(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Allegiance to our Constitutions leaves us with no alternative but to vote in favor of impeaching the President.
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LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: John Thune gets tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight the threat from Russia that Donald Trump won`t discuss as a former Cabinet secretary reportedly wasn`t allowed to bring it up around the President. Our security experts are here with us tonight to talk about the danger that Russia poses to our next election.
Plus, the dual roles on display from this President, victim of a witch hunt, never getting credit for his accomplishments versus the victor totally exonerated if you ask him and taking on angry Democrats and investigators.
And the new Michael Cohen recordings among our other stories tonight as we are joined by four Pulitzer Prize-winners over the course of the next hour as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 825 of the Trump administration. And a new report from "The New York Times" about this President and 2020, our election that year is raising alarms. It points to an unwillingness to focus on a potential Russian threat to our next Presidential election, and it raises concerns about Trump`s ability to follow through on some very important words that he agreed to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Donald John Trump do solemnly swear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Preserve, protect and defend --
TRUMP: Preserve, protect and defend --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the Constitution of the United States.
TRUMP: -- the Constitution of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So help me God.
TRUMP: So help me God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: "The New York Times" reports that in the months before former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stepped down she became increasingly worried about Russia`s continued activity during and after last year`s midterm elections.
She, "tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election. President Trump`s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the President. In a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House acting chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of maligned Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. Mulvaney said it wasn`t a great subject and should be kept below his level."
Today Mulvaney told NBC News and we quote, "I don`t recall anything along those lines happening in any meeting and that the White House has," broadened efforts to combat meddling."
Nielsen does appear to have vindicated her concerns about the White House and Russian interference during a Senate hearing over a year ago.
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SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH, (D) NEW MEXICO: Would it help if the President were to simply acknowledge that this happened in 2016?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY: Yes, sir. I think he has said that it`s happened. What his line that he`s drawing is that no votes were changed. That doesn`t mean there`s not a threat, it doesn`t mean we don`t need to do more to prepare.
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WILLIAMS: Earlier this year the heads of the nation six major intelligence agencies delivered their own warnings about the ongoing cyber threat to our elections.
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DAN COATS, DIR. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests. We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each others experiences and efforts in previous election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You may recall that at the time President Trump berated the Intel chiefs for their risk assessments, he cast doubt on their judgment that Russia interfered in our 2016 election even before he won and he continued to do so of course while in office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It could be Russia, but it also could be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.
I think it was Russia, but I think we also got hacked by other countries and other people.
I won`t be specific, but I think a lot of people interfere.
I believe that President Putin really feels and he feels strongly that he did not meddle in our election.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Special Counsel Mueller`s report is definitive when it comes to finding that Russia did intervene in our election. Mueller`s team found that Russia`s disinformation campaign used social media throughout 2016 to publish, "an increasing number of materials supporting the Trump campaign and opposing the Clinton campaign and promoted pro-Trump rallies that included three in New York, a series of pro-Trump rallies in Florida in august 2016 and a series of pro-Trump rallies in October 2016 in Pennsylvania.
Russia also target, "individuals and entities involved in the administration of the elections, state boards of elections, secretaries of state and county governments as well as individuals who worked for those entities as well as private technology firms responsible for election related software and hardware, such as voter registration software and electronic polling stations." That passage should get everyone`s attention.
Today in an op-ed for "The Washington Post" Hillary Clinton called for hearings on Mueller`s finding and a 9/11-style commission to figure out how to guard against future cyber attacks on our elections, if it`s not too late, "This is necessary because the President of the United States has proved himself unwilling to defend our nation from a clear and present danger."
Just this evening we learned that Attorney General William Barr scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Mueller`s report a week from today.
Meanwhile, Trump has been trying to defend himself from what he sees as an effort to remove him from office. This morning he wrote, "If the partisan Dems try to impeach I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court." Not quite sure how that works. He also criticized House Democrats who are pushing for hearings.
