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Many Democrats struggling to climb in polls. TRANSCRIPT: 5/14/19, The 11th Hour w. Brian Williams.

Guests: Michael McFaul, Kelly Magsamen, Tom Cotton, David Jolly

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Wayne Lapierre and the NRA`s crisis management law firm have not offered one word of explanation about that apartment that Wayne Lapierre rented for the summer for that young woman.  Not one word.

Wayne Lapierre and the NRA`s law firm and the NRA board members who are at war with each other are going to need a lot more crisis management.  That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, Donald Trump Jr. changes his tune.  He`ll now testify as he was subpoenaed to do by the Senate Intelligence Committee.  We`ll speak with one of the senators on that committee here tonight.

Plus, the Attorney General who`s been willing to use the preferred Trump term of spying has opened up a review of the Mueller investigation while House investigators look into possible obstruction by Trump attorneys.

And halfway across the world, Vladimir Putin has kind words for the Mueller report while our Secretary of State warns we don`t tolerate election interference.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 845, this was of the Trump administration.  And we have news tonight in the face-off between the White House and Congress.

"New York Times" on the board with two big stories this evening, first, Donald Trump Jr. will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and then the House Intel Committee is now investigating lawyers tied to the President for possible obstruction.

"The Times" reports this agreement between Trump Jr. and the senators came after the President`s son canceled interviews with the committee not once, but twice.  That earned him a subpoena from the Republican Chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina.  They apparently want to talk to Don Jr. about Trump Tower Moscow among other things.  "Times" says the deal his lawyers cut with the committee calls for him to testify in mid-June with the questions limited to about a half dozen topics and the time limited to no longer than two to four hours.  Big window there.

The President continues to question why his son was subpoenaed in the first place.  And this morning for good measure, President questioned the motives behind it.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My son spent, I guess, over 20 hours testifying about something that Mueller said was a 100 percent OK.  And now they want him to testify again.  I don`t know why.  I have no idea why, but it seems very unfair to me.


WILLIAMS:  Over to the House of Representatives where "The Times" reports the Intel Committee is looking into whether, "lawyers tied to President Trump and his family helped obstruct the panel`s inquiry into Russian election interference by shaping false testimony."  "Times" says this goes back to Michael Cohen`s testimony in February that the lawyers helped edit false testimony about Trump Tower Moscow that Cohen gave Congress back in 2017.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER, (D) CALIFORNIA, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:  On page 5 of your statement, you say, and I quote, "you need to know that Mr. Trump`s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow tower negotiations."  Who were those attorneys?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY:  Jay Sekulow -- from the White House?


COHEN:  Jay Sekulow, I believe Abbe Lowell as well.


WILLIAMS:  And back now to the President who today praised his Attorney General William Barr for opening an inquiry into how the Russia investigation started.


KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESEPONDENT:  Mr. President, did you ask the Attorney General to launch a probe into the Russia investigation?

TRUMP:  No, I didn`t ask him to do that.

WELKER:  Did you know he was going to do it?

TRUMP:  I didn`t know it, I didn`t know it.  But I think it`s a great thing that he did it.

I am so proud of our Attorney General that he is looking into it.


WILLIAMS:  Now, the Attorney General has appointed this man.  His name is John Durham.  He`s a veteran U.S. attorney from Connecticut.  He`s going to lead an investigation.  He`s a lawyer who has handled special tasks for Republican and Democratic administrations over the years.

Notably, "The New York Times" says this will be a review for now and not a criminal inquiry.  That means that that man, Durham, will not have the ability to subpoena documents or compel witness testimony.

However, the "A.P." reports Attorney General Barr will also be working with CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, as part of this investigation into the investigators.

Wray has been in the news of late because of the fact that Trump, after appointing him, has now decided to go after him.  Today, the President was asked if he still had confidence in his FBI director after Wray disagreed with Barr`s assertion that the Trump campaign had been spied upon in 2016.


TRUMP:  Well, I didn`t understand his answer because I thought the Attorney General answered it perfectly.  I thought it was a ridiculous answer.


