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Trump escalates campaign to defend himself. TRANSCRIPT: 4/25/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Annie Karni, Alexi McCammond, Matthew Flegenheimer

ELIZABETH DREW, POLITICAL JOURNALIST:  It is said by some because it only went through the House and the Senate didn`t take it up.  But it took a chunk out of Clinton.  It`s quite clear that Trump does not want to be impeached, and at least you`d have the record that Congress didn`t sit around and do nothing. Then it`s up to Republicans to explain why they are protecting this man in office when he clearly has abused power, which is what impeachment is about.  It`s not about the crimes on the books.  The Founders made that very clear.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Yes.  It`s not -- impeachment is not just a political risk for Democrats is absolutely a political risk for Republicans in trying to mock that defense.

DREW:  That`s right.

O`DONNELL:  Elizabeth Drew, thank you for joining us and we really appreciate it.  Thank you very much.

DREW:  Thank you.

O`DONNELL:  And "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight in rambling telephone call with Sean Hannity, President Trump repeats his mantra, no collusion, no obstruction, then goes on to reargue the case against Hillary and Obama and Mueller, even Beto O`Rourke`s crowd size.

Joe Biden makes it official today on video for starters and a fundraiser tonight but he`s going after Trump head on and there is reporting tonight he is the Democrat Trump fears the most.

And the news of the $2 million ransom from North Korea in exchange for Otto Warmbier.  Plus, what Putin says he will tell Trump after his meeting with Kim Jong-un.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 826 of this Trump administration.  The President remains knee- deep in his campaign to strike back against the findings of the Mueller report, and to shake off the Democrats` efforts to investigate his White House.  Here briefly is some of what he told Sean Hannity tonight on Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There was like a one- sided witch hunt as I called it.  And, you know, Bob Mueller, I turned him down to run the FBI the next day he was appointed to be the head of this special counsel.

Thirty-five million dollar spent and unlimited manpower, woman power and there is nothing, nothing.  And it was a very bad two years for this country but the nice part is as far as Trump is concerned and the Trump administration, there is no collusion and there is no obstruction.


WILLIAMS:  In the weeks since Mueller`s findings were released and just been a week today.  The President has maintained his campaign to reframe the damaging revelations about his behavior.  This is just some of what he has written to us over the past seven days.

And today, sent this out about his former White House counsel who House Democrats would very much like to talk to and we quote, "I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller even though I had the legal right to do so.  If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn`t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself."

That, of course, directly contradicts a detailed account in the Mueller report, more on that ahead.  The White House of course is trying to block McGahn from telling House Democrats what he told the Feds in nearly 30 hours of testimony.  McGahn did not respond to Trump on Thursday but "The Washington Post" reports it this way, "some Trump advisors said privately Thursday that they fear Trump`s ire could eventually prompt McGahn to speak to protect his reputation potentially creating a wave of new challenges for the White House."

Politico reports tonight that Trumps daily focus on this Mueller report and his inability to move on it is starting to worrisome of the President`s allies.  They want Trump to, "stick to playing up Mueller`s conclusion that his campaign did not engage in a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government.  One former Trump campaign official described the President`s post-Mueller volley as a complete and utter disaster."

A former White House official told Politico he needs to channel frozen, "He needs to let it go.  It`s especially not helpful to him but he just can`t help himself."

Trump is taking on House Democrats in the midst of all this running a legal blockade to resist their subpoenas and other request they try to scrutinize his administration.  He gave a hint about his battle strategy during this exchange right after the midterm elections.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you expect that when the Democrats take over the chairmanship of these important committees, you`ll get hit with a blizzard of subpoenas on everything from the Russia investigation --

TRUMP:  Well, then everything is going to come.  OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- to your cellphone use, to your tax returns?

TRUMP:  Ready?  Then you`re going to -- if that happens, then we`re going to do the same thing and government comes to a halt.  And I would blame them.

If they do that, then it`s just -- all it is a war-like posture.


WILLIAMS:  Again, "The Washington Post" tonight putting it this way, "Trump`s decision not to cooperate with House committees coupled with reluctance from Republicans in control of the Senate to cross him has left Congress struggling to assert it self-as a co-equal branch of government.`

They go on to quote a one-time administration official saying, "America`s general scorn toward Congress, I think that`s widely shared in the West Wing."

