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New questions about deputy AG Rosenstein. TRANSCRIPT: 4/26/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Josh Gerstein, Susan Page, Nelson Cunningham, Nancy Cook

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  -- but she left us her diary and she left us her strength.  And those of us who lived ling enough know that 18 months is not too long of a time to have to wait for a castle in the air.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight from "The Washington Post," questions about what exactly Rod Rosenstein has been up to behind the scenes including a tearful moment at the White House and a pledge to Trump that he, "Land the plane," meaning, the Mueller investigation.

Plus, a truly ominous report tonight in "The New York Times."  Every American should be scared by this.  Here is just the headline, "Russian hackers gained access to at least one Florida elections network, but which one?"

And Joe Biden`s decidedly mixed campaign rollout his leading in terms of money raised, his lagging in terms of his ability to apologize for a past lack of sensitivity as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  This was day 827 of the Trump administration.  And as we, as we like to say come on the air this Friday night we have two major stories from two of this nation`s great newspapers that lead us to two big questions that we will take on in order tonight.

One, just who is Rod Rosenstein, other than a man in a critically important job and what has he been doing exactly behind the scenes?  Second question, did the Russians change any election results in our country in the last presidential election?  We`ll get to both of those.

The President for his part today stayed on the attack, railing against the Mueller report.  As you know he is alternated between claiming that he`s been exonerated, while also slamming the report and promising retribution.  Today in the friendly confines of the National Rifle Association, he framed the work of Mueller`s team as an attempt to remove him ultimately from office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They tried for a coup, didn`t work out so well.  And I didn`t need a gun for that one, did I?

Corruption at the highest level, a disgrace, spying, surveillance, trying for an overthrow and we caught them, we caught them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  This morning before leaving the White House he attacked Democrats efforts to bring in witnesses and hold hearings and again denied one of the key conclusions in the report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller.  If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself, it`s very simple.  I have the right to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well you let Dan McGahn testify?

TRUMP:  I let White House Counsel McGahn testify.  I let everybody testify.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I`m talking about Congress, Mr. President, Congress.

TRUMP:  And wait a minute.  Wait, wait.  With all of this, with all of this, with all of this transparency, we finish with no collusion, no obstruction, right?  Then I get out the first day they`re saying, "Let`s do it again," and I said "that`s enough, we have to run a country.  We have a very great country to run."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Congress will in fact hear testimony this coming week from Trump`s handpick Attorney General William Barr who has come under fire for his handling of Mueller`s findings.

The Judiciary Committees from both chambers will question Barr about the report Wednesday and Thursday of next week.  And that brings us to the Deputy Attorney General that Barr inherited, the man who he gave us the Mueller investigation, one, Rod Rosenstein.   And the question is about him tonight, like how savvy an inside player is he really?

This career federal prosecutor, Harvard Law graduate, his first internship was for Massachusetts U.S. attorney named Robert Mueller.  This man who the President has privately derided as Mr. Peepers, has he been currying the favor of the President all along to keep his job?

Here is what raises all these questions tonight.  "The Washington Post," late today, detailed that Rosenstein reportedly told Trump something certain in order to remain in charge of the investigation.  The "Post" focuses on the fallout, in the wake of this explosive article from "The New York Times."

You recall it September 2018 we reported on it widely at the time. It said that after the 2017 firing of James Comey, Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire to secretly record the President.  And he talked about the 25th Amendment.  "The Post" now says after that Rosenstein was called on the carpet and he was forced to explain himself to a furious White House and was reportedly teary eyed in a meeting with then Chief of Staff, John Kelly.