WILLIAMS:  Russia`s interference in our last Presidential election came up, as you might imagine, during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo`s trip to Russia where today he met with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I conveyed that there are things that Russia can do to demonstrate that these types of activities are a thing of the past.

The Russians were engaged in that in 2020 would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been.


WILLIAMS:  Putin was kind enough to invite everyone to his summer home in Sochi for today`s meeting where he made a point of complimenting Special Counsel Mueller while calling the end of the Mueller inquiry an opportunity.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator):  We also would like to rebuild fully fledged relations and I hope that right now a conducive environment is being built for that because however exotic the work of Special Counsel Mueller was, I have to say that on the whole he had a very objective investigation and he confirmed that there are no traces whatsoever of collusion between Russia and the incoming administration which we said was absolutely fake.


WILLIAMS:  Don`t think Robert Mueller`s ever been called exotic prior to today.

And then just today, we got confirmation the Russians were, indeed, able to hack into two Florida county voter databases prior to our 2016 presidential election.  The Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, said no election results were compromised.  Oddly, the governor then went on to say he signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI.  He`s agreed not to reveal which counties were hacked, but he assures the American people that election officials were notified.

What a Tuesday night.  Let`s bring in our leadoff panel, Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia.  We welcome to the broadcast tonight Kelly Magsamen, a Veteran of the Pentagon, the State Department and the NSC under Presidents 43 and 44, Bush and Obama.  She`s these days Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress.  And that`s a lot.

Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House bureau chief for the "Washington Post."  And Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and Pentagon.  Also former Chief Counsel for the House Intelligence Committee.

And Jeremy, it`s in that former capacity that I`d like to begin with you.  What do you make of these dual stories tonight?  DJTJ changing his mind and agreeing to this package of participation with the committee, but also the questions from your old committee about Trump`s lawyering.

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  I think there are two issues at the Senate committee wants to talk to Donald Trump Jr. about.  First is Donald Trump Jr. previously told the Senate that he was only peripherally knowledgeable of the Moscow Trump Tower deal.  I think we all know now that the family was integrally involved, that Donald Trump, himself, was briefed all the way up until the summer of 2016.  And so that testimony appears to be false.

And second, I think there`s a critical question of whether or not Donald Trump Jr. told his father about the Trump Tower New York meeting when the Russian delegation came to talk about what the Russians would receive in exchange for helping in the 2016 election, Magnitsky Act sanctions relief, et cetera.

As you recall, Michael Cohen told Congress he believed Donald Trump Jr. did tell his father about that.

And I think we should congratulate and thank Chairman Burr for sticking to his guns here and saying if you lie to a Congressional committee, we`re going to drag you back here and ask you further questions about it and if it goes into the point where we think there`s perjuries testimony, they should have a referral to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

WILLIAMS:  And Phil, that last point Jeremy just made is so important.  What do you think is the major driver that changed Donald Trump Jr.`s mind to come in and talk?  Do you think it was, indeed, the kind of quiet power and authority of Republican Chairman Burr of North Carolina?

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF:  It appears to have been just that, Brian, although, there may be more to this story than we know at this hour.  But this was a pretty dramatic reversal for Donald Trump Jr.  And, frankly, it surprised me because Trump Jr. through his allies communicated in no uncertain terms last week that he viewed this attempt to bring him back, this subpoena, as a political hit job.  He was not going to comply.

You saw his father, the President, speaking again and again and again about how inappropriate he thought it was for the Senate committee to try to compel him, the son, to return to answer more questions.

And then all of a sudden this week at the beginning of the week, we see the committee reach an accord of sorts with Trump Jr.  He agreed to come to the interview, but only, importantly, only on his own terms.  There`s a short window of time.  Two to four hours.  There`s a limit to the scope of the questioning as well.  They can only ask him questions about a half dozen issues, not 10 issues, not 12 issues, but a half dozen issues.

And so while Trump Jr. looks like he`s been conciliatory and doing a good deed here by coming forward to do this interview, he`s actually getting the ground rules set in his favor.

