JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: We`re not being true to the original intent of the American Revolution which is a reason has to take a stand here. And I hope the people will read it, I hope they`ll do that. And I hope the Congress will confront their responsibility.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Jon Meacham gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Jon, thank you very much for joining us.
"THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: The breaking news tonight is that the Mueller report is out. The investigation paints a portrait of a President convinced at one point his presidency was over. A campaign swimming in Russians who were wishing to help get Trump elected and the campaign hoping to benefit. The report outlines ten instances of potential obstruction by the President, singles out several aides who refused to carry out his orders.
And we learned today the President now clearly has his man at the Justice Department as the Attorney General publicly takes one for the team.
And for Mueller`s part, he`s leaving it to Congress to proceed from here as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this important Thursday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 819 of this Trump administration and this was a big one. We now have the redacted Mueller report, weighing in at over 400 pages. We have learned a lot today.
We learned, among other things, that the President finally has an attorney general who definitively has his back. We learned that Russia decided it wanted Trump as President and the campaign decided it wanted Russia`s help.
And perhaps the most stark conclusion was this, part of a single sentence in the fifth paragraph in a "New York Times" story of tonight. It says "the report lays bare how Mr. Trump was elected with the help of a foreign power."
Mueller interviewed about 500 witnesses, except for one they wanted. They didn`t get to talk to the President in person, and that hampered Mueller`s ability to prove intent.
First and foremost, we urge everyone to read the report, as much as you can of it. It lays out in granular detail the Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election, the many contacts made with many members of the Trump campaign, it presents evidence the President repeatedly tried to disrupt the Mueller investigation. The report lists 10 different episodes of potential obstruction, but ultimately it concludes it was not Mueller`s role to determine whether Trump broke the law.
This morning, about 90 minutes before the report came out, Attorney General William Barr with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at his side explained why they decided to make the call that the President committed no crime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report and in consultation with the office of legal counsel and other department lawyers, the Deputy Attorney General and I concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense. Although the Deputy Attorney General and I disagreed with some of the Special Counsel`s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount of obstruction as a matter of law, we did not rely solely on that in making our decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The two-volume report makes clear Trump`s view of the investigation and his attempts to stop it, shut it down, and the report paints a much more damning picture of the President`s conduct than what was briefly outlined last month in that now infamous four-page letter that Barr wrote to Congress.
According to Mueller`s report Trump, "was angered by both the existence of the Russia investigation and the public reporting that he was under the investigation. He complained to advisers that if people thought Russia helped him win the election, it would detract from what he had accomplished. When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the President that a special counsel had been appointed, the President slumped back in his chair and said, "Oh, my god, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I`m, fill in the blank."
Mueller`s report goes on to say, "Trump launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to the President, while in private, the President engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation. That he attempted to remove the Special Counsel. He sought to have Attorney General Sessions unrecuse himself and limit the investigation. He sought to prevent public disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016 Trump tower meeting between Russians and campaign officials, and he used public forums to attack potential witnesses who might offer adverse information and to praise witnesses who declined to cooperate with the government."
In his report, Mueller explains his team`s decision not to charge Trump while carefully noting it did not equal exoneration. "The evidence we obtained about the President`s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. The evidence we obtained about the President`s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
The heart of Mueller`s investigation was Russian interference in our campaign and whether Trump associates were working with the Kremlin. Here is what Attorney General Barr said this morning about that prior to us seeing the report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: This Special Counsel investigated a number of links or contacts between the Trump campaign officials and individuals connected with the Russian government during the 2016 Presidential campaign. After reviewing these contacts, the Special Counsel did not find any conspiracy to violate U.S. law involving Russian-linked persons and any persons associated with the Trump campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Mueller`s report leaves no doubt that Russia aggressively orchestrated efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and that some Trump campaign officials did not discourage them. "The investigation established multiple links between Trump campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the campaign. In some instances, the campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the campaign officials shied away." much more on that ahead in our broadcast.
