AG Barr testifies before Senate Committee. TRANSCRIPT: 5/1/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Berit Berger, Matthew Miller, Ken Vogel, Jon Meacham

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And I don't think the Trump team is now or ever has been or ever will be worried about breaking the law.  That's tonight's LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight in a stunner of a day-long hearing, Attorney General Bill Bar presents an unabashed defense of the President while seemingly trying to diminish the importance of his friend of 30 years, Robert Mueller.  And now Barr is refusing to show up tomorrow before House Judiciary because the Democrats in charge there want lawyers to question him and now that means it's possible the nation's top law enforcement officer could find him in contempt.

Tonight, the calls for Bill Barr to resign are growing, and all eyes, again, turn to one, Robert Mueller, whose testimony becomes more critical by the hour as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 832 of the Trump administration.  A full day, an explosive day on Capitol Hill, as attorney general Barr defended the man who appointed him, defended his handling of the Mueller report, to members of the Senate.

We'll take you through the hearing in just a moment, but the latest news from today came tonight.  It's about tomorrow.  Barr has decided he's one and done, where hearings are concerned.  He turned down House Judiciary tomorrow.  He's not going to show.  He didn't like the idea of getting questioned by the Committee's appointed lawyers in addition to members of Congress on the Committee, something the committee chairman said tonight shouldn't be up to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK CHAIRMAN JUDICIARY CMTE.:  The Attorney General has a nerve to try to dictate, and the administration has a nerve to dictate our procedures, simply part of the administration's complete stonewalling of Congress.

He's trying to blackmail the committee into not following what we think is the most effective means of eliciting the information we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Tonight a spokesman at the Department of Justice tells NBC News that Nadler's insistence on the staff question format is, "inappropriate."  Nadler also says Justice refuses to hand over the full unredacted Mueller report.  His committee is now trying to get Mueller, himself, to testify May 15th.

And now back to the Attorney General.  He spent much of today before senate Judiciary defending at every turn how he handled and released and summarized the Mueller report.  Defending Trump's assertions about the Mueller report, even the mischaracterizations of Mueller's findings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LIDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA CHAIRMAN JUDICIARY CMTE.:  Do you think the President's campaign in 2016 was thoroughly looked at in terms of whether or not they colluded with the Russians?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Yes.

GRAHAM:  And the answer is no, according to Bob Mueller.

BARR:  That's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  In his report, Mueller noted he was applying the framework of conspiracy law, not making a judgment about collusion which is not an entity in federal law.  Mueller also made claim the evidence that Trump directed his ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller fired. Trump also denied this and today Barr seemed to as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  The President never directed him to fire and there is a distinction between saying to someone, go fire him, go fire Mueller, and saying, have him removed based on conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  In his report, Mueller also detailed evidence indicating Trump attempted to get rid of the Special Counsel with the corrupt intent of curtailing the investigation.  Trump has suggested he could have fired Mueller because he believed the investigation to be a witch hunt, which you may have heard.  Here is what Barr told the Committee today on that front.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  If the President is being falsely accused and he felt that this investigation was unfair, propelled by his political opponents, and was hampering his ability to govern, that is not a corrupt motive for replacing an independent counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Barr's appearance came just hours after we learned that Mueller had, in fact, written the A.G. in late march, suggesting that Barr misled the public with his four-page now-famous letter describing the report's conclusions in advance.  Earlier last month, Barr under oath told a House committee that he was unaware that members of the Mueller team were concerned about what he'd written in his summary.  Today, he was asked about that apparent discrepancy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Why did you say you were not aware of concerns when weeks before your testimony, Mr. Mueller had expressed concerns to you?  I mean that's a fairly simple --

BARR:  I answered the question and the question was relating to unidentified members who were expressing frustration over the accuracy relating to findings. I don't know what that refers to at all. I talked directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his team.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Would you concede that you had an opportunity to make this letter public on April 4th when Representative Crist asked you a very related question?

BARR:  I don't know what you mean by related question.  It seems to me it would be a very different question.

WHITEHOUSE:  I can't even follow that down the road.  That -- I mean, boy, that's a masterful hair splitting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  On several different occasions, Barr seemed to diminish his friend of 30 years, Robert Mueller, calling him the equivalent of a U.S. attorney, which, indeed, Mueller was years ago, saying Mueller wasn't a career prosecutor, and then hours into the hearing, here's how he characterized the letter that Mueller had sent him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  You know, the letter's a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Another revealing moment today during withering questioning from former prosecutor turned Democratic Senator Kamala Harris who asked Barr about his contact with the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMAL HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?