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TRUMP: I have been the most transparent President and administration in the history of our country by far. The Democrats are trying to win 2020. They`re not going to win with the people that I see, and they`re not going to win against me. The only way they can look out is by constantly going after me on nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Joining us for our lead off discussion on this Wednesday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House reporter for "The Washington Post." Clint Watts, former FBI Special Agent, former member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, he`s also a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Happens to have written a book on this subject, "Messing with the Enemy, Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News." And Frank Figliuzzi joins us, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.
Ashley, I`d like to begin with you on the upside of your Donald Trump you finally have at least an acting chief of staff who`s going to allow you be you in this job even though this team is playing with House money and ignoring the rigor of protecting and defending elections.
ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That`s true, and this is the President`s third chief of staff and he`s sort of accepted the idea that you cannot control this President, and he is going to do what he`s going to do. And that`s why we`re seeing President Trump.
What`s interesting is that people thought when the Mueller report finally came out and it was ultimately an embarrassing result for the President but a positive one in that he wasn`t facing any criminal liability. We might see a President who could finally move on after this two year cloud had hung over his presidency, and be a bit more relaxed and kind of unwind and focus on the campaign or focus on governing. But letting Trump be Trump means truly letting this President be this President. And this is a President who is never going to really want to discuss Russian interference because he believes it undermines the legitimacy of his victory.
This is a President who`s always going to want to be combative and have a political opponent. And a President who is still sort of going to be angry and vindictive and tweeting and doing all the things we`re seeing him do now that he did these two years before when it could sort of be chalked up to the Mueller investigation.
WILLIAMS: Clint Watts as of airtime tonight we still live in a free and open society. This broadcast is going out and available for all to see around the planet. Is this nothing less than a -- an out loud advertisement to our adversaries, come on in, nothing is going to stop you?
CLINT WATTS, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes. Part of the reason the Russians haven`t stopped since 2016 is because there has been nothing put in place to stop them since 2016. We`ve done some election security initiative, it is now where it needs to be. I know the Department of Homeland Security is trying to get there. They`re receiving literally no help from the White House as we see today.
It`s been extremely disjointed. And what we may not realize is the Mueller report is a blueprint on how to interfere in the United States. It told you exactly how to go at our elections. It tells you exactly how to do social media inputs (ph). And it also tells you how to compromise a presidential campaign.
We now have dozens of democratic presidential campaigns. Do we know their systems are protected? Have we gone out and made sure that they`re not being hacked into? What`s our policy around data dumps? Have we notified them if a mysterious person is offering dirt and wants to do a meeting with them inside one of their office buildings? How do we prevent these compromises?
All of this would have been logical to pursue immediately after the 2016 election. But because the President won`t acknowledge it, because he won`t take the step to say despite what you might think of the outcome, this is important to our country, we have been in this hover for now three years, going on three years trying to figure out how we move past this.
WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi, I want to read you something from the Atlantic about Donald Trump, "His silence on election interference isn`t just a matter of messaging. It has policy effects as well. Trump has treated the Department of Homeland Security which has wide ranging and essential duties as effectively just an immigration and border agency. Trump sees tough border policy as a political winner. He sees Russian interference, meanwhile, as a political loser and challenging it as a personal affront. Suddenly he`s not so interested in his sacred duty to protect the country."
Frank, I`d like to think of myself as a patriot, not an alarmist. And I`m wondering from you, do you think he`s been faithful to his oath? And when people say, "thank God and God forbid our nation hasn`t been attacked," is the correct answer we`re under ongoing rolling attack right now?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Look, the President is not faithfully executing the duties of his offices. His number one priority is to protect this nation and our democracy.
And today`s reporting seems to indicate that now we know why there`s so much inaction as Clint talked about. Why we`ve all been scratching our heads if you`re in this line of work saying not enough is being done and why is that, and now we know. So, people like Mick Mulvaney have choice to make. They can either choose to protect this nation or they can either choose to protect this President. But they can`t do both because now the two things are mutually exclusive.
