Treasury defies request for Trump's taxes. TRANSCRIPT: 5/6/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Ashley Parker, Jessica Roth, Jill Colvin, Greg Miller, BarryMcCaffrey

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WAYNE LAPIERRE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION:  The elites don`t care not one with --

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LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And by the elite he means of course the leadership of the National Rifle Association.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  tonight, the Treasury Secretary refuses to hand over Trump`s tax returns to Congress, which means this battle is likely headed to the Supreme Court.

Also, a bipartisan group of more than 500 former prosecutors comes forward to say that if Donald Trump weren`t President, he would be charged with obstruction of justice.

The President, meanwhile, has changed his tune on Mueller`s testimony.  Now he says he`s had two years of his presidency stolen thanks to the investigation.

And Michael Cohen, Trump`s one-time fixer behind bars tonight as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams.  Day 837 of the Trump administration and it brings a major escalation in the fight between the President and the Democratic Congress as the Treasury Department defies a demand from House Democrats and refuses to hand over Trump`s tax returns.  This the latest example of the Trump White House`s rebuffing attempts at Congressional oversight.

In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said of the request, it "lacks a legitimate legislative purpose."  Also said, "The Department is not authorized to disclose the requested returns.

Also tonight, there are new concerns about whether the President can stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller, seen earlier tonight leaving a restaurant in D.C. from testifying before Congress.

Yesterday Trump sent this message, "Why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller?  Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong no collusion conclusion?  There was no crime and no obstruction.  Bob Mueller should not testify."  That appears to contradict what President Trump and his attorney general said very recently.

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KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Mr. President, should Mueller testify?  Would you like to see him testify?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don`t know. That`s up to our attorney general, who I think has done a fantastic job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Will you permit him to testify publicly to Congress?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying.

SE. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  What about Bob Mueller? Should he be allowed to testify?

BARR:  I`ve already said publicly I have no objection to him.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, (D) HAWAII, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Is the White House exerting any influence on your decision whether to allow Special Counsel Mueller to testify in Congress and when?

BARR:  No.

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KORNACKI:  And Mueller remains a Justice Department employee right now.  He was expected to step down shortly after he turned in his report on March 22.  But as the AP reports, "keeping him on the Justice Department payroll offers one clear advantage to Donald Trump`s administration.  It makes it easier for attorney general William Barr to block Mueller from testifying before Congress.

Democrats have been pushing to hear from Mueller as NBC News reported the House judiciary committee has been in direct talks with the Mueller team and proposed May 15th as a possible hearing date.  Meanwhile, that same committee has been locked in a standoff with the Attorney General, William Barr, who last week of course skipped a scheduled hearing, and he has missed deadlines to turn over a full unredacted copy of Mueller`s report.

Today Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler announced that members plan on Wednesday to vote on recommending that the House hold Barr in contempt of Congress.  Department of Justice had asked Nadler for a meeting on Wednesday.  He now says that meet willing take place tomorrow.  Democrats appear to be getting something of an assist in their battle with the administration over the report for more than 500 former Justice Department officials and federal prosecutors who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations.  They have signed a letter saying that Mueller`s findings would have produced obstruction charges against Trump if he was not the President.

They write, "Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in special counsel Robert Mueller`s report would in the case of any person not covered by the office of legal counsel policy against indicting a sitting President result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice."

On the day he released the Mueller report, Attorney General William Barr made a point of recounting a conversation that he had with the special counsel about that OLC opinion.  That`s the office of legal counsel.

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BARR:  On march 5th, we specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion.  And he made it very clear several times that that was not his position.  He was not saying that -- but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime. He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.

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KORNACKI:  And Trump appears to have developed a new line of attack aimed at the report in the investigation.  This weekend, he retweeted a message from conservative religious leader and ally, Jerry Falwell, Jr. who had written, "I now support reparations.  Trump should have two years added to his first term as pay back for times stolen by this corrupt, failed coup."  Trump then echoed that writing, "they have stole two years of my -- our -- presidency, collusion delusion that I will never be able the get back."

Here for our lead off discussion on a Monday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post."  Sam Stein, Politics Editor for the Daily Beast.  Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press.  And with me here in New York, Jessica Roth, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and now a professor at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.  Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Ashley, let me start with you because there are a number of balls in the air right now when it comes to investigations, oversight, potential hearings here.  We have the issue tonight of the tax returns, the Democrats in the House who control the House Ways and Means Committee, they had demanded six years of Trump`s tax returns.  Now you have the Treasury Department saying that`s not happening.  Potential court fight there.  You have the issue of Bill Barr, the attorney general going to be held in contempt of Congress.