WILLIAMS:  So, Ambassador Mike McFaul, Pompeo, Putin, and Lavrov, walk into a dacha and I`ll read you this from "The Washington Post."  "The Kremlin has accused what it calls Washington`s anti-Russian establishment of blocking Trump`s efforts at closer ties.  The Mueller investigation was the prime culprit in that narrative."  Mike, where did you put today`s meeting?

AMB. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  Well, I think it`s an attempt by the Trump administration to forget about the past.  It starts with the phone call that President Trump made to President Putin and the Russians made clear in their readout that that was initiated by him.

My guess, I don`t know this, is that they probably said, well, you should send Secretary of State Pompeo here to talk about these details.  That would be logically consistent with how these things happen. And now he shows up in Sochi.

I applaud the Secretary of State for reading a tough statement when he was with Lavrov and saying what I think should be the policy of the United States.  He said that on the record things that President Trump has never said, but that`s all a setup to now what I think is going to be a meeting between the two Presidents on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan and it`s all like bygones.

You know, forget about what happened in 2016.  Forget about annexation in Ukraine.  Forget about seizing two dozen Ukrainian sailors illegally. Let`s move on and just restore relations.  That was the verb that President Putin used, at least during the remarks that he had with Pompeo.

WILLIAMS:  And Kelly, to welcome you to the broadcast, I have a dramatic reading from "The Atlantic" and it reads as follows.  "Trump might be motivated by something else, his allies and administration officials suggest.  They see Trump following a good-cop, bad-cop playbook that is meant to sustain a necessary dialogue.  Leave it to Bolton, Pompeo and others to deliver the harsh message, the argument goes.  Trump, meanwhile, will see to it that relations at the top stay cordial."

Kelly, do you believe it or do you think, for example, on the Iran front the President`s secretly jonesing for a conflict?

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FMR. MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL:  Listen, I think on the Russia front I agree with Ambassador McFaul.  I think they`re getting ready to set up a big meeting between the President and Vladimir Putin.  I was most struck by the common language that Vladimir Putin used with President Trump about the Mueller report, using this, you know, phraseology, no collusion, it`s a hoax, this is all fake news.

And so that was a concerning thing for me to hear as a national security professor to have the President of Russia and the President of the United States sharing that kind of language.

I also think that there are advisers around the President who do share -- do have different objectives than him.  And I think John Bolton, in particular, has an agenda in mind with respect to Iran and has created a scenario where he`s backing the President into a corner with very few options other than escalation.

WILLIAMS:  Kelly, on that front, what do you think the U.S. message should be to all the players in the Persian Gulf right now this week?

MAGSAMEN:  I think it should be a message of, you know, we`re not looking to start a fight here.  We will defend our allies if necessary but that the United States is not here to provoke Iran in any sort of conflict.

I think the United States at this point and the President, in particular, has to dial back where we`re headed with Iran.  I think ever since last year when we pulled out of the Iran deal, which is almost exactly one year ago this week, the administration has been taking a series of steps to actually escalate and put us on a path to escalation.

And I think that`s now what the American people want.  I think the American people don`t want to go to war with Iran on top of, you know, 20 years of wars in the Middle East and South Asia.  So, I think it`s very important for the President to leave himself space here and to distance himself from some of his advisers.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Jeremy, I`m sorry to be scattershot.  But every night, we`re handed so many topics and only so much time.  What do you make of this Florida story today?  At the same time confirmation they hit two county voter databases, so hacked in past tense.  But somebody signs an NDA and agrees with the FBI, oh, no, we`re not going to publicly say which counties.

BASH:  Yes, highly concerning.  We need a lot more information, Brian.  I think to assess what the Russians were up to.  Everyone talks about voting machines.  I think the big story is voting tabulation systems.  The databases that actually tally the votes.

But I think it was problematic, to say the least, for the Republican governor there in to say basically I`m not going to say anything further about this.  He appears to have done what the Justice Department or Washington Republican agencies, a lot of agencies in Washington had asked him to which is not feed this story at all.  We need more information and need it soon.

WILLIAMS:  Mike McFaul, our President used a phrase that we have never heard in this country and because I follow you on social media, I indicated -- I saw you indicate that when he talks about our patriot farmers, you, perhaps, get a wistful Brezhnev tang?

