Trump claims consumers can avoid tariffs. TRANSCRIPT: 5/13/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Peter Baker, Michael Steele, Eric Tucker, Berit Berger

O`DONNELL:  "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST:  Tonight the jarring chaos currently under way.  Financial markets royaling amid a trade war.  Stocks on the Dow plunging over 600 points as China hits us back on tariffs.

Then tonight we learned about contingencies for U.S. troops going to war with Iran as the President says, we`ll see what happens.

Plus, Trump plans a new meeting with Putin, Rod Rosenstein takes aim at Jim Comey, and Trump`s own FBI director appears to be his next big target.  Just another Monday night in the Trump administration as "The 11th Hour" gets under way.

Well, good evening from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  This was day 844 of the Trump administration and if you`re looking for where we stand, where things are tonight, the headlines pretty much tell the story.  "The New York Times" is reporting the White House has been reviewing plans for a potential military confrontation with Iran.  Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who only left the job Friday is speaking out tonight, calling the Mueller investigation justified and characterizing one-time FBI Director James Comey as a, "partisan pundit."

According to "The Times" Rosenstein`s former boss Attorney General William Barr has now asked a federal prosecutor in Connecticut to examine the origins of the Russia investigation.

"The Washington Post" tonight for good measure reports that before Trump ousted top officials at Homeland Security, they had pushed back on a secret plan to arrest thousands of migrant families living in several cities across our country.

And tonight, we appear to be in a full fledged trade war with China.

All of this follows Trump`s relentless attacks on Twitter over the weekend.  He posted nearly 100 messages, mostly focusing on House Democrats` investigations into his administration, the Mueller report, and this now escalating trade war with China.

Today Beijing retaliated, increasing tariffs on $60 billion worth of American goods, after Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products last week.  This triggered a market slide today and then some with the Dow closing down more than 600 points.

Tonight U.S. trade officials reportedly are prepping to impose tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese imports.  What could go wrong?

Earlier today Trump insisted his moves against China will mean victory for the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re in a very strong position.  Our economy has been very powerful.

We are taking in right now hundreds of billions of dollars.  We`re taking in billions of dollars of tariffs.

If you look at what we`ve done thus far with China, we`ve never taken in 10 cents until I got elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  A reality check here, tariffs are paid by American companies which then pass the costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices.  This weekend Trump`s chief economic adviser was forced to admit as much during an interview with Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL:  In fact, both sides will pay.  Both sides will pay in these things.  And of course it depends --

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  If it were a tariff on goods coming into the country the Chinese aren`t paying.

KUDLOW:  No but the Chinese will suffer GDP losses and so forth.

WALLACE:  They may suffer consequences but it`s U.S. businesses and consumers who pay, correct?

KUDLOW:  Yes, to some extent.  I don`t disagree with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  There is also news tonight on the President`s eldest son Donald Trump Jr.  "The New York Times" reporting the Senate Intelligence committee was forced to subpoena him after he backed out of interviews he had originally agreed to.

"The Times" also reports that there are still 29 investigations related to Trump under way involving Congress, federal agencies, as well as New York state entities.  Tomorrow a federal judge is expected to rule on Trump`s effort to block the House Oversight Committee subpoena of financial records from his long-time accountants.

Meanwhile, the full House has yet to move forward on holding Attorney General Barr, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, and former White House Counsel McGahn in contempt.  Today Trump was asked about McGahn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Should Don McGahn be held in contempt of Congress?

TRUMP:  I don`t know anything about what`s going on.  I can tell you that there has never been anybody so transparent as the Trump administration and it was no collusion and no obstruction.  And we`re wasting a lot of time with that stuff.  But the Mueller report came out, it was a very good report for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  On that note, here for our lead-off discussion on a Monday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Stephanie Ruhle, a veteran of the Investment Banking and Business World which is germane to our conversation happens to be host of the 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. hours here on MSNBC.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Peter, I put you in this role at least once a week on this broadcast and tonight I am forced to ask you again where does this presidency stand?  What is it we are looking at as of tonight?

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you read off the list of stories you just did and you feel like you`re caught in the middle of a hurricane.  In Washington we have a name for it.  It`s called Monday.

