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

Barr objects to being questioned. TRANSCRIPT: 4/29/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, Shane Harris, Bill Kristol

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And Rabbi Goldstein was being wheeled into surgery, he said, "Let everyone know Lori Kaye saved me".  Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein gets tonight`s last word.

"THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, according to that ongoing tally by "The Washington Post", President Trump hits the 10,000 mark of false statements while in office so far.  His work day-to day dominated by Twitter, by a stand off between the Attorney General and Democrats.  And by one Democrat in particular.

Speaking of Joe Biden, he kicked it off in front of his first presidential rally as a 2020 candidate, accusing Trump directly of abusing the power of office.

And Rod Rosenstein hangs it up, the man who give us the Mueller investigation, the man who spoke of wearing a wire around the President potentially has tonight caused more questions about his motivation by ending his resignation letter with the phase that pays, America first.

As THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.

As we start a new week, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 830 of the Trump administration.  And this may be a big shiny extraction we don`t know yet.  But of all things tonight, the Attorney General is objecting to being questioned by a lawyer at a House hearing later this week.  He wants to be questioned by only members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Bill Barr has threatened to cancel his scheduled appearance at the committees Thursday hearing, he`s scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday then the House Thursday.  So far the committee chairman in the House, Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York, is not backing down.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK:  It`s not up to the Attorney General to tell the committee how to conduct his business or we will decide what the most effective way of asking questions are.  And that`s what our decision is.  We`ve told them we expect him to show up on Thursday and we`re going to conduct the inquiry as we said we would.  If he doesn`t show up on Thursday, we`ll have to go the subpoenas.


WILLIAMS:  The Justice Department told NBC News tonight, "The Attorney General agreed to appear before Congress, therefore, members of Congress should be the ones doing the questioning".  Tonight the "New York Times" reports Nadler plans to have the full judiciary committee vote Wednesday on whether to have counsel question Barr.  The committee`s top Republican says he doubts the Democrats` motives.


REP. DOUG COLLINS, (R) GEORGIA:  I think the Democrats are actually wanting this both ways.  They want to appear to be an oversight here and they went to appear to -- to do just good investigation.  But really what they`re trying to do by adding the stuff in the equation or adding this extra hour then, is they`re trying to make it look like an impeachment hearing.

It`s about punishing the President, that`s all what they`re trying to do.


WILLIAMS:  There`s really nothing new here.  You may recall the Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans used a similar format to question Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh hearings.  They brought in an outside lawyer from Arizona.  Committee lawyers were also famously used during Watergate and Iran-contra hearings.  Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, says that precedent could weaken Barr`s argument.


NEAL KATYAL, FMR ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL:  I think he is legally obligated and we have cabinet secretary after cabinet secretary that testified.  And all of this circumstances, committee stuff (ph) led this.  And so I think if Nadler goes to court, he will undoubtedly win.


WILLIAMS:  Meanwhile, Rod Rosenstein is done.  Just today he announced May 11th will be his last day at the Justice Department.  In his resignation letter, Rosenstein praised the President who so often criticized him, who once retweeted an image depicting Rosenstein and others jailed for treason.  The President, who drivesly referred to Rosenstein as Mr. Peepers.  But all is apparently well tonight according to Rosentein`s farewell letter, and we quote, "I am grateful to you for the opportunity to serve, for the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations.  And for the goals you set in your inaugural address, patriotism, unity, safety, education, and prosperity, because a nation exists to serve its citizens."

He also wrote that, "our elections are more secure and our citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence efforts".  And for good measure, and to keep people guessing about his ultimate motives, he then ends the letter to Donald Trump with the words "America first".

But about that last point we made.  Tonight "The Washington Post" reports there`s a disconnect between an intelligence community trying to do their job and prepare for Russian interference, which we know is coming in our 2020 elections, and a White House that appears to be downplaying the risk.  One of the authors of the "Post" report will be here to talk about it in just a moment.

Tomorrow, Trump will be face to face with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at a White House meeting on, wait for it, infrastructure.  The President spent much of today attacking Joe Biden the Democrats newest official 2020 candidate Joe Biden.  "The Washington Post" reports Trump`s social media posts have helped him surpass that magic 10,000 mark in the paper`s count of ongoing false and misleading claims from the President.  This afternoon during his first rally as a candidate for his part, Joe Biden of Pennsylvania referred to Trump`s credibility.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE 2020:  Everybody knows who Donald Trump is.

We Democrats, we Independents who had the same view have to choose hope over fear.  Unity over division.  And many most importantly, truth over lies.


WILLIAMS:  Which brings us to our lead-off discussion on a Monday night, three of the very best, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Price, wining White House reporter for "The Washington Post," Robert Costa, national political, also with the "Post" and for good measure moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS.  And Peter Baker, the ageless chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times."  Good evening folks and welcome all of you.