BARR:  I wouldn't -- I wouldn't --

HARRIS:  Yes or no?

HARRIS:  Could you repeat that question?

HARRIS:  I will repeat it.

BARR:  Yes.

HARRIS:  Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?  Yes or no, please, sir.

BARR:  The President or anybody else?

HARRIS:  Seems you'd remember something like that and be able to tell us.

BARR:  Yes, but I'm trying to grapple with the word, "suggest."  I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they've not asked me to open an investigation, but --

HARRIS:  Perhaps they've suggested?

BARR:  I don't know.  I wouldn't say suggest.

HARRIS:  Hinted?

BARR:  I don't know.

HARRIS:  Inferred?  You don't know?  OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Because elections have consequences, time for civics.  Republicans run the Senate, and Lindsey Graham, who years ago was a withering Trump critic, is now a close Trump ally.  He set the tone for the other Republicans on the panel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM:  After all this time and all this money, Mr. Mueller and his team concluded there was no collusion.  But when the Mueller report is put to bed and it soon will be, this Committee is going to look long and hard in how this all started.  We're going to look at the FISA warrant process.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R) IOWA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  What are you doing to investigate unauthorized media contacts by the Department and FBI officials during the Russian investigation?

BARR:  We have multiple criminal leak investigations under way.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The Obama administration Justice Department and FBI decided to place their bets on Hillary Clinton and focus their efforts on investigating the Trump campaign.

SEN. THOM TILLIS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Starting with Strzok and page and everybody else leading up before the investigation, I hope they're being investigated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Which brings us to our leadoff discussion on this consequential Wednesday night, Berit Berger, former Assistant U.S. Attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and Southern District of New York, Matthew Miller, former Chief Spokesman for the Justice Department, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Chief Counsel to the House Intel Committee, and Ken Vogel, Veteran Politic Reporter for "The New York Times."  Good evening, and welcome to all of you.  I know it's been a long day.

Jeremy, if I might, I'd like to begin with you because you were here when this broadcast started over two years ago.  Among our first guests, you've been along for the ride ever since.  What did you make of today's hearing?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, today was a sad display, Brian.  I think the Attorney General advanced weak and shallow arguments.  He's gone the full Trump.  Basically he mischaracterized Bob Mueller's report, badly mischaracterized it.  Bob Mueller called him on it.

But for the media reports the last 24 hours, the Attorney General would have appeared before the Senate morning and actually repeated the lie, repeated the mischaracterizations.  In addition, Brian, as I think we're going to get into, his analysis of the obstruction volume of the Mueller report is way off base, essentially he is saying, no, the President didn't order that Mueller be fired, he just ordered that he be removed as if we're all too stupid to know the difference.

WILLIAMS:  Berit Berger, knowing you for five minutes means learning you love the Justice Department.  Having established that, what did you make of today, what did you make of William Barr?

BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Yes, I mean, I think it's painful any time you watch a witness testifying and having to sort of twist themselves into a pretzel to answer really basic questions.  It is even more painful when that witness is the Attorney General who, in my opinion, needs to be held to higher standard.

To see somebody like Bill Barr quibbling over the word of "suggest," it's painful.  This is the nation's top prosecutor.  This is somebody who should be able to answer questions clearly and honestly and I don't know that the public can have much confidence in him after the performance today.

WILLIAMS:  You've got friends, former colleagues, of course, still on the inside.  This is their leader, their boss.

RBERGER:  Right.  And many of whom have investigations that were referred from the special counsel's office team.  This is the person that continues to oversee all of those investigations.  And look, I think this testimony today answered some questions.  I think it raised a lot more questions, specifically, about, you know, where the Attorney General's loyalties are here, who is he really serving in this role?

WILLIAMS:  Matt Miller also a loyal former DOJ employee, come from the calm side of the street.  Did we see a communications strategy today?  The Democrats charge that, yes, this was the period at the end of the sentence that obfuscated and fuzzed up the Mueller report writ large.

MATTHEW MILLER, FMR. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF SPOKESMAN:  Yes, I think it was a simple communications strategy by the Attorney General.  That was to defend the President at all costs.

