IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump attacks Mueller report. TRANSCRIPT: 4/19/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Michael McFaul, Chuck Rosenberg, Carol Leonnig, Matt Apuzo

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  And then when she was forced under oath to admit that statement wasn`t true, she actually lied about her lie.  To people who knew she was lying about her lie, that, that is truly pathological lying. 

That`s tonight`s LAST WORD. 


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the President`s sudden and dramatic U- turn on the Mueller report.  Perhaps you are old enough to remember when it totally exonerated him.  Well, today he says the information fabricated, total B-S, now vowing to quote "bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people." 

Plus, on the night after, what are the most striking revelations in the Mueller document?  We have two former U.S. attorneys and two Pulitzer Prize winning journalists to tell us what they think has been underreported. 

And the parts of the Mueller report that Russia is studying and how it might provide a roadmap for other adversaries as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Friday night. 

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. 

Day 820 of the Trump administration.  The Mueller report has now had a day to sink in.  And whatever the President has been told about it, he doesn`t seem to like it.  The President had been claiming total exoneration because his attorney general had given him air cover to do so, but now that the report is out Trump is going after the report itself. 

Quote "statements are made about me by certain people in the crazy Mueller report, in itself written by 18 angry Democrat Trump haters, which are fabricated and totally untrue.  Watch out for people that take so-called notes, when the notes never existed until needed because I never agreed to testify.  It was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the report about me, some of which are total B-S and only given to make the other person look good for me -- or me to look bad." 

The notes that our President disparages there appear to be a reference to his White House counsel, Don McGahn.  The report mentions this oval office exchange between Trump and McGahn. 

Quote "the President then asked, what about these notes?  Why do you take notes?  Lawyers don`t take notes.  I never had a lawyer who took notes.  McGahn responded that he keeps notes because he is a real lawyer and explained that notes create a record that are not a bad thing.  The President said, I have had a lot of great lawyers like Roy Cohn.  He did not take notes."  We note here that Roy Cohn, of course, ended up getting disbarred. 

"The Washington Post" reports some of the reporter`s most derogatory scenes were attributed to notes, of all things, kept by several senior administration officials, and Trump is not happy about it. 

Quote "the fact that some of those notes became primary source material for Mueller to paint a vivid portrait of Trump`s deception and malfeasance angered the President, who was stewing over the media coverage as he decamped to Florida for the holiday weekend." 

While in Florida today, the President took time to play golf with Rush Limbaugh, among others.  Robert Mueller was apparently at work this good Friday. 

The "Associated Press" reporter quote "the day after a redacted version of the special counsel`s report was released, Robert Mueller is at his office once again.  He arrived at work around 8:00 a.m. in a black SUV." 

Meanwhile, Democrats are stepping up their efforts to get the full report.  Earlier today House judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler subpoenaed the justice department for the full -- that means un-redacted version -- and the underlying evidence.  While the DOJ responded by saying it has made arrangements for Nadler and others to review the report with fewer redactions and added, quote "Congressman Nadler`s subpoena is premature and unnecessary." 

This morning Nadler was asked about possible impeachment proceedings during an interview on GMA. 


REP. JERRY NADLER (D), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I believe he committed obstruction of justice, yes, but it is not up to me.  It is up to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Judiciary Committee. 

NADLER:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who can hold impeachment proceedings. 

NADLER:  Well, we have to -- but we are not there.  We have to now, because the special -- because Barr misled the country, we have to hear from Barr, which we will on May 2nd.  We have to hear from Mueller and ask him a lot of questions.  We have to hold hearings and hear from other people. 


WILLIAMS:  While there has been startling little from Republicans about the report, which after all details the electronic warfare waged against our country by the Russians, we did hear from Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney today and we quote.  "I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President." 

He goes on to say, I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for President welcomed help from Russia, including information that had been illegally obtained, that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement, and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine. 

It is about time for our lead-off discussion on this Good Friday night.  Back with us from his new home in Brussels, Matt Apuzo, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for "The New York Times".  Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for "the Washington Post".  And Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official. 

Good evening and welcome to you all. 

