Trump on whether Mueller should testify. TRANSCRIPT: 5/9/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Annie Karni, Matt Zapotosky, Jeffrey Cramer, Gordon Chang

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  That is what the President of the United States did last night.  And that is not a joke.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the President`s frustration comes into plain view over the subpoena for Don Jr. and now Republicans are going after one of their own, Senate Intel Chair, Richard Burr for making it happen.

Plus, James Comey on the two-year anniversary of his firing says tonight Trump would be charged with obstruction were he not President, but also says we are not in a constitutional crisis.

And the backdrop to all of this, two more missiles launched by North Korea and saber rattling from Kim Jong-un.

THE 11TH HOUR on a Thursday night starts right now.

Good evening once again from our NBC News head quarters here in New York.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams.  Day 8 40 of the Trump administration and the legal and political challenges facing this White House are multiplying.  It has been six weeks now since the Special Counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation which had loomed as a potential giant threat to the Trump presidency.

Now, the drum beat from Democrats is getting louder for Mueller to appear before Congress and to testify about his report.  The question, whether Trump and the White House will try to stop him from doing so. Here`s what the President had to say about that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you allow Robert Mueller to testify in Congress?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I`m going to leave that up to our very great attorney general, and he`ll make a decision on that.

Bob Mueller`s no friend of mine. I had conflicts with him.

We had somebody that is in love with James Comey.  He liked James Comey.  They were good friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  This is a potential reversal from what Trump had indicated over the weekend when he wrote that Mueller should not testify.

Earlier this evening, former FBI Director, James Comey who was fired exactly two years ago today had this to say about Mueller and about Trump`s remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR:  I respect him.  I don`t think we have that kind of relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think Mueller should testify?

COMEY:  Oh, yes, of course.  And explain his thinking.

The President says this report is a complete exoneration of him, so why wouldn`t the Special Counsel be permitted to testify?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Tonight Trump is also coming to the defense of his son, Donald Trump Jr. who is now facing a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee which is carrying out its own investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

Two sources tell NBC New the subpoena was served in mid April, several weeks ago but they would not say when or if there`s a deadline for the President`s son to respond.  Trump Jr. gave testimony to the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committee back in 2017.  It`s been reported the Intel Committee wants to question him again about that Trump Tower meeting back in 2016, and about the Trump Tower Moscow project.  The President says he was caught off guard by the subpoena.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I was very surprised.  My son`s a very good person.  He works very hard.

He`s now testified for 20 hours or something.  A massive amount of time.  The Mueller report came out.  That`s the bible, the Mueller report came out.  And they said he did nothing wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Should he fight that subpoena?

TRUMP:  Well, we`ll see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:    And tonight Trump Junior`s sister-in-law, Lara Trump, offered a more forceful defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  This is over.  The Mueller report is complete.

This is harassment of our family, harassment of the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And the White House Acting Chief of Staff meanwhile Mick Mulvaney says the Senate Intel Committee should have issued a warning to the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF:  To subpoena the President of the United States` son and not at least get a heads up I thought was -- that`s a bad form.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  The Senate Intel Committee is led by a Republican, Richard Burr of North Carolina.  And he is now facing a backlash from many in his own party for the subpoena of the President`s son.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas who also sits on the Intel Committee gave voice today to that criticism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  I think we now know everything we`re going to know about that, especially now after the Mueller report has been concluded.  This smacks of politics, and I think we have an important job to do to try to keep the Intelligence Committee out of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  This afternoon the Committee`s vice chairman, a Democrat, Mark Warner, from Virginia defended the subpoena and Burr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VIRGINIA, INTELLIGENCE CMTE. VICE CHAIR:  There`s been plenty of times the chairman has been under pressure to shut down the investigation before we finish.  We`re just going to go about our business and making sure that we get the kind of responses we need in making sure that we continue to just follow the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  According to another Republican senator on the Intelligence Committee, Roy Blunt, of Missouri, Burr explained the reasoning for the subpoena at a closed door lunch today with fellow Republicans.  Burr apparently walked them through the process of deciding to issue the subpoena and the efforts to get Trump Jr. to return to testify.  Blunt said that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among those in attendance and that the committee expects to finish his investigation near the end of August.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Democrats are not backing down from their standoff with the White House over efforts to access Mueller`s full unredacted report as well as other documents and witnesses.

Today House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summed up her battle with the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you agree with Chairman Nadler that the country is currently in a constitutional crisis?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER:  Yes, I do agree with Chairman Nadler.