You know, we just -- this presidency time and time again you just see so many things happening all at once.  It`s hard to get your head around any one thing.  We`re in a tariff war with China. We may be in a shooting war with Iran.  We obviously are in a political war between the President and Congress.

And you know, how do you sort of settle which of these things is the most important thing to follow?  It`s bewildering and perplexing for the people, policy makers, as well as journalists who are trying to sort of get their thumbs on what this on what this presidency is all about.

The long-term thing is probably the China thing, and probably the tariff war, because that goes to the heart of his presidency which is to say economics.  And the thing that is going to lift him or not in next year`s election may be the economy.  He does have a good economy going right now.  It`s one of the things that kept him going through all the different scandals and all the controversies.  People look at their own pocketbooks.  But whether that is going to stay the same if we continue to be in this war over trade with China is a big, open question.

WILLIAMS:  Stephanie Ruhle, let`s just take one of the President`s tweets today.  Again, because it`s germane, this is about the tariffs.  "There is no reason for the U.S. consumer to pay the tariffs, which take effect on China today."

He goes on to say "the tariffs can be completely avoided if you buy from a non-tariffed country."  Good luck with that iPhone purchase, "or you buy the product inside the U.S.A., the best idea.  That`s zero tariffs.  Many tariffed companies will be leaving China for Vietnam and other such countries in Asia.  Where do you want to begin?

STAPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC CO-ANCHOR, "VELSHI & RUHLE":  I guess that means we`re never going to buy a Trump tie or suit ever again.

WILLIAMS:  Made in China.

RUHLE:  The President is painting a picture that one would assume there is an empty t-shirt factory somewhere in the Roosevelt filled with employees just waiting to turn the lights back on and say go.  It`s grossly irresponsible for the President to characterize tariffs in this way.

As you pointed out earlier its U.S. companies importing goods who then pass that cost on to the U.S. consumer.  So just think for a minute about the millions of Americans who simply believe the President of the United States because that`s what an American should do, believe their president or those who are on Twitter.  But it`s stunning.

And one of the reasons the markets are so spooked today is because weeks ago many people said, "Listen, the President isn`t wrong in his sentiment to say things are unfair with China," but the fact that he`s approaching tariffs in this way, a former bank CEO told me Thursday night, it`s stunningly stupid the way the President is handling it.  And you know who knows this?  Xi Jinping.

Xi Jinping that knows that the President is running in 2020 on the good economy.  So Xi Jinping who is not on Twitter is watching this saying, "look at all the cards in my hand."

WILLIAMS:  Concrete terms.  An iPhone costs a thousand bucks.  Does this mean because they`re all manufactured in China that iPhones go to $1250?

RUHLE:  We don`t know the price.  And if you think about Apple, they obviously have pretty broad margins so you might not see that hit the consumer right away.  But if you look, where did we see it hit last year?  Washing machines.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

RUHLE:  And washing machine prices went up a hundred bucks.  So if the President were actually honest with the American people and said, "You know what?  I am doing this now to help us later and it`s going to hurt," people might say, OK.  But he is not.  He`s lying about the way they work.

WILLIAMS:  Michael Steele, let`s talk about the raw politics of this and let`s add in oh, the vague possibility of war with Iran.

RUHLE:  The vague.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN:  The vague, yes.  The only think when you were going through that litany of items that we`re now seemingly having to deal with, I couldn`t help but think that the tail is wagging the hell out of that dog right now.  And the President is all over the map.  And he wants to be that way.

And the new piece added tonight is Iran.  And that`s kind of been bubbling at the surface for a lot of reasons largely because of the internal pressure within the administration between the State Department and the Department of Defense and the White House about exactly what they should be doing.  The hawks want to really take on and take down Iran and others have a slightly different view on that simply because they don`t know where it will ultimately will lead.

Iran by all accounts had been living up to the Iranian arms agreement, a nuclear agreement, for a significant amount of time beyond the U.S.`s role in it.  So you have all these little pieces now that the President wants to play at.

And he throws these bright, shining objects into the orbit and the press, the public, and of course his government has to go chasing those down to figure out what`s true, what`s going to happen, what isn`t going to happen.  Meanwhile, we`re distracted by those things.  He`s going off to something else.  So that tail is working overtime in the last 36 to 48 hours.