MCFAUL:  Some Russians actually tweeted out some posters with phrases like that.


MCFAUL:  Not to be -- I have no idea what he was talking about.  I do know what he`s talking about.  He wants our farmer to suffer for his, you know, belligerent policy with respect to the Chinese.  And I think there`s a different strategy there.  We want to protect our property rights, our intellectual property rights.  We need a better deal.  We don`t need to have this confrontational policy to achieve them.

And think about it, it is a pattern now, with Iran, with North Korea before, with the Chinese, and so far, I don`t think it`s yielded very great results for any of the American people including our patriot farmers.

WILLIAMS:  Our patriot farmers.

Phil Rucker, you get to wind things up.  Take in the volume of stories we`re talking about here tonight.  The fact that, oh, by the way, we`re in a trade war with China, there`s talk, unbelievably, of a potential hot war with Iran after being at war for 18 straight years in this country.  Where is this administration as of tonight?

RUCKER:  And we`ve got a crisis, Brian, down in Venezuela as well.

Look, President Trump is grappling with so many crises all around the world, including here at home.  He`s got his re-election campaign gearing up which seems to be preoccupying much of his time.  And we`re heading into a period here where he`s going to have several face-to-face encounters with foreign leaders including our allies and we know what happens when he gets in the same room with some of the European leaders.  There can be drama and fireworks there as well.  And so it`s a very trying time for him.

And he`s still trying to grapple with the Oversight investigations from Congress and heading toward within -- Democrats would say we`re already there -- a constitutional crisis because of his outright refusal to comply with the requests from Congressional leaders.  So it`s a very troubling, chaotic period for this administration, and all I would say is buckle up.

WILLIAMS:  Buckle up.  As, again, Mike McFaul gets those Brezhnev pangs that he`s known for.

To Ambassador Mike McFaul, to Kelly Magsamen, to Phil Rucker, to Jeremy Bash, our thanks for starting off our conversation on a Tuesday night.

And coming up for us tonight, we`re going to ask a decorated veteran, a former member of the U.S. army Old Guard, who also happens to be a Republican senator from Arkansas, about the possibility of a military conflict with Iran.

And later, the candidates for President that some Democrats would much rather run for something else.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Tuesday night.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you planning to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East in response to Iran?

TRUMP:  I think it`s fake news, OK?  Now, would I do that?  Absolutely.  But we have not planned for that.

Hopefully we`re not going to have to plan for that, and if we did that, we`d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.


WILLIAMS:  Well, despite that kind of denial today, our own Courtney Kube and Adam Edelman report from the Pentagon, "U.S. officials told NBC News the plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the region was one of a range of options that Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented to Trump`s national security team during a recent meeting about Iran.  The option involving as many as 120,000 troops represented a worst-case scenario contingency in the event that the U.S. and Iran were to go to war."

Also today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed these mounting tensions with Iran during that visit to Russia.


POMPEO:  We`re looking for Iran to behave like a normal country.  And that`s our ask.  And we have applied pressure to the leadership of the Islamic of Republic of Iran to achieve that.  We fundamentally do not see a war with Iran.

We`ve also made clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion.


WILLIAMS:  We are happy to have with us tonight Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton.  The senator is a former U.S. Army Ranger, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, awarded the Bronze Star in combat.  We mention all of this because it matters to his appearance tonight.

He has written a new book called "Sacred Duty."  It`s about the U.S. army Old Guard.  The guardians of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with whom Captain Tom Cotton served prior to being Senator Tom Cotton.

And Senator, we`ll get to Iran in due time, but I want to start off by asking you about this book.  I tell people visiting Washington not to miss the changing of the guard, and I tell them further, if it`s a rainy day or a snowy day, go visit then because they`re always there.  They haven`t missed a step in decades.  Tell us about The Old Guard.

SEN. TOM COTTON, (R) ARKANSAS, AUTHOR, "SACRED DUTY:  Brian, thanks for having me on and thanks for your interest in "Sacred Duty" and The Old Guard of Arlington.