On a subsequent phone call with Trump he sought to "assure the President that he was on his team and that he would make sure Trump was treated fairly."  "I give the investigation credibility," Rosenstein said, in the words of one administration official offering their own characterization of the call.  "I can land the plane."  that made us stop and remember where we heard that phrase.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I`m landing the plane right now.  And, you know, I`ve been willing to discuss my letters and the process going forward.  And I`m not going to get into the details of the process until the plane is on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Now, back to the Justice Department which will admit can sound at times more like an airport quoting again from "The Washington Post," "On multiple occasions, Rosenstein told Trump he was not a target of the Mueller`s investigation."  That`s important because we know that hearing that was critical to this President.

Now, to the story, tonight`s downright scary story in "The New York Times" it`s about our last presidential election.  "The Times" focuses on the likelihood that Russian hackers obtained access to at least one Florida election system in 2016 even though state officials had originally believed no computers had been compromised.

The Mueller report says, "the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU, that`s Russian Military Intelligence, to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government."

Well, again, under this headline, "Russian hackers gained access to at least one Florida elections network, but which one?"  "The Times" in fresh reporting tonight reports, "The Florida Secretary of State`s Office in Tallahassee said it had been unable to learn which county it was."  Florida`s governor is set to meet with the FBI in coming weeks.

Today the FBI director was asked about the Russia threat and the security of our next election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR:  The fairly aggressive campaign that we saw in 2016 and it`s describe in the special council`s report and that has continued pretty much invaded (ph), it`s pretty much a 365 days a year threat and that has absolutely continued.

We recognize that our adversaries are going to keep adapting and up in their game.  And so, we`re very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show 2020.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Given that, here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night, we are joined by Susan Page, Veteran of Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today who just notably became the biographer of former First Lady Barbara Bush.  The book in "New York Times" bestseller is called "The Matriarch."  Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor for Politico.  And  Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and Pentagon, former Chief Counsel for the House Intelligence Committee.

Jeremy, I`d like to begin with you given tonight`s news.  We saw today, you have the President alleging he has been the victim of a failed coup in this country, and you can`t help but view this story against that backdrop from "The Times" tonight lands with a thug.  The story about a hacked election system in the State of Florida, given your background in the Intel business, how do you view this story?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Very concerning, Brian, I think we have all have been worried about the hacking of voting machines.  But what the story suggests is that actually is the potential for hacking the vote tabulation systems.  Where the votes are tallied and how the results are displaced.

And of course in Florida in 2016 I think the spread between Trump and Clinton was just a little over 100,000 votes, which is not a lot in a state as large as Florida.  And of course given enough large number of electoral votes there, a single hack of a single county voting tabulation system could make the difference.

WILLIAMS:  Josh, people are going to be concerned and uneasy reading stories like these and they should be.  Can you reassure the folks watching tonight that the good people in government will work awfully hard to investigate this to run it down and steam off the next one 2020?

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, no, I can`t really assure people of that and that`s because there seems to be some tension between the two things that you mentioned, Brian.  I mean, we have investigation that seems to have been fairly thorough by the FBI to get to the bottom of what the Russians were up to in 2016, but the question about applying that going forward has run into a couple obstacles.  One is, there seem to be some election officials who don`t take this very seriously or think that they can solve this problem on their own even if they represent a small Florida county.

And the other problem is that there seems to be some reluctant in some quarters of the federal government to share the details about what the FBI has discovered with the people on the ground who could fix it.  There`s always some tension there and it seems like there`s a bit of a standoff at the moment where folks are concerned that if they reveal the details of what`s the FBI discovered, maybe it would expose some sources in intelligence methods.  But if they don`t tell those specific people involved, they may not be able to get folks to get serious about fixing this for next time.

WILLIAMS:  Susan, we can all agree, even sober witnesses of what`s been going on for the past two years that all things Russia have been a hallmark of this administration.  The odd carve out at every turn for Russia, the incessant lying about Russia.  Talk about this time story tonight, Susan, as a kind of mega trigger of stories about legitimacy.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Yes.  You know, that is one reason that we think President Trump hasn`t taken the response that other presidents might have taken to the continuing disclosures about Russia`s efforts, successful efforts in some cases to meddle in the election that put him in the White House.