WILLIAMS:  And Peter Baker, think of this.  Nothing happens in a vacuum which no one need remind you.  The President is attacking the head of his FBI, our FBI, when his secretary of state is about to meet with Putin and Lavrov in Sochi, Russia.

BAKER:  Right, exactly.  And when the President said today that he is planning to meet with Vladimir Putin himself in Japan at the end of June as part of the G20 summit that will come up then, that`s pretty interesting.  Remember of course, just last December the President -- or November the President canceled his last meeting with Vladimir Putin because they were in a conflict in the waters off the Ukraine and he said "I won`t meet with him until they resolve it."  Well they haven`t but he is planning to meet with them again anyway.

And you`re right, the attack on Chris Wray, his own hand picked FBI director is striking.  Up until now he has not, you know, taken on Chris Wray.  Chris Wray has stayed out of his target site.  But Chris Wray is objecting to this attack he sees on the bureau, that surveillance done as part of their Russia investigation should acquitted with spying as if to say elicit and illegal.  That`s not been determined.

There has been obviously reports including in my paper "The New York Times" about surveillance that was done on the campaign on individuals in the campaign.  The question is, you know, was any of that wrongfully done or not?  And Right now there`s an inspector general investigation is looking at that.

And Bill Barr has now appointed a U.S. attorney from Connecticut to take a fresh look at it.  This is what the President wants.  Investigate the investigators.  If nothing else it turns the table on the people who have accused him.

WILLIAMS:  Stephanie, let`s be candid.  Not watching us tonight are midwestern farmers who have to be up at dawn and frankly this is a bunch of noise in their lives.  Corn crop went in the ground late this year because of rain.  They are wondering whether to plant as many soybeans as they did last year.

RUHLE:  Now, farmers and blue collar workers have been hit the worst by the tariffs.  But remember, when the President first put the tariffs in place last year we saw the farm industry or a portion of it get a $12 billion subsidy.  But right now they`re concerned.

It`s funny you mentioned soybeans.  China decided last year to start buying soybeans from Brazil.  They can turn the spigot on or off.

China this week even more importantly than the farmers who are really concerned and at end of their rope and they`re in states --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

RUHLE:  -- like Tom Cotton`s state and Mitch McConnell`s state.  But if the Chinese government decides this week, if we do a massive treasury auction and they decide, you know what, America?  I`m going to sit out.  I`m not going to buy U.S. treasuries that will spook the markets because it`s easy to forget China is our biggest creditor.  If they wanted to shoot themselves in the foot they could start just start selling -- aggressively selling U.S. treasuries which would tank the price and jack up interest rates.

WILLIAMS:  And then Michael, you see today the President as if he was reminded that we`re looking at an election sent out a tweet about money he is asking for, for the everglades, tweeted about money he`s asking for, for the great lakes.  Presidential stuff.

STEELE:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  It comes amid all of this other tumults.

STEELE:  Well, weren`t we talking about infrastructure at some point?

WILLIAMS:  All right.

(CROSSTALK)

RUHLE:  Wait, is this when Brian asks in the show --

STEELE:  Yes.

RUHLE:  -- what did the President do to advance his legislative agenda?  Isn`t this that part?

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

RUHLE:  That`s that portion of the show.

So, again, the President is going on as if.  And again, this is the play to the base -- these are the things that I`m asking for.  No one is giving them to me.  Congress is not cooperating with me.  The Democrats are a big obstructionist.  But he`s still out there, you know, schilling as if he has actually put before the Congress a plan to address infrastructure.

WILLIAMS:  Right.

STEELE:  Put before the Congress a bill or series of bills that will pay for and appropriate -- have the Congress appropriate the money for the things that he is tweeting out about.  This man watches television until noon, all right, and he is tweeting until noon.

So anything that`s Presidential is going to happen within a very narrow window and there`s not much of that.  And that`s the reality right now.  The markets are on the edge and Stephanie just hit it out of the park.

You don`t even -- I mean, can you begin to think if China really wants to play ball?  Play ball the hard way with Washington?  He could really mess up Donald Trump`s day who has yet to be challenged by any national or international crisis.  China could actually create one for them in the markets if they wanted to.