It's kind of stunning when you look at what he was there to testify about.  He was there to testify about the Mueller report, which in its entirety is a pretty scathing account of the President's behavior.  It all but accuses the President of committing a crime of obstructions of justice.  It lays out a number of very troubling patterns of conduct on the campaign.   It doesn't accuse him of crime there but, you know, lays out some things that the American people should be concerned about.

And yet, every question that the Attorney General was asked he excused the conduct, he dismissed the behavior of Bob Mueller and his team.  At times he attacked the leadership of the FBI and Justice Department.  He seemed skeptical of this entire investigation in the first place.

It was a very disappointing performance for the Attorney General who should have been there defending the department's work, instead went up there and questioned it kind of from the beginning.

WILLIAMS:  Ken Vogel, by one theory what we saw today was two hearings under Republican questioning and under Democratic questioning.  Watching cable news tonight, I saw two hearings.  One as covered by this network, another as covered by another.  What will shine through, in your view, tomorrow?

KEN VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITCAL REPORTER:  Well, I think Republicans definitely did provide fodder for Barr to present this alternative story line.  He did talk about spying.  He echoed the President -- the President's claim continuing -- he didn't back down from the claim that he previously made which echoed the President's claim that Trump's campaign was spied on which a lot of career intelligence and law enforcement folks took issue with that term.  He didn't back down from it.

He also took the bait, not just took the bait, he talked at some depth about the investigations that he has launched at the Department of Justice into the origins of the Russia investigation into possible FISA abuse.

And we've heard a little bit from Rudy Giuliani and even from the President, himself, that they would like an investigation by Barr of Ukrainian meddling on behalf of the Clinton campaign.  So, these are the types of things that Republicans prefer to talk about and they found a willing sort of response from Barr on those issues.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, you were chief of staff, out of all places, spy headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and he did invoke the word today.  Went further than that.  Let's listen to some of that.  Talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  I don't think the word, "spying," has any pejorative connotation at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But you recognize --

BARR:  To me the question is always whether or not it's authorized and adequately predicated, spying.  I think spying is a good English word that, in fact, doesn't have synonyms because it is the broadest word incorporating really all forms of covert intelligence collections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Of course, Jeremy, politically, spying is the preferred word of the Trump, right?  No collusion, no obstruction, is the preferred phraseology of the Trump right.  All your time at CIA, was it known or ever referred to as spying if someone was put under surveillance and all the traps were run that have to be run?

BASH:  It's spying if it's done against foreign adversaries, Brian, to collect foreign intelligence.  But when you're talking about undertaking surveillance, electronic surveillance, or investigative surveillance, on U.S. soil against U.S. persons, no, you don't call it spying.  To call it spying is basically to say there is no predication, there is no judicial oversight, and that's contrary to the 4th Amendment in our constitutional order.  And our Attorney General knows exactly that.  he knows better.

In fact, he told me so when he was general counsel of Verizon and he was lobbying Congress for an exception from liability for the telecommunications companies under then President Bush's surveillance program.

WILLIAMS:  And Berit Berger, I have one for you.  Here is senator Klobuchar also a former prosecutor talking about potential witness intimidation at the hands of the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) MINNESOTA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The report found that Michael Cohen's testimony to the House before it, that the President repeatedly implied that Cohen's family members had committed crimes.  Do you consider that evidence to be an attempt to convince a witness to change testimony?

BARR:  No.  I don't think that that could pass muster.

KLOBUCHAR:  The report found that after Manafort was convicted, the President, himself, called him a brave man for refusing to break.

BARR:  Yes.  And that is not -- and that is not obstruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Berit, in your view, does that reasoning hold up?

BERGER:  Well, whether or not it's obstruction, it's certainly not appropriate for the President of the United States to be congratulating a witness on that breaking.  I mean, in the Department of Justice --

WILLIAMS:  I've seen it in movies.

BERGER:  Fair enough.  I mean the Department of Justice, we had, you know, gang cases, organized crime cases where we would bring additional obstruction charges against defendants for doing just these kind of actions for, you know, potentially threatening witnesses or, you know, making sort of these veiled threats against family members.  So, you know, whether or not it reaches a criminal threshold is sort of beyond the point here.  You have the Attorney General sort of acting like he sees nothing wrong with that, which to me is just baffling.