But sometimes people act as it`s, impeach or nothing?  No, it`s not that. It`s a path that is producing results and gathering information, and some of that information is that this administration wants to have a constitutional crisis because they do not respect the oath of office that they take.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And tonight James Comey offered his own assessment of the health of the republic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR:  Are we in a constitutional crisis as Nadler and House Speaker Pelosi say we are?

COMEY:  I actually don`t think so.  I think we`re in a time where our constitutional design, the genius of our Founders is going to be tested, and I think it`s up for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Price-winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post."  Annie Karni, White House Reporter with "The New York Times."  Matt Zapotosky, National Security Reporter for "The Washington Post."  He also contributed to "The Post" edition of Mueller report.  And Jeffrey Cramer, former Assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and former Manhattan Assistant, now with the Berkeley Research Group.  Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Let me start on this mixed signals we`ve been receiving from the President and from the White House in terms of how they plan to approach this standoff with Congress.  You`ve had the President saying over the weekend as we mentioned tweeting over the weekend that he does not think that Mueller, the special prosecutor, should be testifying.

Then today seeming to change his public tone on that, you`ve had the President saying he believes there should be no cooperation from the administration on these investigations that Democrats have initiated, but now you have this report.  I can read from it tonight from "The New York Times" saying that behind the scenes, quoting from "The Times" here, "Trump has asked some confidants why they should not just reveal everything in the 448 page Mueller report, the vast majority of which is already been made public.  But he has also said he wants everyone to move on so he can concentrate on a presidential agenda, a sentiment he expressed on Twitter throughout last weekend."

It`s interesting reporting there Annie, because it suggests for all the public posture that we see from Trump behind the scenes, maybe there`s some uncertainty about the strategy.

ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, I think there is definitely some uncertainty about the strategy.  And I think for Trump it likely comes from the fact that he`s going mostly off of media reports of what`s in the Mueller report and how things are playing than having actually read the entire document himself.

In terms of his flip today, in terms of him saying, he`s going to leave it up to Barr to decide whether or not Mueller should testify, it was a reversal of his weekend position.  And I`m told that there was some talking him down, and there is a sense that there could be a legal argument for Barr to make that Mueller did not choose to prosecute the President.  Therefore, he shouldn`t say another word, and the President`s lawyers think that that could be a winning argument for Barr to say no.

And then there`s another school of thought that maybe Mueller testifying isn`t really a slam dunk and the show would go on for Trump.  So, this comes back to also the dichotomy of if he thinks that he was totally exonerated and Mueller did his job and is an American hero or if he thinks that it`s not that.  He keeps going back and forth between victim and victor.  It`s all part of the same big split in his thinking about what happened here.

KORNACKI:  And Phil, that report from "The New York Times" that I was quoting from there suggests that perhaps the White House`s attitude here is to be provocative with the Democrats in Congress to essentially call the question, either move forward with impeachment or move on from the whole thing.  Do you have a sense that the White House is trying to either trigger something on the impeachment front or try somehow to get it off the table?

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF:  Well, I think Steve, we`re mistaken to think that there`s a grand strategy at play here. And what Annie laid out is exactly right.  The President`s reacting to news coverage, he`s reacting to the sense everyday of whether he`s winning or whether he`s losing.  And what`s missing is intellectual consistency.

If he thinks he -- if he believes that the report completely exonerated him as he`s been saying, there should be no problem having Mueller testified.  But of course  he knows that`s not what the report said in full, and that a testimony -- hours of testimony on camera by Mueller would be not only an extraordinary sort of block buster moment here in Washington but could be politically very damaging for the President because it would air a lot of his bad behavior that`s documented in the report but in a compelling sort of live way on video for Americans back home to watch and consume and take note of.

KORNACKI:  Matt, it`s interesting.  One of the things that Democrats in Congress as they pursue these investigations, as these subpoenas start flying, one of the things they seem to be coming up against here are replies from the administration that are basically saying, "Hey, what you`re looking for, there`s no obvious legislative purpose for it, therefore, not going to be any cooperation that`s forthcoming here."

That equation as I understand it could potentially change if the House were to open a formal impeachment inquiry there.  Latitude for pursuing information, for pursuing testimony, documents from the administration would greatly increase.  Is the argument to pursue impeachment or to open an inquiry at least for that purpose to get cooperation, to compel cooperation for the administration it`s currently lacking, is that gaining steam among Democrats at all?