The release of Mueller`s findings has cast a spotlight on the relationship between Trump and his new attorney general, Bill Barr, who has been on the job for a little over two months. You may recall Barr criticized the Mueller investigation with that unsolicited June 2018 memo he wrote to the Justice Department and sent around Washington. In recent weeks, Trump has praised Barr`s handling of his end of the Mueller inquiry. Today Barr offered this explanation for Trump`s response to the Russia investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: As the Special Counsel`s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency. Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel`s investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: With that, here with our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times." Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor at Politico. Also back with us tonight, Maya Wiley, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, now with the New School here in New York. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Peter, you and your colleague, Maggie Haberman, have written the deadline piece of journalism for the ages at "The New York Times" tonight. In fairness, our friends Messier`s, Rucker and Costa have done the same at "The Washington Post," because that`s what you guys do. You won`t mind if I quote from yours.
"The White House that emerges from more than 400 pages of Mr. Mueller`s report is a hotbed of conflict infused by a culture of dishonesty, defined by a President who lies to the public and his own staff then tries to get his aides to lie for him. Mr. Trump repeatedly threatened to fire lieutenants who did not carry out his wishes while they repeatedly threatened to resign rather than cross lines of propriety or law. At one juncture after another, Mr. Trump made his troubles worse, giving in to anger and grievance and lashing out in ways that turned advisers into witnesses against him. He was saved from an accusation of obstruction of justice, the report makes clear, in part because aides saw danger and stopped him from following his own instincts. Based on contemporaneous notes and FBI interviews, the report draws out scene after scene of a White House on the edge."
Peter, you can pull out individual details, hold them open in the clear like the campaign sharing with a Russian battleground state polling information. Like that`s commonly done. And all of it is unbelievable in the light of day. Talk about the weight, the tonnage of all of it put together.
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, we`ve always said in the 819 days that we`ve been doing this that this is not a conventional presidency. What you have here tonight is 400 pages of documentary evidence about this. This isn`t a best-seller based on anonymous sources or even one of the journalistic accounts that we often, you know, write and talk about on the air tonight.
This is a document by a prosecutor who has access to contemporaneous notes, e-mails, texts, phone records and FBI interviews. This is a rather extraordinary portrait of a White House that, you know, felt under siege from this investigation and under siege from within, trying to figure out the best way forward. For the people around the President trying to find a way to steer him away from, you know, danger zones and a President who was unwilling to simply listen and go along with what they were saying. So it`s a fresh and really important and in many ways damning portrayal of life inside this White House.
WILLIAMS: Josh, history will not treat Attorney General Barr`s four-page initial letter kindly, nor should it. The President, based on that, had air cover to advertise total exoneration. This is not that. What was your chief takeaway?
JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I really felt that a gulf opened up today between Attorney General Barr and Special Counsel Mueller. I mean, Mueller was not there in the room for this press conference. Barr had his two deputies, Rod Rosenstein, who has had a role in overseeing this investigation, and another deputy to Rosenstein, Ed O`Callaghan, stoically standing over his shoulders. But Mueller wasn`t there and it was just quite clear the rhetoric that Barr used that echoed Trump White House talking points about his conduct and just the clear divergence between the way Barr was describing various events, saying, for example, that the White House had been fully cooperative with the investigation. And then when you go into the report that was released 90 minutes later, it says that the President refused to be interviewed, refused to take even written questions about obstruction and left the prosecutors with an account of his conduct that they viewed as inadequate to make proper judgments about what was going on.
So like I said, it just seemed like there was a tension there that had basically broken out into the open. And that I feel that we`re going to see amplified and displayed in several ways over the coming weeks and months.
WILLIAMS: Yes, Josh, indeed two things were huge positives for the White House, the President`s ability to take the take-home test and Mueller`s slavish devotion to DOJ precedent and being unwilling to indict a sitting president.
To that end and to the point you just made about Barr and Mueller, Maya Wiley, I`ll play for you this exchange from the press conference this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he invited to join you on the podium (ph)? Why is he not here? This is his report, obviously, that you`re talking about today.