WILLIAMS:  Matt, Neal Katyal, frequent guest of ours, former Solicitor General for this country, our lead lawyer before the Supreme Court, a guy who co-authored the regs that allowed Mueller to d his work has written this and this is kind of an instruction manual for Mueller request list going forward.  This is interesting.  "Mr. Mueller needs to testify and tell us whether he disagrees with Mr. Barr's analysis and conclusions about obstruction of evidence, what he thinks about the Attorney General's reaching his decision without reviewing any of the underlying evidence, what Mr. Mueller thought of Mr. Barr's characterization of their reported disagreements, whether there were other disagreements that have not been reported, and whether Mr. Mueller's knowledge of what Mr. Barr has done leads him to conclude that the attorney general must recuse himself from the continuing Trump investigations."

It's a long list, Matt, obviously, valid questions.  One problem, Bob Mueller is an employee of the Department of Justice.  His boss is Bill Barr, the attorney general, unless and until such time he's allowed to testify or is no longer an employee.

MILLER:  Yes, and, Bill Barr said today and he said previously that he had no objection to the special counsel testifying.  However, for some reason he can't -- the Justice Department can't seem to find a date to make him available to the House Judiciary Committee which is said very much it wants to have him come testify.  I think those are very good questions that Neal laid out.

I think before this week, I always thought that Mueller's testimony would be a bit of a disappointment, that he would come in and talk and kind of testify the way he did when he was the FBI director which would be reticent to say anything beyond what was in that report.  But after finding out last night that he was so upset with the way Barr handled himself in his first letter that he sent two letters to the special -- to the Attorney General complaining and in the second one arguing that he misled the American people.  And what's happened since then?  The Attorney General doubled down on that at a press conference and then tripled down on it today and continued to mislead the American public about what the Special Counsel had found.

I wonder now if Bob Mueller, if he was mad enough on March 27th to send this kind of extraordinary letter to the Attorney General, if he's even more upset now that he might come in when he eventually testifies, maybe after he's left the department and really lay his disagreements out for everyone to see.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Ken, the Democrats as of tonight have been presented with a moment.  There will be no Barr at tomorrow's hearing.  They are capable of playing it correctly and whatever -- who's ever view that is or screwing it up.  Do you think there's going to be empty chair theater in the hearing room tomorrow?

VOGEL:  Possibly.  I mean, you know, sort of the rub here, Brian, is that there is this conventional wisdom which I think is well founded that having professional lawyer staff members who are professional lawyers for the committee do the testimony tends to result in more poignant questions and better answers or at least more confrontational on-point questions.  But we saw today there were several Democratic senators who were able to elicit very revealing responses from Bill Barr during the testimony, including Senators Harris and Blumenthal.  We talked a little bit about and you showed some clips of their very on-point questions.

And so you would think that the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee might be able to do the same thing, but at this point, the sides are kind of dug into their corners and I don't expect that either will give.

WILLIAMS:  Figuring that they've all been up all day, anyway, all of our guests have agreed to stay with us over just this next break.  And when we come back, what Ken just referred to, we'll look at how much Senate Democrats were really able to accomplish on their own today.

And later, one Republican strategist today called Barr the President's taxpayer-funded defense lawyer.  Tonight, the reviews are in from Barr's boss.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this eventful Wednesday night on Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  Bob Mueller is the equivalent of a U.S. attorney.  He was exercising the powers of the attorney general subject to the supervision of the attorney general.  His work concluded when he sent his report to the attorney general.  At that point, it was my baby, and I was making a decision as to whether or not to make it public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  During his testimony today, the Attorney General spoke about a conversation he had with Robert Mueller after he received that critical letter from Mueller of Barr's March 24th summary to Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  I said, Bob, what's with the letter, you know?  Why don't you just pick up the phone and call me if there's an issue.  And he said that they were concerned about the way the media was playing this and felt that it was important to get out the summaries which they felt would put their work in proper context and avoid some of the confusion that was emerging and I asked him if he felt that my letter was misleading or inaccurate and he said no.  That the press -- he felt that the press coverage was -- and it was -- and that a completer (ph), a more complete picture of his thoughts and the context and so forth would deal with that.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (F) CONNECTICUT JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  But there's nothing in Robert Mueller's letter to you about the press.  His complaint to you is about your characterization of the report.  Correct?