Matt, we are going to begin with you because you get the longest travelled award.  I also understand there`s a sizable satellite delay in our being able to talk with you.  You are still doing your job over there in Brussels, we note.  You coauthored the "Times" piece today on the seven important takeaways, seven important things we had to know. 

Has being across the Atlantic, has it given you any distance?  Does anything stand out to you from this report that may not occur to us? 

MATT APUZO, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  I think the thing to -- I think the thing that jumped out at me, frankly, was just the repeated pattern of lies and misdirection and cover stories and changing stories, not just from the President but throughout his administration and throughout his -- his campaign.  It was just one false statement after another. 

And one of the things that you could see in the report that even Mueller was grappling with was this question of why do the stories keep changing?  Why are they lying?  And in some instances where charges have been brought that`s maybe obvious now. 

But on the firing of the FBI director, Jim Comey, Mueller is like, look, we don`t really even know why they kept changing their story here.  So I think you see the things that we grapple with as reporters, the thing the public grapples with is why are there so many lies, especially if there`s no underlying crime.  It is something we totally don`t have an answer to. 

WILLIAMS:  Carol, it was indeed a plot line for so long on shows like this one and in print publications, people just kept asking why the lies about Russia.  Other than the fact that we have learned it wasn`t fake news after all, all of the stories you and your colleagues have been filing.  What do you think stands out as needing more attention now past the light of day after the report? 

CAROL LEONNIG, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think there are two things at once.  You know, you can never get inside someone`s heart as much as obviously Robert Mueller tried to get inside the President`s heart, what was motivating him, what was moving him. 

I think there are two things.  One is the way in which the levers of power were used by the President for impulsive, reckless and misleading ways, every single lever he could pull near him to stop the probe, shutter the probe, stymie it, interfere with it. 

I think one of the most dramatic moments that comes up in this category is when he asks Don McGahn, his White House council, you think Jack didn`t ask Bobby about investigations?  You think Eric Holder didn`t listen to Obama when Obama said, this is who I want you to investigate?  This idea of sort of a "sopranos" like figure who believes that the government agencies and his role at the top of the administration is limitless and that he can interfere in that very sacrosanct line between the justice department and the White House.  That is really the striking piece for me. 

WILLIAMS:  Chuck Rosenberg, I haven`t had a chance to talk to you.  What do you make of this final work product?  And a serious question, what do you think Mueller was doing at work today? 

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL:   Yes, I was surprised to see, Brian, that he got in at 8:00, two hours later than --

WILLIAMS:  It is late, he slept in.  Yes. 

ROSENBERG:  He obviously slept in.  He must have been tired, from writing a very, very good, comprehensive, detailed and thoughtful report. 

So, in volume one on the Russian interference piece, though we had seen portions of that in publicly-filed charges involving the troll farm and involving Russian military intelligence, to see it all laid out in one narrative and to see how persistent and comprehensive Russian efforts were to interfere in the election is stunning.  And so if anyone thinks it started in 2016 or ended in 2016, I think they are sadly mistaken.  This is a portrait of a very, very hostile adversary who actually had some, you know, remarkable success in effecting the way we thought about our candidates and the election, and they are still out there and they`re still coming. 

In volume two, here is a simple exercise.  Strip out the name Trump and strip out the title president of the United States every time you see it and substitute anyone else`s name and any other title you can think of, and tell me whether or not you think that person would have been in handcuffs yesterday for obstruction of justice.  My view is they absolutely would have.  It is a very strong case for obstruction.  But for the fact that Donald Trump is President, but for the fact that the department of justice policy precludes charging a sitting person, that person would be in handcuffs. 

WILLIAMS:  Matt, let`s fast forward to what we know will be at least a global cable news event, and that is one Robert Mueller raising his hand, getting sworn in and testifying before one committee or another.  You have covered some of his prior appearances.  Other than among the more taciturn people in public life in 2019, what do you think he is likely to be as a witness? 