"The New York Times" reports Trump`s resistance, "sets the stage for open war fair with House Democrats heading into the 2020 election.  By essentially forcing Democrats to keep filing lawsuits to try to enforce their subpoenas, Mr. Trump will be fighting what he can portray as Presidential harassment."

As Trump tries to shape public opinion about his treatment by Congress and the special counsel, some observers are taking a closer look at Mueller`s conclusions in the document.  In a "Times" op-ed, Fordham University law professor, Jed Shugerman, says that even with redactions, "the report offers substantial and credible information of the Trump campaign conspiring or coordinating with the Russian government."

And Fox News Legal Analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, offered this today on the subject of obstruction and to repeat what you`re about to see is from Fox News.


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYS:  When the President asked Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager to get Mueller fired, that`s obstruction of justice.  When the President asked his then White House counsel to get Mueller fired and lie about it, that`s obstruction of justice.

Ordering them to break federal law to save him from the consequences of his own behavior, that is immoral.  That is criminal.  That is defenseless, and that is condemnable.


WILLIAMS:  Here for our lead off discussion on a Thursday night, in New York with us this evening, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times."  By the way, Peter`s book "Obama the Call of History" has just been released with material including a forward by our friend, the presidential historian, John Mechem.  Down in D.C., Annie Karni, White House Reporter with "The New York Times."  And Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. Attorney and Senior FBI official, we welcome all three of you.

Peter, because home field advantage is an advantage, we`ll start with you here in New York tonight.  For seven days exactly, I`ve been talking about the tonnage disparity, 400 plus pages, all the detail, rich with detail, footnotes, granularity versus the President`s quick comeback, it as if however, judging from his behavior and his talking points that the tonnage is starting to seep in to the landscape a little bit.

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, you seen of course a very significant shift in his message, right?  Originally he was claiming total exoneration.


BAKER:  Now he`s claiming total hit job.  He`s kind of views back and forth between these two aspects of report.  It`s a classic Trump world, you know, situation here where there is a thin line between victor and victim, right?  He expresses grievance at the same time, he`s claiming that he`s been vindicated.  And it`s a kind of confusing message, I think, for a lot of voters.

Is he in fact, cleared by this report or is in fact this is an unfair hit job on him, that he`s not really very clear with his own voters who are looking for him to give them a clue to what to think about him.

WILLIAMS:  Chuck Rosenberg, let`s talk about the legal battle ahead and to do that, I want to do a dramatic reading from the writing of Robert Costa.  Let`s put this up on the screen.

"In conversations today with several Trump advisors, it was clear that Trump is the one driving this stand off with Congress.  No whisperer as one put it, just a man alone eyeing the T.V., urging everyone from Cipollone to Giuliani to take a hard line."

Chuck, how does this end?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes, great question, Brian.  I don`t think it ends well for the Congress or for the President or frankly for the American public.  This is ugly.  It untoward.  Frankly, it`s jarring.

You know, all presidents and all Congress`s, right, have tensions, they fight.  They argue.  But the way we normally get through that is through accommodation.  And there does not seem to be any room for accommodation here.

The President is drawing a very hard line in the sand.  He`s making absolutely no sense except for the fact that Congress doesn`t seem at least so far to find a way through the thick that he has planted.  And for me, frankly, I`m a creature of the courts.  I understand the legal process.  I understand the rule of law and justice system.  I would love to see the President of the United States answer for the things he did in a court of law.  In Congress, it looks very different.  It`s messy.

WILLIAMS:  Annie Karni, tonight`s live phone conversation interview with Sean Hannity was interesting.  During it, the President reminded Sean Hannity I could have fired everyone.  Could have fired Mueller at all.  Is it more proof of the point we were talking about with Peter that at least the people around him are reading into the granularity of the charges in this report?

ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  I think this is just Trump being Trump and I mean it`s not a good legal argument that he could have fired Mueller.  It`s not helping his case. I think it is more proof that he is -- I mean, it`s always been he`s driving the show there but he`s surrounded now in particular by a group of aids who are just letting Trump be Trump and not even trying to guide him one way or the other.  He`s reacting to coverage more than reacting to the report.  I think that`s why he switched from victor to victim.