BARR:  Well, the letter speaks for itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  After that exchange, the Judiciary Chairman, Lindsey Graham, said he would reach out to Robert Mueller to ask him if he disagreed with Barr's characterization of that conversation.  He was then asked about calling Mueller to testify.  This was in the hallway after the hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why not call for Mueller to testify?

GRAHAM:  Because I'm not going to do any more.  Enough already.  It's over.

If there's any dispute about a conversation, then he'll come, but I'm not going to retry the case.  I'm not calling McGahn.  It is over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The Chairman disappeared after that.

Still with us, Berit Berger, Matt Miller, Jeremy Bash, and Ken Vogel

Berit, the question is, and I know you're not a political person, did the Democrats do the damage to this witness they wanted to do?  One of the headlines tonight, because I'm from New Jersey, the record shows he took the blows for his boss.  Donald Trump did not get pummeled today.  Barr did.

BERGER:  Yes.  I think the democrats landed a lot of really strategic punches in this hearing.  I mean, they were able to ask effective questions.  I think they really poked holes in a lot of what Barr had to say.

I mean, I think the ultimate question at the end of this is, like, so what, right?  Because how does this actually help Congress in what is their ultimate decision, which is do they actually use the information in the Mueller report to begin any kind of impeachment proceedings?

Did this advance the ball for them on that field?  I think it did.  I think it definitely gave them some more fodder for bringing in it additional witnesses, such as Mueller, such as McGahn, but I don't know that -- I don't know that we have a, you know, full picture of what went into the unrolling of the Mueller report.  So I think there's definitely still room for more inquiry on this.

WILLIAMS:  Matt Miller, Barr says with a straight face that Trump fully cooperated but we know Trump didn't sit down for testimony.

MILLER:  Yes, that was one of the remarkable things he said that he's said for a while now that the President fully cooperated when he only gave written answers to half the report.  He wouldn't sit down at all.

I think it goes to this point that he was really acting kind of as the President's defense attorney.  And so the to question you asked Berit, look, I think Democrats succeeded in dinging his credibility, in kind of dirtying up his credibility a little bit.  But at the same time, he's not playing the same game, he's not worried I don't think about his credibility with the mainstream press or with kind of, you know, people in middle America.  He's aiming for that Fox viewer, the Fox audience, who just needs to hear a different narrative, they need to hear no collusion, no obstruction and that this was a witch hunt from the beginning and there needs to be an investigation into the investigation.  That's what he was trying to do.

And so for Democrats going forward, you know, look, he's not coming to testify before the House Committee tomorrow chaired by Democrats.  I don't think that's actually a bad thing for Democrats.  They don't need to hear any more from the President's chief defender who can sit there and explain why in his view the President didn't commit a crime.  They need to hear from the witnesses that Bob Mueller put in his report.  Don McGahn, Don McGahn's chief of staff, Corey Lewandowski, start hearings with those folks, so the focus is not on Bill Barr but on Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, if your chief concern is the fact that our next Presidential election is vulnerable to the Russians again, did you hear anything today that would satisfy you?

BASH:  No.  In fact, I think the Attorney General is downplaying the whole notion that the Russians posed a threat.  I mean, there was some back and forth with some Republican senators about it but the whole approach by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General in this case is there's not much to see here, don't worry about it.

You know, I agree with Matt.  I don't think the Democrats gain much by having the Attorney General there tomorrow.  Although I have to say, I've been along for many Congressional testimonies of Cabinet secretaries, agency heads, where they usually do this Senate then the House, House and the Senate, back to back.  I have never seen a witness throwing a towel after day one, and just refuse to show for day two.  It shows how much they don't believe that Barr actually did the President any good and how he's actually doing him tremendous damage.

WILLIAMS:  Interesting.  And, Ken Vogel, you have a big story tonight in the New York Times website.  Tomorrow, page 1 of the print edition.  If you can summarize what folks will hopefully later read, it involves this man, Joe Biden.  There's even a cameo by Rudolph Giuliani.

KEN VOGEL, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, POLITICO:  Yes.  It's almost two separate stories.  We have Joe Biden as vice president having intervened to sort of force the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who happened to have an open case looking into a company, a Ukrainian gas company that was employing Joe Biden's son.  Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, was on the board, so potential conflict of interest there and I think Joe Biden will have to answer for particularly as he's casting himself in the presidential campaign as a real statesman and someone who avoids the type of controversies that have surrounded Donald Trump.