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, THE WASHINGTON POST NATL. SECURITY REPORTER:  Well, it seems like the leadership is still opposed to impeachment talk.  I mean, you said at the top that Nancy Pelosi believes we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis, but she`s still sort of stopping short of saying and I think we`re headed to impeachment or let`s open impeachment proceedings.  And of course, she would be the critical voice on that topic.

It`s hard to see for me how we could be in a constitutional crisis and not be at the point of impeachment like what`s the point past constitutional crisis that would spark impeachment?  But leadership among Democrats has so far been very reluctant to go kind of full boar into the impeachment.

There does seem to be a swell among sort of the further left side of the party towards impeachment.  And as you say, that gives some better foundation to these requests for documents and things that Democrats are making.  But a lot of these are just murky and undecided legal questions.  And it`s not a guaranty that if you initiate impeachment proceedings you`d be able to overcome executive privilege concerns.

I expect at the end of the day, what we`ll see is a months if not year`s long battle in the courts probably starting with this contempt over Bill Barr turning over the full Mueller report and underlying documents but then probably extending to witnesses like Don McGahn and potentially other people.

KORNACKI:  Jeff, you heard in the clip we played there James Comey weighing in on the question of whether as Jerry Nadler as other Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, are saying we`re in a constitutional crisis.  He`s saying he doesn`t think so.

I wonder.  Because the counter argument to the claim that this is a constitutional crisis is, well, OK, Congress has made requests, Congress has put subpoenas out.  The administration has indicated its objections. Now it does kick off a potentially lengthy, but it does kick off the potential for court proceedings.  Does that put us in a constitutional crisis?

JEFFREY CRAMER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS:  No, it doesn`t.  I think Jim Comey was very measured in his response.  The process is there.

Congress has requested certain documents.  They`re not requesting certain witnesses.  And if the administration says no or refuses, then it goes to the courts.  So, the system is working as it was intended.

But I think his other comment was also spot on.  It`s going to be tested.

We haven`t been tested like this in quite some time, and these are obviously very unusual situations.  So a crisis, no.  But unusual and testing of the system, yes.

But what I think I agree with what was just said is the process itself is certainly going to be lengthy.  And there might be some things truncated such as McGahn testifying or some documents but there could be a lengthy process that certainly goes well into 2020.

KORNACKI:  There`s also this issue now we mentioned it, the subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee with a Republican Chairman, Richard Burr, from North Carolina of Donald Trump Junior.  We heard the President reacting to that today.

Annie, do you have a sense formally, you know, the President was noncommittal there on exactly what action they`re going to take.  He wasn`t pleased by it.  But in terms of how Trump Jr. is going to end up handling this, do we have a sense of what the strategy is going to be?

KARNI:  I think his advisers are telling people that he`s not going to come in person.  They`d like to plead the Fifth and maybe offer a written statement of some sort.

But what we`ve seen so far unfold is very ugly.  We`ve seen anonymous attacks from people close to Don Jr. attacking Burr.  We`ve seen a very -- like we`ve seen a split in the Republican Party with lawmakers who are up for reelection who can`t afford to alienate the Trump base coming out and attacking Burr.

Burr is not up for reelection.  He`s someone who`s thinking about his place in history and his legacy and standing firm.  But -- so, this is really -- this move has opened up a real split, and we`ve seen people like Tillis come under pressure, and that`s one thing that I heard that Trump was privately saying that if Tillis didn`t say something and speak out, he would fire up Twitter and attack him for not doing so.  He has a primary challenger on his right in his race, and Trump could have offered him support.

So it`s just coming now to politics and who needs Trump`s base still and who doesn`t need him anymore.  And it`s the first real fissure we`ve seen in the Republican Party opening up in an ugly way.

KORNACKI:  Well, it`s interesting, Phil, Rand Paul, Thom Tillis, John Cornyn, the number of Republicans senators, as Annie says, up for reelection next year, some navigating primary challenges or the potential for primary challenges.  I wonder the significance of this subpoena that we now know it went out in the middle of April.  It went out a couple weeks ago.  It went out before Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor yesterday and said case closed.

Does -- is there a potential here at all that Burr and how he handles this going forward might change given the political developments that have taken place after the subpoena went out?

RUCKER:  Certainly there`s potential for that.  I mean, Burr, it could presumably come under pressure from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others in the Senate.  We saw the Senate`s number two or high ranking senator from Texas, John Cornyn, speak out very aggressively about this.

