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Mueller Report release now hours away. TRANSCRIPT: 4/17/19. The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Susan Page, Annie Karni, Harry Litman

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  -- is "Tonight`s Last Word."  "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST:  The breaking news tonight, the Attorney General Bill Barr will hold a press conference 9:30 Eastern Time tomorrow morning to talk about the Mueller report before anyone has seen the Mueller report.  Fevered speculation tonight as we appear to be inside the 12-hour window prior to its release.

Democrats are saying it`s telling that Mueller won`t be alongside his long time friend, the Attorney General, tomorrow.  We may in fact hear from the President before the report is out.  Both sides tonight conceding it will likely contain information damaging to the President.  The big question this evening how much will be blacked out, how much will be learn, and what will be talking about by this time tomorrow night?  As "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Wednesday evening, the eve of the Mueller report.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 818 of this Trump administration.  The eve as we said of the long awaited release of at least the edited or redacted version of the Mueller report, the result of 22 months worth of work, 22 months worth of public conversation and public speculation.  Attorney General Barr will be holding as we said that news conference tomorrow morning ahead of the report`s release. More on that development in just a bit.

Tonight there`s breaking news on what the report will reportedly show.  "The Washington Post" says the Justice Department will release, "a lightly redacted version of Special Counsel Mueller`s 400-page report offering a granular look at the ways in which President Trump was suspected of having obstructed justice."

The "Post" writes that the report will reveal Mueller decided he could not come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction because it was difficult to determine Trump`s intent and some of his actions could be interpreted innocently.  And that it will offer a detailed blow-by-blow of his alleged conduct analyzing tweets, private threats and other episodes at the center of Mueller`s inquiry."

There is also major news tonight from "The New York Times." that paper reporting the Justice Department has been talking to the White House about the Mueller report ahead of its release.  "Justice Department officials have had numerous conversations with White House lawyers about the Special Counsel`s conclusion in recent days.  The talks have aided the President`s legal team as it prepares a rebuttal to the report and strategies for the coming public war over its findings.  The discussions between Justice Department officials and White House lawyers have also added to questions about the propriety of the decisions by Attorney General William Barr since he received Mr. Mueller`s findings late last month."  Tomorrow will be 27 days, by the way.

"The information that Justice Department officials have provided to the White House could potentially be valuable for Mr. Trump`s legal team as it finalizes that rebuttal to the Mueller report."

Trump`s attorneys, among them, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow have given NBC News some insights about how that rebuttal is coming together.  They say the Trump legal team has been meeting about it every day this week.  They say the counter report will be about 30 pages long at this point.  The lawyers add that it`s still not decided how much if any of it will be released.  But Sekulow tells NBC News the rebuttal addresses issues related to the origins of the investigation, irregularities in the investigation and substantive matters of both the collusion issue and issues related to obstruction.

Exactly one week ago today the Attorney General was asked during that Senate hearing how much access the White House has had to Mueller`s findings prior to the release of the report.


SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) DELAWARE JUDICIARY CMTE.:  Who if anyone outside the Justice Department has seen portions of or all of the Special Counsel`s report?  Has anyone in the White House seen any of the report?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  You know, I`m not going to, you know, as I say I`m landing the plane right now, and I`m just not going to get into the details of the process until the planes on the ground.


WILLIAMS:  Final approach now.  And as we mentioned the Attorney General is holding a news conference in the morning.  Outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will be there as well.  This 9:30 Eastern Time news conference being held, again, before the release of the report to Congress.  Lawmakers are expected to be given the report in compact disc form some time between 11:00 and noon Eastern.

The President announced the news conference before the Justice Department had a chance to.  He did so during a radio interview.  Trump also offered a hint about his own possible plans for tomorrow.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You`ll see a lot of very strong things come out tomorrow.  Attorney General Barr is going to be giving a press conference and maybe I`ll do one after that.  We`ll see.  But he`s done.  He`s been a fantastic attorney general.  He`s grabbed it by the horn.

I think that I`m going to maybe -- I hope I`m going to be able to put this down as one of my great achievements, actually.


WILLIAMS:  We should add the Special Counsel`s Office says Robert Mueller will not be attending the Attorney General`s news conference.  Democratic sources have told reporters just tonight Mueller`s absence is telling, as one put it, "the Department of Justice loves a team photo."