And he`s trying to pick a fight with Congress, which in some ways is where he feels most comfortable, fighting back with subpoenas, creating a cloud of lawsuits that will slow down everything that`s coming.  This is what he`s always done.  So he`s being himself.

That comment about, "I could have fired Mueller" is as people have pointed out that`s true, he could fire anyone he wants but not if there is a particular cause which there appears to be.  So it wasn`t a good valid argument for him to make on national television.

WILLIAMS:  Chuck, back over to you for second.  Some of what Ashley Parker has written tonight in "The Washington Post," "Trump`s efforts to enlist Corey Lewandowski as a back channel to try to curtail the probes, detailed in 10 pages of Mueller`s 448 page report provides a new window into how far the President went in trying to hold back the special counsel.  The episode, which discomfited even some of Trump`s most loyal advisors was read by some legal observers as one of the clearest cases laid out in Mueller`s report of potential obstruction of justice by the President."

But Chuck, I`m not being snide, what do we do with information like this?  It`s been the question really for the past seven days after all of that was served up to us by the special counsel.

ROSENBERG:  Right.  We`re still digesting it and it`s not clear what we do.  I mean, as voters, we`ll have an opportunity to do something with it in 2020.  The Congress has the Constitutional authority to do something with it right now.  And quite frankly, every sitting president becomes a former president and so conceivably, former president can be charged while a sitting president cannot, Brian.

You know, I think there is a useful exercise here.  If you were to read volume 2 of the report, the part that`s about obstruction and take out the name Trump and take out the title president and substitute any other name and title in its place, you would have somebody already in handcuffs.  It is such a compelling case for obstruction.

I was a federal prosecutor for a long time.  I brought obstruction cases.  I brought them with much less evidence than this.  I understand that Mueller can`t charge him and therefore I understand that Mueller can`t recommend charging him, but people ought to read volume two to see what the President of the United States tried to do.

WILLIAMS:  Annie Karni, back over to the Hill for a second.  It is very clear that Mitch McConnell is earning the admiration of this President by among other things, running a factor assembly line for federal judge nominees as they`re getting distributed to their jobs on the bench across the country at roles big and small.  But aside from that, what of the Trump agenda, we`re back into this daily routine.

Here is a news flash.  It`s said from inside the White House, there is no one to disagree with the President and his thoughts are dominated by live television coverage.


KARNI:  Sorry, I`m back.  Sorry.

And there`s no one to deal within Congress, sorry, I didn`t catch the end of your question.

WILLIAMS:  No, there`s no one to reign in the President`s behavior in the White House yet again we`re told the same narrative, there is no one to disagree with him, no one to bump up against and his thoughts were dominated by what he sees here on live cable news coverage.

KARNI:  That`s right.  And one -- Mitch McConnell does have some influence on the President I`ve been told in terms of his nominees for instance, there is issues right now with his nominee for the Federal Reserve, Steven Moore.  Mitch McConnell if he counted his votes and saw that he couldn`t get six, he saw six noes for him, Trump would listen to him and possibly withdraw that nomination in a way he doesn`t listen to anyone else.

But in terms of the Mueller report, we haven`t seen a lot of Republicans at all in the Hill pushing back or saying we need to hear more or there is anything of concern here.  We`ve heard very, you know, Mitt Romney maybe is one but we`ve not heard a lot of Republicans.  There has been a lot of silence on their part.  So they are the party of Trump and they are not looking to raise red flags about what`s in this report that some people like Chuck are saying is a clear case of the obstruction of justice outline.

WILLIAMS:  Peter Baker, because you have written the story of various presidents and because I do come for you for the big thought during interviews like this one, a very sober-minded person said to me tonight that our country has been destabilized, that our President remains under investigation and that the whole world is watching.  Is that an over statement in any way?

BAKER:  No I don`t think it`s an overstatement at all.  I think this is a test of democracy.  What is the right answer here?  And we`ve been through this before, but every time we go through an impeachment battle, we rewrite the rules for the next time.  What is the president we`re setting here?