And then on the other side, you have Rudy Giuliani and allies of the President who are actually soliciting information from Ukrainians that could be damaging to Joe Biden and also could be used to undermine the origins of parts of the Special Counsel, what became the Special Counsel investigation.  So you have Rudy Giuliani really trying to capitalize on this in a way that could redound to Donald Trump's benefit.

WILLIAMS:  To our viewers, the request remains the same.  Look for Ken Vogel's byline as always, especially tonight.  To Ken Vogel, our thanks, along with Berit Berger, Matt Miller, Jeremy Bash.  Our foursome taking on this big day.  Our thanks.

And coming up, what Donald Trump had to say about what he saw today, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I heard that the Attorney General was really, really, solid and did a great job today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Not all -- not all the reviews were quite like that.  The Washington Post headline tonight is this.  "With Mueller silent, Barr interprets the Special Counsel's report to the advantage of Trump."  And there is no question the President is pleased.  Here he was on Fox Business tonight. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  He did a fantastic job today, I'm told.  I got to see some of it.  He did a fantastic job.  And it's all a big hoax.  He's an outstanding man.  He's an outstanding legal mind and I heard he was really -- he performed incredibly well today.  And --

TRISH REGAN, HOST, FOX BUSINESS:  You have, you know, Kamala Harris.

TRUMP:  Well, she was probably very nasty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was about Kamala Harris.  I had not heard the President call it a hoax before, however.  With us to talk about it tonight. John Heilemann, Veteran Journalist, National Affairs Analyst, Co-author -- thank you, thank you, Jonathan, of "Game Change" and Co-host, Co-creator of "The Circus" on Showtime.  And Jonathan Lemire, who was pointing to Heilemann earlier, White House Reporter for the Associated Press.

Jonathan Lemire, we begin with you and your beat because you have fresh reporting on how today as a broadcast live television event went over in the West Wing and portions of the residence.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:  It went over very well.  There are a number of televisions in the West Wing throughout, scattered throughout the offices there, including one just off the Oval Office in the President's private kitchen, dining area.  That was tuned to the hearings today.

And the people I've talked to, who have spoken to the President since, others in the West Wing, White House officials, said the President kept a careful eye on this both in the residence before coming down to the Oval Office, and then again between meetings once he got to work for the day.  And that he told people privately more or less what he said publicly adding a few details.

That he, yes, he thought the Attorney General did a good job.  He defended him appropriately.  He really -- he told a couple people that he thought that he was very combative with Democratic senators and liked that.  He liked that sort of fighting spirit.

  And this continues, what has really become, you know, that the President didn't have much of a relationship with Bill Barr before he took this post.  But since that summary, that four-page summary a month or so back, was released of the Mueller report, the President has been telling people really raving about his selection saying it was a great choice for him.  In particular, and this was heightened again today, because he feels like Bill Barr was loyal to him.  And that's what he wanted.

He as we all know, he complained a length with the previous Attorney General, Jeff Sessions was not after Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe and he feels like Barr here is sort of protecting him, is protecting the President.  As we know, this President feels like the Attorney General job is about that, much more so than, perhaps, being the nation's top law enforcement officer.

WILLIAMS:  All the evidence shows he's got his man in that job now.  John Heilemann, I have this for you.  Here is how Sean Hannity started his broadcast tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS :  All right.  Buckle up.  Welcome to "Hannity."  Let me give you a quick headline.  The details will follow.  Nobody else will report.  The Mueller witch hunt is completely over.  It is done.  Nobody listened to the Attorney General and, yes, the Attorney General admitted today everything we've reported the last two years, full criminal investigations, are now just beginning.

Imagine that.  A talk show host is right and so many in the fake news industry are wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  John, have we gotten it wrong these past two-plus years?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  I just -- Yes.  First of all, you bring me in here and the first thing you serve me up is a big fat steaming plate of Hannity, so thanks for that.

WILLIAMS:  On the house.

HEILEMANN:  I bet it's been a long day.

WILLIAMS:  On the house.

HEILEMANN:  And you just brought it out here for me.

WILLIAMS:  Happy to do it.

HEILEMANN:  There's a phrase, people talk about a pig in, you know, that's Sean right now.  He's happy as a pig in, you know.

