Giuliani and Foreign meddling. TRANSCRIPT: 5/10/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Paul Butler, Juana Summers, Ken Thomas

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you.  That is Tonight`s LAST WORD.  I`m Joy Reid.

I will see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for my show "A.M. Joy" where I will have a big announcement.  Big announcement coming tomorrow.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, late developments in another challenging week for the President as the administration is hit with more subpoenas, a new report on the President`s response to the Mueller report.  A key witness is asked and declines twice to say publicly that Trump did not obstruct justice.

Plus, the uproar over his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani and his upcoming visit to Ukraine to meddle in an investigation.

And as the leading Democratic candidate gets a longer nickname, new polls show the President`s approval ratings on the rise.  THE 11TH HOUR on a Friday night starts right now.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Brian Williams who will be back on Monday night.  Day 841 of the Trump administration and there is new reporting tonight from the "Wall Street Journal" which broke this story and from "The New York Times" on what appears to be the President`s effort to persuade his former White House counsel to publicly declare that the President did not commit obstruction of justice.

"The Journal" reports, "Within a day of the release of the Mueller report, President Trump sought to have former White House Counsel Don McGahn declare he didn`t consider the President`s 2017 directive that he seek Robert Mueller`s dismissal to be obstruction of justice, but Mr. McGahn rebuffed the request."

"The Times" report, "White House officials asked at least twice in the past month for McGahn to say publicly that he never believed the President obstructed justice.  Mr. McGahn declined his reluctance angered Mr. Trump who believe McGahn show disloyalty by telling investigators for the Special Counsel about Mr. Trump`s attempts to maintain control over the Russia investigation.  The White House made one of the requests to Mr. McGahn`s lawyer, William A. Burk, before the Mueller report was released publicly but after the Justice Department gave a copy to Mr. Trump`s lawyers to read."

Mueller documented how in January of 2018 Trump, "pressured McGahn to publicly deny the reports that he had tried to fire the Special Counsel."

In that case, McGahn also refused the President`s request.  Last month, Trump issued this denial of the account.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller.  If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  This latest news will likely spark a new push from House Democrats to get Mueller as well as McGahn to testify.  Tonight Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerold Nadler sent this tweet saying, "This is why it is critical for Mr. McGahn to come before our committee and answer questions for the American people.  The President cannot keep McGahn from testifying."

Nadler says he is negotiating with Mueller but it is unlikely Mueller will testify next week.  Nadler added this earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  He will come at some point, if necessary we`ll subpoena him and he`ll come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Meanwhile another House committee is using subpoena power to dial up the heat on the administration.  Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin who has refused to hand over six years of Trump`s tax returns, he received a subpoena today from the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  The IRS commissioner also received a subpoena.

These moves come just days after "The New York Times" reported that Trump lost so much money from years 1985 to 1994, that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of those 10 years.  Democrats are also now weighing stiff penalties for Trump administration officials and for others who might refuse to comply with Congressional subpoenas.

Here`s House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  It`s far more practical to consider levying individual fines on the person, not on the office until they comply.  The courts use that practice.  I think it`s quite successful.

MIKE ALLEN, AXIOS CO-FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE EDITOR:  And you`re talking about a big number?

SCHIFF:  Yes. Yes.  Well, you, you know, you could fine someone $25,000 a day until they comply and that will probably get their attention.

ALLEN:  Can you do that?

SCHIFF:  We can do that.  If there is going to be this across the board stonewalling, we`re going to have to consider extraordinary remedies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  This has been a week of exploding clashes between the executive and legislative branches and they show every sign of continued escalation.  Here`s to some of what it has sounded like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The special counsel`s finding is clear, case closed.  Case closed.

NADLER:  The question is on the motion to report the committee report for resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find William F. Barr, attorney general of the United States Department of Justice in contempt.

The ICE (ph) have it.

We are now in a constitutional crisis.

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

TRUMP:  Well, I`m going to leave that up to our very great attorney general.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER:  Trump is calling us to impeach him, that`s what he`s doing.  Every single day, he`s like, taunting, taunting, taunting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Don Jr., that`s a Republican led Senate Intelligence Committee.  What do you make of that?

TRUMP:  To now get a subpoena to go again and speak again after close to 20 hours of telling everybody that would listen about a nothing meeting, yes, I`m pretty surprised.