Let just say for the sake of argument the impeachment for this.  We`re setting a bar at which we have said, this is a line beyond which we don`t think a president should cross.  If we don`t impeach him, we`re also setting a bar.  We`re saying it`s OK to do the things that he has done because they don`t cross a line.  That the something that will ripple out through years and years to come for future presidency.  If he wasn`t impeached for that, therefore I can do this.

And I think that`s one of the things Democrats are struggling with, right?  The practicality of the politics, they don`t have the votes to win an impeachment fight.  And yet, there is a consequence if in fact they believe, as some of them do, that, you know, crimes have been committed here or at least allegations of crimes are worth looking at.

WILLIAMS:  So this may call for a judgment on your part.  Do you think the middle ground that is most attractive to Pelosi at all are hearings that are impeachment hearings except in title?

BAKER:  Yes, it looks like an impeachment hearing, smells like an impeachment hearing, sounds like an impeachment hearing they just don`t use the word impeachment, right?  And so they explore these issues, they have hearings, they call Don McGahn and others to testify, they call Robert Mueller to testify, and they may not take a vote at the end of the process but they have explored these issues and put them out there for the voters to look at.  We`re heading into an election year after all and they`ll say, "OK, fine, we`re not going to decide it but the voters have to decide it.  Maybe that`s what we do, a quasi impeachment.

WILLIAMS:  Can`t thank our big three enough for starting us off tonight, to Peter Baker, to Annie Karni, to Chuck Rosenberg, our thanks for being on.

Coming up for us, as day one of the Joe Biden campaign comes to a close now, new reporting tonight on why Donald Trump sees Biden as his biggest potential threat among the Democrats, if that`s to be believed.

And later, an attempt by the President to rewrite history as of 7:47 this morning as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Thursday night.



JOE BIDEN, (D) 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I believe history will look back on four years of this President and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time, but if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and watch that happen.

The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America, America is at stake.  That`s why today I`m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.


WILLIAMS:  Well, as you heard there, Joe Biden is in.  His videotape announcement was a direct attack on the President as one "New York Times" reporter put it earlier today, "Biden is running as the national emergency candidate as he sees it."

And he`s unmistakably running as the guy who can beat Donald Trump, not that his road will be easy.  For starters, he`s the front runner early.  That`s traditionally not the place you want to be and starting along and punishing journey.  He`s a white male in his 70s and a party that has shifted away from all those things of late.  That makes the primary campaign tough.

He also has a vast legislative past of close to half a century and while people change over the course of a lifetime, it`s a lot to defend nonetheless.  Biden`s campaign launch video focused on the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville almost two years ago now and the President`s response to it, it weighed heavily on his decision to run.

Our own John Allen sums up Biden`s campaign strategy this way, "Hope and change were luxuries of the past.  Joe Biden is running on fear."

Biden received a warm welcome to the race from the incumbent President as you might have seen, "Welcome to the race sleepy Joe.  I only hope you have the intelligence long in doubt to wage a successful primary campaign.  It will be nasty.  You will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick and demented ideas, but if you make it, I will see you at the starting gate."

Tonight with Sean Hannity, the President added this.


TRUMP:  I think that, you know, when you look at Joe, I`ve known Joe over the years.  He`s not the brightest light bulb in the group, I don`t think, but he has a name that they know.


WILLIAMS:  Earlier in the day, Biden brushed off the President`s insults.


MIKE MEMOLI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Mr. Vice President, do you have a message for President Trump?  He welcomed you in the race and questioned if you have the intelligence to be the President of the United States.

BIDEN:  Everybody knows Donald Trump.


WILLIAMS:  Here for more tonight, Mike Memoli, NBC News National Political Reporter who spent the day on the road with Joe Biden.  Matthew Flegenheimer, Political Reporter for "The New York Times."  And Alexi McCammond, Politics Reporter for Axios.  Sorry, my mouth took the night off without letting me know.


WILLIAMS:  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Mike, you covered Joe Biden the last campaign.  You`re just back.  Thanks to you and Amtrak for getting here tonight.  What`s different this time around?

MEMOLI:  Well, you know what was interesting?  I think there was a lot of talk about the suspense of Joe Biden decision.  How long it took him to enter the race.

I think if it was up to Joe Biden, he would have waited even longer to get in.  There is a number of reasons his team of advisors have said this has to be the time.  But you can see there when I asked him the question about the President`s comments, whether he wanted to engage, you can see the wheels turning and there was something we don`t often associate perhaps with Joe Biden, which was a little bit of restraint there.