And similarly with Secretary Nielsen, she`s got a choice to make. She can either remain silent and become an accomplice in the next attack on our election process or she can speak out in a moral imperative and explain exactly what went on in this administration and what should be done and what`s not being done.
Imagine this, imagine if our nation confirmed that ISIS was practicing and had successfully placed bombs, a key infrastructure points, bridges and tunnels around the country and our President didn`t want to hear about it, our President didn`t want to do anything about it. We`d be screaming from the rooftops. We`d be screaming about a national security threat.
Well, the Russians have practiced, rehearsed and succeeded in attacking local, county state election processes. Getting into the manufacturers of election machinery, right? And that`s an attack on our democracy. That`s an attack on the credibility of our elections. Bridges and tunnels can be repaired if they`re blown up, but if you damage our elections and credibility in them, you`re damaging our democracy and it may not be easily repaired and this President doesn`t want to hear it.
WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, when Robert Costa had his phone call returned by the President earlier this week, as he said on the air here, he hung up and then got texts from staff members inside the West Wing wanting to know what the boss had just said, in effect wanting to know what their policy was going to be going forward. Based on your reporting what must it be like in that West Wing?
PARKER: It`s exactly that. You talk to people in the West Wing and frankly you talk to people in the campaign and there is a sense that they can plan policies, they can write speeches, they can have an infrastructure week planned. They can have a direction. They are rowing and -- but at the end of the day everything will be dictated and dominated by the President, by his tweets, by what he says when he`s walking up to Marine One. By what he says when he returns the call of my colleague Bob Costa, and that they all ultimately just have to readjust, scramble, rally around that and row in his direction.
So on the one hand you ask what it`s like, and it`s sort of incredibly tenuous and frantic and uncertain, but they`ve also been living with this uncertainty for two years now, and it has become a bit of the norm and a bit routine, and they have sort of accepted it. And I don`t want to say it is blase but it is certainly standard operating procedure and it just sort of a day in the life that they are okay with at this point.
WILLIAMS: Clint, I also want to play yet again a clip we should probably play everyday from the senior advisor to the President. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, SR. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The whole thing`s just a big distraction for the country. When you look at, you know, what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent indurative, it`s a terrible thing. But I think the investigations and all the speculation that`s happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So here`s what the journalist Seth Abramson said on Twitter "The President`s son-in-law said today that Bob Mueller, a U.S. law enforcement officer, has caused more damage to America than Vladimir Putin who tried to rig a U.S. presidential election, and that`s not front page news everywhere in America right now because I guess nothing matters." Do you concur?
WATTS: Yes. It`s odd coming from Jared Kushner who is the guy that beyond the Facebook ads stumbled into a meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower. So it`s curious that he wants to minimize something that ensnared him.
I think it`s also just reflective of the White House attitude, just like we heard in "The New York Times" story about you can`t talk about Russia in the White House. Well, clearly if you don`t take it serious and you minimize the scope of it and how serious the American public takes it, how can we not defend against this?
What we`ve seen consistently over the last two to three years whether it`s Jared Kushner and Saudi Arabia or it`s the White House, they have played to authoritarians. They`ve played to strong men at the detriment of other Americans. They`ve gone after the FBI, they`ve gone after all of our institutions. And one way or another this is not defending democracy, this is the Trump administration and Trump`s son-in-law going and defending their interests wherever it might be around the world.
They only support those Americans that either give them votes or give them dollars to line their pockets. And they have never gone to protect all Americans until America First becomes all Americans first, we`re going to be in a desperate time in this country.
WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi, we try not to scare folks too much. It`s 11:17 here on the East Coast. But as they head off to bed in your view how vulnerable is our next presidential election?