Have we all got it wrong?  I mean, many people would say that the news, not so much the Barr news, not the Barr performance today, which as my friend Mr. Lemire says, you know, a predictably, what was -- how Barr has been behaving for the last two months.  Certainly for the last -- since the events in question have really unfolded.  As a political apparatchik for the President.  So the President is happy.

For once, a President who has now lied 10,000 times in office seems to be telling the truth and that he is saying he was pleased with performance and, in fact, he seems to be actually pleased with performance and for good reason.  But the news really the last 24 hours is nothing that happened in the hearing today.

The news is the Mueller letter that we now know that Mueller wrote to Barr and we can fairly characterize the Special Counsel is having been furious.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

HEILEMANN:  Apoplectic, willing to write multiple letters, you know, trying to beat down the door of the Attorney General's Office to say you're lying about my report.  That's a pretty big piece of news and it suggests that, perhaps, there's an alternative reading of reality here that's not what Sean Hannity wants us to think.

WILLIAMS:  Both of these gentlemen have agreed against their better judgment to stay with us over this break.

When we come back, what was on the President's mind before Mr. Barr sat in that witness chair this morning?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  We are back and we have established the media attention was on the Attorney General today.  The President's attention this morning seemed squarely focused on one Joe Biden, bordering on obsession.

Donald Trump fired off roughly 60 tweets and re-tweets within a 20-minute span.  What got him -- what got to him, specifically, today, the National Firefighters Union support for Biden's presidential bid.

Still with us, John Heilemann, Jonathan Lemire.  So, Mr. Heilemann, you saw the Trump Republican Party operating as one today from chairman of the Committee, to Attorney General, what they couldn't do was effect the head guy who's got to say what he's got to say.

HEILEMANN:  Yes.  I mean, the President has his -- there's -- it's -- this Republican Party is rarely operates in quite so much concert in terms of its message strategy, and often acts in concert in terms of what its aims are in terms of protecting the President, falling in line behind him.  But rarely is the message quite so well-orchestrated as this today, except, of course, the President is not part of that.

The President has his own wants and his own impulses.  And right now it's clear not just from today but really since Joe Biden got in the race that the former vice president is a burr under the presidential saddle right now.   And, you know, anyone who -- everyone makes of Joe Biden's prospects in the Democratic Nomination fight, there are varying views about that, he's clearly right now not just the paper front-runner but the real front- runner.

At this moment, Joe Biden is the front-runner and anybody who right now thinks that Joe Biden is a paper front-runner, they're not in sync with Donald Trump.  Donald Trump is clearly bothered by Joe Biden, is worried about Joe Biden, is obsessed with Joe Biden.  He's a man who is the fear that he has, the nervousness he has about the prospect of running against Biden, is pretty evident in his social media and other utterances.

WILLIAMS:  But political wisdom would teach you, Jonathan Lemire, you don't want to be the front-runner now. 

LEMIRE:  No.

WILLIAMS:  It's eight months before our first primary.  The entire party is going the opposite way of Joe Biden.  He's in many ways an outlier along with Bernie to a lesser degree.  So what is it about this guy if you're Donald Trump?

LEMIRE:  There's a few things.  You're right.  Certainly Biden is having a moment.  He's the front-runner now.  These polls have all been very good.  Surprisingly good I think to many here.

The reason why Biden, people I've talked to that close to President, consider significant, it's a few.  But there's a history of bad blood here.  Remember in the 2016 campaign, there was even talk of the two of them going out behind the barn and having a fight.

WILLIAMS:  Right.

LEMIRE:  There is that.  So that's something that Donald Trump is sort of - - certainly remembered.  But Biden has an appeal to a particular demographic that the President really prides himself for having won, sort of that blue collar white voter, working class voter.  Many of whom preside in the upper Midwest that was so essential to the President winning in 2016, and he is really banking his hopes on again this time around.

Firefighter resembles that character pretty carefully.  And I know being on the trail in 2016, a lot of firefighter types, different personnel supported the President.  Even if the unions did not.  That time they sat it out.  This time they've already given their endorsement.

And these re-tweets say almost all firefighters who said they weren't going vote for Biden.  They were going to vote for Trump.  The President clearly wants them to stay on-board.  I know you have some thoughts about firefighters.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  However, look at the time.  To John Heilemann, to Jonathan Lemire, it's been a long day for all of us.  Thank you, both, for coming on.