Peter, you get to go first because of a story in your paper tonight that was just handed to us before we came on the air.  Broad strokes of it is the President and his eldest children have filed federal lawsuit against Deutsche Bank and Capital One to prevent those companies from cooperating with subpoenas and coming forth with his financial records.  People may ask we know about Deutsche Bank, why Capital One?  Capital One is where he has his personal checking account, giving new meaning I guess to what`s in your wallet?  What do you know about the story that can fill in the blanks?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WH CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES:  Yes look, the President has openly said he`s going to resist all subpoenas from Congress from their House Democrats at the very least, and he`s been, you know, taking this on in multiple fronts.  Last week, he filed lawsuits like this to prevent his own accountants from responding to Congressional subpoenas.  Because, if he doesn`t control those institutions.  He didn`t decide for them whether they should comply with subpoenas by Congress and those institutions are reluctant, of course, to get on the bad side of a Congressional subpoena.  That it has legal implications and has other implications as well.

So he`s trying to force -- the strong arm in affect, you know, the institutions he`s done business with to stick with him as opposed to Congress.  Now, like it`s hard to see how a judge rules on that.  We haven`t seen this kind of thing very often in the past.  But the argument that they have made is that this is just political.

Well, Congress is political, and it seems to me it`s hard to see a judge saying well he`s going to step in or she`s going to step into a political process and declare something is political, that therefore, it`s ill legitimate.

WILLIAMS:  But it was the New York Times interview with President Peter, where he used to answer the question and the affirmative would have been a red line if they tip toed into your finances correct?

BAKER:  Yes, that`s right, we were there, I was there for that interview in fact in the middle of 2017.  And the question was, if -- I`m sorry Robert Mueller at the time.  Now we`re talking about Congress in effect the same kind of scenario which -- what happens if investigators go beyond the Russia collusion brief?  What happens if they go beyond the immediate mandate that Robert Mueller was given to look at what happened in the 2016 election.  He said that would, in fact, cross a red line, because he hear.

But he`s declared a much broader red line when it comes to the House Democrats.  He`s saying he won`t answer questions or allow people to answer questions to provide documents, even on things he already gave or were already testified to with Robert Mueller.  He`s saying that we gave at the office in effect, they -- if Mueller already investigated, why should this House Democrats repeat that effort.  It`s all political and partisan.  I think he`s got an audience this supports at least were very receptive to that argument.

WILLIAMS:  So, Ashley Parker, you look at tomorrow`s White House schedule and it looks for all the word like a normal White House.  He is having last year`s NASCAR champion to the White House as Presidents often do.  They`re having an event on infrastructure which has become kind of a gag line on broadcasts like this one.  Except for that, Ashley, is there any other discernible focus of this administration beyond what we see from the President himself in the story line on social media?

ASHLEY PARKER, WH REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Not really.  I mean, the President -- the thing about Twitter is Twitter is a realtime sort of insight into what this President is thinking at any given moment.  And so, yes, the joke is always the infrastructure week goes off the rails.  I think there`s reason to believe that Chuck and Nancy will be going over there to actually push an infrastructure plan.

And it will be interesting to see what the President does.  Of course we can sort of look at his Twitter feed and see what`s top of mind.  So there`s a world in which he sort of sets aside all the combativeness that`s going on with House Democrats and Senate Democrats, frankly, and says look, this is one of these bipartisan areas where we can make a deal.  And there is an equally if not more likely world in which those topics on social media.  His preoccupation with Vice President Biden, his frustration over immigration, his frustration and also alleged vindication for the Mueller probe are what he potentially calls news cameras in and talks to these Democrats about.  And so everything on social media is sort of colors what he`s thinking and where we should imagine that conversation tomorrow will go.

WILLIAMS:  Bob Costa, take on any of it.  Take on all of it, and were we right at the top of the broadcast to question this Barr disagreement with Democrats?  Could be a giant distraction, he could have every intention of participating in the hearing?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Let`s come back to that and come back to the Deutsche Bank story, a big development tonight, because you have to step back and think about the chess match that`s going on between the White House and House Democrats.  House Democrats know that Secretary Steve Mnuchin over there at the Treasury Department in essence defending the President`s tax returns from Richie Neil, the chairman of the Ways And Means Committee.  So how do they go after the President`s finances and trying to find out more, knowing that Robert Mueller did not reveal, if anything, much at all in his report about the President`s finances.  They go to the banks.  And they`re trying to pressure Deutsche Bank and others to cooperate.

And the banks tonight in their statements don`t seem to be backing off working with Congress because they want to have that relationship with Capitol Hill.  And so this is the President pushing back trying to protect his own financial information.  But Congress believes they need to learn more about where the President`s finances are around the world, where he has different ownership stakes, and they`re going to continue to try to paint that picture.  And Maxine Waters, the chair of Financial Services and Adam Schiff chair of intelligence, they came out with a strong statement tonight, saying they`re not going to back down.