The Mueller report came out, that`s the bible, the Mueller report came out, and they said he did nothing wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night, Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter, Donny Deutsch who has a new show, "Saturday Night Politics," you can catch that tomorrow night, 8 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.  Barbara McQuade, Veteran and Federal Prosecutor and former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.  And Paul Butler, a former Federal Prosecutor at Georgetown Law School Professor.  Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Barbara, let me start with you on this news about the President and through intermediaries.  Apparently, twice in the last month making this request to Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, that he come out and publicly say he did not consider the President`s actions at least as they related directly to him, to amount to obstruction of justice.

Obviously McGahn`s account is critical to any claim of obstruction, to any discussion of whether obstruction occurred here.  "The Times" tells us that these requests came after the Mueller report was completed and handed in and we should add McGahn`s lawyer tells "The Times" he didn`t consider the request to be a threat.  Is there a question of the propriety of this, though, in terms of the White House reaching out like this?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY:  Absolutely. And I think it just helps make the case for why Congress and America need to hear firsthand from Don McGahn.  I think you could make an argument that asking McGahn to deny that obstruction of justice occurred constitutes obstruction of justice itself.  He`s no longer interfering with Robert Mueller`s investigation but could be interfering with a Congressional investigation.

Now of course whether Don McGahn`s opinion is or is not that there`s obstruction of justice is not what`s relevant.  But if President Trump is attempting to get him to change his story or interfere with the truth or have that corrupt intent that we talked about during the Mueller investigation, then that could amount to obstruction of justice.  But at the very least, I think it suggests something that`s inappropriate in trying to influence the way Don McGahn answers questions.

He should testify in Congress, we should hear what he has to say.  I really think that talking to Barr and Mueller becomes less important than talking to the underlying witnesses more important so that we can hear straight from them and assess what we think is the truth based on what they have to say.

KORNACKI:  Let me bring our other former prosecutor in with another detail from this "New York Times" story.  Put it up on the screen here, this is from "The New York Times" story tonight.  It says, "The White House learned in August that Mr. McGahn had told Mr. Mueller`s investigators that he believed the President had not obstructed justice according to one of the people.  After "New York Times" article revealed that Mr. McGahn had spoken to investigators for at least 30 hours, Mr. Burke, that`s McGahn`s lawyer, tried to reassure the White House by explaining that his client told Mr. Mueller that he never believed Mr. Trump had committed an obstruction offense."

Paul Butler, let me ask you about that.  Again, there`s some sourcing here, so, who knows?  But "The Times" is -- if what is being suggested here is true, that is to say McGahn`s lawyer, McGahn told the White House that he had told Mueller I didn`t think what you did was obstruction, does that change at all questions about propriety of the White House doing this?

PAUL BUTLER, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, I think that in terms of whether the President committed obstruction, Don McGahn has never been a federal prosecutor.  He`s never actually practiced criminal law.  So, on that issue I`m going to go with the judgment of the over 800 federal former prosecutors including Barbara and I who signed that statement saying Mueller found overwhelming evidence that the President has committed obstruction.

We do want to give McGahn some props though because he doesn`t do everything the President tells him to do.  And unfortunately that`s praise worthy in this administration.  So the President asked him to fire Mueller, he refused to do that.  He refused to cosign what he allegedly told Mueller.

So, again, it`s unethical.  I think it`s obstruction adjacent as Barbara said that the President asked him to do this.  It may not be a crime.  It`s skating really close to the line.

KORNACKI:  Sure.  I just-- I want to just stick on this one point, because it`s just -- and I`m a layman here and I`m talking to two lawyers.  This is why I want to try to get some clarification on this because as a layman when I read this story, it seems like a potentially key point to me.  And I may be totally wrong here.

But let me just put it this way, if it is true that McGahn`s lawyer told the White House that he told Mueller he didn`t think this was obstruction of justice, if that is true that the White House was told that, does it change whether it`s OK or not for the White House to say, "hey, could you say that publicly?"

BUTLER:  I Don`t think so.  Remember, obstruction of justice, it`s a federal crime.  There has to be corrupt intent.  You have to -- with that intent try to impede an official investigation.  So there`s a technical determination for a prosecutor to make.

Remember the facts, though, that`s what McGahn was a witness for about the facts.  And what he did tell Mueller was that the President not only tried to get him to fire Mueller, but then to cover up what the President had Done, to lie about it.  Again, in the judgment of over 800 federal prosecutors, that`s obstruction.

KORNACKI:  John Allen, in terms of the politics of this, again, that "The Times" reporting here that the White House learned about what was in the Mueller report, probably they had seen it before it came out publicly.  Clearly it seems from these actions they recognize some potential public political, public relations damage from the McGahn component of this?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Oh, absolutely.  For the President to reach out and ask Don McGahn to say something publicly twice according to this report for McGahn to refuse him, they knew this was going to be politically damaging.  And also potentially legally damaging as for the conversation you guys were just having.