He wanted to engage.  I think he is ordinarily inclined to do so.  But what he recognizes and what his campaign team is trying to impress upon him is that stay above the fray.  The higher the stakes, the better you`re going to do.  The message to Democrats is, get on my back, I`m the guy -- I`m the person who can beat this guy and forget about the policy discussions, forget about everything else.  This is about ending this national emergency and defeating him at the ballot box."

WILLIAMS:  And Matt, talk about his choice to lead with Charlottesville.

MATTHEW FLEGENHEIMER, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER:  It was clearly to your point a way to put Trump in his cross hairs early on.  Obviously other candidates are running very aspirational visions of their own and very affirmative policy ideas and certainly talk about Trump very negatively but not as the center piece of their campaign.

This is him saying, in that sort of above the fray away, "I`m the candidate to beat Donald Trump next fall.  I`m the candidate with the sort of gravitas in history to fill this role.

And Charlottesville is as low of a moment both sort of in polling crustily and for a lot of Democrats in these two years under Trump.  And I think that sort of visual reaction that people have had to, it is something he was trying to channel in the video.

WILLIAMS:  Alexi, I have a dramatic reading for you from Politico about Trump`s insults against Biden today, "Trump`s insults were actually masking respect and genuine concern about Biden`s potential to win, his advisers say.  As early as last fall, Trump was talking privately with aides about the threat Biden posed, "How would we beat Biden" he would ask.  When reassured that the moderate Biden would never defeat several of his more liberal rivals, Trump pushed back, "But what if he does?"

And Alexi, that`s the question to you.  When you think of the Democratic Party, the P word comes into play for the progressive wing, the kind of new left the young left, how do we process it all as of tonight?

MCCAMMOND:  Well, there are a couple things I`d like to say about that.  One, I think that President Trump as with most people you attack what you fear and it`s clear by the people that he`s attacked in the 2020 Democratic primary filed that he fears Joe Biden certainly by the way he talked about him today.  And Senator Elizabeth Warren because I think if my knowledge is correct, she`s the only other candidate who he has tweet attacked in this race so far.

Joe Biden`s age as you mentioned is certainly something that people questioned.  When I talked to voters, especially swing voters around the country and particularly in rural areas in the Midwest, age doesn`t seem to be a factor with these folks.  They mostly say to me and Axios that they want someone who is transparent, who is honest, who they think is predictable and who they think can return the country to a sense of normalcy that they don`t necessarily feel under Donald Trump.  And I think that, ultimately, is what could really help Joe Biden.

People think he might be predictable because they know what he was like as vice president, whereas with President Trump, a lot of folks took a chance on him after voting for Obama in `12 and `08 and then voted for President Trump and now they`re sort of seeing what that unpredictable presidency looks like.  And they want more of a sense of normalcy and that might be why Joe Biden is appealing to some folks now despite him not being the most expressive candidate in the field.

WILLIAMS:  Alexi, a quick question from out of nowhere, the President wrapping up his interview with Hannity tonight referred to Kamala Harris as having a nasty whit.  Can you imagine him saying that about a male candidate?

MCCAMMOND:  I certainly could not.  The only other time I could think about him using the word nasty was in the 2016 election with Hillary, which obviously became a rallying cry for feminist and women, folks in the Democratic Party.

It`s interesting, though, that he uses sleepy with folks named Joe, Joe Donnelly, Joe Mnuchin, Joe Biden, I`m not sure where that comes from.  Maybe it`s just his affinity with the word sleepy and Joe, but I wouldn`t expect him to use the word nasty with someone like a man and we haven`t seen him do that does far.

WILLIAMS:  And this is where we are in 2019, cataloging and categorizing insults.  Our guests and not against their will have agreed to stay with us over the break.

And coming up, one thing this Obama-Biden Democrat was missing on day one of his run for the White House.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I just wanted to ask you quickly.  If you are the best choice for the Democrats in 2020, why didn`t President Obama endorse you?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I asked President Obama not to endorse and he doesn`t want to -- whoever wins this nomination should win it on merits.