BARR: No, it`s not. It`s a report he did for me as the attorney general. He is required under the regulation to provide me with a confidential report. I`m here to discuss my response to that report and my decision, entirely discretionary to make it public.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In effect, he works for me. What was that about? What was all of this morning about, for that matter?
MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Unfortunately, all of this morning was about spin that would create the best narrative for the President of the United States in the face of a report that was damaging to him. Not damaging to him in the sense that it conclusively found that he had committed crimes that he could be indicted for if he wasn`t a sitting president. It`s a little more complicated than that.
But very clear that Robert Mueller saying explicitly in the report that the President of the United States was -- if there was a thorough FBI investigation appears to be trying to protect himself from possible crimes and certainly protect himself personally for things that happened during his campaign. Now, when you have a report like that as well as all the facts that back it up, as well as a Robert Mueller using terms like "substantial evidence," you know, and then you have an Attorney General that uses words like "collusion," collusion, which is a word that in the Mueller report Robert Mueller explicitly states is not a relevant term.
WILLIAMS: That`s right.
WILEY: What you essentially have is an attorney general behaving as the communications director for the White House, not as the lead law enforcement officer for the nation. That`s that.
WILLIAMS: A guy who knows it`s -- excuse me. A guy who knows that that word, "no collusion," that phrase is so important to his boss.
WILLIAMS: He uses it four-plus times. And hugely critical despite all of Donald Trump`s pronouncements that he couldn`t wait to talk to Mueller, his lawyers stopped that. That turned out to be a critical move.
WILEY: A critical move. You know, I think we all understood that it was clear that the reason the lawyers for the President did not want him to sit down for that interview was that they were afraid of what he would say, and that any good defense attorney, if they`re afraid of what their client is going to say, says don`t do it. Don`t do it if you don`t have to. Don`t do it if they can`t force you.
In that circumstance, to have an attorney general stand up and say complete cooperation is simply counterfactual. But I do also want to point, you know, to this one other point that in the report that is so scary and should be so scary to us as a country, is you have Bannon and Priebus. You know, at the point where Donald Trump is trying desperately to figure out how to get Sessions to resign to get at Mueller, right? He literally has Sessions` resignation letter in his jacket pocket. Does not hand it back to Sessions when he says "do you want to keep your job?" And Sessions says yes.
And Bannon and Priebus think it`s a shock collar. They think it`s a shock collar. Their own boss holding a shock collar on the sitting U.S. attorney general at the time. That`s in the report.
WILEY: This is the president that we have operating in the White House and this is the way he operates.
WILLIAMS: Don`t forget the fact that Bannon and Priebus were in that scene the human guardrails between the President and his instincts and behavior.
So Peter Baker, the President lands tonight at Mar-a-Lago. As we said, he promptly tweeted out a promotion of the Fox prime time schedule. He tweeted out the fact that Russian interference happened under Obama. And Laura Ingraham went on Fox tonight to say "where is the apology, mainstream media," to Fox News. That`s another way of me asking you, where do you think this is headed?
BAKER: That`s a great question. I mean, Brian, you and I were around 20 years ago when another report came down on another president. And like the Starr report in those days, we sort of knew the broad outlines before the report came in only to be kind of shocked by the details and the volume of evidence that was in it.
The difference then is that Ken Starr, on operating under a different statute, recommended to Congress articles of impeachment. He said that what he found justified high crimes and misdemeanors.
What Robert Mueller has done is assemble a lot of evidence, and it seems in some ways almost like an impeachment referral to the Congress but without drawing a conclusion. And without that conclusion, I think that means the politics are very different. What that means is that Democrats are going to see in it what they want to see, which is that, you know, a pretty damning portrayal of the President`s actions. Republicans are going to see it or at least the Republicans who support President Trump are going to see it what they want to see which is exoneration or vindication of some sort.
And the idea of impeachment is probably going to be discussed, but it doesn`t look like anyway it`s going to go anywhere, as long as no Republicans find this report to be shocking enough to think about that kind of process. Speaker Pelosi made that clear. She said there is no point in going forward with impeachment unless there is Republican support for it. It doesn`t look at this moment as of the end of the day that there is. Maybe that will change in the days to come. But for the moment, it looks like everybody is looking into this report and pulling out the parts that suit their arguments.