You know, I think there are a lot of reasons that Don McGahn would not say that publicly.  One would be that he doesn`t believe it to be true.  But another would be because he`s a good lawyer he would know that saying something publicly is not helpful to him if he`s going to have to go testify at some point.  Unlike President Trump who says things publicly that may not be advisable for him legally, a smart lawyer wouldn`t be out there saying something publicly one way or the other.

But absolutely this is potentially damaging to the President politically, I think the entire investigation is potentially damaging to the President politically.  I think that`s why you`re seeing this unprecedented scope, this sort of blanket refusal to cooperate with Congress.

KORNACKI:  And Donny, there`s also this mention in the article that the President looks at McGahn as disloyal.  I mean, of course McGahn as the White House counsel, not Trump`s personal lawyer, that point has been made by a number of experts certainly publicly.  But the question of, does the President see that distinction?

DONNY DEUTSCH, MSNBC HOST, "SATURDAY NIGHT POLITICS":  Well, the President runs a crime family.  And it`s basically loyalty or not loyalty.  It`s nothing to do with what`s right, what`s wrong, what`s against the law, what`s for the law.

Taking the politics of this, it`s interesting in your lead into the show you mentioned just as an aside the President`s approval numbers in all-time high.

So, the Yin and the Yang here is that obviously you have Republicans that basically are going to let the President move towards executive privilege, towards dictatorial countries and that you have obviously Democrats saying, "Wait a second, we believe in laws."  There`s been obstruction 90 times over.

The question becomes when and is there a tipping point for voters for the public consciousness where Americans, where the key -- where the 10 percent, 12 percent swing voters start to say, "This matters to me."

And I think at some point there`s a cumulative effect.  I think when you put Mnuchin and then you would put Don Jr. and then you McGahn, and then you put Barr, at some point, but, it has not stuck yet.  So the challenge continues to be for the Democrats.  How do they walk and chew gum at the same time?

How do they, as we head to 2020, keep their eyes on health care, keep their eyes on low wages, fight what seems to be a roaring economy from the Trump part of the economy, but yet, not walk away from this?  And that`s kind of the -- and as Nancy Pelosi said, Trump is goading.  He`s going to keep doing this.  He wants the Democrats to throw that fast ball, impeachment fast ball.  And I think that`s very, very dangerous.

So, this is going to continue to happen and there will or there will not be a legal tipping point.

KORNACKI:  Well, so, along those lines, Barbara, then we mentioned the new development today with the tax returns.  So previously the House Ways and Means Committee controlled by Democrats had invoked this 1924 law and said, "Hey, look, you know, Mr. President, you have to turn over your taxes to us."  The administration has said they`re not going to comply.

Now, going the subpoena route seems just as unlikely the administration is going to comply with that.  Does this land in court and is it possible this is -- this is resolved any time in the near future?

MCQUADE:  I don`t know.  It seems that the letter alone should have been legally sufficient to get the tax returns.  It says upon request, the Treasury Department shall produce the tax returns.

And so the subpoena really in many ways is legally unnecessary.  But I think it is sort of a next step, a warning shot across the bow that we mean business, we`re not going away.  And I also think that if they do resort to litigation at some point, the House Ways and Means Committee can say, "Look, we tried to do this, you know, as far a way as possible to give them as many opportunities as possible and we now have no choice but to resort to the courts for legal redress."

I do think that the White House is trying or the Treasury Department at least is trying to slow walk what is inevitable and that is the disclosure under this law.  But if a court battle lies ahead, that could take weeks or months to resolve.

KORNACKI:  Yes, and, John, so if Democrats -- at least from the leadership level, don`t want to go down the impeachment road, if Trump for that matter, politically wants them to go down that road and maybe that adds to their reluctance to do so, at what point does the delay game when it comes to all of these subpoenas, all of these requests for documents, for testimony, for cooperation for the administration, does that -- does there come a point where that reaches critical mass with Democrats in Congress and they feel compelled to go the impeachment route?

ALLEN:  It was really interesting, Steve, what`s happening on the Hill right now is for Nancy Pelosi and for the Democratic leadership, they`ve been allowing these investigations to go forward, right?  Jerry Nadler and Richard Neal, the Tax Committee and Elijah Cummings at Oversight, Adam Schiff in Intelligence, they`re not acting without Nancy Pelosi`s blessing.  However, there are a lot of Democrats that for political reasons and also in some cases because they don`t believe the tipping point has been reached, don`t want to move forward with impeachment.