APUZO:  Well, he is not going to go -- go easy into the Democratic embrace.  If they are hoping that Bob Mueller is going to come and produce some sort of dramatic congressional hearing where he, you know, provides the dagger with which to knife the President, that`s just not -- not likely to happen.  You can look back and see when Bob Mueller testified about that dramatic hospital bed confrontation during the Bush administration that seems so long ago, this was -- this was a perfect political moment for the Democrats, and Mueller testified and he just wouldn`t give an inch.  And I mean really you fought tooth and nail to avoid giving any political ammunition to the Democrats. 

He is a by-the-book guy.  He is not somebody who is going to deviate from what he wrote in his report, and, you know, we all will be watching.  I think that Mueller is going to go pretty closely to what is written. 

WILLIAMS:  Carol, do you think this investigate the investigator plot line, is that real?  Will that have any teeth to it?  What are they talking about?  The Steele dossier, Hillary Clinton, what is it? 

LEONNIG:  You know, that`s -- I`m so glad you asked me that question because I do feel like there are two ways in which the President, at least, has railed about this.  So far the President and his allies have mainly focused on two elements of this.  One is the very unfortunate reality and truth, which is that they were a group of people at the FBI who were using incredibly indiscrete language to talk about the President, and that`s Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and that un-careful commentary between them is something that I`m sure they are very disappointed that they did because it gave the appearance that they were politically biased, even though the FBI`s decisions, it strikes me, were not.  They looked like they were. 

The second piece, Brian, that the President has railed against is the idea that he was spied on, and he has had different iterations of this over time, some of them more fanciful and ungirded than others.  But the spying issue is one that interests me because there`s this claim that Barr seemed to encourage in a press conference recently, this idea that there were other ways in which before the investigation began in July 2016 that there were surveillance efforts that were not necessarily U.S. surveillance efforts but possibly British surveillance efforts of members of Trump`s campaign and that there was an interpretation about them that was -- that they were malevolent actors when they were not. 

WILLIAMS:  Thank you for filling in those blanks. 

And, Chuck, you also tend to be a taciturn individual, not freely given to opinion but I`m going to ask you this straight up.  What do you think your former colleagues inside the department of justice department make of the place now that we got a really telling glimpse of who the new guy is in charge yesterday? 

ROSENBERG:  I don`t know that anyone wants to hear my angst at this hour, Brian. 

WILLIAMS:  Oh, go ahead.  It is Good Friday night. 

ROSENBERG:  Yes, fair point.  I have wrestled with this, I really truly have wrestled with this.  The Bill Barr I know and admired was a principled traditionalist.  And I think some of the notes he has been singing have been markedly off key. 

Carol just spoke to one, the notion that court-authorized surveillance by U.S. intelligence officials in the United States could be construed as spying troubles me.  So too did the press conference the other day in which the notes he sang sort of aligned with the notes that the President had been singing, collusion, collusion, and more collusion. 

So I don`t know quite what to make of it.  And I`m trying to reconcile the Bill Barr that I knew and respected with the Bill Barr that I`m seeing right now.  And my answer to your very good question is I imagine many of my colleagues in the justice department are wrestling in the same way, hoping that there is a logical explanation but fearing there may not be. 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  Chuck, I am hearing the same thing among very good people who want the very best for the department of justice.  At the end of the day, I guess all-American citizens should. 

To Chuck Rosenberg, to Carol Leonnig, our thanks.  Matt Apuzo, we are happy you found work for all the world you look like U.N. secretary general against - NATO secretary general against that backdrop more appropriately.  And thanks to you, it is 5:15 a.m. in Brussels. 

Terrific conversation, gang.  Thank you all for coming on the broadcast at the end of this long week. 

Coming up for us tonight, the President calls it a big, fat waste of time, energy and money.  But there are still a number of investigations swirling around him. 

And, later, the Russians are mocking the Mueller report.  The problem is they`re also reading the Mueller report.  We`ll fit that in when we continue as "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" just getting started on this Friday night. 


WILLIAMS:  Robert Mueller`s report leaves plenty of unanswered questions, but it also contains a lot of hard facts, 448 pages in all, it details 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and transition team and Russia and WikiLeaks.  Thirty of those contacts had not been reported before.  Ten times the special counsel identified instances of possible obstruction.  And there are still 14 open cases spun off from the Mueller investigation in the main. 