And to Josh`s points about the things that have created hurdles to addressing this seriously, one would be the response in the White House, the President`s denial at some points to believing in his own Intelligence Services conclusions.  And refer you to kind of master a nationwide response to an assault on the most fundamental aspect of our democracy which would be free and fair elections that are not affected by foreign meddling, that -- put that maybe at the top.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, let`s turn the corner into the other newspaper story we`re covering tonight and that`s about Mr. Rosenstein.  We heard during the Attorney General`s performance in public that the American people and not the President are supposed to be the client of the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, and the DOJ.  Do you think this raises legitimate questions as to who Rosenstein saw himself working for?

BASH:  Well, I think Mr. Rosenstein has bought himself an invitation to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, which I think appropriately, Brian, should look at the role of the Department of Justice leadership in bringing the Mueller report into the department, in summarizing it in holding that press conference as well as the revelations in tonight`s "Post" story about reassuring the target of the investigation, that he`s going to be OK, that he`s going to land the plane.

Look, I think if Rod Rosenstein had said anything to the target of the investigation, the President, or I should say the subject of the investigation, to be more precise, he should have said "Mr. President, I cannot discuss this investigation with you.  The appropriate way to discuss this with the Department of Justice is in Bob Mueller`s witness chair."

WILLIAMS:  And Josh, does this just add to the patina of questions and dirt surrounding what should have been the fair dealing of administration of this investigation?

GERSTEIN:  Well, I mean, I think that the charitable interpretation and, frankly, the prevailing wisdom among many current and former Justice Department officials I`ve spoken to was that Rod Rosenstein was engaged in tight rope walk here.  That he was trying to keep the investigation going forward without some kind of cataclysms of additional firings from the White House.  Some kind of conflagration that would be, not only bad for the President, but bad for the country and bad for the Justice Department, and that he had managed that pretty well.

What is puzzling is that some of his -- what might appear from the outside to be kind of seek a fancy towards the White House doesn`t seem to have tapered overtime.  A lot of folks thought as Rod was preparing to leave the Justice Department, you begin to hear fewer sort of implausible phrases praising the White House or praising the President as someone who is committed to the rule of law.  And yet, that rhetoric has continued right up through the last few weeks through last night, actually.  And so, that`s what is leading, I should say, many people to have sort of reconsideration -- reevaluation of maybe they were too generous to Rosenstein in their assessments of how he was handling this.

WILLIAMS:  Susan Page, tomorrow night where you live everyone gets to dialed up and goes to the White House Correspondents` Dinner, and extending a first, this President continues not to attend.  He is in fact and instead holding a counter rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin tomorrow night.  Here`s a guy who was alleging a failed coup today as we said on the friendly confines of the NRA.  He could say it strikes me, just about anything tomorrow night, Susan.

PAGE:  He could and he may.  And of course, presidents -- previous presidents have chosen not to attend the White House Correspondents` Dinner.  There is no crime in that.

What President Trump has done this time that is different from any previous president is instruct all of his officials to, in effect, boycott the dinner.  And you know, this is just, I think, one more step in the kind of deterioration of the kind of the -- some of the norms that kept the capitol afloat.  You know it`s not that that it`s so great to have dinner with somebody, but it is a sign of respect for the role of the institution of the press and the democracy.  We don`t hear much about that from this administration.

WILLIAMS:  Susan, if memory serves, the dinner begins with a toast to the president of the United States, whether he is present or not, is that still the case, do you remember?

PAGE:  You know, I think the dinner may close with a toast to the president.  And of course, that is a toast to the president to the -- and to the presidency.  So, I would assume that that would go forward as in the past.

WILLIAMS:  Something tells me the toast will not be returned in kind from Green Bay, Wisconsin, but we`ll see.  Plenty to talk about when we come back here on Monday.