And the question of whether Trump, whether the administration will block any attempt by the Judiciary Committee to hear from the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.  My question to you is among Democrats trying to sort through all of this, is there any sense right now, have they prioritized any of these fights politically and legally?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  They`re still sort of trying to figure it out.  And what you`re seeing is them being forced to react to a White House strategy that very early on the White House sort of made a blanket decision that they will not turn anything over.  They will not turn over any documents.  They will force anything to be subpoenaed.  They will not OK any witnesses.

And so you outline those fights quite well.  In each new instance, the Democrats kind of have to make a decision.  Obviously, Barr was their first priority.  We`re now reporting and seeing that they may also -- they`re considering holding Don McGahn in contempt, depending on if he decides to come and testify and provide documents.

And so I think you`re seeing the Democrats kind of trying to figure out these different tracks.  Some of them are happening simultaneously, and then of course the committee`s kind to have to decide, you know, who are the most important witnesses.  Of course Mueller is a top one, and what are the most important documents.  And Don McGahn and his orbit possesses some of what they believe are the most important documents.

KORNACKI:  OK.  Now, Jessica, to you on this specific question today of the tax returns.  So there is this law, I think it was a 1924 law.  Essentially the Ways and Means Committee can request anybody`s tax returns.  The tax returns are then to be handed over.  A select group of members of Congress can review it.  Supposedly they review it privately.

Obviously, the expectation here is in that in this case that would somehow leak publicly.  This response from the Treasury Department, what do you make of it legally?  And if you don`t think it would hold up legally, if that is your answer to this, how long would it take to adjudicate something like that?

JESSICA ROTH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  So legally, I don`t make much of this, and I`d be interested to see what the legal argument is that they present.  The letter today indicates that they`re getting an opinion, a formal opinion from the Justice Department and that will be forthcoming.  So I want to see what the legal basis is for them denying the tax return.

The statute is quite clear here.  It says that the Treasury Department shall provide the requested tax return upon written request by the requisite members of Congress who have provided that written request.  The right people have made the request in the right format.  So pursuant to this statue, the Treasury Department is supposed to provide it.

In terms of how Congress now enforces the statute, I think they`re going to have to go to a federal district court and effectively sue in a civil enforcement proceeding to effectuate their power pursuant to this statute.  As I said, I think their legal authority is clear.  We`ll see what the Treasury Department on behalf of the President asserts in response in terms of how quickly this could happen.  It strikes me as a purely legal question.  So it could be decided fairly quickly by a court.  There are provisions for expedited appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and even to the United States Supreme Court if necessary, so.

KORNACKI:  So, I mean, is it plausibly, is it something we`re sitting here in May of 2019?  The election is in about a year and a half.  Plausibly, could it all be resolved one way or another before that election?

ROTH:  On this narrow legal issue, I think so.  Unless the district court finds there are factual issues that need to be aired.  But if it`s a purely legal question in terms of interpretation of the statute, then I think it could be done fairly expeditiously.  That`s going to be in their discretion.

KORNACKI:  OK, now Jill, on this other question, we mentioned a number of balls that are in the air right now.  This question of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, will he end up testifying in front of Congress, specifically the House Judiciary Committee.  You had William Barr there last week saying publicly, "go ahead.  I hope he does that.  I have no problem with him doing that."

The President, though, seeming to reverse course in some tweets over the weekend.  Now, some reporting here, I believe this is from Politico saying that Trump`s advisers are surprised about Trump sending out that tweet.  Here is a quote.  "He caught his inner circle by surprise."  This is from Politico.  "He is not signaling anything other than as an innocent man so found by Mr. Mueller he wants this over.  He`d like to govern.  That`s all he`s saying, Joe diGenova, he`s an informal Trump legal adviser telling Politico."

Jill, in terms of what the administration might do to try block Mueller from testifying, do you have any sense of that right now where they say hey, you`re still a DOJ employee and you can`t?

JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, it`s interesting, because we`d been told that Mueller was supposed to be departing the Justice Department within days of the Mueller report being submitted.  There were supposed to be a number of legal staffers who would stay on, would close up shop.  But he was expecting to leave.  And at this point weeks later he is still an employee of the Justice Department which means that it is up to the DOJ to decide whether or not he testifies.

Once he leaves that job, he becomes a private citizen, and then it is up to him personally to decide what to do.  That said, all indications that we`ve had so far from the President and from the Justice Department was that they expected Mueller to eventually come and testify.