The more they`re able to frame this around the administration taking unprecedented steps that they believe violate the constitutional checks and balances, the separation of powers, they`re watching this administration do things that are abnormal, the more it`s framed around that rather than partisan politics, the more the caucus comes together around the idea that the House Democrats should be taking on the President in court and potentially moving down the road of impeachment.  So, basically what you`ve got now is Trump unifying Democrats in a place where they were fractured before.

And as Pelosi has said, she believes she`s goading them into impeachment.  They`re certainly moving in that direction, but I don`t expect that to be a fast move in the direction of impeachment.

KORNACKI:    OK.  Let`s squeeze in a quick break here.  Our guest have agreed to stay with us.

And coming up, we have some news that is breaking right now.  Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has had a change of heart about heading to Ukraine.  We`ll tell you about that.

And later in the midst of what Democrats say is a constitutional crisis, Donald Trump`s approval rating is higher than it`s been since the first month of his presidency.  What is going on there?  We`re going to explore.  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Friday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHANNON BEAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  OK.

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY:  So, I`ve decided, Shannon, I`m not going to go to the Ukraine.

BEAM:  You`re not going to go?

GIULIANI:  I`m not going to go because I think I`m walking into a group of people that are enemies of the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Well, this is some breaking news.  Just moments ago Rudy Giuliani said that he will not be traveling to Ukraine after all.

"The New York Times" first reported that Giuliani was planning to push that country`s new president to move forward with investigations, investigations that could be useful to his client, the President.  "One is the origin of the special counsel`s investigation into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election.  The other is the involvement of former Vice President`s Joseph Biden son in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.

Still with us, Jonathan Allen, Donny Deutsch, Barbara McQuade, Paul Butler.

Paul, let me just start with you, last night around this time, we were digesting the news that Rudy Giuliani was publicly saying he was going to Ukraine.  And he said I`m not going there to meddle in an election, but I`m going there to meddle in an investigation.  He used those words.

He said, meddle in investigation that might be useful to my client, that is the President of the United States, Donald Trump.  Now 24 hours later, there`s been considerable criticism of that.  Today he says he`s not going.

Let me ask you the bottom-line legal question first.  Were there legal concerns that were raised by what Giuliani said 24 hours ago?

BUTLER:  So, meddling in an investigate would be a crime if he did it in the United States.  Again, that`s what President Trump most likely did.

Here in the Ukraine, once again, Steve, criminal law adjacent, a gutsy prosecutor might be able to bring a case for some kind of campaign finance violation or maybe Logan Act.  It`s far from a slam dunk.

You know, when I was a prosecutor, one of the things I learned were that lots of acts of corruption weren`t necessarily criminal, per se.  With this administration, we see acts that are so brazen, they`re un-American, they`re against all kinds of democratic norms but they don`t necessarily cross the line to being criminal law issues.

KORNACKI:  Donny, last night, again, when you had Giuliani`s original statement there, I think one of the things that shocked people beyond all the specifics was the brazenness of it.  Was the attorney for the President who`s just gone through this two-year investigation where all of these suggestions were out there, you know, coordination, cooperation, there were extreme suggestions that were out there.  And then saying he`s going to go over to a foreign country and try to get them to pursue an investigation that might turn up information that would be useful.  For Giuliani to say that publicly in the first place.

DEUTSCH:  It`s a sick, twisted, evil Judas (ph) move, it`s the Trump favor (ph).  If I keep doing it, it`s not wrong.  I wouldn`t be doing it in public.

Just a side note on Giuliani, I`m a little bit older anyway, I was here when Giuliani was running the city, who`s great mayor at one point.  And then after he left office, so many people live in the city felt he was almost exploiting 9/11 and he went from there.  He`s become such a despicable figure, such a tragic old man doing anything to stay relevant.

What a disappointing, sad little old man that has taken on such a dastardly, evil, twisted manner that he would display this in the last 24 hours.  It was probably just a publicity stunt in the first place.  But of all the President`s men, of all these swamp things, Rudy Giuliani stands out to me as the lowest of the low.

KORNACKI:  And again, Giuliani is just saying this in the last couple of minutes on Fox that we won`t go.  Let`s play just a little bit more to give you a sense of what he`s saying now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEAM:  OK.  So no trip on Sunday, no trips to Ukraine.

GIULIANI:  No trips because --

BEAM:  OK.