As you say, the (INAUDIBLE) of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have been guarding the sacred ground for 82 consecutive years now.  The same principle applies to the soldiers with whom I served and the soldiers today, as I write in "Sacred Duty" performing funerals.  It maybe sweltering heat, maybe a driving monsoon, it maybe a blizzard, and the cemetery may be closed to visitors but funerals in Arlington are in no fail, zero defect mission because it`s an expression of the love that our nation has for our warriors especially those who laid down their life in combat that we will go to the greatest lengths not only to recover them and bring them home, but to give them and their family members that one last indelible image of honor.

And I try to describe in "Sacred Duty" what kind of soldiers seek out that mission, how they`re trained, why they do it, and why it all matters to our nation.

WILLIAMS:  And, Senator, because you are a veteran, because we`ve been at war for 18 years and you have served in both this nation`s wars, I heard you say in an interview today, we could win a war with Iran.  Does that mean you think we ought to be in one?

COTTON:  No, of course not, Brian.  One of the missions of The Old Guard as I describe in "Sacred Duty" is dignified transfer of remains at Dover Air Force Base.  That`s where we welcome our fallen heroes back to their home soil.

I performed that mission dozens of times in 2007 and 2008.  And if you`ve been at Dover Air Force Base in the cargo hold in an aircraft and had to carry flag-draped remains of your fallen comrades off the aircraft, the last thing you want is another war.  But you also realize, as we realize in Iraq and Afghanistan as well, that sometimes you have to confront smaller dangers before they gather and fight a small battle on your own terms before you have to fight a larger and more dangerous battle on the enemy`s terms.

What we seek right now in the space of face of growing threats from Iran is an effort to change their behavior, to deter them from striking United States troops or our allies or interests in the Middle East.  That there should be no mistake.

Should Iran take provocative action against the United States, we will strike back ferociously.

WILLIAMS:  Is it fair to say that given your years in service, you would be a tougher sell than others to commit any number of the 120,000 young Tom and Mary Cottons we`re talking about with this lump-sum number of 120,000?

COTTON:  Well, I think what the Pentagon is probably proposing was a range of options.  That`s what the Pentagon does.  That`s what the military does.  They lay plans.  Especially plans against dangerous adversaries like Iran.

I think that`s probably on the high end of any kind of commitment.  Look, we`ve been in military conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran before when they tried to shut down the Persian Gulf in the late 1980s.  That was not the kind of combat that we`ve seen in Iraq or Afghanistan where we toppled the government and tried to -- and stayed there for more than a decade.

I don`t know exactly what Iran might try to do if they struck against the United States, but I could say that we would strike back ferociously.  That doesn`t mean that we will try to overturn their government or try to govern 80 million Iranians.  We want 80 million Iranians to be able to govern themselves.  But what we will not tolerate is a radical theocratic revolution like the Islamic Republic of Iran striking against the United States or our interests and allies in the Middle East.

WILLIAMS:  Finally, Senator, a larger question and it has to do with what we`re witnessing now.  Are you going to be OK with history`s judgment, whatever it is, on the Senate Republicans that you`re a member of under Mitch McConnell and the time of Trump, are you going to be OK explaining tariffs to Arkansas farmers?  Are you going to be convinced that our election system is fortified?  Are you seeking the truth with Don Jr.?  Do you really think this has been a witch hunt and so on?  Are you OK with how you have been portrayed as a party in the U.S. Senate thus far?

COTTON:  Well, Brian, you packed in a lot of material there.  I think we made a lot of progress on a lot of fronts over the last two years, whether it`s a healthy and growing economy here in the United States, or finally engaging in some of the wars both metaphorical and literal that are adversaries have been waging against us.

You mentioned tariffs with China.  We haven`t started a trade war.  China has waged a trade war against the United States for 30 years.  What we`re trying to do is join that battle and that actually ended and get a better deal for our farmers and our ranchers and our foresters and our manufacturers.

You mentioned the Senate Intelligence Committee`s review.  I know earlier today, Senator Burr and Donald Trump Jr. and his lawyers have reached a compromise where we can get the information we need not to look backward, to try to have a criminal investigation, that`s not what the Senate does.  We`re running a counterintelligence inquiry to figure out exactly what Russia was up to so we can stop them from doing it in the future.