"The Washington Post" reports, "a Justice Department spokeswoman said the White House did not ask the Justice Department to hold the news conference but declined to discuss White House and Justice Department interactions about the report."

Just tonight House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler who holds the power subpoena the full report accused the Attorney General of taking unprecedented steps to spin Mueller`s conclusions.


REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK JUDICIARY CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  The Attorney General appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump, the very subject of the investigation at the heart of the Mueller report.  One, he summarized the report and cherry picked findings in his March 24th letter to Congress.  Two, he withheld summaries written by the Special Counsel that were intended for public consumption.  Three, he has briefed the White House on the report before providing Congress a copy, which has helped them prepare a rebuttal response for the President.

Now, the evening before the report`s scheduled release, the Department of Justice has informed the committee that it will receive a copy between 11:00 a.m. and noon, well after the Attorney General`s 9:30 a.m. press conference.  This is wrong.


WILLIAMS:  A few hours ago Nadler and several other House Committee chairs issued a joint statement calling for the Attorney General to cancel that news conference tomorrow morning.  Earlier on this network House Judiciary Committee Member Hakeem Jeffries who like Nadler is a New York Democrat, offered this critique of the Attorney General.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D) NEW YORK JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The Mueller report should speak for itself, period, full stop.  No misdirection, no manipulation, no misinformation coming from the so-called attorney general.  It`s not acceptable.  He`s acting more like a house counsel to an organized crime boss as opposed to the people`s attorney.


WILLIAMS:  Here for our lead off discussion on this consequential Wednesday night Susan Page, Veteran of Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today who just recently became the biographer of former first lady, Barbara Bush who died exactly a year ago today.  The book is called "The Matriarch" and said to be number four on "The New York Times" bestseller list next week.

Annie Karni also returns to our broadcast, White House Reporter for "The New York Times."  Ditto Sam Stein, Politics Editor for the Daily Beast.  And Harry Litman, a DOJ veteran and former U.S. Attorney and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General under President Clinton, he also happens to be the creator and executive producer of the new podcast "Talking Feds."  Good evening and welcome to all of you.

Susan, we welcome you to our studios here in New York.  How unprecedented is what we`re watching tonight into tomorrow morning?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  I`ve covered six presidents.  I`ve never seen anything like this.  How can reporters ask questions about a complicated report that they won`t see for hours?  And how can you have an investigation of a president and give it to him before you give it to anybody else, and in effect allow him to offer his rebuttal before any of us have seen it?  I`ve never seen anything like it before.

WILLIAMS:  You and I have covered Fed news conferences.  They usually hand out a press release that has the complaint or indictment attached and they post-brief after you`ve had a chance to read what it is they`re talking about.  This is way backwards.

PAGE:  It`s all backwards.  It`s effort to claim the first headline, right?  It`s not going to make it impossible for us to see the report, to read and draw a conclusion, but it means the first thing people are going to hear about it or what William Barr and what Donald Trump think about it.

WILLIAMS:  Annie Karni, folks have so much trouble because there`s so much noise separating out what`s a real and valid complaint.  Take what Jerry Nadler said tonight about this communication between the Attorney General and the White House.  In plain English, giving them a heads up on what`s coming.  Talk about what you know?

ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, the strange thing about this is their legally allowed to brief the President.  The President and his lawyers had a right to see -- to view a copy of the report at any time over the past 20 something days.  The stranger thing about this is that they claimed they were not.  They made a big point of saying "we are not going to see the report ahead of it becoming public," and yet they have actually been back channeling and communicating with the Justice Department.

So it`s strange that they kind of wanted to look like they were not but actually were doing exactly just that.  And it`s not clear if they`ve seen a full copy of the report and how extensive their discussions with the Justice Department are.  But Trump announcing the press conference before Barr did was a sign of how much he`s clued into the strategy, and that was a reel tell, I think, that he jumped the gun as he often does.  He likes to break news before his officials do.

WILLIAMS:  So Sam Stein, somewhere between 11:00 a.m. and noon Eastern Time tomorrow, on CD, as I`m guessing, A tracks and cassettes were sold out.  On CD, members of the House and then after that members of the public will get to see this thing.  Do you think part of the subtext of tomorrow is that this is firmly Donald Trump`s Justice Department now?