WILLIAMS: Josh Gerstein, I`m looking here at some of the black lines of redaction in today`s report. We`ve also been scrolling the newspaper front pages as compiled tonight for publication tomorrow. And they`re striking. Name the last time we had virtually a single subject newspaper front page in this country since about 9/11.
Josh, to you, the question is, remind us what we don`t know. A lot of the redaction had to do with pending cases. What`s out there? How much of this case is still orbiting around us?
GERSTEIN: Yes, a lot of those pending cases were not disclosed. They were redacted. And this actually comes into the fight we were discussing earlier between Barr and Mueller. Remember, in his memo a year ago, Barr took the position that if there had been no collusion with Russia, therefore the President couldn`t be guilty of obstruction because it wouldn`t be corrupt to interfere in some way in an investigation into what was essentially nothing or something where no one was guilty.
But Mueller`s report makes a very explicit rebuttal to that Barr argument, where they say there may be other things that the President was either guilty of or very concerned about, and they point to the Michael Cohen situation and the payoffs to women. They point to concerns about a business dealings involving the Trump organization and they point to the more general issue that the President had made statements during the campaign about his dealings with Russia, his business dealings, that were simply untrue and they say all of those things could have given rise to an effort to corruptly impede the investigation that could amount under normal circumstances to obstruction of justice.
So a lot of people close to Mueller who I`ve spoken to today say they really do think there is an implicit judgment that the President did commit crimes in Mueller`s report, even though he hues to that Justice Department line and says that he won`t level such an accusation at the President directly.
WILLIAMS: To Josh Gerstein, as always, to Maya Wiley, who has been our partner in law all day long here, and to Peter Baker for tonight reminding me there was a time when we were both young men covering a different president. Peter, great work tonight as well. Thank you, all three of you, for starting our conversation on this consequential Thursday night.
GERSTEIN: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, among the stunning revelations in today`s report, how some White House insiders like Don McGahn refused to do what their angry boss demanded of them.
And later, one former FBI agent calls Russia`s influence operation in this country wildly successful based on Mueller`s findings. We`ll update where that threat level stands tonight as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Thursday evening.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back on this Thursday night. And as we continue to dig deeper into this Mueller report, we`re learning more about President Trump`s attempts to impede the investigation.
The report reads in part, "The President`s efforts to influence the election were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests." According to the report, Trump directed his former White House counsel, this man, Don McGahn to remove the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, but McGahn refused.
Instead of carrying out Trump`s request, McGahn decided he would quit instead, "He called his lawyer, drove to the White House, packed up his office, prepared to submit a resignation letter with his chief of staff, told Reince Priebus that the President had asked him to do crazy blank and informed Priebus and Bannon that he was leaving."
Both Priebus and Bannon urged McGahn to stay, again, human guardrails, and he stayed on until October of last year. In total, Mueller`s report cites nearly a dozen instances of Trump allies or officials refusing to carry out his requests.
Back with us tonight, they were part of today`s coverage all day long, Jeremy bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Chief Counsel to House Intel. And Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.
Jeremy, especially channeling your Hill experience, when we talk about human guardrails in the great old days we used to mean Mattis, McMaster, even the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson, who became Secretary of State. We did learn in this report, if you`re looking for good news that there is a next generation human guardrail that did push back against this President.
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, and I`ve been told recently by a senior national security official who served in the Trump administration that one of the reasons, for example, H.R. McMaster, a currently serving three-star Army general left his role as National Security adviser is because the President asked him to do things that are illegal. And of course he`s an army officer and that was totally against everything he stood for. I mean, there are multiple instances in which the President has asked his associates to do things that are unlawful and he said I`ll pardon you.
And I harken back to his episode in the report that was released today where the President asked his Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, to go direct the Deputy National Security Advisor, a woman named K.T. McFarland to lie to the file, to write a false memo saying that the reason that the transition team had been talking to the Russians was for reasons other than the real purpose. And she actually was wary about this. She talked to one of the other lawyers in the White House. They said this is not a good idea, K.T., and she ultimately decided not to do it. But the President wanted her and the rest of the team to lie about those Russian contacts.