FIGLIUZZI: So let me answer that question by saying something odd. I`m going to say that I actually agree with something the President said, and it was in the clip that you played and it shows us the danger we`re facing. The President said in that clip "it could be China, it could be Russia, it could be some guy sitting in his bed." And you know what? He`s right.
And it will be, each of those entities and more of those entities if we don`t do something right now and stop inviting the world from hackers, individual hackers to nation states to terrorist organizations. We stop sending the signal that we`re okay and open for attack. That has to start right now. That`s the danger we`re facing as we face -- as we head into the next election.
We`ll eventually have secret service protection physically for the major Democratic candidates in the election, but who`s going to protect them from the cyber threat? Who`s going to protect us when we try to go and vote in our local precincts in November?
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to our big three for starting us off on a Wednesday night, to Ashley Parker, to Clint Watts and to Frank Figliuzzi. We really appreciate it.
And coming up for us, the whole world is watching, so is our next guest, our second of four Pulitzer Prize winners in the course of just this hour tonight. Nick Kristof for "The New York Times."
And later we`ll uncover another star of the Mueller report who`s back in the news tonight just 12 days before he becomes a federal prisoner. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Wednesday night.
WILLIAMS: We`re back with more from "The New York Times" reporting today on how some in the Trump administration tried to go around the President to keep Russians from interfering in future elections. According to "The Times" Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen "grew so frustrated with White House reluctant to convene top level officials to come up with a government wide strategy that she twice pulled together her own meetings of Cabinet secretaries and agency heads. But the Department was stymied by the White House`s refusal to discuss it."
A reminder from the Mueller report on just how invested Russia was in the outcome of our election, "At approximately 2:40 a.m. November 9, 2016, news reports stated that candidate Clinton had called president-elect Trump to concede." This part of the report is redacted but presumably someone close to Russia "wrote to a Putin ally Kirill Dmitriev, Putin has won."
The Atlantic sums up Trump`s reaction or inaction this way, "At the moment Trump is declining to protect the United States from foreign interference in its elections because it`s politically inconvenient and personally irritating to him."
We`re happy to say that back with us tonight is Nick Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The New York Times." From time to time I just ask you what you make of the world. I heard your colleague Mr. Krugman say on CNN last night "if this doesn`t scare the hell out of you, you`re not paying attention." Do you concur?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, THE NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED COLUMNIST: Absolutely. And, you know, after 9/11 we understood the threat from terrorism. We convene the 9/11 commission, we explored ways to explore our infrastructure.
The attack on the election in 2016 was somewhat parallel. We don`t have any kind of commission like that and in fact we`re not trying to learn any lessons from that experience, and of course it wasn`t even a one off. It didn`t just happen in the U.S., something similar may have happened with Brexit. So from the point of view of Russians, the Chinese, other players, this is phenomenal way to get leverage to bring about change, to bring about results you want and great division abroad.
And so of course they`ll be trying again and they`ll have a new technologies to do so, you know, including things like deep fake videos which will -- it`ll be really hard to discern what`s real and what isn`t. We`ll see things with our eyes that will appear that a given candidate is taking money or is in some kind of sexual situation, and that will appear real to us but it may simply be a deep fake.
WILLIAMS: And remind me, I want to do a segment here on that, whole new area of frightening technology. The scary part to so many people is elections are local entities, they`re local undertakings. If you`re the commissioner of elections in Lake County, Ohio, and you see numbers that don`t make sense to you, what are you to do if it turns out that the Russians have reached into your local organization?
KRISTOF: And one of the problems is that as you say elections are locally run, the system is so decentralized that -- on the one hand that makes it little more difficult to manipulate elections from abroad. But it means that the local people who are managing this, they don`t have intelligence clearances. They don`t know what the threats are.
And, you know, I mean, I think that one thing we will look back on and to think that this was kind of shameful was the Congressional leader`s refusal in September of 2016 to transmit a threat to tell the country as the intelligence leaders wanted that there was this threat to the 2016 election. And the GOP leaders refused and, you know, that threat was carried out.