With us this evening here in New York, and we are overjoyed to have them, two of the best attorneys we have on retainer, former U.S. attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor, and Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special counsel. 

Good evening and welcome to you both.  And I guess for both of you, Joyce, you can go first, what has the clarity of the day after brought to you?  What stands out to you now that we have a little distance on it? 

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  You know, I think we all did that first read through of the Mueller report to see what answers we could get. 

WILLIAMS:  I read slowly so I`m still in the middle. 

VANCE:  You and I both, right.  I find on a second read through in places there is a lot of detail.  There`s a lot of depth.  And I think we should all be careful, make sure that we read, make sure we look at what the message Mueller -- excuse me -- is sending us is rather than try to rush to hasty conclusions about what this report means. 

We know some answers to big questions.  We know that Mueller likely believes that there is a good obstruction case.  We know that he declined to charge conspiracy but says that that was because he didn`t have sufficient proof.  But beyond those bright line conclusions there`s a lot of detail here to absorb. 

WILLIAMS:  Jill Wine-Banks, same question. 

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  I agree with, of course, what Joyce says because she always says it so well.  But I think the second time through you get a lot more detail about what he was thinking.  It is quite clear that he did conclude that there is an obstruction case, and the only reason he didn`t bring it is because the office of legal counsel said you can`t indict the President, and he felt that you don`t name him in a report if you can`t indict him and let him defend himself. 

And that really stands in such stark contrast to what William Barr said at his press conference that I put the press conference on a level with the Helsinki press conference that Trump had with Putin.  It was really filled with lies.  It was a disservice to the department of justice that both Joyce and I have been proud to serve and still believe very much is the way forward in a democracy. 

So I think, I`m hoping that we can get it short enough to counter the first impression that Barr created, and that`s the only reason I think he did that press conference, was to give a few hours for his people, for the Trump believers to hear -- and it is very hard to change a first impression, and he said basically it is a big nothing.  And it isn`t a big nothing.  That report says -- I don`t know if you remember, but two years ago you asked me did I think I could make an obstruction case and I said --

WILLIAMS:  Memorialized in a commercial. 

WINE-BANKS:  Yes.  I retired the dress I wore that day because it was so popular.  But I really think that we now see that there is absolutely an obstruction case.  And he was preserving the evidence now so that when the President isn`t the President, an indictment could be brought against a non-sitting President. 

WILLIAMS:  Well Joyce, you have just written a column on this very thing, that this should be the last word on obstruction.  There is your headline from "Time" magazine.  Where will we get that last word? 

VANCE:  What Mueller seems to be saying is that here is the evidence that I have, but prosecutors never say that`s all the evidence that`s out there.  And it is true about obstruction, although, frankly, Mueller has amassed, I agree with Jill, 100 percent a case that any prosecutor would be proud to indict if the defendant was not the President of the United States. 

Even on the conspiracy aspects of Mueller`s report though, he is careful to say I don`t have sufficient proof of a conspiracy, and he details some difficulties he had acquiring evidence, whether it was witnesses who took the Fifth Amendment, witnesses who weren`t truthful, evidence that was outside of the continental United States so he couldn`t access it.  And it is possible that down the road perhaps Congress in further investigation or even a prosecutor perhaps in a future prosecution of Roger Stone or something along those lines could find additional evidence.  You know, a decision not to indict is not a final decision.  It can be changed. 

WILLIAMS:  And give me 30 seconds on the point Jill just raised.  You know and love the department of justice.  What do you think -- we talked about this with Chuck Rosenberg.  What do you think it is like inside there now that they have a good view of who the boss is? 

VANCE:  You know, people were happy to see Bill Barr show up after Matt Whitaker.  I don`t think that that`s the reaction any longer.  He is disappointing.  It was painful to see him deliver the kind of comments that he gave from that podium at DOJ where we have all seen attorney generals from both parties who we know and love speak about important issues. 