RUHLE:  They don`t have a re-election to worry about.

STEELE:  Exactly.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I was going to say --

STEELE:  They play long ball.

WILLIAMS:  1.4 billion people.  To Peter Baker, to Michael Steele, to Stephanie Ruhle, tough stuff tonight, thank you for starting off our conversation.

And coming up for us, Mr. Rosenstein, former number two man at Justice, tonight publicly criticizes a former FBI director as the President takes aim at his own choice for current FBI director.  We`ll explain all of it.

And later, the alleged sabotage of several tankers near the Persian Gulf, it adds to growing concerns this administration is heading toward military conflict of some sort with Iran.  As we say, what could go wrong?  "The 11th Hour" is just getting started with watchful eyes on a Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  As we said, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is going after the former FBI director tonight in a speech in Baltimore this evening he said James Comey is now, "a partisan pundit, selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul.  That is disappointing.  Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors.  Generally we base our opinions on eyewitness testimony."

And to be fair here, it was pay back.  Here`s what Comey said about Rosenstein just four days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR:  I think people like that, like Rod Rosenstein who are people of accomplishment but not real sterling character, strong character, find themselves trapped.  And then they start telling themselves a story to justify their being trapped, which is, yes, he`s awful but the country needs me.

The republicans are doing this in Congress now. Yes, it`s awful but if I speak I`ll get defeated and this nation needs me here right now.  And so they start to make little compromises to stay on the team.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR:  So Rod Rosenstein you`re saying is a person not of strong character.

COMEY:  Yes, I don`t think he is.  Of accomplishment very bright but he is not strong enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  If you were thinking yikes just then you weren`t alone.  And just to keep it interesting, the President has decided to go after the current FBI director, a man he chose, Christopher Wray.  He went after him this weekend by posting a quote from Tom Fitton of "Judicial Watch" and we quote, "The FBI has no leadership.  The Director is protecting the same gang that tried to overthrow the President through an illegal coup."

David Frum of "The Atlantic" lays out some of the reasons Trump may be upset with the FBI, "Trump wants the FBI to endorse his own theory of victimhood and it won`t.  Worse, the FBI was embedded in the Mueller investigation.  The FBI received and still holds whatever information the investigation gathered about Russia`s interference in the 2016 election including potential answers to the all important question, why?  Why was Vladimir Putin so eager to help Trump into the presidency?  Why did Russia care so much and run such risks for him?"

In our series of reports, we call uncovered, we`re looking into parts of the Mueller report that have not yet received wide news coverage.  Tonight we turn to a portion that David Frum highlights in his piece that could answer the question of why.

The Mueller report on this front reads as follows, "the evidence uncovered in the investigation did not establish that the President or those close to him were involved in the charged Russian computer hacking or active measure conspiracies or that the President otherwise had any unlawful relationship with the Russian official.  But the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal or political concerns."

On that note with us for more tonight Berit Berger, former U.S. Assistant Attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York and Eric Tucker, Justice Department Reporter for the Associated Press who has covered the Mueller investigation since its inception.

Eric, let`s go back to this Comey versus Rosenstein.  People will recall that Rosenstein in his letter to cover for Comey`s firing blamed it falsely on Comey`s having been mean to Hillary Clinton.  Is this epic bad blood that dates back beyond that or just a continuation of that?

ERIC TUCKER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS JUSTICE DEPT. REPORTER:  So, one thing that I think is important to note is that these two individuals have known each other for quite sometime but were never especially close coming into their respective positions.  And then weeks into the deputy attorney general`s tenure he is confronted with the reality that the President wants his FBI director to go.

He asks Rod Rosenstein to create a memo that could be used as justification for the firing.  And Rod Rosenstein does so.

And as I think he acknowledged tonight, that`s something that Director Comey has forever been mad at him for and Rosenstein did acknowledge, I get it, I understand why he`s upset with me.

WILLIAMS:  Berit Berger, how notable is it that the President is going after the sitting head of the FBI, a critical tool to all of you guys who are current or former feds, the whole world is watching and they can see this after?

BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Yes, I mean, I think we`ve seen this before in the not so recent past of the President really making an attack on both, you know, the Department of Justice and, specifically, here at the FBI.

We saw him do it with Comey.  We saw him take on McCabe.  And now we`re seeing him take on Chris Wray.  Obviously, you know, the President has him as his latest victim in sight.

You know from perspective, I just think this is so dangerous, right?  To erode the public`s confidence even further in the FBI, put aside Russia, put aside politics, you know, for the actual sort of day-to-day business that the FBI has to do, they depend on the public having trust in them, right?  The public has to trust the FBI enough to pick up the phone and call when there`s a problem.

When the FBI agents are trying to get people to cooperate with them, those witnesses have to have some trust or some confidence in the agent they`re speaking with.  And the President tweeting out things saying, you know, there`s no leadership at the FBI, this is just not helping that level of public confidence.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Eric, Sean Hannity tonight we noted kind of opened up a wider attack on Wray.  Sean Hannity seldom says anything by accident.  How notable to you is this hit on the FBI Director?

TUCKER:  It`s very notable because Chris Wray as I think one of your earlier guests have mentioned has worked osseously (ph) since he took the position to stay out of the President crosshairs.  He really does not like being asked to respond to Donald Trump`s comments or criticism.

He always responds by saying, "Look, we are all about doing the work."  But one thing that Chris Wray did last week when he was on the Hill that I think really attracted the President`s attention, he was asked what do you make of the attorney general`s assertion that the Trump campaign was spied on?  And Chris Wray said, "that`s not the word that I would use."

And clearly, that`s something that Donald Trump is paying a lot of attention to.  I think he certainly probably would have preferred that Chris Wray, like his Attorney General, Bill Barr, would have indeed used that word.

WILLIAMS:  Berit Berger, DJTJ, Donald J. Trump Jr. has been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, almost lost in the (INAUDIBLE) of the last 72 hours was what I`m going to play for you.  This is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee talking about that subpoena.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA, CHAIR. SENATE JUDICIARY CMTE.:  If I were Donald Trump Jr.`s lawyer I would tell him, "you don`t need to go back into this environment anymore.  You`ve been there for hours and hours and hours."  And nothing being alleged here changes the outcome of the Mueller investigation.  I would call it a day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Just for emphasis again, the chairman of Senate Judiciary sending a message to the President`s son to ignore a subpoena by the Republican controlled Intelligence Committee.  Can you wrap your head around such a thing?

BERGER:  OK, just call it a day.

WILLIAMS:  Yes?

BERGER:  Yes.  I mean, last time I checked subpoenas were still, you know, compulsory, you are still required to respond to them.

I mean, look, he has three choices here, right?  He can do what Lindsey Graham says and call it a day and not show up and then face the ramifications for that.  He can show up and exercise some sort of privilege, claim some sort of Fifth Amendment right and not have to testify, or he could just show up and answer further questions here.

I think the first option, the one that Lindsey Graham is suggesting is absolutely his worst choice because subpoenas aren`t optional.  That`s not the point here.  I mean, they may be in this current iteration that we`re dealing with here but there are ramifications.

And for a sitting senator to be suggesting that the very body that served the subpoena should just, you know, ignore this and encourage people not to comply with that just weakens the power of all of these investigations and it really just encourages this further, you know, obstructive behavior by ignoring subpoenas.

WILLIAMS:  I want to thank you both for taking part in our conversation tonight.  To Berit Berger, to Eric Tucker, our thanks again for joining us on this broadcast.

Coming up for us, tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalate.  As the President delivers an ominous warning that Iran should avoid making a, "very bad mistake."  A look at what is at stake when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS:  Are we going to war with Iran?  Are you seeking regime change there?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`ll see what happens with Iran.  If they do anything it would be a very bad mistake.  If they do anything.  I`m hearing little stories about Iran.  If they do anything they will suffer greatly.  We`ll see what happens with Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  As tensions between the U.S. and Iran are on the rise, our Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Brussels today to share intelligence they say and discuss multiple threats from Iran with European allies.

Tomorrow Pompeo will hold meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi, Russia.

The "New York Times" reports last Thursday at a meeting of Trump`s top national security aids, "Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan," get this, "that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons," administration officials said.