Our thanks to our big threes starting us off on our Friday night after yet another consequential week.  To Susan Page, to Josh Gerstein, to Jeremy Bash, thank you folks for coming on.

And coming up for us, what the Mueller report had to say about Trump`s public statements.  The stuff we could see and hear about the possibility of pardons and their potential to obstruct justice.

And later, Joe Biden rates in millions on his first day in the race and stumbles over some obvious questions on day two.  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Friday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS:  Are you going to pardon Paul Manafort?

TRUMP:  I don`t talk about that now.  I don`t talk about that now.

I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad when you look at what`s going on there.  I think it`s a very sad day for our country.  He worked for me for a very short period of time, but, you know what, he happens to be a very good person.  And I think it`s very sad what they have done to Paul Manafort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That`s an example of what we`re now going to begin talking about at one point of order, Paul Manafort was chairman of the campaign.

Again, one of several instances sited, right there, in the Mueller report where President Trump stop short of ruling out a pardon for someone.  In this case, Paul Manafort.

Tonight, as part of our series, we`re calling it "uncovered," diving in to the parts of the Mueller report that haven`t received yet wide news media coverage.  We`re going to take a closer look at what the special counsel team had to say about Trump and whether he was trying to signal or convince Manafort not to cooperate with the government.

Manafort was found guilty in his Virginia trial August 21st last year.  He then pleaded guilty to charges in Washington D.C., both of them with the Feds.  He signed a plea agreement to cooperate with the Feds.  That agreement was later torn up after the Fed establish that Manafort had lied to them.

Here is a portion of what Mueller report says "there is evidence that the President`s actions had the potential to influence Manafort`s decision whether to cooperate with the government.  The President and the counsel made statements suggesting that a pardon was a possibility for Manafort, while also making it clear that the President did not want Manafort to flip and cooperate with the government."

Now we`ll add an aside here, the Mueller report also mentions this exchange between Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, "In January 2018, Manafort told Gates that he had talked to the President`s personal counsel, unidentified here, and they were "going to take care of us."  Manafort told Gates it was stupid to plead, saying that he had been in touch with the President`s personal counsel and repeating that they should sit tight and well be taken care off.  Gates asked Manafort outright if anyone mentioned pardons and Manafort said no one use that word."

A lot of that going on overly (ph).  For more of the pardon issue, let`s bring in Nelson Cunningham, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, also happens to be former Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Nelson, talk about the use, the dangling of pardons, which really only one person can do at the end of the day as a vehicle to potentially obstruct justice.

NELSON CUNNINGHAM, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Look, the President`s power to pardon is in the constitution, it`s absolute -- the Constitution places no limits on the Presidents power to pardon.  Other than that he may not pardon impeachments.  Other than that, it is a power which is rested in the president.

That does not mean, however, that the President cannot be called in to question in other form (ph) for the way he exercises that presidential pardon.  For example, let`s assume that somebody gave the President $2 million to pardon someone, does anyone not rationally think that that would not be a crime, and that would not be wrong to accept a bribe to offer to pardon somebody?

It`s precisely the role of the Congress to look at the conduct of the President, the exercise of his powers and to see whether the exercise of those powers constituted and overreach.  Clearly in this case it did.

WILLIAMS:  I want to read for you something else.  This is a little legal ease, folks at home get comfy and we`ll try to go slowly.  This is from the Mueller report.

"Many of the President`s acts directed at witnesses including discouragement of cooperation, i.e., don`t flip with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view.  While it may be more difficult to establish that public facing acts were motivated by a corrupt intent, the President`s power to influence actions, persons, and events is enhanced, and here comes the important part, by his unique ability to attract attention through use of mass communication.

And principle of law excludes public acts from the scope of obstruction statutes.  If the likely effect of the acts is to intimidate witnesses or alter their testimony, the justice system`s integrity is equally threatened."

Nelson, if acts of wrong doing are spoken in public, in real time, on Twitter while the helicopter awaits on the south lawn, is it any less and act of wrongdoing because the skullduggery is not behind close doors?