WILLIAMS:  So that`s interesting right there.  And we`re back talking about Joe Biden and all things related with Mike Memoli, Matthew Flegenheimer and Alexi McCammond.

So Mr. Memoli, that was interesting.  I`ve heard a lot of our colleagues on cable news tonight say do we really believe that?  He`s running as an Obama-Biden Democrat in what some will label at an attempt at Obama`s third term in effect.  Talk about that moment.

MIKE MEMOLI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, as Chuck Todd like to say, Joe Biden has a new first name for this campaign, it`s Obama- Biden.  What`s interesting though, in conversations with Obama advisers in the last few days, I actually was interested in whether he was going to weigh in at all, because he hasn`t with any other candidate entering this field.

And so, simply the fact that they put out a statement at all, reminding everyone that in the inherently act of selecting somebody to run as your running mate is saying that this person is qualified to be president, to talk about the close personal relationship that they still have is not an endorsement but certainly a signal to Democratic voters that I have this guy`s back still.

The other part of this is, I think Joe Biden, he may not have said to the former president, I don`t want your endorsement but I don`t think he would have asked for an endorsement knowing as he does that the President was probably not going to offer it anyway.  That he knows what the President`s advisors were saying today is true, that he feels that he actually benefited from that very tough 2008 primary against Clinton.  It made him a better candidate and it made him a better president.

And so, there`s that, very that element of needing to prove it to the voters and to the country that you can go through the grind of this campaign, it will make you better for it.

WILLIAMS:  Alexi, Joe Biden has lived a long life and a lot of it in public life.  He has sadly lived long enough to bury two children.  We have seen him at the political peaks and valleys in our country.  One particularly pungent chapter of his life was the Anita Hill hearing.  His phone call with Anita Hill prior to getting in this race apparently left her less than satisfied.  Talk about how all the aspects of a almost half century-long legislative life will have to get kind of mixed together and assessed from a 2019 standpoint.

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS:  You know, that`s going to be the fascinating and potentially challenging thing for Joe Biden as he explores his run for president in this 2020 election.  I mean, he had 20 something years to call Anita Hill and apologize to her and he called her days or maybe weeks before he decided to launch this campaign for the White House.

WILLIAMS:  Great point.

MCCAMMOND:  And, you know, I think that just looks like it is very politically motivated and not motivated from a genuine place of, you know, moral authority.  As Anita Hill said in that article with the New York Times, she wasn`t satisfied with his apology because she thinks that he needs to express perhaps more regret to the American public in general.

I mean, especially the Me Too era, we`re in a totally time in which women and people no matter your gender are expecting different types of behavior from people especially folks who are seeking public office.  They want to know that you are genuine in everything you do and you`re genuinely sorry for the things you have done in the past.

Because he`s lived such a long life as you have just mentioned, he has this sort of opportunity to say, "Look 40 years ago, 20 years ago, I was a different man.  It was a different time.  I thought about things differently.

People are allowed to evolve certainly.  I am encouraging and I think a lot of people with the encouraging, folks really learning and listening, and trying to understand the ways in which the world and society has changed over time and adapt their own views in that way.  And I think Biden could really come out in a way and sort of express that.  But in his -- so he`s politically calculated, it seems apology to Anita Hill, that`s not just not what folks are looking for.

And the bottom line again, you might want someone who is compassionate or transparent, but you want someone who has authentic and you want someone in 2019 who is going to own up authentically to the things that they have done and show that they are not going to make those same mistakes moving forward when 2020 might look totally different in society than it does in 2019 and it will in 2022 and 2024.

You need someone who is going to listen and learn, and educated themselves and be willing to evolve.  But voters might not be forgiving of that.  We saw the ways in which Hillary Clinton was dragged in 2016 because he stance is on various issues had evolved over time.  And people simply weren`t willing to accept that because they like Bernie Sanders consistency.

So it remains to be seen how upset people will be, but the fact that this is coming out on the first day he announced his campaign I think will prove to be a problem for him until he really addresses it.

WILLIAMS:  And, Matt, let`s talk about the primaries.  We know the crowd the Republican Primary brings out, we know the crowd that the Democratic Primary brings out.  His theory of the case is "I`m your guy to beat this guy" but primary voters may not agree with that.