WILLIAMS: Frank, what if the prospect of pushback becomes too exhausting? What if there are instances where people just let stuff go that are not enumerated in this report?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Exactly, Brian. So if it`s true, and it certainly appears to be, that the only hope of ethical acts and conduct by this President is external to him, the people around him serving as guardrails, what happens when those guardrails are gone? And are they gone right now?
And by that, I mean, let`s count up the number of acting Cabinet secretaries that we have. Let`s look at the people that left because of their discomfort with what they were being asked to do, quietly or more vocally, and the realization in this report today that Don McGahn was asked to lie on behalf of the President, asked to fire the Special Counsel, and he had had enough.
So the question becomes for the American people, are we now the conscience of this president? Are we going to make the ethical decisions? Is Congress going to step in and be that external conscience for the President because he doesn`t have one? It`s not the Attorney General. We`re at the point now where the Attorney General has told us who he is and he`s not going to be that human guardrail.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Frank, they say journalism is the first draft of history. If that`s true, how harsh is history starting tonight going to be on that four-page letter that Barr wrote? How harsh should history be on that letter?
FIGLIUZZI: So, if you follow the letter of the law and you read the summary carefully, you can see where he`s coming from, but he`s still shading the facts when we see the light of day now with this report. Because he essentially -- history will treat him very roughly, and particularly if he continues to represent the President versus the American people. So, if we look at what Barr has done, he`s taken away from the Special Counsel the notion of -- the necessary notion of objectivity and neutrality and he said "I`m going to make a call here."
When it now increasingly appears that what Mueller intended to do was to be the fact-finder and then be constrained by DOJ policy against indicting a sitting president and then hand it off to Congress. He tells us in the report repeatedly, particularly in Appendix C, where he says I didn`t subpoena the President, I didn`t insist on the in-person interview because I thought I had the evidence.
It`s right there. And it lays out 10 different reasons why he thinks the President obstructed justice, and yet this attorney general summarizes that in less than four pages, calls a press conference to tell us what he thinks the report says. We`re not in a good place tonight.
WILLIAMS: And gives the President air cover to say for days total exoneration.
Hey, Jeremy Bash, here are the words you didn`t think you were going to hear at the end of today. Join us in watching this from Judge Napolitano tonight on fox news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obstruction doesn`t have to be successful for it to be obstruction. Now, he`s out of legal jeopardy, but he`s certainly not out of political jeopardy because the Democrats will make the most out of this, and they should. These are things that the public needs to know about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: All right. Jeremy Bash, not to take you directly into partisan politics, how do the Democrats -- how does the opposition to this President proceed, in your view?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER PENTAGON CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, as my peeps like to say during the season, why is this night different than all other nights? And this night is different, Brian, because we now have evidence. We have a comprehensive report about criminal obstructive contact by the President of the United States.
And one thing I disagree with the judge from Fox News about is that actually it doesn`t erase the President`s criminal liability and his exposure because what Bob Mueller says very explicitly is that the evidence is now preserved and he can be criminally prosecuted when he leaves office. And so I think there are a lot of discussions probably around this Capitol tonight, and I`m going to say something that might sound farfetched, which is I think the President is thinking how do I get out of this? I don`t want to be out of office and be prosecuted. Do I resign and make Mike Pence the president and have his pardon me? Because that`s the only way out.
WILLIAMS: By the way, Jeremy, to your point, my favorite tweet of the night was it`s traditional for the youngest child in attendance to read the Mueller report. I`ll let you think about that as we get a break. Both of our guests have agreed to stay with us.
When we come back, what the Mueller report had to say about what the Trump campaign received from Russia. That and a lot more after this. That and a lot more after this.
WILLIAMS: If you want a firm takeaway from the Mueller report, it`s this, Russia successfully attempted to undermine our presidential election. Again, as "The New York Times" summed it up tonight, the report lays bare how Mr. Trump was elected with the help of a foreign power. The work of Mark Mazzetti. Mueller may not have been able to prove conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin, but, "The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts." There is a mouthful.