CUNNINGHAM:  No, the legal words you have read make that clear from Mueller.  But it`s Donald Trump`s MO.  The more brazen he is, the more overt he is in his conduct, the more that later on he says, "Well, but you saw what I did there, didn`t you?  I did it publicly."  That`s the way he lulls the system and the acquits (ph) to what he does.

Well, I made a talk about a pardon for Paul Manafort, but I did it on television.  The point is, did Paul Manafort hear it?  Did it shape Paul Manafort`s behavior?  And did Donald Trump say it intending to shape Donald Trump`s behavior -- Paul Manafort`s behavior?  And the answer is pretty clear, yes.

WILLIAMS:  Nelson Cunningham, this is exactly what we ask you to come on the air on a Friday night.  And as always, we thank you for doing so.  Greatly appreciate your time.

And coming up for us, now that he is officially running, Joe Biden is collecting campaign donations in a big way and making talk show appearances.  The results so far on both fronts decidedly mixed.  We`ll explain when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  I have to be everybody has to be much more aware of the private space of men and women, it`s not just remember primarily women.  And I am much more cognizant of that.

JOY BEHAR, THE VIEW CO-HOST:  Nancy Pelosi wants you to say I`m sorry that I invaded your space.

BIDEN:  I`m sorry I invaded your space. I`m sorry this happened, but I`m not sorry in the sense that I think I did anything that was intentionally designed to do any wrong or inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Former Vice President Joe Biden spent the better part of his first television interview as a presidential candidate answering for how he has been around women and how he has treated women in the past.  The host of "The View" where he was given a very warm reception this morning pressed Joe Biden to apologize to Anita Hill for how she was handled in 1991 her testimony during the Clarence Thomas testimony hearings.  But Biden refused to do that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:  I`m sorry she was treated the way she was treated.  I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done.  I did everything in my power to do what I thought was in my rules to be able to stop things.

BEHAR:  You know, I think what she wants you to say is I`m sorry for the way I treated you.  Not for the way you were treated.  I think that would be a little closer.

BIDEN:  But I`m sorry the way she got treated.  I never heard to say -- if you go back what I said and the nay, I don`t think I treated her badly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Joe Biden as we`ve reported recently called Anita Hill, a conversation she told Sheryl Gay Stolberg at "The New York Times" left her feeling deeply unsatisfied.

With us tonight, a take on this topic, Nancy Cook, White House reporter for POLITICO and Susan Page has kindly agreed to stick around for this conversation.

Susan, I like to begin with you.  John Harris reminded us yesterday Joe Biden`s political career is more year than John F. Kennedy was able to spend on the earth.  It`s been just about half a century.  It should also be noted Joe Biden spoke this morning in a soulful and emotional way about the loss he suffered in life that had him in tears, it had Megan McCain in tears and a good many people who watched.  But then there this question, about women and about Anita Hill.

And Susan, the question is if he doesn`t have a good answer on "The View."  On day one of his media campaign, when will he have a good answer?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  It could not possibly be a surprise that these issues were raised in this interview and by the way in just about every interview he`s going to do in the foreseeable future.

How could he not have a crisp, disciplined compelling response.  Instead he had a meandering one that left no one satisfied.  It was a kind of a sorry not sorry answer.  It use to passive voice.  The mistakes we made where is that is never a satisfying response.

This is -- he`s not put this issue to rest.  This is something he`s going to continue to face.  You know, we say his strength in this interview.  He can be compelling and authentic.  He can talk about the empathy from the grief that he suffered in his life, but he also needs to be able to answer these questions in a better way than he did today.

WILLIAMS:  And Nancy Cook, Biden shows to stress the Charlottesville issue as part of his announcement, and that struck a cord with a lot of people.  I think before saw all over again, that imagery inherited in his words, they`ve forgetting how dark that period was and how hurt they felt as citizens.