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICS EDITOR:  Well, if it wasn`t, it`s now become the subtext and it`s a bit baffling I suppose that Bill Barr has handled it this way.  He`s already under incredible criticism for the four page summarization that he produced by the Mueller report.  Including anonymous quotations from people close to team Mueller who said that it was a mischaracterization of what they have produced.

So for him to have that and then produce this type of output in which he will essentially pre-but any criticisms and presenter or yet again, in his own shine really could potentially damage not just his own credibility but the entire process around the report`s publication.  So, yes, you know, this is the subtext.  It`s become part of the prominent text, too.

And I expect to see Democrats make a lot of hay about this.  They had a hastily called press conference slay (ph) with the congressman or the side (ph) of Chairman Nadler.  But from everything I`m hearing on the Hill this has now become a big process consideration, big process criticism for Democrats.

And I suspect tomorrow if they are to receive a redacted report that doesn`t go along necessarily with what Attorney General Barr says in his press conference, they will put enhanced scrutiny on Barr and ask him pointed question about the degree to which he was instructed to have this rollout by President Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Harry Litman since for the purposes of this conversation you`re the talking Fed here tonight, why do it this way especially since you`ve already heard the attention it`s gathered?

HARRY LITMAN, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY WESTERN DISTRICT OF PA:  A couple of reasons.  I do think he wants to pre-but as Sam said and kind of condition in his own way.  I think it`s unlikely he would take such a risk in being inaccurate in his characterization.  This is all I think playing out tomorrow.

But here`s another plausible reason.  It`s him and Rosenstein.  He has Rosenstein come and that suggests to me that rather than wait until May, he may very well give up his own reasoning for having countermanded Mueller and that the topic of the press conference will include the things that he said and he concluded.  So potentially the whole thing is on the table, you know, right before Easter weekend to have it settle in and not have a drip, drip, drip coming out thereafter.

WILLIAMS:  Harry, I was quoting a senior Democrat earlier when I said that I was told tonight DOJ loves a team photo, a family photo.  And during normal times Robert Mueller would be standing behind the Attorney General as part of that camera shot.  Do you concur?

LITMAN:  Completely.  Easter dinner won`t be the same this year.  And it really does seem, I mean after 22 months of perfect discipline you now have murmurs and rumblings from the Mueller team suggesting that Trump has not been accurate.  It`s another reason, though, Trump has to stand up and try to pre-but those charges. Yes.

But since basically March 5th, not even the 24th when he had the meeting with Rosenstein and Barr and said what he was doing, there has apparently been at best a kind of respectful separation between the two and real tension of the level of the workers on both sides of the Mueller camp and the A.G. camp.

WILLIAMS:  Susan Page, you`ve been around Washington a long time, this is coming out on Holy Thursday, on the eve of the start of Passover going into a holiday weekend.  Barr has had this by tomorrow, 27 days.  Could you make an argument that his influence starts to end if not just wane starting tomorrow, that like a stock he starts losing his value and his reach and control over his matter?

PAGE:  You know what I think the timing you mentioned is interesting because it`s surely no accident that he`s doing it at a time when a lot of reporters are gone, when Congress is out of town, when Americans are paying attention to Easter and Passover, not what`s going on in Washington.

You know, I think William Barr runs a risk here of losing influence especially as he comes under more criticism.  But you heard him get praised by the President in that radio address today in his radio interview in great contrast to what the President had been saying about his predecessor, Jeff Sessions with whom he was so dissatisfy because of the independent stance that Jeff Sessions took on this very issues.

So, Barr may lose some influence with members of Congress, even the public, but he seems to be gaining influence with the President.

  WILLIAMS:  Annie Karni, prognosticate as to the Trump reaction tomorrow.  And I note that by tomorrow night he`ll be in Mar-a-Lago for the holiday weekend.  What could go wrong?

KARNI:  I mean, that`s a tricky question to prognosticate his reactions.  You know, he`ll have many outlets.  He`ll have his Twitter feed.  He`ll have plenty of opportunities to gaggle with reporters.  He has a few Oval office events tomorrow.  He often talks to reporters on the way to Air Force One.