Sometimes you`ve got the President sort of sits there on the weekends, especially when it`s rainy and he can`t get to the golf course, and sometimes he lets off steam by tweeting out ideas.  You know, he`ll retweet just like he did there to Jerry Falwell Jr., about potentially extending his term two years which is obviously not at all a realistic idea.  He`ll talk about maybe Mueller shouldn`t testify because I want this to be over.

And we know from our sources at the AP that the President is concerned about the optics of what a Mueller hearing would look like.  He doesn`t like the idea of all this attention being put on Mueller, of everyone relitigating the details of the Mueller report.  The idea of, you have this person who is very well respected standing up there giving extra gravitas to the details in the report and rehashing them.  But from all indications right now it does sound like eventually he will be allowed to go.

KORNACKI:  And Sam, to the politics of all this, our new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll we just came out with this in the last 24 to 36 hours, Trump`s approval rating as all of this swirls in our poll, up to 46 percent.  It had been 43 percent the last time we polled this.  There`d been a couple other polls out there, I think it was Gallup a few days ago that also measured Trump at 46 percent, suggesting here that at the very least the for the President, the bottom not falling out in response to all of this news.

You could argue whether he`s up at all.  He certainly doesn`t look like he is down in any meaningful way.  And then you had the President there as we showed on twitter maybe testing out a team.  He is going to press this idea of hey, my opponents tried to steal two years from me with all of this investigation.  Does it look to you that that`s the card Trump is going to try to play here heading into 2020?

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICS EDITOR:  Well, it`s under the general concept of victimhood which is the card that he usually and always plays, so yes, I think you can see that happening.

I`m not a poll maven so I`m not totally sure what is the reason for the uptick.  But you can imagine that having the Mueller report actually behind him to some degree does help.  And certainly, he has engendered some sympathy from Republicans who feel like, yes, he did endure a very tough two years on this matter and to some degree made it through.  Now, of course, this is all clouded in legal vagaries and political ones as well.

And to a certain degree, there`s a risk that Trump runs here is which is in stonewalling a lot of the oversight, in refusing to allow Bob Mueller to testify or Don McGahn to testify, and instructing or signaling to Barr that he should bottle up some of the contents of the Mueller report.  He does risk keeping this in the news and coming off as if there`s some sort of cover-up happening here.  So, I`m not surprise that there is a little bit of a walk back on his tweet right now because this isn`t necessarily the soundest political strategy ever.

But we will see.  We`ll see what happens in the days and weeks ahead.  And of course there are some things he can`t control.  And when Mueller does eventually go to the Hill to testify, that could be the type of event that would maybe knock those poll numbers down a bit.

KORNACKI:  And Ashley, you`ve also taken a look at Trump`s reaction here, the reaction I should say caused by Trump saying his stolen presidency.  There`s also this reporting Nancy Pelosi, this from "The New York Times," Nancy Pelosi telling Democrats in recent weeks, telling associates she does not automatically trust the President to respect the results of any election short (ph) of an overwhelming defeat.  We have to inoculate against that, she says, we have to be prepared for that.

I wonder the fact of Pelosi invoking that concern right now, this is something that obviously got a lot of attention in the run-up to the 2016 election when Trump was behind in all of the polls.  But Trump not necessarily pushing that theme lately.  Pelosi invoking it now.  Is there obviously something, I think, was a lot of visceral appeal to Democrats.  Is this part of an effort to unify her own party in some way?

PARKER:  Potentially.  I mean, I think sort of the one-two punch of Pelosi`s comments in that interview and Trump retweeting Jerry Falwell Jr. sort of as aides and friends of his would say joking that he deserves two more years.  They say he understands the Constitution and he doesn`t really believe he`s going to get this bonus time.

But Pelosi`s comments, to go back to your original question, really do reflect a genuine anxiety among some Democrats and some portions of the country who say, you know, Trump may be joking now, but this is a potential trial balloon.  And if you look back, this is a President, they say, who has spent a significant portion of his presidency sort of chipping away at the pillars of democracy, undermining even his own Justice Department.

And he`s someone who, as you mention again, during the 2016 campaign showed a real unwillingness potentially to accept election results that did not benefit him.  It`s someone who even after he won the election but of course lost the popular vote came out and said with no evidence that, you know, millions and millions of people had voted illegally, that people were bussed north from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to vote illegally in that state.  And so this is a President who does have a track record of sort of staying this stuff and meaning this stuff.  And so the anxiety is quite frankly genuine, and it can serve as a sort of political rallying cry for Speaker Pelosi.

KORNACKI:  Well I asked about that, Sam, because it seems, you know, we`ve had all of these stories, all of this speculation about some of the new more vocal members of the Democratic caucus.  Are they going to poll the Democratic caucus to the left?  Are they going to take it into some politically fraught territory?