But we should remember what`s at issue here.  It`s not a criminal investigation like the Mueller probe was.  This is a sort of fact finding mission investigation by the Senate into the Russian interference in the 2016 election.  They`re not trying to drag Don Jr. to testify in order to arrest him or send him to jail.  They`re trying to get information about the interference campaign to try to improve the U.S. Intelligence systems to prevent that kind of interference in the future.

And bringing back witnesses for a second round of interviews is a pretty natural part of this investigative process.  Jared Kushner, you know, Don Jr.`s brother-in-law, what came back for a second interview in March.  And so there`s a practice of this happening and it`s I think why Burr probably figured he would get some cooperation from Don Jr.

KORNACKI:  Well, Jeff, very quickly, just on the explicit legal questions, if you`re a lawyer for Donald Trump Jr. looking at this, you know Phil is saying, "Hey, just a fact finding mission.  You got no legal exposure here."  Is that how they should be thinking about it?

CRAMER:  I think it`s an accurate statement.  But if you`re -- he or his defense lawyer, there`s always jeopardy.

KORNACKI:  Yes.

CRAMER:  You`re going to walk in and talk about the Trump Moscow project.  We are already on record, basically saying you didn`t know much about it.  Now that contradicts what other witnesses have said.

So you`re going to be very careful.  Any lawyer would have him be very careful walking into that scenario.  And if you can, you have your father as a shield, you`re going to try to play that card as best you can.  I think the last place Don Jr. wants to be is before anyone asking any questions about Trump Moscow with others on the record and perhaps some documents as well.

KORNACKI:  All right, we`re going to squeeze in a very quick break here.  Our guests are staying with us.

Coming up a deeper look at the extremely consequential day, it happened exactly two years ago today when James Comey was fired.  We will read you the termination letter that President Trump never sent.

And later, brand new polling from the first in the nation primaries tonight.  We`re going to dive into the numbers including a surprising way that age is playing a role in the Democratic race.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST:  The President today fired the man encharge of the investigation into the Trump campaign.  Our Pete Williams reports FBI Director James Comey found out he was fired while in the command center at the FBI field office in Los Angeles.  The news flashing on the T.V. screen around the same time people got either a phone call or an e-mail or a text telling them the news in the room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Two years ago today James Comey abruptly lost his job.  The firing of the FBI director sent political shock waves through Washington and those shock waves are still being felt to this day.

In our series "Uncovered" we dive deep into parts of the Mueller report that have not received wide coverage.  And tonight more on what the report says about a termination letter first drafted by the President and his adviser, Stephen Miller, in the days before Comey`s formal dismissal.

Keep in mind, this letter was not the one that was released when Comey was actually fired on May 9th of 2017.

According to Mueller report this letter reads, "Dear director Comey, while I greatly appreciate your informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation concerning the fabricated and politically motivated allegations of a Trump Russia relationship with respect to the 2016 election, please be informed that I, along with members of both political parties and most importantly the American public, have lost faith in you as the director of the FBI and you are hereby terminated."

Mueller report continues, "The four-page letter went on to critic Comey`s judgment and conduct, including his May 3 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, and his failure to hold leakers accountable."

When Comey finally learned of his firing the letter sent by the President had been revised but still did include a thank you to Comey for informing Trump he was not under investigation.

Still with us Philip Rucker, Annie Karni, Matt Zapotosky, and Jeffrey Cramer.

Matt, let me just start with you as we say, two years ago today that firing, the ripple effect, just remind folks again the chain reaction that that decision by Trump to fire Comey two years ago today, the immediate reaction that set off.

ZAPOTOSKY:  So I think that was the most consequential decision of the Trump presidency.  If you think about it at that moment, the Russia investigation is ongoing.

But Trump isn`t personally targeted.  There`s no obstruction investigation.  We don`t have a special counsel.  That triggers everything.  Comey is fired.  The FBI comes to distrust the Department of Justice, Rod Rosenstein and the number two at the Justice Department had written a letter kind of supporting Trump`s decision even though he knew what it was sort of really about.

In the days that followed Trump would go on T.V. and even though his ultimate letter wasn`t exactly what you read, he would reveal on live television yes, I was thinking about the Russia investigation when I fired Jim Comey.  So Rod Rosenstein now gets backed into a corner.  The public thinks there`s a crisis at the Justice Department, the FBI does.