So, again, you packed in a lot of information there, but I think we made a lot of progress over the last couple years and I look forward to progress over the next two years as well.

WILLIAMS:  Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas.  The book I`m holding in my hand is called "Sacred Duty: A Soldier`s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery."  It is on sale starting today.

Senator Cotton, thank you very much for being on our broadcast.

COTTON:  Brian, thank you for your interest in "Sacred Duty."

WILLIAMS:  And coming up for us on this Tuesday evening, another candidate joins the packed Democratic race, but some party insiders sure wish he had run for a different office instead.  More on that when we come right back.



STEVE BULLOCK, (D) MONTANA GOVERNOR:  I believe in an America where every child has a fair shot to do better than their parents.  But we all know that that kind of opportunity no longer exists for most people.  Far too many, it never has.  That`s why we need to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.


WILLIAMS:  So he`s a blue guy in a big red state with a big sky.  More on that later.  Some members of Steve Bullock`s own party wish he`d run for a different office in his home state of Montana instead.

Politico reports today that Democrats have been pleading with Bullock to run for Senate and not the White House and we quote, "Unlike any other Democratic candidate in the country, Bullock could make a virtually unwinnable Senate race competitive and give the party a real shot at knocking off a GOP incumbent and getting closer to a Senate majority."

Here to talk about all of it tonight, two friends of ours, our own Garrett Haake who`s been out on the 2020 campaign trail covering largely Beto O`Rourke thus far and a man who knows the trials and tribulations of campaigning all too well, David Jolly, former Republican Member of Congress from the great State of Florida who has since left the House an his political party but he`s here tonight with us which is all that matters.  David Jolly, who or what is the Bullock constituency?



JOLLY:  You know, it`s an intriguing candidacy, right?  I do think for a lot of people who are currently incumbents who have won races, there is a certain confidence that you develop that necessarily your politics must have worked in your last race, maybe they can translate nationally.

But I think the odds are against Governor Bullock just as they are against so many.  I take a little issue with this narrative among a lot of Democrats that say, we need more of these candidates to run for the U.S. Senate and other races.  I don`t actually think many of those Senate races they`re talking about are winnable for Democrats.

Bullock might be the lone exception, but the notion that Beto and Stacey Abrams and others could be competitive, I think it`s easier to lose that Senate race they`re being considered for than to lose the White House.

WILLIAMS:  Unknowingly, that`s called a setup in the talk show business because I quote from what`s been referred to, derisively, as Democratic Twitter or liberal Twitter, social media to you, Garrett.

Here`s the first one.  "Why run for Senate and win when you can run for president and lose?  By Steve Bullock, Beto O`Rourke, Julian Castro, and Cory Booker, forward by Stacey Abrams."

Tweet number two, "Beto is polling at 2%.  He could beat Cornyn in Texas.  Hickenlooper is polling at 2%.  He could beat Gardner in Colorado.  Bullock polling at 0%.  He could beat Daines in Montana.  Stacey Abrams isn`t even running.  She could beat Perdue in Georgia.  We need the Senate in 2020."

No proof to back up any of those numbers but it`s a fun conversation to have.

GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, if you work from the bottom up, they are right in the sense that Democrats absolutely need the Senate.  I find it fascinating that so many of the candidates are talking about reforming the filibuster to get from 60 votes to 50.  Well, if you don`t have 50 votes in the Senate, that`s entirely academic.  You`re not getting a green new deal.  You`re not getting Medicare for all.  You`re not getting any of these priorities if you don`t have 50 votes.

And as you look at that list, it`s interesting, there has been some obvious recruiting failures here I think if you`re Chuck Schumer, you would have loved to have Stacey Abrams in the Georgia race.


HAAKE:  They`re reasonably happy, Democrats, with M.J. Hegar in the race running in Texas.  You know, John Hickenlooper in Colorado is another one, Bullock in Montana, I`m already forgetting their names.  But if you put Steve Bullock, Hickenlooper, and Jay Inslee, the three governors who are running in front of voters, they won`t know who they are.  They could make a difference in that race but good luck trying to convince someone who`s been executive of the state that they should go, be one of the hundred particularly if they might be in the minority party.  I`m not telling you gentlemen anything you don`t know.