He has said he might do his own press conference.  So I expect we`ll hear a lot from him, and we`ll see how much -- you know, there`s going to be -- what we know is coming is enough to make everybody angry.  Democrats aren`t going to be satisfied until we see the full report.  If it really -- granular is not a word that the White House wants to hear about how Trump`s behavior in office is being described.  And there`s going to be a lot in there that`s concerning to him.

So whether he reacts by distraction or rage or silence, I mean it`s -- he has plenty of opportunity and we`ll see which one comes through tomorrow.  I don`t think it`ll be silence.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, like you I`ve talked to people in both parties today and Republicans concede and Democrats are anxious to point out just how much damaging material will be in this tomorrow.

Sam, what`s your advice even for fellow journalists on how to keep eyes on the ball tomorrow?

STEIN:  Well, it`s an exceptionally tricky proposition that Barr is putting journalists in, essentially holding a press conference on a report that they would have not seen and won`t see for an hour and a half.  So, a few things, one is, you know, what kind of questions do you ask him in that setting?  Are they going to pea process questions or will they look at and explore why he reached the conclusion and no obstruction offense was committed?  And how far can you probe with that actually underlying evidence?  It`s tricky.

You could suggest that the reporters actually just say, "You know what, maybe we won`t ask questions until we see the report itself although that seems unlikely."  And the second thing is, of course, to recognize the context of this, which is you are getting a report but you have to understand what part of the report is not public, what parts are redact.

So the picture that we are receiving is illuminating, but it`s not full and it`s not full for an intentional purpose.  And so while we sift through it and as, you know, impulses to tweet out the most outlandish stuff, obviously we should use some pause, we should try to put things in context.  I say all that knowing that I probably will violate my own rules tomorrow, but I still want to try.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, you have a lot of company on front.

STEIN:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  Susan, you get the last word.  Isn`t a leading question for Barr tomorrow some form of, "Are you okay with the fact that your initial letter gave Trump air cover to claim his total exoneration?"

PAGE:  I think that would be a good first question, and since he probably won`t answer it, I think it would be a good follow up question for the second reporter.

WILLIAMS:  All right, our thanks to our initial group tonight for starting off this conversation.  We think we`re tired tonight.  We`ll talk to you tomorrow evening 11:00 Eastern.  Susan Page, Annie Karni, Sam Stein, Harry Litman, our thanks.

Coming up, as we said, we`re within the 12-hour window of the Mueller report now.  And before that the A.G.`s President breaking public preview, one former Deputy Assistant A.G. is back with a viewer`s guide to tomorrow.

And later, a different preview tonight of just how the President`s preferred cable news outlet is likely to spin whatever it is we learn tomorrow as "The 11th Hour" is just getting under way on a Wednesday night.



BARR:  We will color code the excisions from the report, and we will provide explanatory notes describing the basis for each redaction.


WILLIAMS:  Tomorrow morning we learn much more about those color coded redactions from Attorney General Barr now that that`s a thing in our lexicon.  As "The Washington Post" reports tonight the Justice Department plans to release a lightly redacted version of the Mueller report offering a granular look at the issue of obstruction.

But "The Post" also points out, "While the report`s light redactions might allay some of their concerns, Democrats are likely to bristle at any material that is withheld.  What the Justice Department is Trump`s lawyers might view as modest lawmakers might see as overly aggressive."

And indeed just to keep things fair here, two different Democratic sources tonight indicated they have been told to expect heavy redactions.  More proof that we don`t know until we know.  And with that, we have asked Justice Department Veteran Harry Litman to stick around and spend a few more minutes with us.

Harry, first of all, what happened to what we were told were almost subtext summaries already written by the Mueller team, seemingly for public release?  Why did we never get to see those?

LITMAN:  One of the two big things I`ll be looking for first off tomorrow, there were obviously a lot of pressure to do it and Barr resisted, said he would do it all at once.  But there`s no reason that won`t be released and presumably they were already fairly well scrubbed and now have been completely scrubbed.  That will be sort of the best document I think to begin with, we should expect it tomorrow.

WILLIAMS:  Does -- the question I asked Susan Page, does Barr`s influence start to wane around 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow?

LITMAN:  Yes, I think it does.  And maybe he even wants it to.  I think it`s time and he knows it`s time to sort of bite the bullet if there are big and controversial redactions that later come out, it can only make him look terrible.