WILLIAMS:  And Ashley Parker, we`re all civilians here, but we all seem to believe that Congress` power in this area is just south of unfettered.

PARKER:  Yes.  And that is sort of what the President is challenging them on.  He is sort of -- since he took office, he is chipping away all of these checks and balances we traditionally think of -- of how government works.  And so he is sort of in a way calling their bluff and saying, you know, you can subpoena us and we`re going to fight that.  I believe, and again, I`m not a lawyer, that maybe very hard to win that in court, but the truth is he can delay and he can postponement and he can make it incredibly difficult and some of these things may end up in the courts and not be adjudicated until potentially after the 2020 election.

And so he`s also creating a situation where the Democrats are going to say, look, the President is, again, abusing his power, he is again trying to obstruct justice, and that then creates a real dilemma for the Democrats, some of whom really don`t have the appetite to call for impeachment, and others who say, wait a minute, it may not be politically the best thing for us to do, but when you see a President abusing his power this way, we have no choice but to act.  So he`s kind of pushing the Democrats into a pretty delicate and difficult situation for them to navigate.

WILLIAMS:  And Peter, that sets up a question to you on optics.  How does it look, that a sitting President and his adult children who are kind of halfway running the company while he`s otherwise preoccupied are suing to keep papers private because they may speak to something fundamental.  If they choose the right or wrong classically trained constitutional lawyer turned federal judge in this thing, that lawyer, him or her, could blow this out the back-door of the courtroom based on articles of the constitution, constitutional argument.

BAKER:  Yes, I mean I`m not a lawyer either, just to be clear, although I have heard today, for instance, from a conservative lawyer from who explained that, you know, his argument for why this is an abuse of power by the House Democrats.  The idea is that Congress should have a more legitimate purpose in looking after these kinds of records.  And since they have not actually declared explicitly that they`re having an impeachment inquiry, they can`t sort of have one sub rosa and act as if they were.

I don`t know that argument is selling in corp, again, I`m not a lawyer, but I think you`re right in terms of optics.  We do have this sort of once again this dual reality.  People who are suspicious of Donald Trump are going to look at a move like this and say what is he hiding?  What is he`s trying to do?  He`s stone walling a legitimate request by Congress.  People on his side are probably going to be susceptible or accepted to the argument that he`s making that these people won`t let go.  You know, they had two years of Mueller, Mueller didn`t find anything according to the way the President is portraying it anyway.  And, therefore, it`s just partisan, you know, attempts to bring him down.

So I think and people are locked into these positions right now and it will be interest to see what might shake people out of them.  But for the moment I think it would look after that kind of lens.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Robert, now take us forward to later this week.  How do I put this gently, Peter and I are old enough to remember a guy named Fred Thompson of the State of Tennessee who really became a figure in Washington as Republican counsel during Watergate for his questioning on behalf of his half of the committee during those televised hearings.

It led to a prosperous career in the Senate a run or two for the presidency and toward the end of his life, reverse mortgage commercials.  But this is done, it`s done all the time.  The A.G. can`t argue with a straight face that staff don`t participate it or in some cases lead questioning on hill hearings.

COSTA:  Your memory is spot on.  History has shown, Brian, that staff and committee lawyers often ask questions.  But this is part of on administration, including the Attorney General who when you talk to top House Democrats, they say they don`t feel like there`s any sort of cooperation coming from the Department of Justice, from the Trump side, from the political appointees, and they`re very frustrated.  But the Attorney General, he has taken a hard line so far in his dealings with Congress.  Everything is done on Attorney General Barr`s timeline.  Whenever Congress makes a demand, whether it`s Chairman Nadler or Chairman Schiff, it appears to be pushed back by the attorney general.

And you can bet when you talk to the Democrats on Capitol Hill, they`re very appalled by this behavior by the Attorney General.  Yet they haven`t come up with a solution, Brian, on how to actually make sure their lawyers, their own prosecutors of sorts politically are going to be on those front lines because the attorney general continues to threaten to not show up.

WILLIAMS:  Ashley Parker, let`s channel our mutual friend Chris Mathews and play a little "Hardball" politics here.  And that`s Joe Biden.  It was kind of clear today watching the Biden event, two guys who share a generation, Joe Biden went right at Donald Trump in two ways.  He said in effect the road to the White House goes right through here.  He mentioned Western Pennsylvania went on to include the whole state wisely, and then he also took a poll of the crowd, how many of you benefited from the tax bill?  I didn`t think so.  No one did because as he pointed out, it was for the top 1%.

We`re starting to see even though we`re eight months from the first primary in a field of 20.  We are starting to see why Trump seems to completely preoccupied on social media about just one Democrat.