And it seems the indications I`ve seen from Pelosi is that she is trying to play a strategically moderating role there in terms of what kind of a face the party puts on nationally.  Whether she`s having success with that is up for debate, but it certainly seems like she is trying to play that role.  I wonder if bringing this up right now might have the effect of basically saying to her party, hey, let`s keep our eyes on the ball here.

STEIN:  Yes, I think that`s right.  I do wonder how much bandwidths she has here, though.  There is palpable frustration among Democratic lawmakers at the progress of some of these investigations, especially the one to get Trump`s tax returns, which I felt could have been instigated far sooner to start the clock effectively.

There is concern about the way the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler has handled the issues of subpoenas and contempt citations would basically half the Democratic caucus saying "Look, we all know how this is going to play out.  He is going to resist.  He is not going to abide by subpoenas.  Let`s just get the ball rolling."  And so Pelosi is playing the role of trying to sort of tamp down expectations, trying to let the process play itself out without allowing the base to overwhelm some of the leadership.

But you can sense that as days go by, as less and less is being done on an oversight standpoint that her party may be growing increasingly frustrated.  And we`ll see how long she can keep it at bay.

KORNACKI:  Yes, and Jill, on that point, look, if the Judiciary Committee here, Jerry Nadler`s committee, if they do indeed move to recommend contempt charges for Barr, the attorney general to hold him in contempt of Congress, what is the appetite among the broader Democratic caucus in Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker specifically, to bring that to the House floor and potentially to pass that?

COLVIN:  Well, the Speaker certainly seems to be liking the idea right now of being able to zero in on Bill Barr, kind of making him the target of Democrats` frustrations, sort of a way for them not to be zeroing in on Trump at this particular moment.  You know, that said, this is something that will only last for a certain amount of time, until he either comes back.

And just I think we kind of need to step back to this really extraordinary moment that we`re in right now of the executive branch really at full war with the legislative branch.  I had a colleague this weekend who wrote a story about how folks on the Hill are even talking about whether there is a jail somewhere on the Senate.  You know, questions where you might put lawmakers if you decide that at some point you are going to sue them, you`re going to fine them.  Potentially you might want to jail them to compel them to testify.

I mean, really extraordinary stuff that we have been not talking about in this country for 100 years.  And now we`re at that point where these discussions are actually taking place.

KORNACKI:  OK, Jill Colvin, Ashley Parker, Sam Stein, and Jessica Roth, thank you to all of you.

And coming up, if Russia enjoys sowing discord in this country, how might Putin see the past few days` worth of news in this country?

And later, he once said he would take a bullet for Trump.  Tonight he is spending his first night in federal prison.  Michael Cohen`s final message before starting his three-year stint behind bars.  "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Monday night.

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KORNACKI:  It has been a very busy few days of fast-breaking news.  And earlier today, "Washington Post" National Security Correspondent Greg Miller offered his own assessment of what Russia might make of all of it.  "If Russia is keeping score on what it won/lost in 2016, does this count as a win streak?  In a span of days Trump talks hoax with Putin, says he is with Kim Jong-Un, sends Dow tumbling on a terror threat, seeks to block Mueller, claims two years of presidency stolen."

With us for more is Greg Miller, Pulitzer Price-winning National Security Correspondent for "The Washington Post."  He is the author of "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy."

Greg, thank you for taking a few minutes.  Let me start, you have an interesting piece.  I want to take this in two pieces with you because you look at Putin`s reaction to what we have all been absorbing here in terms of the news in the United States from the Mueller report and specifically what it documents about Russia`s interference campaign in 2016.  He is very dismissive.  He sniffs at it.

You say it`s a self-serving assessment that fails to acknowledge the significant costs to Moscow.  At the same time you say that there is a consensus emerging in the national security community.  This was overall a win for Putin.  So let me take the two individual pieces here.

GREG MILLER, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT:  Sure.

KORNACKI:  First, when you say there have been significant costs for this interference campaign that Moscow has endured, what are those significant costs?

MILLER:  Well, Moscow is under greater sanctions now than it was at the start of the Trump presidency.  It`s more isolated, I think.  And I think that it`s -- you have actually, you know, more broadly in Washington outside the White House, beyond the Oval Office.  You have much more sort of bipartisan concern about Russia and its behavior in the world than you might have had three or four years ago.

And, you know, Russia`s economy has not gotten any stronger.  There are costs.  There are things that Russia really wanted out of a Trump presidency that it has not gotten.  And I would put sanctions at the top of that list.

KORNACKI:  OK.  So those are the downsides for Russia.

MILLER:  Yes.