We have -- they not only have the report that is likely redacted but the report we have from "The New York Times" suggests this is about as good from Trump as he can hope.  If it`s really true that Mueller just couldn`t decide on the evidence because of intent, we already know the best case scenario for Trump is having done a lot of things that don`t make him look at all very nice.  But if Mueller actually doesn`t bottom line on the crime, that`s about the most he can hope for.

On the other hand, it is really strange.  That`s not what prosecutors do, not what Mueller does and not in a case like this.  If you don`t bottom line, you decline.  It`s a very strange process but at least the advanced reporting suggests that that`s what we`ll see.

WILLIAMS:  Harry, I know you`re a loyal to the DOJ always and I try to keep personal opinion out of it, but I`ve got to ask you what do you make of Bill Barr, formerly a Bush era Republican.  Do you think he has become a Trump partisan in the intervening years?

LITMAN:  OK.  So, very fair question because I was saying (ph) about him.  I don`t think he`s a Trump partisan in terms of really thinking about personal loyalty to the President.  I think it`s possible that some combination of not having been there for a while and a general life of partisanship to the Republican Party have made him steer the ship less than totally straight.  But I think he`s aware of that and aims to redeem it tomorrow, and it makes sense for him personally.  Sixty-eight years old.  If he really goes down as having put his thumb on the scales, it`s a terrible cap to a illustrious career.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you for the candid answer.  Harry Litman, always a pleasure having you on the broadcast.  We appreciate it.

LITMAN:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Something tells me we`ll be talking in the next 24 hours.  Thanks.

LITMAN:  Thanks for having me Brian.


Coming up, a sleepless night ahead for the White House staffers who fear that their boss may react badly to the contents of this report.  Fearful, perhaps, their own cooperation will be readily apparent.  The latest reporting on the mood inside the West Wing when we continue.


JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  I think we have to zoom back and take a broader look at what`s happening at this moment in our democracy, which a special counsel has -- is going to be issuing a report on the conduct of a presidential campaign, a candidate, and a president ultimately, and announce to a heap of shameful unpatriotic and unethical conduct where the president sought Russian interference.  He received Russian interference.  He benefitted from Russian interference and he rewarded Russian interference.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Washington is bracing for impact tonight with only hours to go until the redacted version of the Mueller report is released.  NBC News reporting that some White House officials are concerned about being exposed as the source of damaging information about Trump.  I wonder if they`ve seen an entire aisle at their local bookstore.

And tonight Nancy Cook of Politico points out, "Aside from the uncertainty of what will be disclosed in the report itself there`s a second major wild card, Trump.  What could trigger the President is any hint in the Mueller report that one of his current and former aides, many of whom cooperated with the investigation at the direction of then-White House lawyer Ty Cobb, gave evidence or recounted conversations that somehow embarrasses Trump or his family members."

Who better to talk all of this than Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, and Michael Steele, former Chairman of Republican National Committee, former Lieutenant Governor of the great state of Maryland, also happens to be Host of the podcast we think is superbly named "The Michael Steele Podcast."  Boy, that one was to (inaudible) on that.


WILLIAMS: Now that`s good.  Hey, jill, how real is this fear among staff members?

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Well, there`s certainly a concern about what is going to be in this report tomorrow.  Not only potentially damaging information on the President, which they have long understood.  You know, even as they were clinking their champagne glasses following the release of that Barr summary, there were still concerns both among White House staffers and among outside allies of the President about what could be contained in this report.  They realized that there was likely to be damaging information about the President but also potentially about staffers.

And we`ve seen multiple reports, heard concerns among White House officials that they might be named in the report, that there might be information, that it might outline things that they told Mueller and his team.  And there`s concern as well about what that might mean for their relationship with the President.

This is a president who cherishes loyalty, who demands loyalty from his staff, who is deeply suspicious of the idea that they might have been talking to prosecutors, that they might have been revealing some kind of damaging information behind his back.  And they`re going to be very careful looking through this report trying to find their names, trying to see if there`s anything about them that might damage their relationship or their access to the President.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, you and I have been having this conversation for two years, give or take.  Is this the most defining day and the most defining moment for this presidency thus far?