"The revisions were ordered by hard liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump`s national security adviser.  It does not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops."

Back with us tonight, Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, author of "Nuclear Nightmares, Securing The World Before It`s Too Late" and Jackie Calmes, returns to the broadcast, White House editor for "The Los Angeles Times."

Joe, I`ll begin with you and I`ll say this as gently as possible.  All three of us are old enough to know the story of the Gulf of Tonkin and all that LBJ justified in its name.  How dangerous a moment is this, Joe?

JOE CIRINCIONE, AUTHOR "NUCLEAR NIGHTMARES":  If you are worried that this is starting to sound a lot like the prelude to the Iraq War you are not alone.  A lot of people in Washington are getting very, very worried about what John Bolton is planning here.

As one indication what struck me in this story was the line that said, a half dozen national security officials had spoken to the "New York Times" about what they heard in this briefing.  You don`t do that if you`re in agreement with what is being briefed.

Senior officials are concerned according to "The Times" story that Bolton is getting way out ahead of where the threat is and maybe where the president is.  "The Times" also reports it`s not clear that the president was briefed on these plans, that he`s for this.

In my view John Bolton is using the president`s desire to talk tough like the clip you just saw to slowly build up a military force to increase the pressure around Iran in the hope of provoking a reaction from Iran that could be the trigger to a war.  There are a lot of sparks in that region that could set this fire off.

WILLIAMS:  Jackie, as Joe notes, the three of us have also been around long enough to know a hit when we see one in the paper.  And as Joe said, a half dozen people talking in some form or fashion sharing concerns with a major newspaper indicates there is a problem.

JACKIE CALMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES WHITE HOUSE EDITOR:  Well, Joe expressed exactly my first feeling when I read the lead of that story, to have a half dozen national security officials blab to my former "Times" colleague Eric Schmidt about this just tells you that there are people worried enough about what the signals that John Bolton and Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan are sending out that they have gone to the paper to air this.

And, you know, it`s really -- to see that number is so mind boggling.  120,000 troops.  Especially from Donald Trump.  And the thing to remember, this story it`s not clear that he was briefed, it`s almost impossible to imagine that he would approve such a level of troops.

I mean, I don`t know what the provocation would be with Senate.  This is the president after all who his base would absolutely hate it.  He has many times, just to hear that this number of troops, 120,000 is about what George Bush used for the invasion force in 2003 in Iraq, the President Trump has said this was the worst foreign policy mistake ever.

And he said, you know, we`ve spent -- false figure -- but he said we`ve spent $7 trillion in the Middle East and he doesn`t want to spend more.  Well, 120,000 troops that`s going to cost a lot of money.

And finally, his base, Pat Buchanan and others have said, they warned him against promoting both Bolton and Pompeo because of their hawkishness.  I just can`t see the president going with a number like this.

And, you know, it was just last week about the time this meeting was being held, Shanahan and national security officials about these figures, the president was tweaking John Bolton publicly to reporters about Venezuela saying that he all but confirmed a "The Washington Post" story that Bolton was trying to get him into a war in Venezuela and that as he put it to reporters, I tempered John.  So, you know, we`ll see.  As the president likes to say, we`ll see what happens.

WILLIAMS:  And Joe, in the meantime, our secretary of state meets tomorrow with not just his counterpart but Putin as well in the room.  And I say, not meaning to be cute, what could go wrong?

CIRINCIONE:  Yes.  Well, Mike Pompeo`s crashing of the European Union meeting today was hugely unpopular.  Kind of back fired on him.  European officials are very worried by what they`re seeing and worried a conflict in the region could quickly escalate, and by the way, trigger a global recession that would make the tariff problem look minor for global economies.

And now Pompeo is going to Russia to do what?  To make what kind of consultation?  We don`t know because the State Department, the Defense Department, the White House don`t have briefings anymore. And by the way, they`re not having congressional briefings.

All this talk about going to war is happening without any congressional investigations.  Congressional leaders should demand immediately that officials come and brief them on these plans, brief them on the troop levels, brief them on the sources of the intelligence leaks that are making page one headlines in newspapers around the country so that the Congress can execute its proper authority.  If we`re going to start a war in the Middle East that could make the war in Iraq and Afghanistan look like warm up acts that can only happen with the authority of the U.S. Congress not on the orders of President Trump or National Security Adviser John Bolton.