PARKER:  We sure are.  I mean we`re seeing Biden`s strategy here which is to try to sort of leapfrog over all of his other Democratic competitors by pretending they don`t exist and just go into a general election fight with the President.  And we`re seeing a President who is kind of happily taking the bait.  I was talking to campaign adviser the other day, he said look, it sort of makes sense, they view -- the President views the campaign largely views Biden right now as the biggest threat.

And also the President as we know is a large consumer of cable news.  Biden is leading the news cycles and the President cares a lot about polls.  And Biden hasn`t top a lot of Democratic polls.  So Trump cease that and he wants to take Biden down and engage.  And I will note very briefly that this goes counter to the campaign strategy generally which is to try not to name these Democrats and sort of paint them all with this broad lefty socialist brush.  So you have a campaign, trying to have clever emerges, be damage with a mental socialism and you have the President who is kind of eagerly spoiling for a fight with Joe Biden.

WILLIAMS:  Three of the biggest names from the bilines that we`ve been closely covering these past few years, Ashley Parker, Robert Costa, Peter Baker, our thanks for starting off our broadcast.

And coming up for us tonight, the controversial word that was related to by the dutiful Attorney General before we even saw the Mueller report come out.  What the Special Counsel himself had to say about that word inside his document.

And later, since the Russians are already here, how prepared are we for their next attack into our next Presidential election, especially knowing our President called their last mission a hoax?  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Monday night.



WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The Special Counsel found no evidence that any American, including anyone associated with the Trump campaign, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government or the IRA in this illegal scheme.

Put another way, the Special Counsel found no collusion by any Americans in IRA`s illegal activities.  There was no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government hacking.  No underlying collusion with Russia.  As he said from the beginning, there was, in fact, no collusion.


WILLIAMS:  Well, anyone forget where they were when they first heard that.  That was Attorney General Bill Barr repeating that phrase that pays for the White House up the street.  He will decide later this week whether or not to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

In our series of reports on this broadcast that we`re calling uncovered because we`re diving into parts of the Mueller report that haven`t yet received wide media coverage.  Tonight we`re going to look at what the report says at long last about collusion.  Mueller`s report says they considered conspiracy law, not the concept of collusion, to determine whether or not a crime was committed.  The report reads, and we quote, "Collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law."  English translation, it`s not a thing.  "For those reasons, the Office`s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law."

The report also offers this summary about contacts between the Trump campaign and individuals with ties to the Russian government, quote, "Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

A lot to talk about, two pros here with us to talk about it, Shannon Pettypiece, White House correspondent for Bloomberg, and Barbara McQuade, veteran federal prosecutor, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Barbara, I`m going to like to start with you because I think all of our now of counsel, former U.S. attorneys said the same thing when Barr was nominated.  I`m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, I think at the end of the day he`s an institutionalist.  Yet, now in the glaring light of day, or the dark of night, hearing him use no collusion that many times, knowing that he`s about to introduce a document that intentionally says collusion is not a thing, it`s jarring, is it not?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR U.S. ATTORNEY:  It is, Brian.  And I can remember where I was when I was watching him utter those words, and I actually found it pretty heartbreaking that William Barr would use the word collusion.  And it was especially heartbreaking to then read in the Mueller report that Mueller went out of his way to say let`s not talk about collusion.  That`s just a distraction.  That`s not a legal term.  We talk in terms of conspiracy.

And the reason it was heartbreaking is that William Barr was deliberately using a Trump talking point.  He sounded more like a defense attorney and more like a politician than an Attorney General.  And for people like me who spent their career in the Justice Department who talk about following the evidence where it leads, playing it straight, looking at facts and law, to hear him use those political words was really painful.

WILLIAM:  I want to run two asterisks by you because you`re the lawyer in this conversation.  Neither asterisk, to be clear, appears in the Mueller report.  We have placed them there because they speak to questions I have for you.  The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign.  Now, I put an asterisk there because couldn`t that speak to, well, who are we defining who was actually with the Trump campaign?

The next one is conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.  Well, what about go-betweens?  What about middle men and women?  Are those both possible places where a good lawyer like yourself could find room to run around in?

MCQUADE:  I do think it`s a possibility.  I think that Robert Mueller was looking at this broadly enough that if there had been somebody who was an associate of the Trump campaign who is not officially a member of it would have been captured within that net.  Now, that being said, we know that there are approximately 12 matters that were redacted, that Robert Mueller has referred to others.  Those are things that he did not find within his narrow scope of investigation that he has handed off to other investigators to look into.

So, yes, I think that is a possibility and a fair reading of that sentence to suggest that Robert Mueller constrained his investigation to that universe.