The Justice Department doesn`t exactly trust the FBI word that they might retaliate or do something crazy because they just lost their leader.  So Rod Rosenstein appoints Robert Mueller, that moment, the firing of Comey sort of kicks off everything.  And it ends with Mueller`s appointment.  And that kind of brings calm, but that also kind of gives President Trump, you know, the two years that we just saw.

KORNACKI:  I mean, Annie, is there an alternate universe where the President doesn`t fire James Comey, the name Robert Mueller is never introduced into this whole drama, and the last two years play out very differently than they did?

KARNI:  Yes, I agree with Matt that that was the turning point.  The firing of Comey is what set off a chain of events that led us here.

But what we don`t know is, what the special counsel`s report concluded was that ultimately the reason Trump acted the way he did was because he was frustrated that Comey wouldn`t publicly say he wasn`t under investigation.  So if -- let`s play out a scenario where Comey continues to say I`m not going to do that, Mr. President, and Trump keeps pressuring him and loyalty dinners and other ways of kind of pressure the FBI, would this have unrav - - and that leads -- would this have unraveled in some other way that eventually led to a special counsel may -- there would have been still an FBI investigation into Russia interference in the campaign.

So we could have ended up in the similar place.  It would have taken a long time.  It`s kind of like chutes and ladders.  The firing of Comey was a quick chute to the special counsel square on the board.  And that led us here.  But there could have been other pressure and other tension between Comey and Trump that wouldn`t have gone away if he had stayed.

KORNACKI:  And Phil, the Mueller report also makes mention of Trump`s reaction to finding out that there was going to be a special counsel, Robert Mueller appointed.  And his reaction about the broader political threat that posed to his presidency just having a special counsel, having that intrusiveness, having the cloud over the presidency, he reacted very negatively to that.  Is there any sense in the White House that Trump looks back and regrets the decision on those grounds to fire Comey?

RUCKER:  Well, there`s reconsideration of the political calculus that the President ended up making to fire Comey.  Remember, he spent those few days before executing the decision to fire Comey debating this with a close circle of advisers.  Jared Kushner, his son-in-law was among those who was arguing to the President that firing Comey could actually be received with bipartisan acclaim because many Democrats on Capitol Hill were frustrated and angry with the way Comey had handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.  That, of course, didn`t pan out the way they calculated.

But -- so there was a reconsideration of that certainly.  But look, the President from the moment that Mueller was named appointed to become the special counsel knew that this would be a very dangerous period for his presidency.  In fact, he said something along the lines of this may be the end of my presidency.  He was as furious as his advisers had seen him and has been stewing over this for the two years since.

KORNACKI:  Well, and you can see James Comey being back in the spotlight a bit today, it`s caught the President`s attention.  Just minutes ago he tweeted this.  He said "James Comey is a disgrace to the FBI and will go down as the worst director in its long and once proud history.  He brought the FBI down, almost all Republicans and Democrats thought he should be fired, but the FBI will regain greatness because of the great men and women who work there."

Again, that`s the President just within the last few minutes.

Jeff, there`s always been this question from the beginning and certainly the Mueller report brings that to the fore of how to interpret the President`s decision to fire the FBI director, his rationale for it.  The President, certainly, his defenders say he has the right as President, the constitutional authority to fire him for any reason he wants.  But when you start getting into these different reasons others raise the question of, can you find some obstructive intent there?

CRAMER:  You`re exactly right.  It comes to intent.

And the President does have the right to fire anyone he wants any time.  He can do it on a whim. He can do it for any reason.  However, I think all reasonable people would say there are limits.  We couldn`t want the President taking a bribe to commit certain acts.  Certainly, that would be seen as criminal if the President could be indicted which is entirely separate conversation.

But I think just by extension, you have to look at his intent.  And that`s a hard one with Jim Comey and the firing.  He could have fired him because it was politically embarrassing or it was the easiest way out politically.  That`s within his purview.

I think some of the other, let`s call them, obstructive items that Mueller report identified.  There were 10 of them, there`s some that are much more illustrative.  Certainly, the conversations with McGahn, trying to get McGahn, his then White House counsel to fire Mueller.  That gets to intent a little more.

So as you see this pattern, and that`s what it is, that`s what prosecutors look at a pattern.  One instance, very hard to prove.  Two possibly.  Four?  Seven, 10?  At some point you see a pattern of activity.  But I think that horse has left the gate.  There`s not going to be a criminal prosecution by the feds with respect to obstruction.  We`re now into the congressional political realm and then possibly a state attorney general or two.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Jeffrey Cramer, Philip Rucker, Annie Karni, Matt Zapotosky, our thanks to all of you.