WILLIAMS:  Sure, you`re right.

HAAKE:  But being in the minority in Congress is a miserable experience and these guys don`t even want to risk that.

WILLIAMS:  Being a governor you get the National Guard and then some.

Hey, Congressman, I`m going to show you this is yesterday`s polling out of South Carolina so that`s the caveat.  I`m going to show you the people at zero.  There are some big names on this list, people who do have elected offices and responsibilities.  What does this say about this race?

JOLLY:  They`re not viable, and I think a lot of these people know that and they`re contemplating how to lose graciously and what`s the upside of a presidential loss?  Some of them are running for a cabinet post or a place in the next administration.  Some are running to develop a national constituency.

But they have to worry about is, one, hurting the party`s primary process, right?  Does it get too messy and go too deep into the primary process?  And then their own political brand.  Think about the 2016 GOP primary.  Jeb Bush dropped out after South Carolina because he didn`t want to face defeat in his home state of Florida.  Rubio stuck it out and got trounced by Trump.  Lost by 20 points, lost 66 of the 67 counties.  His political brand was significantly tarnished.

WILLIAMS:  Both of these gentlemen are going to be held against their will over this commercial break, but when we come back, a funny thing happened to the Democratic candidates when Joe Biden got in this race.  We`ll talk about that when we come back.



BETO O`ROURKE:  The systemic foundational discrimination that we have in this country, in every aspect of life, is something that I have not experienced in my lifetime.  And I`ve had advantages that others cannot enjoy.  So being aware of that and then doing everything in my power to help correct that.


WILLIAMS:  Beto O`Rourke is on something of a national re-introduction tour.  He is not the only one switching up his strategy.  You saw some of those zeros earlier on the graphic.  Politico is reporting tonight, "It`s campaign reset season for those in danger of falling behind in public opinion polls."  Retaking the field after halftime, our guests Garrett Haake and David Jolly.

Garrett, as a Texan, we`ve assigned you to cover this young Texan.  I`m fascinating watching him on television.  People would be excused for noticing that when he thinks of it, he drops his Gs and when he doesn`t, he becomes a prep school Ivy League kid from the east.  People would be forgiven for noticing that Mayor Pete in NASCAR terms cut off his draft and Beto has dropped back in the pack at Texas International Speedway and that appears to be the difference maker thus far in this campaign.  Am I wrong?

HAAKE:  I think that`s fair.  I think I`ve been describing this as like an online dating issue here.  There are so many --

WILLIAMS:  Use the NASCAR thing.  It works for me.

HAAKE:  I`m going to stick with this one for the youths, Brian.


HAAKE:  That there just so many other options here.  When somebody else pops, attention shifts.  And I think what we saw that happen with Beto and Mayor Pete.  I think we`re seeing that happen with Joe Biden and everyone right now.  The challenge for all these candidates is what do you do when the spotlight isn`t on you?  Because for so long it won`t be.

So the debates will be great moments.  I think no one is out of this thing yet.  Everyone`s going to have a chance to get back in it including Beto O`Rourke but he does not want to be on that graphic we just showed of the zeros, right?  If you`re in the top half of this, you`re a player, you`re in the mix.  You get invited to appear on "The View" and "Rachel Maddow" and the places where he`s been this week.

But if you fall off of that, you have a problem and I think that campaign is particularly well suited to live off the land, if you will.  He can drive around in a minivan and do town halls until the cows come home and wait for his moments if he`s in that top half.  And that`s why this reset, if you will, is important.

WILLIAMS:  Unbelievably, Congressman, we are still hearing stories that Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York.

JOLLY:  Yeah.

WILLIAMS:  I wrote down a headline from "New York" magazine, "Everyone keeps telling de Blasio not to run for president."  We`re continuing to hear stories that he`s going to get in.  I want to read you about Joe Biden.  "It is just the sort of fight Mr. Biden has been spoiling for.  A head-to-head contest with the incumbent on an issue that elevates Mr. Biden into a statesman-like role, well above the Democratic primary fray and all the sniping candidates and liberal litmus tests therein."