GIULIANI:  -- I believe I was walking into a bunch of people, one of whom already has been found to be involved in this that I wasn`t aware of.  And I think this was a setup.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  OK, again, that was Giuliani just a couple of minutes ago.  Also again, this was a couple of hours ago, the President speaking to "Politico," Donald Trump saying tonight to "Politico, "again before Giuliani just said what we showed you, he said that he planned to speak to Giuliani before his trip to Ukraine, I said he -- "I plan to speak to him about it before he leaves.  I`m just curious about that."  That was what Trump said tonight.  He said he had not spoken to Giuliani at any great length about this.

John, I do think there`s been a pattern here just the last couple of years with Rudy Giuliani making pronouncement that you get the impression, surprise, even people around Trump, Trump himself, this looks like it might be another example of that?

ALLEN:  Yes, I`m not sure exactly what the back story is here, Steve.  I spoke at length with Rudy Giuliani this week, not specifically about his trip to Ukraine or I would have reported it first.  But there`s absolutely an interest in the part of the President and his allies and trying to figure out if there`s something that they can produce that will show that they were the victims of being railroaded by some deep-state conspiracy within the Obama administration.  And that`s still something that`s hot on their minds.

And so, if Rudy Giuliani believed that he could get something out of a Ukrainian investigation that would produce that, no wonder he would want to go over there and do that.  But what he said just there on Fox News that he was going to be set up, I`m curious to know what the rest of that was.  It sounds like maybe he was the victim of some sort of ruse or something. I mean I, I really want to know what happened and maybe some of us will inquire about that going forward.

It`s not surprising that the President or folks around them would reach out to a foreign power.  The President won his election last time with the assistance of Russia as Robert Mueller laid out on his report.  And rather than having compunction about that, that seems to be something they`re looking forward to in 2020 as well.

KORNACKI:  And Barbara, I guess Paul addressed the basic sort of legal question there of making this kind of a trip and then making that kind of request on the trip in the first place.  I imagine, though, if Giuliani were still to go forward with this, maybe he reserves himself again or at least when he was considering this.  There would also be, I can imagine any number of unpredictable factors and potential risks of what might come from that.

MCQUADE:  Yes.  This to me really demonstrates what we`ve seen again and again with President Trump, his inability or even refusal to draw lines between what is in his personal interest and what is in the nation`s best interest.

Our country does works with foreign governments from time to time.  In Ukraine, I know we`ve done work on rule of law there and helping them with anti corruption matters.  And that is done in the interest of our country, the United States of America, to help a country in ways that are mutually beneficial.

Instead what Rudy Giuliani is doing is going on behalf of President Trump as his personal lawyer to benefit his campaign.  Now, when someone is coming as the representative of Donald Trump, I`m sure to those in Ukraine, they see him as the representative of the President and they`re inclined to give him what he wants and to help him.  And so in this way, the President is really utilizing his role, his office of the presidency, to gain improper things for himself personally.  And so just another example of those blurred lines that should be very solid lines.

KORNACKI:  All right.  And Donny Deutsch, before we go, tomorrow night Saturday night -- you know, you`re not broadcasting live from Ukraine are you?

DEUTSCH:  We`re actually in Monte Carlo tomorrow night.

So, you know, tomorrow night we got a great show, we got Jim Cramer from "Mad Money."  You know it`s such a crazy week with the markets where as far as tariffs, this booming economy and how the Democrats going to turn it upside down on Trump.  And Cramer has got some great insight, also what CEOs think of Trump really fascinating, it`s great.  Nicole Wallace is there.

We take the weeks events.  We laid them strategically what is looming for Dems.  Eight p.m., tune in.  I know, Steve, you don`t go outside at night.  You stay home, you get the popcorn and the Slim Jim`s and you watch.  I appreciate that.

KORNACKI:  Jim Cramer and Nicole Wallace, 8:00 p.m. MSNBC tomorrow, "Saturday Night Politics."  Donny Deutsch, thank you for stopping by.  Jonathan Allen, Barbara McQuade, Paul Butler, thank you to all of you as well.

Again, you can catch Donny show tomorrow night.

And coming up, we haven`t seen an approval rating number like for the President since -- well, basically since he was inaugurated as President.  What is going on with the President`s approval rating?  I`m going over to the big board.  We`re going to show you the numbers and talk about what they mean when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  All right.  The Mueller report is out.  Democrats say we are in a constitutional crisis.  That "I" word, impeachment, it is flying all around.  And so what is happening to the President`s political standing as this plays out.  Of course, he`s up for re-election a year and a half from right now.  Do voters feel that this sense of crisis is turning them on the president at all?  Well, we can show you.