STEELE:  It is, it is.  And it`s ironic in the sense that it is the end of a significant chapter of this presidency.  We don`t know yet what`s to come from all of this, but all the ramp up, all the lead up is now reaching finality.  And here`s the irony.

This report is really nothing more in essence than every tell-all book that`s been published condensed into 400 pages.  And that`s why the staff is worried.  That`s why all the little mice around the main guy are concerned about whether, you know, Trump is going to throw his shoe at them or they will get back to their safe spot before he does.  Because they don`t know, even though they were told as we all know, go and be true, you know, go talk to the prosecutor.  Tell them everything, be honest, don`t hold back.

And they did because of course you don`t want to get caught in a lie, because you don`t know what your fellow, you know, travelers are saying to Mueller.  And now we`ll find out, as will they, and they are concerned legitimately so about how the President is going to react.  He will not be happy tomorrow, which is why he wants Barr out front to set the stage, to put the lights in a particular focus for everybody to see this report.  And we`ll see how that plays.

I think that kind of finger on the scale by Barr at the end of his career is way unfortunate.  And it`s very telling just how influential this President is in getting people to do things against their own personal and political interests.

WILLIAMS:  Jill Colvin, I want to play for you something from a person you and I both know, Matt Miller who was a DOJ spokesman during the Obama years.  He talked about what a bad look this could be for Barr.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


MATTHEW MILLER, FORMER CHIEF SPOKESMAN, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT:  It makes it look like he is trying to do a favor for the President and not -- that he doesn`t have the best interest of the Justice Department and this investigation at heart.

I want to trust that the administration of Justice is going to pea handled in an impartial way, and every step of the way he just keeps giving us more and more reason not to trust him.


WILLIAMS:  But, Jill, let me open up a new line of questioning.  Could this go the other way?  Is tomorrow the day the attorney general feels he has to be candid to prepare people for what`s coming out via CD somewhere between 11:00 am and noon?

COLVIN:  Yes.  I think that this situation absolutely poses a risk for Barr.  He has now inflamed the Democrats who are already deeply suspicious of him, basically eliminating any shadow of a doubt in many of their mind about what his role is there, and being kind of the lawyer of the president instead of the head of the Justice Department for the people of the country.

But Barr is also putting himself into a tenuous position by standing up there.  We know that the President is somebody who pays very, very close attention anytime any of his cabinet members are on television.  But we know the President will obviously be watching this just like the rest of us will be.

And if you a situation where Barr is critical of the President, potentially presents information that the President feels is casts unfairly, presents him in a negative way.  If he is pressed by reporters and responds in a way that doesn`t satisfy Trump, it doesn`t fully defend Trump.  You could see here the first instance where we might see the President growing a bit resentful, potentially frustrated with an attorney general that up until this point by all accounts publicly and privately, he has had nothing but good things to say about.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, remembering that the House of Representatives can agree on this being a Wednesday night.


WILLIAMS:  They voted unanimously to get this report out.


WILLIAMS:  So having said that, by how much would Barr have to overcorrect tomorrow to satisfy the critics of his that are already is.

STEELE:  I don`t think you can bend into that position if you`re Barr at this point.  I think that what you heard from Matt, Jill and others is that Barr in the minds of a lot of people, not just Democrats, so a lot of people.  A lot of Republicans I hear around town scratching their heads going this is so uncharacteristic --


STEELE:  -- for the man who was the former attorney general and who had garnered a great deal, an immense amount of respect in Washington circles, that to see him sort of bend the way he has, I think is very telling for them and very disappointing.  But the other thing I think is very interesting, Brian, is when you -- to your point about going out and having to have this conversation tomorrow, this is prepackaged.

Mr. Barr is not going to say --

WILLIAMS:  Yes, what`s coming out is coming out.

STEELE:  -- is not been cleared.

WILLIAMS:  He can`t super seed what`s in the (inaudible).

STEELE:  The he can`t super seed what`s there and he can`t super seed what is already discussed with the White House.


STEELE:  He`s not going to go out there and say something that the President doesn`t know he`s going to say.


STEELE:  So let`s be honest about what tomorrow is.  Again, this is to put the light focused and framed in a way that the President likes given what`s in this report.  And it will be heavily redacted I believe.  And what will be addressed will be again just the very, very tip of what we realize we don`t know because a lot of it`s going to be blacked out.