Then the president with some prodding from the news media chose to talk about the age, for the  record Trump is 72, Joe Biden is 76, here with all of that put together is the president on the White House lawn today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, how old is too old to be president?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES:  Well I think that I just feel like a young man, I`m so young.  I can`t believe it.  I`m the youngest person, I`m a young vibrant man.  I look at Joe, I don`t know about him.  I don`t know.

BIDEN:  Look, if he looks young and vibrant compared to me, I should probably go home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So Nancy, I guess we can take away from this that at least Joe Biden is getting under the skin of one Donald Trump very early.

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPOTER:  He is, and Joe Biden has actually been under the skin of President Trump even way before the midterms.  This is something as I have been talking to his political advisors and people in the White House, Biden is the Democrat that the Trump campaign, and the president himself, have been  most worried about for months.

They see him as someone who could easily cut into Donald Trump`s -- the part of the electoral map that was key to his success in 2016, so that`s rust belt states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  They see him as someone who can appeal to white working class voters who may got the huge part of the president`s base.

And they just see him as someone who has, you know, years of experience in governing which is something the President Trump has really had to learn on the job, that`s not something that he`s brought to the table.  And as we saw in this launch video that Biden put out the other.  Biden is going to be very aggressive by calling out some of the low moments of the Trump White House and that includes Charlottesville incident.  He went straight for that moment in called it out.  And that was pretty aggressive right out of the gate.

WILLIAMS:  Susan, I have so say that Trump may see Biden as the most likely to threaten his reelection.  There`s then the other messy matter of the 19 and counting other Democrats and the fact that we`re eight months away from the first primary.

PAGE:  You know, this won`t be a straight line.  Joe Biden will not be -- Joe Biden is a strong position now, strong in the polls, $6.3 million raised in the first 24 hours, that`s pretty impressive, but this is not going to be slide to the nomination, it never is and particularly with the field like this.

We have candidates who will make the opposite case that Joe Biden is making.  Joe Biden is emphasizing his experiences, his eight years as vice president.  Some of the other candidates can emphasize the fact that they have, in some cases, very detailed proposals for future problems to address where the party should go, needs to go, a more progressive party, a party that`s younger, more female, more diverse than it was the last time Joe Biden ran for president -- for the presidential nomination.  So, this was going to be a roller coaster.  We`re going to see other candidates emerge to challenge the two frontrunners we have now, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

WILLIAMS:  Nancy Cook, if I asked you to draw up a pie chart of energy output, how much White House energy is already by percentage being consumed by just the notion of 2020 looming out there?

COOK:  Well, I would say, you know, maybe 20 percent at this point.  I think when I talk to White House officials and political advisors last week they were very happy the Mueller report had finally came out because there was a sense that it was something that it was hanging over the president and now he would be able to really turn to 2020.

We have seen that that has not totally happened in the past week.  The president still seems very concerned by the Mueller report, the congressional investigations, all of the oversight investigation and the potential subpoenas of his former aides.  He`s very worried about that.

And so I don`t, you know, they`re definitely paying attention to 2020 and I think trump in particular is very focused on individual candidates who he sees as threats like Biden, but there is so much hanging over this White House at this point and the election as Susan said is very far away.

WILLIAMS:  Two terrific journalist covering politics to by lines everyone should always look for.  Nancy Cook and Susan Page, our thanks for joining us on a Friday night.