KORNACKI:  You`re saying, though, overall, consensus emerging that it was a win for them overall.  Why is that?

MILLER:  Well, when you go back and look at the U.S. Intelligence agency`s assessment of what happened in 2016, and what Russia`s overarching objectives were, they were to sow discord and to erode confidence in the American style democracy, western style democracy.  And the dysfunction that we see in Washington and, you know, we`ve just come through two years of an investigation, a paralyzing investigation of Russian interference and whether Trump was and colluded -- the Trump campaign had colluded with the Kremlin, we`ve come out of that, and we`re still fighting about it, right?  We`re still -- even now that it`s over fighting about whether Mueller will be allowed to testify, whether Barr will face contempt hearings in Congress.

I mean, these are things that are distracting the United States from other areas where it could focus its energies.  And that is to Russia`s advantage.  It makes the United States look dysfunctional, look feckless, look like it can`t really get its act together.  And that according to U.S. spy agencies was one of the main goals.

KORNACKI:    So I wonder, with all of that in mind what you make of the big question that everybody is asking, which is will Russia seek to do this again in 2020?  If they have endured some significant costs from doing it in 2016 and presumably would absorb the same costs, maybe worse by trying to do it again, is there a scenario where Putin looks and says "Look, I sowed discord.  They`re going to be talking about me through 2020 anyway," so better not chance it, or do you think they will do it again?

MILLER:  I mean, I think that most experts I talked to believed that of course Russia will learn from this.  The lesson it will take is that this was -- we had a huge impact.  Russia had a huge impact for a relatively minor investment.  Why would you not try to replicate that?

Now, there were things about 2016 that were kind of a perfect storm for Russia to have an impact even beyond Russia`s expectations.  And there were motivating factors in 2016, including Putin`s real disdain for, real dislike of Hillary Clinton that animated him and that animated this active measures campaign that Russia mounted.  Those will be missing.

You would also hope that we as Americans are a bit smarter now, that the social media companies that we all spend so much of our lives on are better at getting rid of disinformation, at spotting Russian propaganda and protecting us from it.  You would hobby that`s the case.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Greg Miller from "The Washington Post," thank you very much.  Appreciate the time.

MILLER:  Thank you.

KORNACKI:  And coming up, his name appears in the Mueller report more than 800 times, and today he hinted he still has more to tell.  The fall of Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen when THE 11TH HOUR comes right back.

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MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY:  I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice, and lies at the helm of our country.  There still remains much to be told, and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth.

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KORNACKI:  Michael Cohen speaking to reporters this morning just moments before leaving to start a three-year prison sentence.  In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to charges including tax evasion and campaign finance violations.  President Trump`s former personal attorney arrived at Otisville Prison, about 75 miles northwest of New York City just before noon today.

NBC News reports the process of Cohen`s arrival and check-in was orderly.  And overall, Otisville Satellite Camp for nonviolent offenders isn`t the worst place to do time.  "At Otisville, Cohen joins other quasi-celebrity criminals like Jersey Shore Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and Fyre Festival organizer Billy McFarland, at what the Associated Press has described as the closest thing the federal prison system has to sleepaway camp."  The complex tucked in the green and peaceful environs of the Catskill Mountains, has amenities like tennis courts, horseshoes, and cardio equipment."

With us tonight, the Wall Street Journal`s Rebecca Davis O`Brien who has been reporting about Cohen throughout the Trump presidency, breaking several stories about the President`s former federal attorney, and Jessica Roth is still with us.

Rebecca, let me start with you.  I`m curious.  Michael Cohen had his moment there in front of Congress a couple of months ago.  He certainly commanded the media spotlight.  Certainly has a different view of the President now than he did a short while ago.  Do you think at the end of this whole saga, as he now goes off to prison for three years, do you think that this is the deal he thought he would get at the beginning?  Or do you think he might get more mileage out of this just in terms of the ultimate sentencing? 

REBECCA DAVIS O`BRIEN, REPORTER:  THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Well, I`m sure that as he headed to prison today, Michael Cohen had a lot on his mind.  And I think his probably is what he would say primarily, but he is also I`m sure aggrieved by this feeling that he had -- he didn`t get enough mileage, like you said, out of his-- what he thought of his cooperation an his helpfulness to investigators and prosecutors both in D.C. and in New York.

And I think that he never foresaw, you know, going to prison under any circumstances, and I don`t think he would have foreseen a year ago turning on the President, his long-time -- who he described taking a bullet for or being willing to take a bullet for not so long ago.

KORNACKI:  When you say, wouldn`t have foreseen going to prison, you mean we`re going back a couple of years --

DAVIS O`BRIEN:  Yes. 