Still with us, Jeremy Bash and Frank Figliuzzi. Frank, you got our attention earlier today when you said you had new concerns as of today and tonight about Julian Assange. Explain that.
FIGLIUZZI: So, the most heavily redacted portion of the report, Brian, involves WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and the -- the part that`s not redacted offers us incredible detail about the degree to which the Russian intelligence services worked with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to get that hacked material that Russia hacked and get it out to the public with incredible timing, to include, by the way, a release of Hillary`s e-mails five hours after the President said, "Russia, if you have the e-mails, I hope you release them." So that`s mind-boggling, that degree of coordination.
But here`s what I`m concerned about. As you know, Julian Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. I assume we`re going to be moving toward extraditing from the U.K. Julian Assange, head of WikiLeaks, but to do that in the diplomatic process, you`ve got to promise the UK, hey, we`re sticking with this one charge here that we`ve charged him with.
Well, the one charge we`ve charged Julian Assange with is hacking and helping Chelsea Manning hack into top-secret information. It has nothing to do with the campaign or with Russia. And so if we`re going to constrain ourselves to that then we`re not going to get ever to the real issues with Julian Assange, which was how much was he in concert, not only with Russia but perhaps with the campaign? We`re never going to get there. And does our attorney general -- is he driving this decision to limit what we`re going to do to extradite Assange because perhaps he doesn`t want to hear it from Assange. That`s my concern tonight.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, channeling your service at Pentagon and CIA as I read this, tell me the degree to which it gives you chills. "The President asked Admiral Michael Rogers, the director of the NSA, if he could do anything to rebut news stories on the Russia matter. The admiral`s deputy, Richard Ledgett, who was present for the call, considered it the most unusual experience of his 40 years in government and prepared a memo describing the call that he and Admiral Rogers signed and put in a safe." Your reaction?
BASH: I know both of those professional intelligence officers, and I can only imagine how mortified they were, how horrified they were at the prospect that the President was using, abusing the time that intelligence agencies are meant to brief the President on threats and challenges facing our country and our world and he was using that time in the President`s authority as commander in chief to direct them to basically cover the President`s political standing in this investigation.
I mean, that`s the antithesis of what our intelligence officers are duty bound to do in our government, and for the President to order them to do that, direct them to do that is unethical, unpatriotic and a total abuse of power.
WILLIAMS: And, Frank, I got one for you about a former model who turned to a career in PR, which she is successfully pursuing in Los Angeles tonight. "At approximately 3:00 a.m. on election night, Trump Campaign Press Secretary Hope Hicks received a telephone call on her personal cell phone from a person who sounded foreign but was calling from a number with a D.C. area code. Although, Hicks had a hard time understanding the person, she could make out the words "Putin call." Hicks told the caller to send her an e-mail. The following morning, an official at the Russian Embassy to the United States e-mailed Hicks from his Gmail address with the subject line, `Message from Putin.`" Frank, what does that tell you?
FIGLIUZZI: Well, if the first person that the campaign`s hearing from upon winning the election is Vladimir Putin, that`s indicative of some interest because that usually doesn`t work that way, and the fact that they`re trying to reach Hope Hicks to make that contact is fascinating to me, but in the report today, Brian, we also learn of the myriad contacts between, for example, Don Jr. and Russians and Don Jr. and WikiLeaks and him telling and sharing that with the others at the top of the campaign. Hey, I just got an e-mail from WikiLeaks. Hey, I just got this offer from Russia. It`s all in there.
And then even the report accounting -- recounting details of Trump saying to people in a car, hey, expect a big release of WikiLeaks material tomorrow. So we see all of that in there, and for the attorney general to come out and say there was no collusion, there`s nothing there, is really disingenuous.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, you`re smiling faintly. Is that just as an alternative to the opposite?