And we in journalism, you know, we talk a lot about the Russians manipulation of Facebook, et cetera. I mean, the most important manipulation of the 2016 election was the theft of those Democratic e-mails that then used those of us in the media --
KRISTOF: -- as Russian assets to transmit that information, manipulate voters, and --
WILLIAMS: And pass along stolen goods.
KRISTOF: And pass along stolen goods. And, you know, will we do the same with deep fake videos? There -- I don`t know what the answers are, but we have to work through our own responsibilities as journalists to the country.
WILLIAMS: One of the reasons we have you on is to scare the hell out of everybody watching, so in that vein thank you for coming on, Nick Kristof..
KRISTOF: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Thank you as always. Always a treat to have Nicholas Kristof here with us in New York.
Coming up when we continue, tonight there is another new recording of Michael Cohen talking about Donald Trump and hush money payments. This time he wasn`t the one doing the recording, more on that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Trump`s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is back in the news specifically about the guilty plea he agreed to with the feds, and hang on for this one. The Wall Street Journal obtained audio of a phone call as one does between Cohen and actor Tom Arnold, an outspoken critic of the President recorded March 25th of this year.
The Journal reports Cohen was not aware he was being recorded. Cohen is heard saying he`s innocent of tax evasion and of understanding his debt in an application for a home equity line of credit.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP`S FORMER LAWYER: I lost my business, I lost, you know, everything, my insurance, my bank accounts, all for what? All for what? Because Trump, you know, had an affair with a porn star. That`s really what this is about. There`s no tax evasion. And the HELOC? I have an 18% loan to value on my home.
TOM ARNOLD, ACTOR: Right.
COHEN: How could there be a HELOC issue?
ARNOLD: That`s right, that`s right.
ARNOLD: That`s absolutely right.
COHEN: It`s a lie.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: I said understanding, understating the value of his home. The White House has denied allegations that Trump has had an affair, we should point that out. The Journal also reports, "Cohen said he pleaded guilty to the charges in August because they had me on campaign finance and prosecutors were targeting his wife."
As part of our series "Uncovered", we`re diving deep into portions of the Mueller report which have not received a whole lot of news coverage. And we`re focusing tonight on Cohen. After the FBI searched his home and office a year ago according to Mueller, after the searches Trump called Cohen and told him to hang in there and stay strong. Cohen said he also heard from individuals who were in touch with the President.
The report reads this way. "Cohen recalled that redacted, a friend of the President`s reached out to say he was with the boss in Mar-a-Lago and the president had said he loves you and not to worry. Cohen recalled that redacted for the Trump Organization told him the boss loves you. And Cohen said that redacted, a friend of the President`s told him everyone knows the boss has your back.
With that we bring in Emily Jane Fox, National Correspondent for Vanity Fair. Also happens to be the Author of, "Born Trump: Inside America`s First Family."
Emily Jane Fox, what have we learned here other than number one if (inaudible) comes to you and says, "No, I have better dialogue than the real team, tell him he`s crazy." And number two if Tom Arnold calls you, just assume that anything you say could end up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
EMILY JANE FOX, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: This story to me really felt like Trump administration madness gone array. It just had every little piece of the Trump story that we watched played out over the last three years.
What I think was important today was, first of all, in this world that you never who is recording your phone calls or someone is, I spoke to Tom Arnold earlier today and he said, basically he did it to try and help Cohen. I thought that this would be helpful to have his own words out there and his truth in his own words because Cohen has been, other than his public testimony in front of Congress, relatively silent especially about the charges against him.
WILLIAMS: And Tom Arnold is the arbiter of what should be made public or not?
FOX: That`s what he chose to do with this conversation.
FOX: But he made clear that he believed he was doing this without Cohen`s knowledge of the recording. And from all my reporting on this, Cohen did not know that he was being recorded and many of the things that he said were actually in the sentencing memo that his attorney, his former attorney, Guy Petrillo, had filed in December of last year.