KORNACKI:  -- or do you mean like once this started and he got jammed up, and he sort of settled on his strategy, do you think then he thought prison was going to happen or do you think he still thought this would get him somehow a much lighter sentence?

DAVIS O`BRIEN:  That`s hard to say.

KORNACKI:  Yes.

DAVIS O`BRIEN:  I do think that when he chose to plead guilty last August and cooperate, he -- that we can get that late or not, a full cooperation agreement that he thought that would go a long way, at least towards mitigating a potential prison sentence.

KORNACKI:  So that`s the other question here, Jessica.  In the AP reporting that prosecutors have rebuffed Cohen`s repeated offers to provide more information of what he says more -- you heard him there saying in his statement, there`s more to tell.  I`ve got more.  We`ve had these headlines popping up periodically that these offers are supposedly being dangled.

What do you make of that given the incredible legal scrutiny on all things Trump from all sorts of different quarters?  You`ve got this guy out there saying, "I`ll talk, I`ll talk, I`ll talk," and they`re not apparently interested.  What do you make of that? 

JESSICA ROTH, PROFESSOR, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW YESHIVA UNIVERSITY:  Yes.  By all accounts, the Southern District of New York prosecutors are not interested in meeting with him any further at this point.  If they were, I think they might have made some efforts to postpone his surrender, because it`s a lot easier to meet with somebody when they`re not in custody than when they are in custody.

And I suspect that the reason they`re not interested in meeting with him any further are the reasons set forth in their letter when he was sentenced, which is to say that was really trying to place limits on his cooperation.  And the way cooperation is done in the Southern District of New York which is where I came from, it`s really all or nothing.

You have to be willing to tell all about what you`ve done and what you know about that other people have done, and he wasn`t willing to do that.  And the Southern District doesn`t let people put those kinds of limits on their cooperation.

And in addition, I think that the recordings that were reported recently, his conversations with Tom Arnold where he was sort of walking back his admissions of guilt to some of the crimes he had plead guilty to, that is not going help him at all in terms of getting into the good graces of the Southern District prosecutors.

KORNACKI:  And that is fascinating too, Rebecca, because I think there was this whole debate when he appeared before Congress, is this a changed man?  Is this a man whose life has been shattered and now views things fundamentally differently?  I think a lot of people were starting to look at him and believe that.  What Jessica is alluding to here though, this more recent, this comp, these Tom Arnold tapes if you want to call them that, suggests maybe he looks at this a little differently than that.

DAVIS O`BRIEN:  I think it`s possible to have both of those things at the same time.  He is a complicated person, all of us are.  But the Tom Arnold tape does -- and I can`t imagine that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were particularly excited to hear him in a personal call sort of attempt to push back at some of attempt to push back some of his-- the personal, you know, that tax charges and the bank charge.

And what I think is -- and he did that as well in front of Congress.  He sort of wanted to, he got a little testy about those issues.  And it`s worth reminding everyone, you know, not only that he pleaded not fully cooperate, but he had said publicly that he wanted to get his life over.  He wanted to start this and serve his time, and get it over with.  And now these attempts to push back.

And another thing that he and his lawyer, Lanny Davis, have done or did a few weeks ago was to get-- to go to Congress and say we can give you this, we can give you this, we can give you this.  And Southern District prosecutors, I`m sure I wasn`t one of them, no one likes to be boxed in like that, or sort of made, you know, that sort of like going to your dad after your mom says "no ice cream" and saying "I want ice cream."

And I shouldn`t make light of it, because at the end of the day we have somebody going to prison for three years for very serious crimes, and there is an open question.  I think he is right to raise as, you know, why is he the only person to go to prison for federal crimes that others were implicated in.  So, you know, it`s a serious matter.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  And it`s the beginning, as we say.  It`s a three-year sentence.  He says there`s more to tell.  We will see if the world is in a place where it wants to hear that in three years or whenever that might be.  Rebecca Davis O`Brien, Jessica Roth, thank you both for being with us.

Coming up, US aircraft carriers are on rout to the Middle East tonight after multiple threats from Iran.  Of course, our General Barry McCaffrey is here for a debrief, that`s when the 11th Hour Comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  And tonight, the United States is mobilizing military assets in the Middle East in response to rising tension with Iran.  National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln and several bombers were being deployed to send a message.

Officials tell NBC News, "Recent intelligence showed Iran and its proxies are repositioning forces and may be planning for attacks both at land and at sea."  The escalation comes as the Wall Street Journal reports that Iran is poised to breach parts of the nuclear agreement, which President Trump pulled the United States out of last year.