And coming up, drama in Washington and a brewing crisis abroad when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President, on the North Korea missiles, what message do you take from them?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re looking at it seriously right now.  They were smaller missiles, short range missiles.  Nobody is happy about it.

The relationship continues but we`ll see what happens.  I know they want to negotiate.  They`re talking about negotiating, but I don`t think they`re ready to negotiate.

KORNACKI:  President Trump seeming to down play another North Korean missile launch even as tensions continue to rise.  This is the second time in less than a week that Kim Jong-un has personally overseen a missile launch.  "The Washington Post" reporting tonight that it is part of a calibrated escalation of pressure on Washington and that South Korea`s president says Kim is deeply discontented with the unraveling of the Hanoi summit without a deal."

President Trump abruptly cut those nuclear negotiations short back in February.  The U.S. also announced today for the first time that it seized a North Korean ship for violating sanctions.  "The Washington Post" sums up the state of play this way, "The return of tit-for-tat provocations demonstrated the limits of the personal relationship between Kim and Trump that the President touted as key to overcoming decades of mistrust."

Here for more, Kourtney Cube, NBC News national security and military reporter and Gordon Chang, columnist for the "Daily Beast" and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

Gordon, the President`s public posture, you heard him right there seeming to sort of downplay the significance of this.  The President still seems committed to trying to pursue a friendly relationship with Kim Jong-un here.  Is this an indication that what North Korea is doing right now that that`s just a dead end?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD":  It certainly looks like a dead end.  Got to remember that nobody, not the Russians, not the Chinese, not the South Koreans and certainly not us have been able to entice the Kim family into good behavior, at least over the long run, and clearly President Trump tried this with his June summit last year.

He`s really holding off on a number of measures that the U.S. could have imposed.  And so this looks like the diplomacy is failing.  And by the way, when President Trump said that these are just short range missiles, we got to remember that they can reach U.S. forces in South Korea.  And that is, of course, a concern to us.

KORNACKI:  Well, Courtney, what happens within the administration right now?  Because there are some folks with a different view of this who are around Trump.  Certainly, John Bolton comes to mind.  There are hawks who would like a more aggressive posture when it comes to sanctions, when it comes to all sorts of things toward North Korea.  Is there any expectation they will have more influence with the President going forward?

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY REPORTER:  I think that you`ve explained the Trump administration in a number of different countries there with the mixed messages that we`re getting up on Iran right now as well.  But you`re right on North Korea.  There`s certainly is one message out of President Trump.  But I was really struck today when he talked about those missiles at the even of the White House, he wasn`t as optimistic as we usually hear him when he`s talking about his relationship with Kim Jong-un.

You know, we have to -- you know, Gordon knows this as well as anyone else.  These are short range missiles but this may potentially represent a new technology for North Korea.  We`ve seen them launch solid fuel rockets before, solid fuel missiles but the Pentagon and the White House have been very tight lipped about specifically what we`re seeing here.  Because there is some concern among analysts that this might be a new kind of technology that it might even be something that`s similar to a Russian missile that has the ability to actually change course in air.

So, you know, I mean this is -- while these were short range, while it may not violate the spirit of what was agreed to in Singapore last year, it still may represent, you know, a slight, an escalation by North Korea, Steve.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  And, Gordon, you mention here that Kim is frustrated, that there wasn`t a deal from the summit.  What did he expect he was going to get out of that?  What did he think he could get out of that summit that he didn`t get?

CHANG:  Well, I guess he thought he could get sanctions relief without doing very much in his own because as the proposal was described by U.S. officials basically they wanted the relief from most sanctions for doing only one thing, which was closing one facility, the Yongbyon Nuclear Complex.

As important as it was, it wasn`t worth the relief from all of the sanctions.  You know, the Kim regime thought that they could push, push and push.  And in fact, they`ve done that for quite some time.  You know, and clearly they just crossed a line.  Here is I think a problem in that we`ve got a mismatch in perceptions and Trump is going to have to change his posture to something a bit more provocative.  Because if he doesn`t do it, Kim is going to continue to do things that we don`t like.