WILLIAMS:  That sound social media users might have heard today was Shannon Pettypiece winning Twitter with what I`m going to put on the screen right now.  Shannon wrote about the President`s agenda today, starting at 6:49, as you see condolences to the shooting victims.  And then I`ll let you read the bill of particulars.  His attacks against those people and entities that took up the rest of his morning.

Shannon, in one way, just kind of an average morning in the life of the President and his cellphone.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS:  Well, at one point I remember early in the administration, one of the aides telling me that they intentionally told the President not to tweet after 9:00.

WILLIAMS:  How`s that going?

PETTYPIECE:  Right.  We can see that`s kind of been thrown out the window.  And one of my colleagues at the White House noted today that the marine who was outside of the Oval Office, the West Wing when the President is in the Oval Office was not out there as of like 11:30 today.  So --

WILLIAMS:  So that means he was up in the residence?

PETTYPIECE:  It would have been executive time.  A lot of these tweets correlated with things that were on T.V., the Firefighters Union endorsement, you know, Biden`s for the first rally.  So you could tell there was probably likely T.V. watching going on during those morning hours.

And, yes, it was just a full morning airing of the grievances by the President on Twitter, you know, really without any regard at this point to try and make it seem like he`s in meetings or he`s doing some sort of official business.  It`s very clear what`s going on.

WILLIAMS:  And about the conversation I just had here with a top-flight lawyer, your fellow guest, this speaks to your knowledge now of Donald Trump and his base.  Will we ever see a time when this enters the public conversation enough, the fact that collusion`s not a thing, the fact that Mueller made a point of saying that, will there ever be a time where people hear no obstruction, no collusion, and say even his base, yes, I know we know that`s not true?

PETTYPIECE:  Well, I mean, the President is on expert brander.  And part of branding is saying the same thing over and over and over and over again, you know.  So, these phrases get stuck in our head.  He said no collusion more than 200 times over the past two years.  So that is the brand, that is the phrase that`s in everyone`s mind. 

And even before this report came -- once we had Barr`s letter and before the report came out the strategy among his allies and advisers was that no matter what Mueller had to say, they were going to make it a binary choice of no collusion.  That this investigation was about collusion and they found no collusion, regardless of what else could have been in there.

And even at one point his advisers were saying that, "Well, this is a phony investigation because collusion is not even against the law."  They even brought up this point that Mueller made but they continued with this pitch. 

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Barbara, I want you to listen to 16 seconds of Sally Yates, and on the other side I`m going to ask you if you agree.


SALLY YATES, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL:  And I`ve been a prosecutor for nearly 30 years.  And I can tell you I`ve personally prosecuted obstruction cases on far, far less evidence than this.  And yes, I believe if he were not the President of the United States, he would likely be indicted on obstruction.


WILLIAMS:  You`re both former feds, Barbara, do you concur with your fellow former fed?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER US ATTORNEY:  I do.  You know, the elements of obstruction are an obstructive act, some connection to an official proceeding, and a corrupt intent.  And there are about ten episodes in that report of obstruction of justice.  Some Robert Mueller finds substantial evidence for, some less so.  But there`s about three episodes in there, with substantial evidence for each and every element of the offense.

The asking McGahn to fire Mueller, asking McGahn to lie about that, and asking Corey Lewandowski to get Jeff Sessions to narrow the scope of investigation to only future elections.  For those three, I am confident that if anyone else were charged with that offense or had that evidence against them, they would be charged with obstruction of justice.

WILLIAMS:  Our great thanks tonight to two of our favorites, Shannon Pettypiece, Barbara McQuade, thank you both so much for helping us with our conversation tonight.

And coming up for us, new reporting on the President`s curious behavior when it comes to protecting our nation from Russia`s involvement in our next election.  One of the journalists reporting on this story will be with us right after this.


WILLIAMS:  This next segment is critical.  More now on this report that the White House has downplayed the threat of more Russian election meddling, even as security officials work on another side of the government to prevent future attacks to harden our defenses.

This affects all of us.  This is according to the Washington Post, "For more than two years, Trump has recoiled when aides broached Russia`s 2016 theft and dissemination of Democratic e-mails and its manipulation of social media in an effort to sway the election.

The report goes on to say, "During discussions in the Oval Office, Trump has regularly conflated the threat of foreign interference with attacks on the legitimacy of his election.  It is a claim represented often by Trump and members of his administration.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I want them to be sure that Russia or anybody else that if it did happen, if there was any -- and everybody also agrees by the way, it didn`t change the election.

SARAH SANDERS HUCKABEE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  It`s very clear that Russia meddled in the election, it`s also very clear that it didn`t have an impact on the election.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER:  The entire nonsense about the elector is trying to use the Russia hacking issue to change to election results is really unfortunate.  I think that actually undermines our democracy more than any other conversation that we`re having right now.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  And, quite frankly, the whole thing`s just a big distraction for the country.  And you look at, you know, what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it.  And it`s a terrible thing.  But I think the investigations and all of 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.