Former high-ranking State Department officials say Trump`s policy toward Iran puts the US in a precarious position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT MCGURK, FORMER SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  There are ways to get messages to the Iranians.  I think cutting off all diplomatic channels, all communication, I just don`t think is smart.  I mean, in the middle of a Cold War, Ronald Reagan railed against the Soviet Union as an evil empire, and we still have multiple channels of diplomacy open.  I think that`s smart.  Right now, we have no channels of diplomacy open, so the risk of a clash, the risk of an inadvertent conflict are increasing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  With us to talk about this, General Barry McCaffrey, a retired US Army Four-Star General, a heavily decorated combat veteran of Vietnam and a US Ground Commander in the Gulf War.  Sir, thank you for taking a few minutes.

Well, let me just start with you.  It seems in the reporting here, it`s not exactly clear what exactly the threat is here that the administration is citing.  What is your sense of the threat from Iran right now?  And do you think that it warrants sending the Abraham Lincoln over there?

BARRY MCCAFFREY, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Look, the bottom line is the economic constraints on Iran have been devastating.  They are suffocating.  They`re in trouble.  They know it.  The population is reacting badly to their leadership.  The whole notion of spending billions of dollars fighting these proxy wars in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq has got the ayatollahs nervous.

So I think they`re going to do something to try and break out the economic straitjacket, they`re in, and that something normally involves violence, particularly the Republican guard who is actually directly under economic sanctions.  And I think what we`re seeing now with the Lincoln Carrier Battle Group, you know, thank god the United States Navy and the movement of heavy bombers into the region is an attempt to deter a conflict, not to create one.

Neither side is going to gain out of a war in the Persian Gulf.  The chances of it escalating would be considerable.  So let`s see what happens, but I think the Iranians are clearly plotting the next move. 

KORNACKI:  If they are, do you think this action, do you think it`s likely to deliver the message to the leaders in Iran that the US is intending here then?

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, I think so.  And I think Bolton probably scared the bejabbers out of them.  He has a track record, a very war-like recommendations both out of office and in office.  So I think they`ve been put on notice.

There`s a good argument that it would not be appropriate for the US to take military action against the Iranians if they use a proxy to attack the US.  But I think they`ve been told that now in public.  "Iran, you`ve been cautioned.  Don`t do it."

Again, if we went to all-out war with the Iranians, we destroy their military and most of their economic potential in a year.  But it would be a disaster for the region involving tremendous damage to the gulf coast states, Saudi Arabia.  It might drag Israel into it.

So a war in the Middle East is not a good idea.  But I do think the Iranians are very unpredictable.  They`re desperate, and they`re looking for a way out of the box, the economic box they`ve been put in.

KORNACKI:  I want to talk to you about one of the other major foreign policy news, bits of news in the last few days.  And that is North Korea, another missile test, this taking place last Friday night, the President responding to this.  We can put this up here.  He said, "Anything in this very interesting world is possible," a Trump tweet here.  "But I believe that Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea and will do nothing to interfere or end it.  He also knows that I am happy with him and does not want to break his promise to me.  Deal will happen."

Again, that`s the President`s public reaction over this weekend to the missile test, the missile test coming after his very highly public summit with Kim.  What do you make of the President`s response? 

MCCAFFREY:  I think it`s a fantasy world we entered into dealing with the North Koreans.  They are never going to go back on a 20-year program to create a nuclear capability.  They got it.  They may have as many as 60 weapons.  They`ve got intermediate range ballistic missiles that can strike as far out as Guam.  They`ve got a prototype and an ICBM.  They are not going to walk back from that.

So the North Koreans are doing pretty well, Kim Jong-un dealing with us.  We`ve got the South Koreans nervous and isolated from US foreign policy.  The Japanese are worried about whether we`re going to abandon them and allow them to stay at nuclear threat.  Kim Jong-un has been recognized as a nuclear power de facto.  There`s no more talk about that.

And I think increasingly, he thinks he`s likely to beat the economic constraints and the President will give him relief in exchange for something that`s optic.  So North Korean, this young brutal dictator is doing pretty well against the United States foreign policy.

KORNACKI:  General Barry McCaffrey, thank you for taking a few minutes.

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you.  >

KORNACKI:  All right.  And coming up, we have brand-new numbers.  I mean, just out in the last couple of minutes on the 2020 race on the Democratic side, some more significant movement for a couple of candidates.  We`re going to show you the poll.  We`re going the break it down.  Stay with us right after this, THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  All right, welcome back.  Well, guess what we have?  A brand new poll, it is out in just the last hour on the 2020 Democratic presidential race.  Remember, we were talking over the last week, Joe Biden getting in the race, a bunch of polls coming out last week showing a bounce for Biden after his announcement.