And coming up for us, Trump claims to know many generals who call Robert E. Lee their favorite among generals.  We happen to have a retired four-star general standing by to talk to us.  We`ll ask him among other subjects when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TRUMP:  We did not pay money for our great Otto, there was no money paid.  That was a fake news report that money was paid.  I haven`t paid money for any hostage, and I`ve gotten approximately, I think 20 or 21 out.  We don`t pay money for hostages.  The Otto case was very unusual case, but I just want to let you know, no money was paid for Otto.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That`s the President responding to this report, that North Korea in effects submitted a medical bill demanded $2 million before releasing the late Otto Warmbier from their custody.  Trump`s denial of payment began online this morning, 7:12 a.m. Eastern time to be exactly, his next post raised more questions than answers including who it is he is referring to, why the odd spelling of the mystery official`s title apparently on our payroll. "President Donald J. Trump is the greatest hostage negotiator that I know of in the history of the United States.  20 hostages, many in impossible circumstances have been released in the last two years.  No money was paid."  That`s according to the "Chief Hostage Negotiator, USA!"

We`re searching the federal payroll for that title.  For more on relations between the U.S. and North Korea an then some.

Let`s turn to retired four-star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran in Vietnam, former battlefield commander in the Persian Gulf, a former U.S. drug czar, who has serve on a four president, now an MSNBC military analyst.

General, let`s start with North Korea, does the ransom story sound plausible to you from the get-go?

BARRY MCCAFFREY, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Yes, my take on it is, by the way, (INAUDIBLE) understand North Korea is essentially a criminal regime.  I mean their embassy is sell counterfeit currency and sell drugs.  They assassinate their own family members and senior officials.

The survival of the family is all that`s going on in North Korea.  And in this case, I think they did present us with a $2 million bill, allegedly the U.S. envoy sent to get poor Otto Warmbier out.  They found him essentially unconscious and coma.  He had to sign a paper that we owe them $2 million to get them out of county.  I think that`s what happened.  Whether they subsequently paid it or not is less clear.  But it`s just underscores again the nonsense of talking about Kim Jong-un, somebody you`re in love with, someone that didn`t know about Warmbier condition, I mean this is just a fantasy way of understanding the North Korean regime.

WILLIAMS:  Well, imagine these two pals of our president, Kim and Putin, having their own summit this week.  I want to ask you what you think is going on there?  And is Kim just loving these days the relevance he craves.  He gets these pictures back home where the folks see him hanging out with these word leaders?

MCCAFFREY:  He`s pretty dong pretty with this.  He had four summits and frenzy of China.  He had three with President Moon of South Korea.  He had two with Mr. Trump.  He has continued to produce missile material for nuclear weapons, as many as 60 nuclear weapons now.  He continues to manufacture IRBM missiles and work on his prototype ICBM.  He`s doing pretty well.  We have get out of it?  Nothing.  I think the thing to be concern about is can he beat the economic sanctions?  Russia is a poor country.  They can`t do much to help them.  China is the key, what will China do.

WILLIAMS:  I have to get you to Robert E. Lee.  You heard the President today say that the generals he knows, and he indicated perhaps generals who award stationed or dispatched to the White House have talked about how Lee was their favorite.  I can`t help but call out your alma mater for maybe making a huge mistake yesterday when they unveiled a statute of Ulysses S. Grant.  Are we sure they didn`t choose the wrong general, general?

MCCAFFREY:  You know, General Stanley McCrystal wrote a very thoughtful op- ed, you probably read it several months ago, on why he no longer would have a picture of Robert E. Lee in his office.

WILLIAMS:  I did.

MCCAFFREY:  Obviously the guy who tactically was brilliant officer.  He prolonged the civil war, 800,000 dead, he was a slave owner.  He mistreated his slaves, he pursued fugitives slaves and he lost the war, thank god, primarily because of U.S. Grant and Sherman.

So, I think the bottom line is we should not honor Robert E. Lee.  We recognize he is worth studying from a military perspective.  And his individual sense no doubt he was an honorable man, but that war was all about slavery and he was the primary reason in many cases, laughing as long as it dead.

WILLIAMS:  General, stick with you just why we get in a break.  When we come back we`re going to talk to you about the somewhat uncomfortable role the U.S. military finds itself in along our southern border.  That when we come back.