BASH: Well, I`m just trying to imagine that scene of the 3:00 a.m. phone call from Vladimir Putin to Hope Hicks. But, look, I think we started this morning, the three of us, at around 9:00 a.m. Eastern asking the fundamental question, which is would the Mueller report show that the President welcomed the Russian interference, that he benefited from it, that he was OK with it? And I think the answer we now know sitting here tonight is that he did welcome it, he benefited from it and our foreign policy over the last two years shows he has rewarded it.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy is correct that we started this morning, the three of us, at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. All the more reason to thank both of you gentlemen for coming back around as we approach midnight. Jeremy Bash, Frank Figliuzzi, our thanks, as always.
And coming up, this Mueller report has been described as a roadmap for Congress going forward to investigate this President. Where that road may lead. We`ll talk about that when we come back with our guests.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The attorney general did a grave disservice to the country by misrepresenting significant parts of the Mueller report.
REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Attorney General Barr appears to have shown an unsettling willingness to undermine his own department in order to protect President Trump. That is why I have formally requested that Special Counsel Mueller testify before the House Judiciary Committee as soon as possible, so we can get some answers to these critical questions. Because we clearly can`t believe what Attorney General Barr tells us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So after reading it for themselves, the Democrats reacted that way to the Barr interpretation of the Mueller report. The attorney general says he`d have no problem with Mueller testifying before Congress. Barr himself is scheduled to testify on the Hill in about two weeks. Democratic lawmakers are also zeroing in on the issue of obstruction, citing this line in the Mueller report, and we quote, "Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President`s corrupt exercise of the powers of office." And it ends with, "No person is above the law."
A helpful reminder. One notable footnote in the report, number 1091, addresses the conversation of impeachment. And we quote here. "A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office. Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability or the conduct or serve the usual purposes of the criminal law."
Well, with us tonight, Donna Edwards, former Democratic member of Congress from the state of Maryland, now a "Washington Post" columnist, and Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press.
Welcome to you both. Congresswoman, considering the Democrats are about Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and increasingly AOC, what do the Democrats do, do you think?
DONNA EDWARDS, (D) MARYLAND, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, I think they have to start by bringing the Special Counsel Mueller in to at a minimum the judiciary committee. I think it`s really important for Democrats to map out where they want to take the clear direction that was given to them by Robert Mueller. And it does seem to me -- I don`t think I`d waste my time, frankly, with Attorney General Barr. He`s already made his bed and it`s with the President of the United States. And so I don`t really see the point of that, to give him another forum to continue his advocacy for the President.
But it`s important to hear from Mueller, for the American people to hear. I mean, I spent the day, as many of us have, reading the report, reading all the footnotes and things that we didn`t even know about in that report. Most Americans are not going to do that. And in order to bring the country along, the Congress has an obligation to roll this out to constituents in a way that they can process, and it`s up to the Congress to do that. This is not a political question, it`s a constitutional one.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, the graphic over Sean Hannity`s shoulder tonight was game over. That is clearly how they wish to proceed, that is that they wish to proceed. You know the pitfalls, the argument against impeachment. If the Democrats try to go ahead with it in the House, it fails in the Senate. They`ve whipped up the republican base as a result. Where do you see this going from here?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: The Democrats, absolutely, they have a tricky calculation ahead of them because you`re right that what we saw today, first of all, the special counsel clearly was outlining -- thought it was appropriate for Congress to take a next step here, referring it to Congress. This could be what happens next. You know, despite what Attorney General Barr may believe.
And that certainly though there were no criminal offenses outlined in this report, there is disturbing conduct. And a lot of Democrats are very upset. And I think you`re going to see growing momentum, growing talk on their side about that exact topic, impeachment. Jerry Nadler mentioned it earlier today, saying it`s back on the table. Despite the fact that Speaker Pelosi has time and time again tried to steer her party away from that. To try to even hold those forces at bay on the left, saying like this is not what we want to do right now, for exactly the reason you outlined.