WILLIAMS:  I`m also old enough to remember when Congress used to do that kind thing.  To Joe Cirincione, to Jackie Calmes, thank you so much for coming on tonight.  We appreciate your time.

And coming up for us, he was once considered a front-runner.  Now he`s polling at 2 percent.  Recognize that guy on the right?  What he and Biden`s other Democratic competitors are doing to try to steal back the headlines, win over voter support when we continue.

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JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Anyone may get the nomination.  You`ll never hear me speak ill of a Democrat in this process.  It`s just not -- the last thing we have to do is be getting in a fight among ourselves.  The purpose is to make sure we don`t have eight years of a man who has done significant damage in my view to the United States of America.

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WILLIAMS:  Former Vice President Joe Biden in New Hampshire today.  Meanwhile, in South Carolina new poll numbers out this week show Biden with a massive lead over Bernie Sanders.  46 percent for Biden to Bernie`s 15.

Here with us tonight to talk about all things political, Jeremy Peters, political reporter for the "New York Times" and A.B. Stoddard here in the New York studios, columnist and associate editor at "Real Clear Politics."

A.B., I want to put those numbers back on the screen.  Let`s just dwell in this for a second and live with these numbers.  Look at the other end.  Eric Swalwell who frankly makes daily appearances or so it seems on this and other networks, rather, Castro, Ryan, Bennet, Gillibrand all sharing zeros.  Klobuchar, 1 percent, Beto who was a guest in this very studio tonight, 2 percent.  These are some desperate numbers for the also rans on the Democratic side.

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST:  I do think as we move into the debates and beyond into fall before voting in January there will be some top seven.  The low hanging fruit will leave at some point that will consolidate more vote share for other people.   But it is too many people right now.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

STODDARD:  It is too crowded.  And so you`re going to be stuck at 2 percent.  A lot of people are running for a cabinet position, more of a spotlight.  Future cycles.  But it didn`t work for Republicans in 2016.  It`s not going to work for Democrats.  They pretend it`s great.  A lot of energy.  You know, huge, broad debate.

But really they want it down to five or six or seven and I think that`s what we`ll see, you know, in the months to come.  Right now that is a very big lead for Joe Biden and I think it comes as a huge surprise to everyone who thought this was going to be a walk fest and turns out people to be more pragmatic.  They`re really scared and they want someone who can beat Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS:  So Jeremy Peters, this also shows that South Carolinians perhaps are not buying the incestuous intelligencia cable echo chamber.  Give us the report from the front, actual American car driving Amercains in the non-Prius community, what they`re saying about the Democratic side and the people in it.

JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER:  I think A.B. has it just right, Brian.  They`re very worried that Donald Trump could win another term.  I just came back from Wisconsin, the famed Obama/Trump country where you have this belt of counties that run along the Mississippi river voted for Obama twice and then flipped to Donald Trump.

And Trump is not overwhelmingly popular there.  In fact, his popularity has declined quite a bit if you look at public polling but even among the people who dislike him there`s a palpable fear that he could be re-elected for a number of reasons, primarily because right now the economy seems to be in good enough shape that people are willing to overlook the chaos, the daily stream of nonsense and outrageousness that comes out of the news cycle.

They can put up with that as long as there is a little bit more money in their paycheck every couple weeks which some of them told me there is, as long as they have jobs.

Now, of course, the numbers, the top line numbers that Donald Trump always touts, low unemployment and the GDP, don`t always translate into a healthier bottom line for all Americans.  And I think that`s why you see some slipping there in his numbers in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, states he`s going to need to win if he is to remain president.

WILLIAMS:  A.B., none of this has stopped other Democrats from hearing a call that is not hearable by others.

STODDARD:  Great way of putting it.

