with your half a million Twitter followers.  Let`s lop off 10 percent for Russian bots with the -- on the topic --

WILSON:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  -- of Julian Assange, other than being a paragon in the personal hygiene community, how do you think history should remember Julian Assange thus far? 

WILSON:  Bad interior decorator and bad cat parent.  But no, Julian Assange in 2016, whatever Julian Assange started out as, if he started out as a transparency advocate or what have you, Julian Assange by 2016 was a willing co-conspirator with the Russians to provide information for a Russian information warfare program seeking to disrupt the US elections

This isn`t debatable.  There`s an abundant tract record here of what and why Assange did what he did.  He was working with the GRU to provide this information to Trump campaign, working to put it out there through WikiLeaks and through the Trump campaign to damage Hillary Clinton`s chances of elections.  He did it.

They were successful.  They made a huge difference in the Russian effort to disrupt our elections.  And Julian Assange even since then., you know, has been in touch with Sean Hannity as part of the Trump cheer leading and propaganda efforts, all these other things.

So this is a guy who was an actor in the information warfare with the Russians.  I have zero pity or mercy for Julian Assange.  Now, the narrowly crafted charges against him have been very carefully built so as not to impinge on journalist, you know, prerogatives or in publisher`s prerogatives, but this is a guy who didn`t play that role.

He`s playing a role as a propagandist an information warfare asset for the Russians.  And so, you know, I hope we see him soon in our courts.  I would like that.  And he was also a guy who played a role in facilitating one of the largest leaks of information during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the early years of that, that cost American security, cost American lives I`m certain in the course of that.

And so, this is not a guy who is a journalist who is a journalist.  It`s not a guy who is a publisher.  This is a guy who is a propagandist and a Russian asset.

WILLIAMS:  With us from the great state of Florida, a veteran cat and dog parent, Rick Wilson, thank you as always for coming on the broadcast on a Friday night.

WILSON:  You bet.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us --

WILSON:  Thank you Brian.

WILLIAMS:  -- he may not officials be in the race just yet, but we`ll play you this candidate`s message for the nation`s second in command.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND INDIANA, MAYOR:  And it`s VP -- I`m not interested in feuding with the vice president, but if he wanted to clear this up he could come out today and say he`s changed his mind that it shouldn`t be legal to discriminate against anybody in this country for who they are.  That`s all.

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST:  Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is officially not running for president and yet he has a special announcement scheduled for Sunday.  New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker and California Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell are also holding campaign kickoff events in their hometowns this weekend.  It`s busy out there on the campaign trail.

And with us tonight to talk about it, Laura Barron-Lopez, National Political Reporter for POLITICO and Juana Summers, National Political Reporter for the Associated Press, a pleasure to have you both.

And Juana, talk to us about Buttigieg specifically.  He sure is getting -- we all watched him on "Ellen" this afternoon, he`s getting his first round of attention.  How is the scrutiny on him about to get tighter still?

JUANA SUMMERS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  I mean, that`s the problem with being a front runner right, Brian, is when you`re a front runner, you not only get the money and the attention, the headlines, you also get that scrutiny.  I think that`s why these people asking questions particularly about his relationship with Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana governor.

In recent weeks, Buttigieg has been a lot more forceful to critic about him particularly went on religious grounds.  We heard him saying in that clip with Ellen in particular.  But -- and when he was -- when Pence was the governor of Indiana and Buttigieg was mayor of the fourth largest city of the state, he was a lot more muted in that criticism that he works together as we reported.  He even gave Mike Pence a short saying, I heart SB, I heart South Bend.  They needed to work together out of political necessity and he didn`t have the strong lines of attack.

We saw those comments surface, comments that he made in 2015 during a State of the City Speech in which he said all lives matter, when he talk about racial reconciliation.  So as he grows in popularity and as we expect him to jump into this race pretty quickly now with that special announcement on Sunday, I think we`ll see more headlines like this.  And we also always know that the kind of scrutiny down the national stage and he run for president looks quite different than what he might have seen when running for the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

WILLIAMS:  Laura, I`ve got a paragraph for you.  From the "LA Times", the subtitle of is the film Waiting for Guffman.  "The obvious challenge for Buttigieg is thriving beyond what he himself calls the flavor of the month phase.  He needs to rapidly grow his campaign to compete against better established candidates with larger and more sophisticated operations.  Like a community theater troop that suddenly finds itself on the big stage, Buttigieg`s campaign has struggled to keep up with his new fame."

Laura, I don`t think it`s cute to say that the greats, the Obamas of the world don`t peak early.  They keep up a level of energy and excitement and organization.  It`s a longer haul than ever.  But the greats get there.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO:  Right.  That`s true.  And I think that we don`t -- we aren`t quite sure yet if Buttigieg is peaking early or if he can keep this momentum going.  It is notable that he came in third in multiple polls, especially since he didn`t have the same kind of national platform that a lot of these other senators who are running have.  So I think that`s why it`s surprising to people that he`s coming out early in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

But yes, that being said, we have nine months to go before the first primary contest.  It`s going to be a long slog.  He has to find a way to make that fundraising money.  He has to find a way to build up his campaign.  And maybe we`ll see him start to do that after this announcement which I think we can expect will be him jumping into the race.

WILLIAMS:  And, Laura, let me ask you about the other Dems.  Again, it`s almost like we should list the Democrats who aren`t running.  It is so crowded.  We`re getting close to 20 of them in the race.  How are they all striving to find a lane they can run in?