WILLIAMS:  Couple of Facebook ads said the senior adviser to the President.  Then there`s this reminder from the Mueller report.  "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systemic fashion.  We`ll let that hang out there as we bring in our guest.

One of the reporters on this byline is with us, Shane Harris, Intelligence and National Security Reporter from the Washington Post.  And for good measure, Frank Figliuzzi is back with us.  He is notably the former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.  Gentlemen, welcome.

Shane, take-- have at this, any angle you wish.  Let`s start with how prepared or unprepared is our government?  We just heard the FBI director last week call it the big event, talking about the next election.  How prepared or unprepared are we speaking to the citizens now about the Russians who are already in our system, their ability to hack our next election?

SHANE HARRIS, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think the good news is that if you look at the intelligence community, the FBI, the Homeland Security Department, there is a lot of progress being made.  They`re very aware of the threat and they`re leaning into it, they`re doing what they can, what they`re obligated to do under the law.

And importantly, communicating with social media companies.  We saw so much pervasive manipulation of social media and the government is trying to warn companies, where they should be looking throughout for those kind of threats and to hear back from them.

What we don`t have though at this point is a president who is engaged at this as a policy issue of utmost importance, which many of his advisers believe it is.  He is out there talking publicly downplaying it, recoiling it as you have pointed out in private meetings as well.  And when you don`t have a commander-in-chief engaged from the top, the entire hole of government doesn`t really work as a coordinated entity.

I mean, imagine if after the 911 attacks, George W. Bush had come up publically and said, "I`m not so sure al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden were responsible for attacking New York and Washington with airplanes."  And then quietly, the rest of the government was going around trying to stop terrorists.

You get a sense of what a disconnect that would be.  There`s something analogous going on here too, where the government is working very furiously, I think, behind the scenes, which you have a President who really is not engaged on that and kind of thinks that the entire enterprise is premised on a hoax.

WILLIAMS:  And, Frank, that`s the disconnect you`ve been coming on this broadcast to talk about I saw the President before rally audiences is now talking about "purging the scum from the FBI," words we`ve never remotely associated with one of our presidents in the past.

And I have this reading for you, Frank, from the Rosenstein letter.  The new equivalent of but how did you enjoy the play, Mrs.  Lincoln.  Our nation is safer.  Our elections are more secure, and here`s the fun part.  Our citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence efforts and schemes.

So, Frank, you get it.  By the dent of the coverage we`ve been giving it, we`ve got a big heads up to all the American people coming into 2020.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION:  Well, he`s right about one thing in the letter, the American public is, indeed, more informed about the threat to our electoral process and the security of it.  And in part, by the way, Brian, because you continued to cover the story that`s got to be told and the American people have to demand answers.

There`s another reason why the President has got to come out and publicly denounce what Russia did with our elections.  And I got the fact that if he does so, he`s fearful that people will think he got help and the electoral vote was changed, and he`s not a legitimate president.  I get that.

But here`s the counterintelligence reason behind why he`s got to come out and denounce this.  Other nations are watching.  They`re watching his nonresponse.  Just as we heard Michael Cohen and others talk about kind of that mob boss signaling that occurs without any real words being exchanged, and yet you know what to do and you get that green light.  By not responding and denouncing and punishing Russia for what they did in the election, he`s telling other nations essentially, "I`m OK with this, you help me out.  I`ll be OK."

And let me assure you, foreign intelligence services salivate over the possibility that they could co-op an American president by merely making him think that they helped win his re-election.  That`s why he has got to come out and denounce this, or we`re going to look back at this time and wonder how we gave up our electoral process in this country.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  We`re going to have a lot of questions to answer for.

Hey, Shane, I know the DNI is hanging on.  I know the new CIA director is over at Langley, keeping her head down and doing her job as she has done all her career.  At the White House level, you`ve got Mulvaney and Bolton, so some of the guardrails are gone.  Who are the institutionalists closes to this President, maybe there are non who intent on getting the hard work done of hardening our defenses?

HARRIS:  Well, actually the out-going and now ex-Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is someone people gave a lot of credit for trying to do the work or working with state and local governments particularly, letting them know how to protect their systems and what to watch out for.

But it`s interesting, you mentioned John Bolton, the National Security adviser, our sources told us that she blamed him for not elevating this issue of election security high enough on the President`s agenda and really trying to force him to buckle down on it, and was persuaded not to bring it up in meetings with the President for fear that he would simply disregarded or it anger him.  And whenever she did tried and broached it, he would steer the conversation towards immigration.

So within the White House, really, that core of people who around the President, and really the President takes advice we know from himself.  He doesn`t really listen to the core group around him at that level on security issues, the way other presidents have.  You`re not really seeing people who are trying to get him to focus on this and elevate it to the top of the issue set and at least try and make it something in his mind that is as equal as immigration or border security, which are things we know he cares a lot about.