What is so puzzling about Barr is he mischaracterized the Mueller report, but he knew we would read it just a couple of hours later and we would know that he had mischaracterized it. 


VANCE:  So Jill`s explanation I think is correct.  He wanted to frame the conversation.  He wanted to try to go ahead and get the first jab at it and hope that people wouldn`t look any deeper.  Now as Americans we all need to look past what the attorney general told us. 

WILLIAMS:  All right.  More outside-the-frame thinking when we comeback.  Joyce and Jill have agreed to remain with us a bit longer.  We will fit in a break. 

When we come back, parts of the Mueller report remain secret because of ongoing legal matters.  We will talk about these 12 mystery cases when we come back. 



MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia.  Is that a red line? 

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST:  Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I would say yes.  I would say yes. 


WILLIAMS:  More on that in a second.  That was President Trump with "The New York Times" reporters in the oval office back in 2017.  Fast forward to what`s being revealed in the Mueller report and it appears investigators indeed did cross that red line.  Mueller handed off 14 additional criminal prosecutions to other offices.  What might be the most concerning for the White House, we don`t know what most of them are. 

Of the 14 referrals, 12 are redacted, those dreaded black lines of redaction meaning we don`t yet know what possible crimes are being investigated, who might have committed them.  "Vanity Fair" sums it up this way. 

Quote "with investigations churning in Congress, in New York and in Washington, D.C., it is clear that Trump`s nightmare is just beginning." 

Still with us, Joyce Vance, Jill Wine-Banks. 

Jill, remind us what these could be.  There was not a financial section of the Mueller report.  There was not a financial portion of the Mueller report.  There was now a counterintelligence section of the Mueller report.  So those are two big subject here.  Is anybody breathing a sigh of relief this weekend that they have been cleared in the Mueller report? 

WINE-BANKS:  Well, first of all, even a not guilty verdict in a trial doesn`t mean you are innocent.  And this one certainly doesn`t exonerate the President or anyone else.  So no one should be breathing a sigh of relief.  And I think that we have to just wait and see what all these cases are.  I think the southern district of New York is very, very active in a lot of things that it could be bringing, and these cases could be anything because you discover things by asking one person and then you just don`t know what you`re going to find.  The cases that have been prosecuted that aren`t related to the Russia directly are things that were discovered while this was going on.  So I think it could be anything. 

WILLIAMS:  Joyce Vance, you are hardly going to tell me, but a senior Democrat once focused my attention on the national security division at the justice department where secret stuff would reside. 

VANCE:  Yes.  So there are a number of places where that work is done, the national security division is one, FBI obviously does counterintelligence work on parallel tracks often with criminal cases.  It is very unlikely that the counterintelligence work that`s being done in regards to Russia trying to threaten our elections is complete.  That would seem to be ongoing work that will continue for some time.  An effort will be made to counter that threat, but there will always be a need for intelligence.  So all sorts of possibilities for these redacted cases. 

WILLIAMS:  Let me show you both what you have already seen, the front page of today`s "New York Post".  Trump clean.  And you are both shaking your head.  What`s your reaction to this?  And for law and order people like the two of you, how do you counter that kind of sentiment? 

WINE-BANKS:  I think that it is time for a counter narrative to be put forward in short, succinct language that people will understand, because what has happened is the Trump people have been brand at PR.  They have been able to say, no collusion, no obstruction.  They have gotten the attorney general to repeat it.  They have gotten the attorney general to repeat spying, which is a ridiculous thing that you just talked about earlier.  And the Democrats have a harder job really communicating what Mueller said. 

I look forward to public testimony by Mueller and by Barr and having people see it.  I have been promoting the idea of fact finding hearings, not necessarily impeachment hearings.  But in Watergate, we benefitted from the fact that there had been the Senate hearings where people saw the witnesses, and then we had our indictment and then you started impeachment hearings. 