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WILILAMS:  Welcome back.  There are reports the Pentagon is preparing to expand our military involvement along the southern border.  Here`s what we`re talking about.  The "Washington Post" has         obtained documents detailing a need for more of the following -- military lawyers, cooks, drivers, to help border patrols officials with the influx of migrants.  U.S. policy prohibits troops from interacting with migrants, as you may know, so special waivers would need to be approved for this and we`re fortunate to still have with us retired U.S. army four-star genera; Barry McCaffrey.

General, I mentioned the word uncomfortable before the break.  It`s kind of a meek (ph) word for this situation but this entire situation which many have argued is a bona fide crisis at our southern border, puts the U.S. military in a deeply uncomfortable position.

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, I think that`s a fair characterization.  I`ve had a lot of experience feeling those border issues and with Mexico and Central America.  We got around 5,000 troops in the border now, active a national guard.  It`s a half billion dollars in fiscal year `19.  In many cases, this is nothing new.  We`ve had troops there off and on for the last 20 years.

What I opposed when I was in uniform and still oppose is having armed elements of the U.S. military on the border.  We don`t want to militarize the border.  We want the customs and border protection law enforcement officers with primary responsibility.

Now, whether it`s engineers building  roads, national guard troops helping unload trucks so that law enforcement can search them, those are all legitimate missions.  Now, we`re gradually creeping.  We just had a incident with two National Guard soldiers armed who were caused by six Mexican army soldiers and disarmed apparently.  But the president of the United States responded with a basically, an aggressive, warlike statement.  That`s not what we want.

Mexico is not a military threat to the United States nor does it intend to be.  So, we have to cool this thing down, and this is a law enforcement responsibility, not the U.S. Armed Forces.

WILLIAMS:  Well put, General Barry McCaffrey.  Thank you so much for coming on the broadcast tonight, as always.  We deeply appreciate it.

Coming up for us, his role in U.S. history is already cemented.  He is one of only 45 U.S. presidents, the interesting part is what he`s had to say about U.S. history. And we`ll have that for you, when we come back.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

TRUMP:  We have the absolute right to fire Mueller.  In the meantime, I didn`t do it.  I`m a student of history.  I see what you get when you fire people, and it`s not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight, those remarks right there along with what the president had to say today about Robert E. Lee.  It all got us to remembering his past forays into U.S. and world history.  And we`ve saved some of the special moments along the way. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Frederick Douglass as an example of somebody who`s done an amazing job and he`s being recognized more and more, I notice.

So few people remember, but Republicans are the party of Abraham Lincoln.

A lot of people don`t realize that Abraham Lincoln, the great Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

Most people don`t know he was a Republican, right?  Does anyone know?

People forget, we need to embrace it.

I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later, we wouldn`t have had the civil war.  He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the civil war, he said, there`s no reason for this.

  He saw what was happening with regard to the civil war, he said, there`s no reason for this.  People don`t ask that question, but why was there the civil war?  Why couldn`t that have been worked out?

France is America`s first and oldest ally.  A lot of people don`t know that.  France helped us secure our independence.  A lot of people forgot.

People don`t realize the Korean War has not ended.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, that`s what I`m taking about.  400 square feet of freedom.  Who had the courage and  generosity to erect such a huge pole?  A reclusive patriot who reluctantly agreed to speak with us on the condition he remain anonymous.

TRUMP:  My name is Donald Trump.  I love fighting for the flag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It`s all he talks about. 

TRUMP:  The number one golf course in the state of California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, it`s a nice course, but what`s important is this flag, and it`s message of freedom, a message as important to Donald Trump as it was to the original 13 original colonies.

TRUMP:  I don`t know what the 13 stripes represent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Still, it`s a nice course. 

TRUMP:  The number one gold course in the state of California better than Pebble Beach. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Donald Trump on world and U.S. history, to bring this week to an end.  And so that is our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week.  We thank you so much for being here with us.  Have a good weekend and good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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