KORNACKI:  And, Courtney, you mentioned a minute ago there too, there are tensions rising as well with Iran right now.  That subject came up when the President was speaking with reporters earlier today.  And he used it to work in an attack on John Kerry, the former secretary of state.  Listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  What I`d like to see with Iran, I`d like to see them call me.  You know, John Kerry speaks to them a lot.  John Kerry tells them not to call.  That`s a violation of the Logan Act.  And frankly, he should be prosecuted on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  So the President making that accusation, a Kerry spokesperson responding.  We can put this up.  "Everything President Trump said today is simply wrong, end of story.  He`s wrong about the facts.  Wrong about the law and sadly he`s been wrong about how to use diplomacy to keep America safe."

Courtney, take us through the accusation that the President is leveling there.  He mentions the Logan Act.  We`ve heard that come up a few times the last few years.  What exactly is he accusing John Kerry of there?

KUBE:  So he was saying specifically today that former Secretary of State John Kerry continues to talk to his counterparts and people in Iran who he developed a relationship with during his time at the State Department and that he, John Kerry is encouraging the Iranians not to talk to President Trump and the United States, a charge which both John Kerry and the Iranians denied today.

I mean, what`s interesting about this is there is -- it is not a violation to continue to talk to people for an American, a former American official, someone like John Kerry, someone like former secretaries of Defense to maintain a relationship with the former foreign dignitaries who they had a relationship in that time.  But what President Trump is specifically saying that John Kerry actually did here or is continuing to do is to encourage Iran and Iranian officials in how to deal with the United States, which -- a charge, again, which John Kerry completely denies.

KORNACKI:  OK.  Courtney Kube and Gordon Chang, thanks to both of you.

CHANG:  Thank you.

KORNACKI:  All right.  And coming up, New Hampshire voters still have nine months to make up their minds before the first in the nation primary, but we`ve got a brand new poll.  It shows a clear front-runner on the Democratic side and some very interesting numbers about age.  We`re going to show them to you when THE 11TH HOUR comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  All right, welcome back.  The Biden bounce.  We`ve been talking about it for about a week now.  Since Joe Biden got in the Democratic race for president officially, we`ve seen a number of national polls that show him surging nationally.

But the key question remember is, we don`t have a national primary.  We go state by state and the key is how is he doing in the early states?  The first states, the ones that we know the field, the ones that can change everything.  And today, a readout from New Hampshire, home of the first in the nation primary.

Here`s the thing about Biden.  This is his third time running for president.  He has yet to make it to a New Hampshire primary.  His 1988 campaign ended in the fall of `87.  His 2008 campaign dropped out as soon as he lost badly in Iowa.  He`s never made it to New Hampshire.

Well, how does New Hampshire look for him right now?  Look at this.  Another Biden bounce.  This is a Monmouth Poll just out today and this is the best Joe Biden has been doing in a New Hampshire poll.  He is doubling up Bernie Sanders.  And remember, Bernie Sanders is a next door neighbor in New Hampshire from Vermont.  Bernie Sanders got 60%.  A little bit more than 60% of the vote in New Hampshire in 2016.  Now he is being doubled up in this poll by Joe Biden.

You see the rest of the field there.  Elizabeth Warren, by the way, another neighboring state senator.  Massachusetts, Massachusetts` candidates typically have done very well in New Hampshire.  Trouble for Warren if she doesn`t.

But here`s an interesting thing.  Inside these numbers, we`ve been talking about this nationally, an age divide on the Democratic side.  In every age group surveyed here, Biden and Sanders were one in two, first and second place.  But check this out.  As you work your way through these age groups, the youngest set of voters, anybody under 50, 18 to 49 on the Democratic side, Biden is actually in second place there.  It`s Bernie Sanders is in first with 27%.  Bidem with 20 %.

Then you go a little bit older, 50 to 64.  Total change.  Biden goes up to 36%.  Sanders drops to 19 %.  Then go to the oldest group 65 plus and check this out.  Holy smokes, 53 to 9 Biden over Sanders.  This is the thing.  So much attention.  People say, hey, is the Democratic Party changed too much for Joe Biden?  So much of the attention is often in younger voters that you see in the media, but overall more than half the electorate is in that older crowd.  That`s why Joe Biden is ahead by so much even though he`s losing in New Hampshire 18-49.

One other key question we can show you here that was asked.  This was interesting.  Basically, they`re asking Democratic voters in New Hampshire this, do you want a candidate who you agree with on the issues but against President Trump, it would be shaky?  Maybe the candidate wins, maybe the candidate doesn`t?  Twenty-five percent said that, 68% said no, I`d rather have a candidate I disagree with on the issues but who can beat Trump.