So by the time we got to the impeachment hearings, the American public had been educated and they had seen the witnesses, they had judged the credibility.  People like Michael Cohen who no one believed initially when he testified.  If you did a poll of the room, people were, oh, he was pretty credible.  And so it is time to be able to judge who is credible and who is not credible, who has facts.  And there are so many documents that are alluded to in the Mueller report that will confirm.  It is not the same, I know, at the Watergate tapes were, which were dramatic and wonderful, but documents are very good evidence and even calendars and other things.  So I think there`s a lot more that could come out and that hearings would benefit America. 

WILLIAMS:  Just a couple of giants of the law joining us on a Friday night here in New York, and we`re the better for it. 

Joyce Vance, Jill Wine-Banks, our thanks to you both. 

And coming up, we will ask a former U.S. ambassador to Russia what the Kremlin, what China might find so interesting in this Mueller report when we continue. 



ROBERT ANDERSON, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:  I can tell you Russia`s like the angry kid on a playground.  They are not going to stop doing what they are doing without severe repercussions from the United States.  The DRU, the SVR and the SFP, which is their military intelligence, CIA equivalent and FBI equivalent, I can guarantee you are already making plans if they haven`t enacted them to target our political infrastructure again in 2020. 


WILLIAMS:  You will be happy to know we heard from the Kremlin today about the Mueller report.  It is about Russia, after all.  It clearly details their interference in our 2016 presidential election, in what Mueller called sweeping and systematic fashion.  But today, Russian`s rejected Mueller`s conclusion. 

"Washington Post" story reads quote "the report still does not present any conclusive evidence of alleged interference by the Russian federation in the electoral process in America.  Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskow told reporters Friday, we continue to refuse to accept any such accusation." 

Reporting from Moscow today, our own correspondent Bill Neely says the Kremlin is paying close attention to the report. 


BILL NEELY, NBC NEWS CHIEF GLOBAL CORRESPONDENT:  They are pouring over every page of it and here is why.  They want to know what the weaknesses are in the American political system.  They want to know if Donald Trump gave orders to his staff, why did they ignore him.  I remember being here just before the inauguration and an official told me they had already a 14- page psychological dossier on Donald Trump.  They are looking for every opportunity to add to that dossier, to work out who is up, who is down in the White House, who gets listened to, who gets ignored. 


WILLIAMS:  We are fortunate to be joined tonight by Michael McFaul, our former U.S. ambassador to Russia. 

Ambassador, first off, this is an ongoing act of electronic warfare.  Where is the outrage? 

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  Brian, like you and I have talked about for years, it was a major, sweeping, systematic attack as the Mueller report states. 

By the way, the Mueller report doesn`t talk about all of the different aspects of it as you rightly mentioned a couple of minutes ago, and not only just not the counterintelligence piece or the financial piece but also the media piece.  They left that out, and yet it was an attack and our President chose not even to respond to it. 

And I think that was a big strategic mistake.  This is a moment he could have pivoted to say, this is outrageous, it is not going to stand.  His secretary of state did it.  He should have done it himself today as well. 

WILLIAMS:  And, of course, a lot of people have singled out Republicans and some big-name Republicans for their silence.  Today we noticed John Meacham responded to a tweet from you and here is what he wrote.  I keep thinking about how far the party of Reagan fell to become the party of Trump.  From "tear down this wall" to "if it`s what you say I love it." 

And ambassador, that`s kind of an immutable truth.  A lot of Republicans have a lot to answer for. 

MCFAUL:  Well, it is just shocking.  I mean this is not about Democrats and Republicans.  This is about American national security.  Americans should have the right to choose their own president without outsiders, including hostile ones like Vladimir Putin, seeking to shape the outcome.  And I just don`t understand why people don`t embrace that. 

And by the way, Brian, you know, think of the counter factual just for one minute.  I get in a lot of trouble with my Democratic friends on this.  But think about if Russia had done nothing in 2016 and Donald Trump had won the election.  He wouldn`t have all of this conversation about whether he was legitimate or not.  He wouldn`t have been tainted by all of this.  So I don`t even understand if you support Donald Trump why you think what the Russians did in 2016 was so great for him. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, let me ask you this.  Forgetting for the moment the Russians, what other hostile actors are reading this and realizing halfway through it how easy it is to slide into the heart of our political system? 