MATTHEW FLEGENHEIMER, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  And his theory of the case as well is that, they electorate is much less sort of stringently progressive than you might believe watching cable news or being on Twitter.  That there is a wide swath of the electorate like him that sort of sees this as a national emergency, sees somebody like Joe Biden as kind of a stabilizing force to sort of right the ship is not necessarily as fired up about, sort of sweeping the logical changes is not necessarily somebody who wants to see him care for all and some of the progressive policies that have been put forth by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, others in the field.

It`s a much more sort of down the middle, not just interest in policy but there`s interest on the sort of temperaments and the moment that we`re in making the case that this is kind of a stable force that you can kind of attach yourself to, to take on Donald Trump in fall of 2020.

WILLIAMS:  Luckily, as we like to say around here, we`re just getting started.  A reminder to all, it is eight months until the first primary but no excuse for not talking about this stuff tonight.  So Mike Memoli, to Alexi McCammond, to Matthew Flegenheimer, our thanks for helping us do that this evening.

MCCAMMOND:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us, on the price North Korea put on the life of a young American hostage named Otto Warmbier and the bigger price for dealing with the North Korean regime when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  Today we learned the US envoy responsible for bringing Otto Warmbier back home from North Korea was handed a $2 million medical bill for the college student`s care, while remember he was being held in a labor camp.

According to the Washington Post, North Korean officials gave American diplomat Joseph Yun the bill insisting he agree to pay before they would release the comatose Warmbier.  Yun reportedly contacted former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who then spoke with the President.  Paper said Trump agreed and the bill went to the State Department.

Warmbier was flown out of North Korea again, in a coma on June 13 of 2017.  He died six days later in this country.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the report and responded with quote, "We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration."  Warmbier`s father told the Post he was not aware of this payment but it sounded like a ransom payment for his late son, unclear if a payment was ever in fact made.

To talk about it with us tonight, a Sue Mi Terry back on the broadcast, a Senior Fellow for the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  She`s also a former Senior Analyst at CIA, was in- charge of this part of the world while on the White House National Security Council to top it off.  She returned from the Peninsula just this morning.

Sue Mi, we won`t keep you.  We`re very happy to be able to ask you a few questions.  How should we think about this potential ransom payment?

SUE MI TERRY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES:  Well, this is extraordinarily brazen even for North Korea since they returned Otto in a comatose state and essentially killed him.  But, of course, it`s not surprising at all because North Korea does not do anything for free.  So it`s not surprising several years ago, I think four year they`ve released Kenneth Bae, another American citizen.  They demanded $100,000 for his release.

Now, the question is whether President Trump paid this ransom and if he did, I think it is concerning because he has denied it.  Even as recently as last September, he had said that he didn`t have to pay anything, which means he has lied.  So, of course, we don`t know if he paid or not but it is considering if he did pay, you know, we just don`t know.

WILLIAMS:  I have to ask you about this week`s summit between Kim and Putin, both men our President is believed to widely admire.

TERRY:  Right.  Yes, they met.  This is all part of Kim Jong-un`s summit in diplomacy, now that there is an impasse with Washington.  What Kim is trying to get is a sanction relief primarily.  He just wants to loosen implementation of sanctions from countries like China and Russia.  But I don`t think anything substantive really came out of this meeting.  It was mostly symbolic, but it is all part of his effort to pressure Washington and trying to get some sort of sanction relief.

WILLIAMS:  And what can Putin gain from Kim?

TERRY:  Putin wants to just show that he is a player.  Russia always wants to be part of diplomacy and now that Kim has met with President Xi Jinping, how many times, four times, President Trump pretty wants to make sure he has -- he can influence what`s going on.

And I think now from Kim Jong-un`s perspective, the one country that`s left is Japan.  So we have to be look out and to see if Kim meets with Prime Minister Abe.  But again, this is Kim`s effort to try to get sanctions relief and to mobilize these countries and isolate United States, and pressure the Trump administration.

WILLIAMS:  And because we`re living in 2019 and everything in your world is upside down when Trump accepts Putin`s offer to call him and brief him on the summit, how much diplomacy does that overturn?