Here is Donald -- this is Donald Trump`s approval rate.  This is his average approval rating right now.  You put together all the polls that are out there.  You average them together and he clocks in at 45.1 percent.  There`s two things I can tell you about that number.

Number one, 45.1 is not, historically speaking, a great number for a president at this point in his term.  But I can also tell you this, 45.1 percent in the average for Donald Trump.  The RealClearPolitics average, that is the best Donald Trump has done is his approval rating since the first month of his presidency.  This is about as high as it`s been for Donald Trump.  In fact, we can show you.

This is the trend line of his approval rating.  Notice, how tight this is, you`re talking about high 30s, low mid-40s, right there.  That`s the entire range he`s existed in to put this in some context, again 45.1 percent right now.  When is the last time he actually reached that level?  It was February 20, 2017.  He hit 45.3 percent.  That`s the last time he has been in that territory.

What is the absolute highest, since he was sworn in, what`s the absolute highest that Donald Trump ever hit in this average, 46 percent.  He is now within a point of that number, 45.1 now.  46 percent, call that his honeymoon.  That was week 2 of his presidency.  And what is the lowest?

At his worst point, when Donald Trump bottomed out his first two plus years as president, what`s the lowest he ever got, it was 37.1 percent.

This is the range.  We say it`s a tight range that his approval ratings existed in.  This is the range, 37 on his worst day, 46 on his best day.  And here he is sitting at 45 percent.

What might be bringing it up there?  Well, first of all, there always could be a little bit of noise in these polls.  Let`s see if some more come out in the next week or two, see if this sustain.  That`s your first question.  If it does sustain, though, question, is it the economy, all of that great incredible economic news the last few weeks, is that helping him at all?  Are there some Republican friendly voters who are may be rallying around him in the face of this impeachment talk, is that another factor there?

There are some possibilities here, but keep this in mind.  This range is not just been consistent for his presidency.  This is what the rage looked like in the campaign for Donald Trump.  When you tested Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton versus the third part candidates in 2016, his numbers also lived in this range.  And remember, at the very end of the campaign, he got just up, 46 percent.  That`s what he got in the presidential election.  And he barely won in 2016.

His approval rating has got to basically get up to that range to have a chance in 2020, 45.1, that starts to get him in the place where he could maybe talk about just stringing it together the way he did in 2016.  A long way to go between her and the election, but 45.1 percent amidst all of this, worth keeping that in mind if you want to talk about the bottom line politics.

Coming up, the newest way the President is preparing supporters for his against one Democrat in particular when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  President Trump is ready for the general election and he is already zeroed in on an opponent.  Trump told Politico in an interview tonight, "I look at it like my race in 2016 and predicted that Biden will remain at the head of the pack, Joe Biden at the head of the pack of 22 Democrats running for president."

In addition Trump suggested that he doesn`t see his other Democratic rivals as serious threats.  He is also creasing Biden with a new nickname writing earlier today, "Look to me like it`s going to be sleepy creepy Joe over crazy Bernie.  Everyone else is fading fast."  Biden has been leading the polls since before he even said he was running, and he`s now extending his lead nationally and in early states like New Hampshire.  The latest Monmouth Poll has out the Grant State has Biden doubling up Bernie Sanders.

Back with us tonight, Juana Summers, National Political Reporter for the Associated Press and Ken Thomas Political Reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  Thanks to both of you for being with us.

Ken, let me just start with you, and Donald Trump focusing so much attention early on on Joe Biden.  I`m curious, is this a case, do you think, of Trump just kind of following the media coverage and responding to it, or is there a particular advantage that he perceives in going after Biden right now, either trying to elevate him, perhaps, or trying to wipe him out early?

KEN THOMAS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  This looks like an example of the President trying to build Joe Biden up in order to tear him down later.  I think they see a pretty good matchup with Biden on certain things.  You know, they feel like he has a lengthy record that can bring up, they feel the trade issue could be a troublesome spot for Biden, and then just this idea of Biden as someone who has been in politics for a long time.

The President has always wanted to be that outsider, anti-establishment force.  And I think his advisors feel like Biden would be helpful in that regard.  That said, I mean, Biden would be, you know, a good matchup for the President.  He would be difficult in some of the Midwest states that the President won.  But I think by and large, they see some advantages to running against Biden.

KORNACKI:  Juana, in terms of Biden`s Democratic opponents, I`m curious, what is your sense of how they view this start he`s gotten in this race.  I know there was a lot of, there were some sense out there, I should say that I think the cliche was the best day Joe Biden has as a candidate will be the day he announces.  It will all be downhill from there.  So far that`s not proven to be true.  How are his Democratic opponents reacting to that?