BARRON-LOPEZ:  Right.  There`s so many of them.  I`ve reported in particular on a number of House members.  There`s about four House Democrats alone not counting Beto O`Rourke, who`s a former House Democrat, that have or about to jump into the race.  A lot of them are deciding to pick a very specific policy lane.

So similar to Governor Inslee of Washington who is saying that he is the climate change candidate, we have Tim Ryan of Ohio focusing on dignified jobs which sounds like he pulled out a little bit from Sherrod Brown, his home state senator.  There`s Seth Moulton who we expect to jump in soon.  He`s saying he wants to be the national security candidate.  There`s Eric Swalwell who also as we mentioned earlier is going to be on the trail and he is focusing on gun control.

Julian Castro who had a town hall this week wants to really zone in on immigration.  He`s one of the first candidates who came out with a very detailed immigration plan calling for a martial plan if you will for Central America.

WILLIAMS:  And, Juana, I`ve got to say it`s been interesting to see the knives out for Bernie Sanders depending on where you look around the web.  As the critics look at it, here is the guy who is a millionaire.  He`s not a Democrat officially and he would turn 80 in his first theoretical term in the White House.  But -- oh, by the way, he`s raising a ton of money out there.

SUMMERS:  He`s raising a ton of money and unlike any other candidate in the race so far, he`s the only person who`s not only run for president before, but end of the time, in between his 2016 bid.  Entering the race in 2020, he had a national footprint that kept alive momentum and I think that`s why you`ve seen him reach important milestones.  He`s just started a bus tour across a number of key states which he says he could capture that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton couldn`t and he can take from President Donald Trump.

His campaign just launched and said that they`ve had their one millionth donation already and he`s only been in the race for several months now.  They said they have more than a hundred staffers looking the staff up in key states like California very soon.  So while all of those criticisms, there`s certainly some truth to them.  It`s also unquestionable that Bernie Sanders is one of the front runners in this race by standards that go far from just financial and that he has the led, the ground game and the money to be competitive in this race for quite sometime.

WILLIAMS:  Our two guests tonight have great but exhausting jobs.  And to our viewers, these are two reporter bylines to look for and follow.  Our thanks tonight to Laura Barron-Lopez and Juana Summers, really appreciate you guys coming on with us on a Friday night.

BARRON-LOPEZ:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  We`ll take a break here.  More "11th Hour" when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  That man brings us to the last thing before we go on tonight.  It`s about a political movement as led by and exemplified by Steve Bannon.  He, of Trump fame, long ago aimed his sites at destabilizing European government and the NATO alliance.  So why not the Vatican?  That`s where our Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel found Steve Bannon having decided the Pope is his next target.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHAR ENGEL, NBC NEW CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Pope Francis is a new kind of leader, a humbled priest who reaches out to immigrants, gays, and Muslims.  And now, the same person who helped elect President Trump is going after the Pope.

STEVE BANNON, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S FORMER CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:  The administrative apparatus of the church has to be change.

ENGEL:  That`s President Trump`s former campaign chairman, Steve Bannon, now on a new crusade.

Are you feeling confident that after you help bring pretty significant political change in the United States that you can also impact change here?

BANNON:  Absolutely, not doubt.

ENGEL:  Bannon`s goal is to save the Catholic Church from the Pope, who he says is failing to deal with decades of sexual abuse by priest.

BANNON:  My problem with the Pope today is about this crisis on pedophilia that they are not treating this is a crisis.

ENGEL:  But critics say Bannon, a catholic, is using the sex abuse scandal to attack a Pope he and the movement around him consider too liberal.

FR. JAMES MARTIN, AMERICA MAGAZINE EDITOR-AT-LARGE:  If you`re against migrants and refugees and you don`t think they have any rights in the world than someone who is reaching to them, that`s going to upset you.

ENGEL:  We drove outside Rome, where Bannon is restoring this grand monastery.

Bannon plans to build an apartment for himself here and live here part of the year in this monastery of Bannonism.

He says this will be a school to teach Judeo-Christian values to a new generation of nationalist populist.  And Bannon says the Pope is the most powerful opponent to his plans.

BANNON:  He`s constantly coming back in putting all the faults in the world on this populist nationalist movement.

ENGEL:  Maybe he`s right.  Maybe these right-wing movements are a problem.

BANNON:  It`s absolutely nonsense.

ENGEL:  Bannon`s ambitions go far beyond the US.

There are people who are going to see this and think, "Oh, no, Steve Bannon, the guy who helped put Trump in the White House now has his sights set on the Vatican."

BANNON:  Why would they think?

ENGEL:  Will this -- I just stop.  Because it`s true, because that`s what you`re doing, you`re trying to bring change to this institution.

BANNON:  This institution needs change.  This institution is in decline, I think people will say that.

ENGEL:  So this is just the beginning?

BANNON:  Oh, the very beginning, very beginning.  This is going to take years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENGEL:  Brian, some people say why do the story, why give Bannon any airtime?  And the simple reason is our reporting show that this is happening.  He is leasing this monastery.  He is supporting nationalist movements around the world.  He`s gathering together people who have different grievances against the Pope.  They`re connected online, and as we saw in the United States with the election of President Trump.  That is a powerful recipe.  Brian?

WILLIAMS:  Richard Engel and our London bureau tonight with our thanks.  This is some of the reporting from a special.  We are airing Sunday evening at 9:00pm Eastern on this network, Richard Engel on assignment.

And that is going to do it for our Friday night broadcast and for this week.  Thank you so very much for being here with us, have a good weekend.  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