WILLIAMS:  I will quote the "New York Times."  If you`re a high profile Democrat looking to convince voters you`ll get tough on President Trump, there is no better place to deliver that message than on the president`s home turf.  Except perhaps if you`re New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and that turf is a hastily erected podium in front of the escalators at Trump Tower, waving and holding signs reading, "Trump 2020" failed mayor, LGBT for Trump and worst mayor ever.  The protesters rode up and down the escalators over and over again providing enthusiastic counterprograming as de Blasio delivered his remarks."

We have some video of this today.  It was nothing short of political malpractice.  It was unbelievable.  It was so loud.  They also pumped up the music because it`s home field advantage in Trump Tower.  He couldn`t hear reporters` questions.  Again, this was an event for the mayor in Trump Tower.

The other thing hurting de Blasio is a piece of video that aired on New York local news last night of the -- hurdlingcess pool that is the New York City subway.  You know who loves this?  Iowa voters love seeing pictures like that.  Where is this call that Bill de Blasio potentially is hearing?  He says he is going to settle the question on running for president in a few days.

STODDARD:  You are right.  It is not a call the rest of us can hear but it is boiling up within him.  People have all but begged him outright not to do this.  And the fact that he`s still flirting with it, the fact that he could do it is astonishing.  It is going to be such a self-inflicted wound.  Everyone in Iowa, all the key places at the top of the party have made clear that there`s no room and no appetite and no interest in him.  And the idea that he wants to sort of torture himself this way is really something to behold.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy, let me ask you to answer a question A.B. put in print today and that is, where are the Democrats on what we`re witnessing on tariffs and the market tanking today, the sound of crickets drowned out everything else.

PETERS:  Right.  Democrats have really struggled to come up with any type of consistent, coherent, economic message.  They don`t really have an answer to the fact that the economy under Trump is doing pretty well.

On top of that, when you layer in the tariff issues, the stock market drop that you just referred to, the stuff that isn`t all great economic news for president trump, Joe Biden, for example, seemed to give Trump the advantage on trade the other day by insisting that there is no threat from China, that China is not going to eat our lunch, which is kind of a puzzling question, given that it`s a settled question that China is our biggest geopolitical foe at the moment.

So, I think the Democrats have spent so much time on smaller issues of identity and fighting over who represents what group and who ought to be the nominee, whose turn it is, and it has distracted them from the larger pocketbook questions that are going to move most voters.

WILLIAMS:  To our friends, Jeremy Peters and A.B. Stoddard could fill the whole hour with our conversation.  Thank you both for stopping by again tonight.  More of our broadcast when we come right back.

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WILLIAMS:  We just want to let you know here, coming up after this break, a medical update on a prominent American that is unlike anything we have seen or read before.  That story, when "The 11th Hour" continues.

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WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, a former president, who is, by all accounts, a physical marvel, and a record-holder, at 94 years of age, Jimmy Carter is our longest lived U.S. president.  He`s the only president who ever lived long enough to see the 40th anniversary of his own inauguration.

So, when we heard today that he broke a hip and had surgery to fix it, we figured, our money`s on Jimmy Carter and it`s going to take more than that to keep him down.  That was before we learned the rest of the story, and here we quote from the official statement on the former president`s condition, from the Carter Center.

"While leaving to go turkey hunting this morning, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter fell at his home in Plains, Georgia.  He`s recovering comfortably from surgery to repair a broken hip at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus, Georgia.  His surgeon stated that the surgery was successful, his wife Rosalynn, is with him.  President Carter said his main concern is that turkey season ends this week, and he has not reached his limit.  He hopes that the state of Georgia will allow him to roll over the unused limit to next year."

And tonight, former president or not, we`ve heard from the Georgia Wildlife Resources division, they aren`t having it.  "While we are saddened to hear of former President Carter`s unfortunate incident this morning, we do limit all turkey hunters to three gobblers, male turkeys, every year, still one of the most liberal bag limits in the U.S.  We don`t roll over limits from one year to another."

They go on to wish him well, but they`re not having it.  While limiting him to just the three gobblers.  This is probably as good a time as any to repeat the goals of the former president and his center from the front page of their website.  Waging peace, fighting disease, building hope.  Wishing the former president a speedy and thorough recovery.

That is our broadcast for this Monday night as we start a new week.  My thanks to Steve Kornacki for sitting here last week.  Thank you for being here with us.  And good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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