And so that he was not going back on his guilty plea. These were arguments that he had made in an initial sentencing memo. They just happen to not get a tremendous amount of attention at the time.
WILLIAMS: In covering Michael Cohen, you have discussed on this broadcast his fear for his family members. I believe his wife was the book keeper of the small law firm. We`ve also seen Michael Cohen`s family publicly threatened over social media. So he had grounds for that fear.
Fox: Sure. And I think that that was actually one of the most interesting parts of the Mueller report for me as someone who was looking very closely at the Cohen portion of it.
What Robert Mueller and the Special Council`s Office laid out was the obstruction of justice or alleged obstruction of justice that was happening in plain sight. So as you read earlier the President was sending these messages through friends to him to stay strong, but publicly he was calling Cohen a rat and saying that his members of his family should be investigated and looked into.
And so those pieces of the Mueller report were particularly interesting to me because Mueller gave credence to Cohen`s fear and said we understand why this could look like potential witness tampering or potential obstruction of justice. It was just happening in plain sight.
WILLIAMS: Is it fair to say, and this calls I guess for a judgment on his state of mind, that Michael Cohen as he prepares 12 days from now to enter the federal prison system, expected to be viewed as a more heroic figure than he is viewed as today?
FOX: I don`t know what he expected. I think this is someone who has spent -- since he pleaded guilty or since the summer has spent a tremendous amount of time with investigators both in the Special Counsel`s Office and the Southern District of New York, New York Attorney General`s Office and in Congress cooperating with investigators in a number of different investigations.
His testimony has led to investigations of many others including the Trump Organization, members of the Trump family. His testimony led to I think upwards of 80 people being asked for documents for different Congressional committees. So I think he believed that his cooperation would be considered. But as you said in 12 days due to report and the Southern District of New York has not made a move to limit his sentence.
WILLIAMS: Emily Jane Fox, thank you for always sharing your reporting with us on this broadcast.
FOX: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Appreciate it.
Coming up for us, during times like these, it helps to hear from a couple of Pulitzer Prize winning writers. We happen to have a pair of them standing by. We`ll talk about that man when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We just went through the Mueller witch-hunt where you had really 18 angry Democrats that hate President Trump. They hate him with a passion. They were contributors in many cases to Hillary Clinton. Hate him with a passion. How they picked this panel I don`t know. And they came up with no collusion, and they actually also came up with no obstruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: President Trump or as he calls himself President Trump, seems to have a love-hate relationship with the Mueller report. As our friend Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote today, "In Mr. Trump`s world there is a fine line between victor and victim." He adds, "Even when Trump is on top he lapses into anger and resentment convinced that he has been unfairly treated and wanting to strike back."
It`s a subject worthy of not one but two Pulitzer Prize recipients, Eugene Robinson, Columnist for the Washington Post and Jon Meacham, Author, Presidential Historian and now we learn country music enthusiast if not necktie enthusiast. He`s gone and co-authored a book with Tim McGraw called "Song of the America: Patriotism, Protest and the Music that Made a Nation." It comes out on June 11th no doubt followed by Jon`s next book on June 12th. Gentlemen, welcome to you both.
And, Jon, I will begin with you despite you being out of uniform for this broadcast.
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, sir.
WILLIAMS: We have learned after the fact that presidents have wallowed in self-pity, if not wallowed in Watergate. We have learned that they have eaten their young and lashed out against their enemies through the capable eyes and hands of historians like you. Seldom in realtime are we treated to as Mr. Baker put it, victim and victor often in the same sentence?
MEACHAM: It`s another example of how President Trump is the most vivid manifestation of many of our least attractive forces, right? He`s that in a broad political sense, and in this case one of the darker and more disorienting possibilities of presidential temperament.
As you say, you know, Lyndon Johnson talked about -- Teddy White writing about Johnson, talked about the politician`s optic, how they could read a story and it would be 90% positive and the eyes would go to the 10%. I`m sure columnists never get this reaction.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: No, never.