They`re basically asking Democrats do you feel like taking a chance here?  And their answer is, pretty strongly this New Hampshire poll, no, let`s just beat Trump.  Electability.  Biden has been leaning on it.  That`s the market for electability right now in the Democratic side.

Coming up, the President throws around some numbers of his own regarding Robert Mueller.  We`re back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Yes, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you allow Robert Mueller to testify in Congress?

TRUMP:  Well, I`m going to leave that up to our very great attorney general and he`ll make a decision on that, but I will say this, look, the Mueller report came out, it was done at -- I guess I`m hearing numbers now close to $40 million with 17 or 18 very angry Democrats who hated Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  That was the President today at a White House event and those comments about the team of supposedly angry Democrats working for Mueller has been a constant refrain of the President`s throughout the Russia investigation.  Now, for what it`s worth, several fact checks have disputed Trump`s claims about the alleged conflicts of interest by members of Mueller`s team, but that hasn`t stopped the President from repeating the same claim about the angry Democrats over and over again.  The one thing that has changed, though, the number of so-called angry Democrats under the special counsel`s employ.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  After $35 million.

Two years, almost $40 million.

I know that he put 13 highly conflicted and, you know, very angry -- I call them angry Democrats in.

A group of I call them angry Democrats.

I call them the 13 angry Democrats.

These were angry Democrats.

These were 13 angry people with hatred toward me.

They are angry people.

The problem we have is that you have 13 people, they`re all Democrats and they`re real Democrats, they`re angry Democrats.

So as I call them, 13 angry Democrats.

He puts on his staff almost all Democrats, many of whom contributed to Hillary Clinton, none of them contributed to me, that I can tell you, and it started out at 13 and went to 18.

Thirteen or 14 or 17.

Five more were added.

With 13 increased to 18 angry Democrats.

Eighteen angry people that hated you.

Really 18 angry Democrats that hate President Trump.  They hate him with a passion.

You got up to 18, 19, 20, they`re all Democrats.

People that truly hated Donald Trump, truly hated Trump.

Hate him with a passion.

Twenty Trump haters, Democrats.  I call them angry Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And coming up, how the White House struck out with America`s pastime today when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  And the last thing before we go tonight, President Trump welcomed the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox to the White House today.  The President a Yankee fan was presented with a Red Sox jersey with his name on it and he used the occasion to mention the time he threw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game back in 2006.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I was at Fenway Park.  I threw out the first pitch a long time ago.  And George Steinbrenner was not happy about it.  That cooled my relationship with him for about two days.  But he forgot about it.  That was good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  But as with most things these days, today`s White House event was not without some political controversy.  Several Red Sox players declined to attend today`s event.  The "Boston Globe" reports "Trump`s push for a border wall with Mexico, his disparaging comments about Hispanics, his condemnation of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial disparities and his administration`s much criticized response to Hurricane Maria`s devastation in Puerto Rico led to some high- profile no-shows Thursday."

"Nearly all the team`s black and Hispanic players skipped the event including Mookie Betts, David Price, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr.  The most notable absentee was manager Alex Cora, who was born in Puerto Rico and said this week that it would be, `pretty tough` to celebrate at the White House while so many people continue to suffer on the island.  Controversy wasn`t mentioned during the event."

Meanwhile, "The Boston Globe" spotted this error today on the White House`s official YouTube page, Sox was spelled S-O-C-K-S, not the S-O-X spelling the team has used for more than a century.  It has since been corrected.  And "The Globe" points out that wasn`t the only error from the White House today when the White House released a transcript of the President`s remarks, the title on the White House website read, "Remarks by President Trump Welcoming the 2018 World Cup Series Champions Boston Red Sox."  Red Sox actually of course won the World Series, the World Cup Series, not sure what that is, the World Cup was won by France last year.

Despite the controversy and the errors, the White House celebrated the team in proper fashion with the Marine Corps band playing "Sweet Caroline" following the President`s remarks.  What`s a visit to the White House these days without the President`s personal tour of the Lincoln Bedroom?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  You know, they never get to see the Lincoln Bedroom.  It`s like sort of -- you`re not supposed to be showing it.  So if the press, the media doesn`t report me for this, I`m going to take them up and show them the Lincoln Bedroom.  They wanted to see the Lincoln Bedroom so I`m going to give the tour myself, OK?

Thank you all for being here.  It`s a tremendous honor to have you in the White House and we`re going to look at the Lincoln Bedroom.  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And that is our broadcast for tonight.  Thank you for being with us and good night 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