WILLIAMS:  And, Frank, you get the last word.  Let me take you one more step.  Forget Vlad Putin who may have already won.  But let`s talk about the thing that intelligence folks off duty say to me is, what you guys aren`t covering is how kaleidoscopically China has drilled down into American society and intel and our public-facing structures, about the signal you just discussed, Frank, what this might say to bad operators around the world, what about a foreign power like that?

FIGLIUZZI:  China presents a pervasive threat from a cyber perspective and intelligence professionals, cyber professionals know that whether you`re talking about corporate intrusion or intrusions into government agencies, they have done it.  They`ve been there.  They`ve done that.  They sent us the signal.  They`ve said hello in an IT signature kind of way.  And they present a pervasive threat.

So if they decide to unleash their force and their sophistication, we`ll be looking at this and just change the country`s name from Russia to China.  And by the way, you can change it to Iran or North Korea depending on their mood and their relationship with this president.  That`s why the President needs to come out.

And next time, they may decide to back the other party, and that`s why Congress needs to come out and say this is a nonpartisan issue.  We`re going to tackle this and here`s how.

WILLIAMS:  Putting the fear of God in viewers for well over two years, at this hour on this broadcast, with great to Frank Figliuzzi, to Shane Harris, gentlemen, thank you both, really interesting if not a really scary conversation.

Coming up, 20 Dems in the race, Donald Trump these days only has eyes for one.  Bill Kristol is here to talk about politics with us.



JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Donald Trump is only president, is the only president who decided not to represent the whole country.  The President has his base.  We need a president who works for all Americans.  And we can afford this.  We can do this.


WILLIAMS:  It is clear candidate Joe Biden is not afraid of President Donald Trump and it`s not going to be unnoticed.

Earlier today, in fact, Trump tweeted several times about sleepy Joe.  The Democrat White House insider says the President fears the most.  Trump even took on union leaders after Biden secured the endorsement of the International Association of Firefighters.  Here`s how Biden responded to all those different attacks at today`s rally.


BIDEN:  By the way, I make no apologizes.  I am a union man, period.

Let me tell you.  Let me tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison):  We want Joe.  We want Joe.

BIDEN:  Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison):  We want Joe.  We want Joe.  We want Joe.


WILLIAMS:  And here with us here in New York to talk about it, Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, Director of Defending Democracy Together.  There`s a concept, and Editor-at-Large of the Bulwark.

And before I let you say your first word.  Here`s how good we are.  I`m going to show you something that`s going to air tomorrow morning on "Good Morning America."  This is Joe Biden on what we used to call Reagan Democrats.  Nope, that`s not him.  That`s not him at all.  That`s coming up later.


ROBIN ROBERTS, ANCHOR, ABC`S GOOD MORNING AMERICA:  What would you say to the Trump voter, the Trump supporter who looks at the economy and sees very strong numbers here in Pennsylvania where the unemployment is at record low of 3.9 percent?

BIDEN:  Well, what I`d say is, did you get any benefit from the tax cut?  Have your wages really gone up to what you think you deserve? Do your employers treat you with any more respect and dignity than they did before? What`s the story? Ask these folks. They`re not getting their fair share.


WILLIAMS:  So, the question, Bill is, this is going after -- they were Democrats before, they were Reagan Democrats, before they became Trump Republicans, some of them in Western Pennsylvania, a state Trump wants very badly to win again.  Do you think this really resonates?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE BULWARK:  I can`t tell, honestly.  I mean, I think Joe Biden has the most -- the easiest reach to non -- you know, committed Democrats, Independents to Moderate Republicans, you know, a kind of return to normalcy campaign.  Whether people want to go back, though, historically, that rarely happens, you know, in American politics.

Former vice presidents almost always get the nomination, (inaudible).  They tend not to win the elections, Richard Nixon is the exception in 1968.  The Democrats tend to win general elections.  Think of Clinton, Obama, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, 45, 50 years old.  It`s interesting.  They combine both being young, forward-looking, time for change, new frontier, you know, all that kind of thing, with being pretty moderate.


KRISTOL:  And it seems to me, who knows, maybe Biden -- I like Joe Biden personally, I respect him, but it feels to be more than a younger, forward- looking Democrat who could also reach out, though, to Independents and some Republicans, might be a better shot against the era of Trump.  It just doesn`t feel like people would want to go back to someone who --

WILLIAMS:  Certainly seems to get the message over the last two years.

KRISTOL:  Joe Biden enter the Senate in 1973.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, that`s a long time.  As someone pointed out this week, a career in public life longer than John Kennedy was on the earth for.