JUANA SUMMERS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Absolutely.  And we`ve seen in the weeks or so since Biden has announced, he`s been pretty resilient.  Remain at the top of he polls like that New Hampshire Poll you just mentioned.  I think that a lot of his opponents, though, are spending quite a bit of time talking about how -- they believe they`re more electable than Joe Biden.

You saw Kamala Harris in California making that electability argument, talk very strongly.  Bernie Sanders certainly positioning himself as the anti- Biden candidate.

I think as we are in this period between end of the first fundraising quarter, and those first debates in June, you`re going to see candidates come out more strongly and draw the contrast between themselves and the former vice president as they`re looking to kind of have that moment and reclaim some of the spotlight, because he has frankly taken up a lot of the option in the room when it comes to talking about the Democratic candidates in this very large field.

KORNACKI:  Mick Mulvaney, the White House Chief of Staff, gave an interview to Major Garrett from CBS today, talked about Joe Biden`s age previewing potentially how Trump would handle that in a general election.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  People forget, Senator Biden has -- Vice President Biden has tried this a couple times and failed miserably.  I don`t think he`s ever gotten more than 1 percent in any presidential election.  And what he`s getting ready to do is really, really hard.  I think Biden`s what, 75, 76 years old.

MAJOR GARRETT, CBS HOST: 77.

MULVANEY:  Yes, this is a really hard job.

GARRETT:  Harder than he knows?

MULVANEY:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  So, Ken, I mean, look, in a general election, Donald Trump will be 74 in 2020, so there`s not a huge age difference there.  I do wonder about this age question on the Democratic side though and in the primary as they look for an electable candidate, if that`s on their list here.

Biden would hit 80 years old in his first term of president.  We`ve never had a president that old before.  I`m wondering, how much do you think Democratic voters are looking at him on the campaign trail and essentially asking the question, does he look his age?  Does he sound his age?

THOMAS:  Yes.  And there`s this issue of whether the party wants a fresh face right now, whether they`re willing to, you know, take a flier on someone new.  And a lot of it comes back to electability.  That they just feel so strongly that they need to deny President Trump a second term and that`s where Joe Biden fits in.  He is the comforting figure, the person they know and love and respect.

And so a lot of them are willing to look past his age, but, you know, that`s, you know, if there is an interest in a fresh face, that`s where someone like a Pete Buttigieg or Beto O`Rourke or something like that could come in and say, "You know, I`m a youthful energetic alternative."

KORNACKI:  All right.  Juana and Ken are staying with us.

Coming up, new reporting gives a clear picture of what`s on the mind of voters in the critical caucus state of Iowa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Some new reporting from the Des Moines Register is shedding lights on the issues that voters in Iowa want the candidates to be talking about, we`ll give you a hint.  It`s not Russia and it`s not impeachment.  A review of questions that potential caucus-goers have been asking the candidates reveals that those voters are most worried about healthcare, climate change, and education.  Those questions accounted for about a quarter of all questions that were asked in April.  Other important topics included foreign policy, electability, immigration, and gun control.

Back with us, Juana Summers and Ken Thomas.

Juana, it`s interesting because we lead the show tonight and we`ve done a number of times this week talking about the dilemma that Democratic leaders have in Washington about where to push this confrontation with Donald Trump, and whether to move towards impeachment.  How significant is it that Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa don`t seem to be talking about it very much?

SUMMERS:  I love this story and it matches up with a lot of what I hear from voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states.  I think voters care about those issues, certainly.  But I think they also, they recognize that Democrats have to have a plan if they do in fact take the Oval Office, whether that is because the President is impeached and then they win an election, or if they just win it in 2020, they realized there needs to be a plan.

And that while impeachment is salient and Russia is important, they are concerned about whether or not they`re able to put food on the table for their kids, whether or not they`re going to have good jobs, whether or not the quality for children`s education is strong.  And so, they want to here how Democrats are going to address that, I think they want to see candidates that are running on something and for something, instead of candidates that are simply running against Trump.

KORNACKI:  Is there, Ken, a risk in that also for Democrats in Washington just in that, if these issues that voters are asking about at these events with candidates, if this is what`s on their mind, an impeachment and subpoenas, and the investigation was dominating Washington, do you think Democratic voters are giving Democratic leaders leeway for that?  Or do you think there`s a sense -- there`s a possibility Democratic voters start to see, hey, what about our priorities?  How come you`re not getting much attention to that?