TERRY:  I don`t know how much diplomacy it overturns.  I mean, it pretty ridiculous seeing, but, you know, this is where we are.  And North Korea and the United States is at an impasse in the aftermath of the failure of the Hanoi Summit, and we`re not really getting anywhere with North Korea.  And, you know, I don`t see any kind of progress in the coming months. 

WILLIAMS:  Sue Mi Terry who is never been scared by a little jet lag, thank you so much for coming on tonight.

TERRY:  Thank you for having me on.

WILLIAMS:  I don`t know what time it is for you right now.  We appreciate you joining us from Chicago.

TERRY:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, tonight`s "Uncovered" segment has more on the man from the Mueller report who was clearly been on the President`s mind this week.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump started his day trying to deny, as we said, a key portion of the Mueller report, writing, "As has been incorrectly reported by the fake news media, I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so.  If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn`t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself."

Well, as part of our series of reports, "Uncovered," going back over what has not been widely covered from deep inside the Mueller report, we are focussing tonight on the portions that detail Trump`s efforts to remove the Special Counsel.

In the report, McGahn testified the President called him twice, mid-June of 2017.  McGahn said both times, Trump directed him to call Rod Rosenstein and tell him Mueller was conflicted and could not serve as Special Counsel.  And here now is how the report explains it and we quote.

"When the President called McGahn a second time to follow-up on the order to call the Justice-- Department of Justice, McGahn recalled that the President was more direct, saying something like, "Call Rod.  Tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can`t be the special counsel."  McGahn recalled the President telling him "Mueller has to go and call me back when you do it."  McGahn understood the President to be saying the Special Counsel had to be removed by Rosenstein."

McGahn, of course, never followed through on that and in fact the report says he wanted to resign but ended up staying on the job.  Well, fast forward January 25th of 2018.  That`s the day the New York Times reported that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire Mueller.

Mueller`s team writes that Trump was upset over the newspaper story and brought it up during a February 6th meeting.  "McGahn recalled the President said, "I never said to fire Mueller.  I never said fire.  This story doesn`t look good.  You need to correct this.  You`re the White House Counsel."

In response, McGahn acknowledged he had not told the President directly that he planned to resign but that the story was otherwise accurate.  The President asked McGahn, "Did I say the word fire?"  McGahn responded, "What you said is call Rod Rosenstein, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can`t be the Special Counsel."  The President responded "I never said that."  The President said he merely wanted McGahn to raise the conflicts issue with Rosenstein and leave it to him to decide what to do.

McGahn told the President he did not understand the conversation that way and heard instead had heard, "Call rod, there are conflicts.  Mueller has to go."  The President asked McGahn whether he would do a correction and McGahn said no.  McGahn thought the President was testing his mettle to see how committed McGahn was to what happened.

We should further point out a critical single sentence in this Mueller report.  It says the following.  It says, "McGahn is a credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate, given the position he held in the White House."

As we get in another break here tonight.  Coming up, what we learned all over again just today about the echo chamber we sometimes inhabit around here.  That when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight are some pretty important findings about something that certainly affects our life and work around here, and that`s Twitter.  Something we know but we tend to forget with regularity is that Twitter is used by somewhere around 1/4 to 1/3 of the US social media age population, and something we know but tend to forget with regularity is this.

It punches way above its weight in terms of its heft.  The influence it has on our news media, on our politics, on the national conversation.  We now know even more about the influence of Twitter thanks to some hard numbers from our friends at the Pew Research Center.  The numbers show us, "Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated and have higher incomes than US adults overall."  It goes on, "Twitter users are somewhat more likely to say that immigrants strengthen rather than weaken the country and to see evidence of racial and gender- based inequalities in society."

The study shows that Twitter as a society is very top-down, "much of the content posted by Americans on Twitter reflects a small number of authors.  The 10% of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80% of all tweets created by US users."

And because just about every conversation ends up here, let`s get to Donald Trump.  While most days he seems like the loudest voice in all of social media, he has just under 60 million Twitter followers.  That puts him just behind Kim Kardashian, but interestingly, it does not put him in the top ten.  Here they are, led by Katy Perry, Barack Obama and Justin Bieber.

And with that list of the top 10, that is our broadcast here tonight for this Thursday evening.  Thank you for being here with us.  Goodnight from NBC News Headquarters in New York.

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