I want to ask you about this letter, Rod Rosenstein, his farewell.  It ends with two words, I`ve just circled, America first.  You and I are not old enough, thankfully, but we`ve read enough history books to know that when Lindbergh and his pals used that phrase, it put fear in the hearts of at least one American generation, the phrase is tossed around now regularly.  But this, does it not, is this not an example of what this era has done to people?

KRISTOL:  Yes, it`s really shocking.  I mean, Rod Rosenstein, a career Justice Department attorney, I mean, fine, if he wants to -- he doesn`t need to criticize the President in his letter resignation, he can even talk about how he thinks he`s accomplished some good things.  But ending with the sort of partisan, you know, political slogan of the President as the last sort of explanation in his letter?  It really is something from another country, when you read it, does it feel that?  I mean, it should be in another language, frankly, where you sort of end with the salute to the leader, you know, as opposed to, "it`s been an honor to serve you and to serve this country, thank you Mr. President, you know?"

And now, it is actually demoralizing to see that. 

WILLIAMS:  And finally, there`s something I noticed about the Biden rally in Pennsylvania today, on the edge of the crowd, when it was over, one man in the rope line where people bring things to get signed, had a large copy of the picture of everyone assembled in the situation room the night they killed Bin Laden.

There it is.  It was held aloft.  He`s got a sharpie and a post-it.  He`s asking for Biden`s signature on it.  And that got me thinking of another picture that came out today, that`s Mr. Baghdadi of ISIS.  The President has declared victory over that group.

We don`t get to see this guy but every couple of years.  It was interesting.  I think the caption, by the way, could be "I used to use just for terrorist, but now I`m letting my natural gray grow back in."

This guy, I`m sure, represents something of a threat, what if today`s news in fact had been that he had acted somewhere on the planet?  Is that not what we should war game for also we get more and more distracted by day-to- day politics?

KRISTOL:  You know, talking to various people in foreign policy recently and the degree to which they are genuinely alarmed about the state of the world.  There are pleas that we`ve avoided sort of obvious disaster so far, but we`re not focused on them, the Defense Department does not have a permanent secretary of Defense, the White House decision-making process in national security is kind of a shambles.

You know, we`re a strong country and maybe we can just kind of make it through with this kind of governance.  But I hope we don`t pay a price for it, but I would worry that we will over the next year and a half.  I do think four more years.  I think the Democrats need to make this point.

Maybe you voted for Trump, you know, you wanted to disrupt things, I understand that.  Four more years of this, are you confident that that will be fine?  I think there are plenty of people who have been mild Trump reluctant, Trump supporters, maybe people who voted for trump, people who were tempted by aspects of Trumpism, who would shy away from the notion that we can confidently just have four more years of this administration. 

WILLIAMS:  Bill Kristol, strange times, as he chronicles them, our thanks.  We`re back with more right after this.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight.  We want to pause and remember two men who blazed their own trail in very different ways and at very different ends of the same long ongoing struggle.

Federal Judge Damon Keith died yesterday, and you need to know who he was.  Born the grandson of slaves and the son of an auto-worker, he remained a proud Detroiter all his life.  He was equally proud graduate of Howard University Law School, where he was taught by the great Thurgood Marshall.  It was Lyndon Johnson who put Damon Keith on the federal bench just three years after the Civil Rights Act.  It was Jimmy Carter who elevated him to the Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Keith was simply one of the most important federal judges of the last 100 years.  While his legacy lives on forever in housing an integration cases, his most famous ruling led eventually to the release of the Watergate tapes after he found the transcripts must be released if wires had been tapped without a warrant.  Nixon`s attorney general John Mitchell sued Judge Keith, but the Supreme Court had his back, unanimously knocked that down.  Years later, the judge stood up to Bush 43 on illegal deportations after 9/11 and he won.

Judge Keith always helped the next generation up.  One of his former law clerks, Jennifer Granholm, went on to become governor of his home state.  Judge Keith presided as a senior federal jurist until just recently, and this man who served in World War II in a segregated army, this man who wrote on segregated trains as a student, who said he was reminded of his own blackness each and every day.  He so proud of the fact that he never held anyone in contempt of court in his courtroom because of his life-long vow to show kindness, always, and fairness and stay positive.  Federal Judge Damon Keith was 96.

And then, just today, we learned of the death of John Singleton.  In his time and in his own way, he shed more light on intercity life than a dozen federal judges could.  His breakthrough film "Boyz n the Hood" showed us South Central.  The part of LA that so far below the Hollywood sign, it was invisible to every other director before him.

He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, first African American ever in that category and, by the way, he was 24 at that time, not even a year out of USC Film School.  That`s started a life in directing for film and TV, the body of work he now leaves behind.

John Singleton died of complications following a stroke.  He was just 51 years old.

And that is our broadcast in this Monday night as we start a new week.  Thank you so much for being here with us and 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