WILLIAMS:  Excellent points.  Both of our guests have agreed to stay with us over a break.

And when we come back, new reporting that Trump`s demand for loyalty extends past friends and associates to what he watches on TV and what he expects to come out of that flat screen.  More on that when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump as you may have read is reportedly questioning the loyalty of his network of choice.  According to the Daily Beast, Trump is telling aides to "keep an eye on it."  It goes onto report that privately, President Trump has been raising these questions of institutional loyalty, on and off since at least the middle of last year.  Several people who have heard him do this view it as more of a gut check than a loss of faith.

And as yet another indication that Trump can interpret even the smallest deviations as a slight or betrayal.  But if Trump is worried about his coverage on Fox News, we found no apparent cause for concern during prime time this evening.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST:  The President never fired Rosenstein, never fired Mueller, never fired Sessions, never fired any of the Democrats hired to sustain the witch hunt.  He never stopped the investigation, shouting from a rooftop that you`re innocent as the President has, that you`re a victim of a witch hunt, that`s not a crime.  Expressing frustration about injustice is not obstruction.  Talking is not obstruction.  Thinking about something is not obstruction.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST:  The Mueller probe should have never been started in the first place.  We told you that they would find nothing on the President and that its origins were politically tainted.


WILLIAMS:  That was Fox News for us in prime time, still with us for our double jeopardy round, Jill Colvin and Michael Steele.

So, Jill, what details have you gathered about this President`s cable viewing that we may not know?

COLVIN:  First of all, I think Hannity and Laura Ingraham are squarely in the President`s corner just looking on them.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, beside that.  Yes.

COLVIN:  But, look, the President has made clear even in some of his tweets this week that he`s sort of putting Fox on notice.  The President is deeply attuned to what the anchors on that network are saying.  The President sometimes spends hours during certain days, especially during the weekend, watching that network, listening very closely to what they`re saying about him.

For him it`s been described to me as a sort of soothing ritual.  You know, he watches it.  It stokes his ego.  It helps to reaffirm his world views, listening to people who agree with him.  And I`ve also heard that something the President does is he`ll watch Fox for hours and he`ll sometimes turn to CNN or to this network to hate watches, is the wording that it`s been described to me as.

He`ll get angry and then flip back onto Fox hoping to be soothed again.  And if that -- at that moment, there`s something critical, critical coverage especially during the weekends, it really sets him off and frustrates him because he expects to hear a message that is in line with his thinking when he turns on that channel.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, two senior Democrats said to me tonight, they`re on guard for Barr to go back to the topic of spying tomorrow.  They`re on guard for Barr to focus attention on no relation Christopher Steele and that the real investigation in their parlance is going to start tomorrow.  Do we need this?

STEELE:  Yes.  I mean, I think that there`s a lot of truth to that concern, that you will see certain buzz words I`m sure.  I would not be surprised, put it that way.  I would not be surprised just to hear references to spying.

To hear a little bit of what we heard my buddy, Sean Hannity, say tonight, to sort of mimicking the no collusion, no corruption kind of mantra.  But that does not take -- it will not, in my view, take away from the underlying truth of what`s in this report, redacted or not.  There will be passages that we will read, and there will be story lines that will be revealed and put into clarity for a lot of people who up to now we`ve just been able to put these pieces together.

So now we can string these pieces into sentences, into paragraphs, and to some thought and a picture ultimately of how the campaign behave, the relationship it had with third parties including those of a foreign nature, and what individuals around the President in that orbit, from family members to those who were brought in, how they behave and how they acted on the President`s behalf, whether it was inferred, implied or understood, or direct communication that they would take certain steps and do certain things.

And I think that`s the part of the narrative that bothers this president the most, which is why he`s going to find that soothing space at Fox to have people say no collusion, no corruption, you know.  But the truth is, yes, there may be some things that don`t smell too good.

WILLIAMS:  Repeating for our viewers that`s the former chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Jill Colvin, Michael Steele, our thanks to both of you as always.