THOMAS:  Yes.  There a danger of disconnect I think between what happens in Congress in this next year or so, and what is happening on the campaign trail.  You know, I think the President`s recent approval ratings are really interesting because it could attribute some of it to the strong economy, but you could also attribute it to Republicans coming home to him, you know, in response to this impeachment talk.

So it`s a risky proposition for Democrats in the Presidential Race to focus so much on impeachment talk.  They really haven`t.  I mean, you know, we`ve heard a lot more about the green new deal, about healthcare and issues like that.  But there is this worry I think among some that if impeachment talk takes off, it could take the party in the Presidential race in the wrong direction.

KORNACKI:  Juana, before the last break, we played that clip of Mick Mulvaney, the White House Chief of Staff, sort of seizing up Biden as a potential opponent for Donald Trump in 2020.  He mentioned age as we`ve showed an issue.  He mentioned, though, was the issue of trade.

And you remember in 2016 that some of those voters in the industrial Midwest that perhaps Trump was able to peel off from Democrats, one of the key issues there seemed to be trade with Donald Trump taking a more protectionist tone than we`re used to hearing from Republicans.  Hillary Clinton supporting a lot of these trade deals in the past.

I`m curious when you look at that in the context of Biden potentially being the Democratic nominee, he makes a lot of his potential appeal in those Midwest states, but his record on trade for NAFTA, for TPP, not much different than Hillary Clinton`s.

SUMMERS:  You`re absolutely right.  And I think on the Democratic Primary that`s where we`re going to really this issue break open, particularly in the contrast that former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont are going to draw against each other, throwing Trump in that combustible mix too.  I think trade actually could be one of the marquee issues as both of those Democratic candidates and the president, all are looking at those upper rust belt Midwestern states and really focussing their messages there already early on.

KORNACKI:  And, Ken, so interesting too, just hear when you look at the range of issues voters are asking about, one of the things they are asking candidates about is that word "electability."

THOMAS:  Yes.  It just comes up constantly when you`re out on the road talking to voters.  They seem to be trying to make a calculation on, you know, who gives them the best chance of defeating the President.  And, you know, we`ve seen in the past cycles issues like the Iraq War being front and center.  But it`s really much more at this point about, you know, electability and the opportunity to deny the President a second term.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Ken Thomas, Juana Summers, thanks to both of you for joining us.

And coming up, the perils of being President on camera, and today it wasn`t Trump.  We`re going to have Vladimir Putin`s must-see moment when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  The last thing before we go tonight takes us to Russia and President Vladimir Putin playing in an exhibition hockey game there.  He seemed to do all right for himself, officially scoring eight goals, or nine, actually, if you believe the Kremlin`s report.  We are not exactly sure how hard the opposing goalie was really trying to block those presidential shots, though.

It was after the game, however, skating around the ice in Sochi and waving to the crowd that Putin`s skate found the red carpet, you see it there.  And down he went.  And that just goes to show you the peril of being a leader on the world stage, that any trip or fall or awkward moment can be captured on camera for the whole world to see.

The British press had a field day back when Theresa May made her dance moves to classic Abba song "Dancing Queen" at a Tory Party Conference last fall.  You see that there.

As for our own president, while in Shanghai after a press conference in 2005, George W. Bush famously battled with a locked door trying to cut a press conference short.  Then there was this moment in St. Petersburg in Russia in 2006, that was Bush`s pokes, a way of saying hello clearly surprised Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

When he was candidate for president, Barack Obama earned a few chuckles for his dancing kills when the appeared on "Ellen Degeneres Show."  He also had a close call getting off Air Force One in 2015, nearly tumbling down the stairs.

In fact, getting on and off the presidential plane well on camera has repeatedly given us funny moments over the years.  Back in October, Trump boarded the plane in Minneapolis with what definitely looks like a piece of toilet paper on his shoe.  Later than same month in a moment that launched a thousand gifs, Trump boarded the plane in the rain and really just couldn`t be bothered to close his umbrella when he got to the top of the stairs.  He left it to rock gently in the wind there.

But perhaps, no president has better illustrated the perils of getting on and off the presidential jet than Gerald Ford.  This slip in Austria in 1970 is one of many, so many, in fact, that it got the "SNL" treatment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHEVY CHASE, SNL HOST:  Whereas the -- Well, I`m from New York, It`s Saturday night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  That was Chevy Chase.  He looked nothing like Gerald Ford, but some people say he got the mannerisms just about right.

That is our broadcast for tonight.  Thank you for being with us.  Brian will be back on Monday.  Have a Happy Mother`s Day weekend 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