MEACHAM: Words leaping off the page. President Nixon would get it on the tapes but that was later as you say.
This is -- part of the Trump era is that is this realtime of -- it`s like the old comic books where you wore the x-ray glasses and you see everything. He tells Lester Holt he wants to stop the investigation. He talks about how he wants to, I mean, oneself aware thing he has ever said is can you imagine how terrible I`d be if I drank?
You know, that was sort of the one thing that was self-aware as opposed to self-pity. And self-pity is in many ways as much a part, seems to me, of the human jet fuel here that runs him his ambition.
ROBINSON: And a big chunk of the self-pity I think is that, is his notion, his internalized notion that just talking about Russia meddling in our election process diminishes his electoral victory, the biggest greatest electoral victory in the history of elections, according to President Trump, which it wasn`t. But it was an electoral victory.
Nonetheless he thinks it makes it illegitimate and that people are trying to take that away or take a part of that away from him. And he says that. You know, apparently that`s -- you can`t bring up the subject of Russian meddling in his presence.
WILLIAMS: I want to put this tweet on the screen while we have this conversation. I was going to add Beschloss and I have both listened to all of the Johnson phone recordings at the library, and you hear this in his voice but late at night not for posterity but he thought was in the confines of a phone call. "Will I ever be given credit for anything?"
Jon, I`ll word this carefully. I`ve had a former president indicate to me that once you`re briefed about the nuclear submarines it dawns on you, you have the job.
WILLIAMS: And all that comes with it.
MEACHAM: Even George H. W. Bush who was vice president of the United States for eight year and held all those jobs told his diary in January 1989 when he`s preparing to become president, that the magnitude of it was only then sinking in right after that briefing. So there`s the guy who had been there through the Reagan assassination.
ROBINSON: The head of the CIA.
WILLIAMS: Yes, he was the keeper of the secrets.
MEACHAM: But they really walk through, they walk you through it and here`s this man, you know, that point 62 years old, 64 years old, was saying -- realizing that this is what he had to do.
Self-pity is fine. Henry V suffered from self-pity the night before the Agincourt speech, you know, we --
WILLIAMS: Which we all remember.
MEACHAM: We view, we have to view the "Band of Brothers." He talks about what have kings that privates have not too, say ceremony (inaudible). He has a self-pitying moment in the dark and then he goes out and he rallies the troops. That`s what you want from a president.
MEACHAM: It`s fine. This --
WILLIAMS: Don`t show us your homework.
MEACHAM: You know, you`re right, kick the dog. Don`t --
WILLIAMS: No dogs were harmed.
MEACHAM: Sorry, sorry/.
WILLIAMS: Eugene, we`re coming to you after the break. Both of our guests have agreed to stick around, more on the President on the defensive. Again, no animals were harmed during the course of THE 11TH HOUR tonight or any night. We`ll be right back.
WILLIAMS: Back with our bonus round where we double the points during this segment for our contestant Eugene Robinson and Jon Meacham. Eugene, one point I`ve been harping on this week and I want to get you on record, the Mueller report comes out. It`s nothing but texture and tonnage, and footnotes and data points.
WILLIAMS: It`s countered by no obstruction and no collusion. The simplest branding and it`s not a fair fight. What do Democrats do in your view and how to handle this topic of possible impeachment?
ROBINSON: You know, I`ve told various people in the Obama White House at various times that they should get -- they should start a department of pity phrases, you know. They should because Republicans in general have been much better at that than Democrats have been, and Donald Trump is brilliant at branding. That`s what he does.
WILLIAMS: Coal is now clean. I don`t know if you heard. Clean coal.
ROBINSON: Yes, right, right. That he does very well and consciously, and, you know, he sort of market tests it with his friends and he knows what he`s doing. Democrats need to get -- they need to raise their game at exploiting things in concise and simple, and impactful ways. And that`s kind of not the Democratic Party for the last something years. They`re just not great at that.