And coming up, after yet another unprecedented day for the Trump administration, and by the way, for our country, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham is with us to talk about all of it after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  The critics who pounced on the Attorney General today said he acted like his client is the President and not the American people, as our chief law enforcement officer.  James Comey, whose firing started it all, posted a piece in the New York Times just as the hearing got under way.  He offered a theory on how the President co-ops people like Bill Barr.

And he wrote, "Trump's outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear.  Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.  Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises.  You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values and then, you are lost.  He has eaten your soul."

Back with us again tonight, Pulitzer Prize winning Author and Presidential Historian, Jon Meacham.  Jon, I want to know where we are tonight as a country?  And before you compare this any other moment in hearings, we have loved in the past, I watched the coverage tonight on two different cable networks, here's a hint one of them employs us both, and they apparently covered two different hearings today.  So, that's something new for American society, relatively.

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR AND PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, we do live on separate political planets and hopefully we occasionally have diplomatic relations between the two.  I'm going to use a fictional analogy, if I may, but based on history.

I thought where we were today was in a reality TV version of "A Man for All Seasons," where Thomas Moore is betrayed by Richard Rich, in exchange for whales.  He's granted a title in Whales.  And Thomas Moore says as he's being carried off, "But for Whales, Richard, for Whales?"  Put in the word Trump, and change the name to Bill and you have where we are.

Bill Barr has decided that for whatever reason, his historical fate is in safer and better hands with Donald Trump than with the rule of law, and -- or with Robert Mueller.  And so, and I guess in this analogy Mueller becomes Thomas Moore, which may be a beat too far.  But we watched someone today, basically, historically, decide that they would like the rest of the American republic to look back and use this man as a case study in how to altercate and cherry pick in defense of a particular client, as opposed to the broad nation as a hole.

And this isn't really even a partisan point.  It's clear, I mean, I was watching it, thinking, I hope this guy goes back into private practice soon, because I might need to hire him at some point.  He'd be a good defense lawyer.  You'd want him on your side.  He has that laconic, almost cheneyesque jowly cynicism that tends to try to appear, he tries to make the questioner appear to be the outrageous one.

When what the questioners are doing is exercising their rights under a constitution that was based on divided sovereignty.  And right now, it seems to me, we have an Attorney General who has decided that he's a defense lawyer, he's not our lawyer.

WILLIAMS:  To thine own self be true.  And does Robert Mueller's reputation remain where it was?  Is he just about to a lot of people the most important living American at this point in time? 

MEACHAM:  You know, three weeks ago, four weeks ago, I thought, you know, the great Mueller moment had probably passed, that our sense that he was our Fortinbras, that he was the heroic figure who was going to come down, you know.  At that moment had passed, his decision to follow the OLC opinion as opposed to trying to litigate or adjudicate whether you can indict a sitting president, seemed to me as a Layman he has ducked on the issue.

Bill Barr has now done something I didn't think was possible, which is has reelevated Robert Mueller to almost sanctified status.  Perhaps after Director Mueller testifies, if that ever happens, perhaps he falls back off that pedestal.  But compared to what the Attorney General's been doing, Director Mueller, you know, looks like maybe Thomas  Moore is not a bad example.

WILLIAMS:  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why our guest tonight has a Pulitzer Prize and I have a valid driver's license.  Jon, always a pleasure.  Please come back.  Thank you, sir, very much for joining us on this, as we say consequential Wednesday night.  More of THE 11TH HOUR when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA:  In reaching your conclusion, did you personally review all of the underlying evidence? 

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  No.  We took and accept --

HARRIS:  Did -- did Mr. Rosenstein?

BARR:  No.  We accepted the statements in the report as factual record.

HARRIS:  Did anyone in your executive office review the evidence supporting the report?

BARR:  No.

HARRIS:  No.  Yet you represented to the American public that the evidence was not "sufficient to support an obstruction of justice offense."

BARR:  The evidence presented in the report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Democratic senator and former prosecutor Kamala Harris of California made headway for her side of the hearing room late in the day during her questioning of the Attorney General.  She will be a guest tomorrow morning on "Morning Joe."  With thanks to Nicolle Wallace and all of our legal experts and former feds who are with us all day long for every moment of the coverage today.

That is our broadcast for this busy Wednesday night.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Goodnight from NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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