If it fails, and there is no reason to believe that it would. The Republican controls the Senate. You need two-thirds there for removal. All you`ve done is whip up the other side. We saw what happened with Bill Clinton in `98 when the Republicans moved to impeach him, he only grew more popular. The White House has always sort of wanted this fight. Even the President personally has told people around him that he`s anxious about impeachment, not that he thinks he`d be removed from office, but that it would be a stain on his legacy.
And in fact, in nearly every meeting, private meeting he`s had with Nancy Pelosi, he always sorts of asks her like, you`re not going to impeach me, right? And it`s sort of half a joke, half not, according to our reporting. But it`s something that it`s on his mind, that those around him don`t mind it. They think that if they -- they`re far more fearful of other investigations that could just bog down his agenda, rather than an attempt at impeachment, which they think actually, you know, counterintuitively could be a boost.
WILLIAMS: We`ve talked about some of the news coverage tonight. We`ve put together a sampling of it. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If dozens of federal prosecutors spend who years trying to charge you with a crime and then found they couldn`t, it would mean there wasn`t any real evidence you did it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The witch-hunt is officially over. The Mueller report is out and the President of the United States has been totally and completely vindicated.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And to those who branded the prime time hosts on this network as state news for daring to tell the truth, not just our truth, but the truth, you owe us an apology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Congresswoman, your reaction?
EDWARDS: Well, that`s not going to happen. Look, I think that the most important voice here and the most credible voice is Robert Mueller, and I think if you -- if you look at where Democrats need to go, Robert Mueller offers a pathway by coming before the American people, and it will break through the Fox News noise.
And, look, we`re never going to be able to move probably that 35%, but that is not what`s important. What`s important is the majority of American people. And I would beg to disagree on this question of comparing this to Bill Clinton. This is something that is radically different, and I think this is not just about this President, it`s about the presidency and the next president.
WILLIAMS: Maybe radically different, Congresswoman, but respectfully, what if the result is the same in the Senate?
EDWARDS: Well, again, I think part of what Democrats have to do now is through this process of continuing the investigations, bringing witnesses before the committee, enable them to speak to the American people. Then that helps to educate the public. And so, no, do you throw impeachment in on day one? You don`t. But you build a process so that you can hold this President accountable. And I think it`s really important for us to begin to restore a normative relationship between the executive and the legislature, and this is the process to do it.
And, you know, look, I think that at the end of the day Democrats could really regret leaving a President of the United States in place who has decided that he`s just going to be a law breaker. So if it doesn`t stop here, when does it stop?
WILLIAMS: To Donna Edwards, to Jonathan Lemire, thank you both for coming on tonight at the end of this long day.
Coming up, the reaction today by two veterans of the intel trade, both deeply worried about Russia`s reach into our country.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight. We thought we would show you this off the cuff reaction live on this network at different times this afternoon from two of our contributors, FBI veteran Clint Watts and our former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Hear now both men in order reacting to what they see as the clear and present danger, the extent to which the Mueller report shows the reach of Russia into the Trump orbit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINT WATTS, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think if nothing else when you look at the first part, when you`re looking at the collusion part of this investigation, it looks like a damning account of a wildly successful Russian influence operation from start to finish. I mean, just now we can consistently see all in one place.
Flynn, you know, they were talking to him about sanctions relief, it seems like, and Trump Jr. with WikiLeaks. Manafort with Kilimnik, sh0ring polling data repeatedly and talking about the campaign. Kislyak and Page, you know, at the RNC. We have people there and then a platform change and then a peace plan essentially floated -- reset of Russian-U.S. relations reset, floated through Kushner in to Tillerson.
You just look at this and it was wildly successful. The idea of Russian influence operations in this is, let`s reset foreign policy relations with the United States in a way that we are getting everything we want, and they were pursuing that on multiple fronts.
AMB. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: What is in this report is massive details, incredible details of what the Russian multi- pronged campaign was to influence the course of our elections in 2016. And that -- we`re not talking about that, that the President of the United States hasn`t sat in the Oval Office and said this is outrageous, this will not stand, I will never allow this to happen again, for me as a national security person is just dumb founding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Two of our contributors reacting in real-time to what`s been confirmed to be a highly successful Russian campaign to target us.
That is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us and good night from 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