And it`s a, you know, it`s to their detriment. They would win more elections and they would have more impact if they could do that. Explain thing, you know, things in a way that people really understand. Donald Trump patented the trademark, the phrase "Make America Great Again" I think back in 2012 --
WILLIAMS: Yes, along with (inaudible) and Jeb Bush.
ROBINSON: with something -- you know, it was years ago.
MEACHAM: Well, you know, it was the Reagan -- I have a poster in my office, let`s -- the Reagan 1980 poster was "Let`s Make America Great Again", "let`s" is different. And if you read Bill Clinton`s announcement speech in Little Rock, Arkansas --
WILLIAMS: No one`s in there.
MEACHAM: 1991, "It`s Time to Make America Great Again." But, you know, what Trump meant of course by that was "Let`s Make America 1956 Again."
ROBINSON: Make America white again.
WILLIAMS: With a free hat.
WILLIAMS: And I`m not reducing the future of the Republic down to a marketing phrase but you see my point, the inequity.
MEACHAM: Well, I would argue. I would argue that it`s a slightly different with my colleague and say that Republican or Democrat, the great leaders have been pity. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Ask not what your country can do for you, what you can do for your country.
I totally agree with you about President Obama. It`s interesting. The most -- one of the most elegant presidents with language and yet there aren`t many sound bites. Tear down this wall.
MEACHAM: (Inaudible) Empire. Whatever -- whether you agree or disagree with these great political rhetoric is often briefed, but, you know, it worked in the bible, so we shouldn`t be snooty about it.
WILLIAMS: Eugene, one way of thinking about it the best newspaper column in the world if no one is reading because there was no headline to bring people in.
WILLIAMS: No Pulitzer.
ROBINSON: No caller, right? I mean, that`s -- no, that`s right. I mean, you know, as Jon said, let`s not be snooty about it. Let`s be effective.
ROBINSON: There`s a tradition of short pity ways of phrasing important things and --
MEACHAM: There is a way. There is a way where you can be anti-electoral, you can also be anti-simplicity which is just as fatal sometimes.
ROBINSON: Right. Now, tomorrow I should note will mark one week since the Mueller report came out. It seems like months, one week.
MEACHAM: I had a moment on Sunday, Easter Sunday, sitting in church being startled when the rector said of course when Notre Dame was on fire this week.
MEACHAM: And I thought, wait?
WILLIAMS: It`s the compression of time and space. That`s why these two gentlemen each have a Pulitzer Prize. And our thanks to our friends Eugene Robinson and Jon Meacham, always come back.
Coming up, the ranks of the Republican Party decreasing by one just today. We`re back with that story after this.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is about two Republicans from Iowa, both very different men. The first is one of the best known Iowans these days for all the wrong reasons.
Congressman Steve King whose comments on race and white nationalism earned him a rebuke by the House of Representatives where he was stripped of his committee assignments.
At a town hall meeting in Iowa yesterday, King has gone and said he, this Easter season, has a better insight into what Jesus went through for us following his treatment by his fellow members of Congress or as he called them the accusers. The bigger question for King is whether his Iowa constituents are going to keep sending him back to Congress. It is normally through committee assignments that members of Congress take care of their districts.
The other Iowa Republican in the news is no longer a Republican as of tonight. The longest serving Republican legislator in Iowa, State Rep Andy McKean says he has made the very difficult decision to leave the party and become a Democrat. He spent roughly 50 years in the GOP, in the Legislature for half of that.
He said during a press conference that unacceptable behavior should be called out for what it is and Americans of all parties should insist on something far better in the leader of their country and the free world. He added, "If this is the new normal I want no part of it." McKean`s constituents get to decide whether to return him to office as a Democrat in 2020.
That for us is our broadcast for a Wednesday night. Thank you so much for being here with us. Goodnight 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