Now, the question that begins this week, will he sustain that bounce.  Will he start to recede and drop back?  Will he expand that bounce?  We`re going to start to get some answers to that, and the first answer we get comes from the brand new Morning Consult poll out in the last hour.  And I can show it to you, when I press this button.  There it is.

Joe Biden now at 40 percent in the new morning Consult pool.  They take this weekly.  Bernie Sanders, a very distant second down at 19 percent.  What is the trajectory on this, just from last week, Biden up an additional four points.  This is the second straight morning consult poll to show Biden making a significant jump, 40 percent overall.

You see Sanders down, second straight week that Sanders has taken a hit in this poll.  In fact, before Joe Biden got in the presidential race, his margin over Bernie Sanders in this poll was six points.  It was a close race between the two of them.  Now, two weeks after Biden gets in the race, that six-point margin has exploded as you can see here to 21 points.  He is more than doubling up Bernie Sanders.

You see Warren there, a very distant third Kamala Harris, unchanged also perhaps of note.  Buttigieg back at 6 percent, this is the second straight week in this poll that Buttigieg has declined.  So also maybe he had the momentum there in March and April.  For the moment has he peaked, has he started to recede at least for the moment.

Again, obviously, very early here, some other things we can show you, though, in this poll, again, some of the breakouts here, take a look at this one.  Take a look at how Biden does when you break the Democratic electorate down ideologically, very liberal voters, 28 percent.

Let`s start working our way towards the middle.  Liberal Democrats, he improved to 37 percent.  How about slightly liberal?  He`s up to 41 percent.

And then how about moderate Democrats?  Look at that.  Biden, the runaway, 50 percent in this gigantic field.  There are a lot of moderate Democrats.  There are a lot of folks who don`t describe themselves as very liberal, Biden cleaning up with them.

One other thing of note in this poll, a continuation of what we`ve been seeing among black voters, Joe Biden doing better than he does among white voters, 47 percent in this poll among black voters.  Not the first poll to show that.  One interesting note on the black vote, on Biden`s support among black voters, there is and we see this with other groups too.  There is an age divide here when it comes to this.

Look, the youngest group of voters, black voters age 18 to 29, Biden coming in at 35 percent.  Go to the other end of the age range, the oldest group, 65 plus, that 35 percent, you contrast it with.  Look at that, Biden getting 61 percent among black voters over 65 years old.  So, some interesting findings there.

Again, Joe Biden, we can it, at this moment, the clear front-runner on the Democratic side at this moment.

Coming up, over the last 36 hours, the Commander-in-Chief has had a lot to say about sports.  We`ll go through it when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  And the last thing before we go tonight was the day of sports it was at the White House.  Starting first with golfer Tiger Woods, who was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to receive the Medal of Freedom.  That`s our nation`s highest civilian honor.

In his remarks today, the President told Woods, "We are inspired by everything you`ve become and attained.  There are no winners like you."

Further illustrating Trump`s opinion on that, something noted in the New York Times by Annie Karni and Kevin Draper, "After Mr. Woods won his first Masters title in 1997, he celebrated in Atlantic City at the Taj Mahal Casino, eating pork chops and being photographed with the owner, Mr. Trump.  Since then, Mr. Trump has named a villa after him at the Trump National Doral Miami.  He has also gone into business abroad with Mr. Woods.  On Monday, Mr Trump is set to once again seize Mr. Woods` moment."

Trump today also presented the Commander-in-Chief`s trophy to the West Point Football Team and he made some news while doing it.  According to our own Jonathan Allen, Trump said Monday that he wants to allow top athletes from service academies to defer their military duty so they can play professional sports.  The President said the move would boost recruiting for the service academy`s sports teams.

Of course, one famous example of this restriction, David Robinson, had to wait two years after the 1987 NBA Draft to join the Spurs because he had to fulfill his service requirement at the Naval Academy.  He almost took them to the Final Four in 1986.

Anyway, the controversial disqualification at this weekend`s Kentucky Derby.  That was also the first time in the race`s 145-year history that a horse was DQed.  That has been upheld tonight by racing officials in Kentucky, and the President sounded off on Twitter after the race.  He said, "The decision was not a good one, it was a rough and tumble race on a wet and sloppy track, actually a beautiful thing to watch.  Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur.  The best horse did not win the Kentucky Derby, not even close."

That was actually the second tweet he sent on the subject, he got the spelling of Kentucky wrong in the first one.

And that is our broadcast for tonight, thank you for being with us.  And goodnight from NBC News Headquarters in New York.

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