And coming up, on the eve of this report, we`ll look at the center of the case after all, the unusual connections between the Trump orbit and Russia when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  On the eve of the Mueller report released, it`s important to remember this was an investigation into Russian interference in our US presidential election.  Interference that would have been carried out at the direction of Vladimir Putin, the President talked a lot about his relationship with Putin, you recall, during the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I believe that I will have a very good relationship with Putin.  She said Donald Trump is a genius, and he`s going to be the leader of the party, and he`s going to be the leader of the world or something.  He said some good stuff about me and these characters that I`m running against with.  We want you to disavow that statement.  I said what, he called me a genius.  I`m going to disavow it?  Are you crazy?

I`ve always felt, you know, fine about Putin.  I think that he is a strong leader.  He`s a powerful leader. 


WILLIAMS:  As President Trump has met with Putin at least five times, the two leaders stay in touch by phone.  In May of 2017, the very day after firing James Comey, Trump met with two high level Russian diplomats famously in the Oval Office telling them firing Comey had eased pressure on the Russia investigation.  And consider this the only photo of that meeting came from the Russian foreign ministry, no American media were allowed in the Oval Office.

It`s around this time, the FBI launches its counter intelligence investigation into the President.  Trump and Putin first meet face-to-face in Hamburg, Germany just two months later.  We still don`t know what they talked about in that two-hour meeting.  New York Times reported Trump took his interpreter`s notes afterward and ordered them not to disclose what he heard to anyone.

Another shorter dinner conversation where no Americans were present wouldn`t be confirmed by the White House until ten days after it happened.  Trump and Putin met again on the sidelines of the Apex Summit in Vietnam that fall, a precursor to the first official summit between the two.

Now, by this time every single US Intelligence agency had confirmed there was no question Russia as a hostile actor tried to sway our election in Trump`s favor.  Still, Trump refused to forcefully condemn Putin`s actions.


TRUMP:  I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election.  As to whether I believe it or not, I`m with our agencies.  I believe that President Putin really feels and he feels strongly that he did not meddle in our election.  What he believes is what he believes.


WILLIAMS:  By February of 2018, Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals, three Russian companies for meddling in the US election on Trump`s behalf.  A month later, President Trump called to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his re-election despite warnings from his staff to do exactly the opposite.

In July 2018, Trump and Putin met for that formal summit in Helsinki.  There was another private meeting with no official report of what was said.  It was later Vladimir Putin who admitted he wanted Trump to win the election and that was the summit after which Trump said this.


TRUMP:  My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it`s Russia.  I have President Putin.  He just said it`s not Russia.  I will say this.  I don`t see any reason why it would be.


WILLIAMS:  The last time the two leaders met face-to-face was yet another private moment during the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires last November.  A much talked about follow-up summit has yet to take place.

Another break and coming up for us, a word about what to expect tomorrow in our closing minutes here this evening.



WILLIAMS:  The President today fired the man in-charge of the investigation into the Trump campaign.  Our Pete Williams reports FBI Director James Comey found out he was fired while in the Command Center at the FBI Field Office in Los Angeles.

The news flashing on the TV screen around the same time people got either a phone call or an e-mail or a text telling them the news in the room.

This was day 118 of the Trump administration, and we now have a Special Counsel to head the Russia investigation.  The man chosen for the job is not just any lawyer.  He is Robert Mueller.

Day 792 of the Trump administration, and as of 5:00 pm Eastern Time today, the Mueller investigation is over.  That`s when official word arrived that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had transmitted his report to Attorney General Bill Barr after 675 days of work.


WILLIAMS:  I guess we`ve all grown a little bit older over these past two years, which bring us to the last thing before we go tonight.  It`s about when we`ll see you again.

Tomorrow is a big day, and if you`re close to a TV or app on your phone or satellite radio, we will be here for you.  We will be here for all of it.  We go up at 9:00 am Eastern Time.  We`re expecting the report within two hours of that time, though the usual caveats apply.  Anything could happen in this story.

When the report comes out, we`ll have teams of reporters assigned to read and digest and report to us sections of it.  We will be surrounded here by veteran lawyers and former federal prosecutors, and we will read through it all in realtime.  That will go on throughout the day.  We will, of course, be back here with you here in our usual time slot tomorrow night, 23 hours from now, so for now and until we are back on the air a scant nine hours from now.

That`s our broadcast on this Wednesday night.  Thank you so very much for being with us.  And goodnight 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