MCFAUL:  It is a great point because everybody is studying Putin`s playbook.  The Chinese, the Iranians, domestic actors, and they know that all those vulnerabilities still exist.  We have done next to nothing to enhance our cybersecurity, either for campaigns or for the electoral infrastructure because we have been battling between ourselves.  We haven`t done that in terms of new legislation.  We have done next to nothing to clean up social media and broadcast media, by the way.

And so all of those vulnerabilities are there.  And third, we have done next to nothing to enhance transparency about contacts with foreigners during campaigns.  I think simple things like you should declare all of your business contacts with foreigners if you are running for president.  The American people should know that stuff beforehand, not after. 

I as a government official had to do that when I joined the White House.  Why shouldn`t we have that transparency?  And all three of those buckets, transparency, cybersecurity and media, we have only begun the conversation of what to do to protect our elections in 2020. 

WILLIAMS:  We keep trying to regularly point out it is not normal to have a presidential campaign swimming in Russians.  It is not normal to have Russians hanging around a U.S. political convention either. 

Michael McFaul, thank you so much for coming on the broadcast, as always.  Appreciate it. 

MCFAUL:  Sure.  Thanks for having me. 

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, the President`s wrapping up this eventful week in Florida.  Historian Michael Beschloss is here next to help us better understand all we are witnessing right now. 



WILLIAM BARR. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  It is important to bear in mind the context.  President Trump faced an unprecedented situation.  As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates. 


WILLIAMS:  We have never seen anything like that.  Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear how much he values loyalty.  His new attorney general, William Barr, seems to understand that fully.  He was thoughtful enough to say out loud, no collusion a couple of times in his news conference before the report came out. 

From the opinion page in today`s "New York Times", we quote, "Barr has downplayed or ignored the voluminous evidence of Trump`s wrong doing, his lies to the American people, his willingness to work with a hostile foreign country during a presidential campaign, his tolerance of extensive criminal behavior among his staff and his repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation." 

It was Barr`s use of the phrase "unprecedented situation" in his Thursday morning pre-battle that caught the attention of our next guest, someone that knows a thing or two about precedent.  We are lucky to have here in New York tonight, our friend, the author and Presidential historian, Michael Beschloss whose latest work, of course, is "Presidents of War." 

I was thinking about you today in the context, when Bobby Kennedy general was the attorney general for his boss, his brother Jack Kennedy, was he as pliant, at least publicly as Barr appears to be? 

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Bobby Kennedy did things for his brother, but I don`t think he would have abased himself the way that William Barr did yesterday. 

And I wasn`t surprised by this because when William Barr was appointed, first time this was mentioned in connection with Donald Trump, I remembered 1992, the end of that year.  Barr was the attorney general, as you know, for President Bush 41, and he basically shut down the Iran-contra investigation by pressing for pardons for six Reagan people, including Casper Weinberger, the independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh said, you just killed my investigation.  He said it was like a Saturday night massacre.  You remember the old "New York Times" late columnist William Sapphire whom we both knew.  He called Barr in those days the cover-up general. 

WILLIAMS:  That`s true.  And you just invoked Ronald Reagan, which reminds me that after a major chapter in the Reagan presidency that resulted in a commission and a report, he came out and said in effect, we are going to make changes as a result of this. 

BESCHLOSS:  That`s the way it is supposed to happen.  Anyone who remembers Ronald Reagan after the tower report. 

WILLIAMS:  John Tower of Texas. 

BESCHLOSS:  The younger people who don`t remember this was a commission that was appointed to look into the reasons why Iran-contra happened.  Very critical of Reagan and his management methods.  Reagan went on TV from the oval office.  Looked into the camera and said, you know, I made mistakes.  I`m going to try to learn from this.  I`m going on change the way I do business and he did.  There was modesty there. 

Compare that to Donald Trump in the last couple days.  This defiance and this anger and this viciousness and the striking out at Robert Mueller and the angry Democrats and all these people he has been tweeting about.  That`s not the way it`s happen. 

Even Richard Nixon, also Bill Clinton, at points during his impeachment problems, they approached this with some modesty and tried to at least convey to Americans the sense that they would try to regain their trust.  Not a word of that from Donald Trump. 

WILLIAMS:  Let me ask you about this.  Did this happen during Watergate where major print publications as gung-ho as this? 

BESCHLOSS:  I do not remember a headline saying Nixon clean at any time during those two years.  We are at a time when newspapers, needless to say, are taking sides in a way but they did not in those days. 

WILLIAMS:  Along with everybody else.  I also want to share with you, we had camera crews out today as a network talking with some voters.  I want to play for you a sampling. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I do think it started out as a witch hunt.  And so that kind of threw me off.  But there is really nothing that would change my mind about him. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am more likely to support Trump today than I was at the original election with Hillary because you know, he is not a perfect guy.  I think he is a despicable human being.  But he has done a lot of good things for the country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We can`t ignore it.  And yet I think we should be very careful about overdoing an investigation, overdoing subpoenas, that type of thing. 


WILLIAMS:  We also took a sampling of front pages.  You see there depict in places that Donald Trump carried.  Are there echoes of previous opinions of previous presidents?  I imagine a person on the street interviews at the height of Nixon`s trouble, especially because it was all tinged with the Vietnam War, the protesters on the streets.  People said, you know, I don`t think he is great guy but. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right.  I think they would have.  But not to the degree that you hear it today.  I think even in 1973 and 1974, if you had heard someone say he is a despicable human being, that probably would have been followed by the words, and therefore, should not be president.  Especially among conservatives who, many of them in those days, as well as liberals and moderates, felt that a President should be someone that you could hold up in front of your children and say this is someone you should be like.  Someone who would represent our country abroad. 

This goes all the way back to the conception of the presidency that began with George Washington.  The reason why the presidency is not described in great detail in the constitution, as a, they were thinking of George Washington and b, the founders could never imagine that no elected president would ever be a despicable human being.  They never thought that was really a problem that we would have to deal with. 

WILLIAMS:  On that sad note, Michael has agreed to stay with us for just a few more minutes.  More of his take on these times we are living in when we come back. 


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  Before we go boldly into this holiday weekend, some final thoughts with Michael Beschloss about the state of our union. 

I was thinking about casting.  Donald Trump casting no aspersions to those who avoided the draft or fighting in Vietnam, went to a doctor in a strip mall in Queens to attest to his bone spurs. 

At the other end of American society, one Robert Mueller still bears the scars of a bullet wound from the North Vietnamese.  Marine Corps decorated combat captain.  These are desperate poles apart members of American society. 

The people who rhapsodized about Mueller got what they wanted.  The man they wanted, the man they thought they were getting, slavishly devoted to department of justice policy to decorum and has given us a document in keeping with who he is. 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes.  And a document that may turn out to be more important than we think tonight if it does lead to a congressional investigation.  And I think it might well be said that in writing this document, Robert Mueller did not anticipate that William Barr, whom he is known since the 1990s, at least, would proceeded with that letter and with that press conference trying in a way to undo the work that Mueller had done for two years. 

WILLIAMS:  Have we -- have we seen the road map of where, do you think this ends up in the house with sub Watergate level hearings that as Jill Wine- Banks said are fact-finding hearings? 

BESCHLOSS:  I think that would be the way to go because there are all sorts of open questions that are raised by the Mueller report.  And there`s been a feeling, I think until now, that the choice is either have impeachment hearings or not. 

You know, one of Congress` sacred duties is to investigate.  They can investigate some of those questions.  They can call in witnesses.  They can provide information that might lead to impeachment later on.  Might not.  That`s exactly what the Senate Watergate committee did in 1973. 

WILLIAMS:  Thank you for being here.  We are awfully fortunately to have you. 

WILLIAMS:  My pleasure always.  Happy Easter. 

BESCHLOSS:  You too.  Our thanks to Michael Beschloss. 

And that is our broadcast on this Good Friday night which also marks the start of Passover.  Thank you for being here with us.  Have a good weekend and good night from our NBC News headquarters in New York. 

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END