Man, that`s a tough one to say.  But the headline here in the "Times," "Trump can`t stop attacking Biden."  He`s giving Biden running room.

JOLLY:  Biden`s numbers are really strong.  I think that`s what we learned in the last month.


JOLLY:  They`re strong, they`re deep, they`re broad.  Biden, arguably, may be the only candidate who brings to this race the sustained candidacy throughout his career where he`s always a top-tier consideration.  Nationally, he fell to single digits when he`s run before.  But the reality is through a Senate career, as vice president, he comes to this race at the top.

Candidates like Beto, you know, I think most successful politicians, you kind of have that one moment and the question is, was Beto`s moment last year, almost winning a Senate race as a Democrat?

Now, he may be able to create a second moment in this race.  All the other candidates but for Biden are trying to create that moment.  Mayor Pete arguably has created it.  There is enough time for candidates that are deep enough and broad enough to reinvent themselves a few times before it really matters.  That clock`s ticking, though.

WILLIAMS:  Garrett?

HAAKE:  When I`m on the road, the single most important issue that Democratic voters tell me regardless of the candidate I`m covering is can this person beat Donald Trump?  Donald Trump targeting Joe Biden should be an in-kind contribution to the Biden campaign because it makes it look like he`s concerned about him.  If trump is talking about the border, great day for Beto O`Rourke, if he`s talking about an issue in it Elizabeth Warren`s wheelhouse, there are many, it`s a good day for her.

With every attack that Donald Trump puts on Joe Biden, he makes it more likely that Joe Biden will be the candidate that he faces. 

WILLIAMS:  And Congressman, last question to you, Elizabeth Warren said she would not do a Fox Network Town Hall.  Smart decision or not?

JOLLY:  I think she`s making a value judgment that a lot of Democrats, a lot of Americans agree with, that Fox pedals a narrative that`s not good for the national conversation.  That being said, it comes with a consequence of not being able to speak to that constituency.

WILLIAMS:  Garrett?

HAAKE:  I think that`s the one that she could redo in the general election.  I think it plays very well with democratic primary voters, the liberal voters that she needs very much right now.

WILLIAMS:  Yeah, good point.  Gentlemen, thank you.  This was terrific.  Our thanks to former Congressman David Jolly and perhaps future Congressman Garrett Haake.

HAAKE:  Oh, God.

WILLIAMS:  Two friends -- I don`t know.

JOLLY:  That`s a demotion.

WILLIAMS:  Don`t close the doors on any options.

Coming up here, the President says he is proud that his attorney general has launched a third investigation into how the Russia investigation got started.  Trump was not quite that kind to his last attorney general.  Some parts of the Mueller report that have not received wide scrutiny, when we come back.



KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS:  Mr. President, did you ask the Attorney General to launch a probe into the Russia investigation?


WELKER:  Did you know, he was going to do it?

TRUMP:  I didn`t know it.  I didn`t know it, but I think it`s a great thing that he did it.


WILLIAMS:  We`re taking a second look at that because, again, he`s talking there about A.G. William Barr appointing a U.S. Attorney from Connecticut to look into the origins, what the President has called the oranges of the Mueller report.

And remember way back before the Mueller report was released the President said this, "Mueller and the A.G. based on Mueller findings and great intelligence have already ruled no collusion, no obstruction.  These are crimes committed by Crooked Hillary, the DNC, dirty cops and others investigate the investigators."

Well, in our series here we`re calling uncovered we`re look at parts of the Mueller report that have not yet received wide media coverage.  Tonight what the report says about what Trump wanted but didn`t get from his first go around at Attorney General Jeff Session, who he quickly grew to despise.

The report reads, "On October 16, 2017, the President met privately with Sessions and said that the Department of Justice was not investigating individuals and events that the President thought that the department should be investigating.  According to contemporaneous notes taken by Rob Porter who was at the meeting the President mentioned Clinton`s e-mails and said don`t have to tell us, just take a look.  Sessions did not offer any assurances or promises to the President that the Department of Justice would comply with that request."

Then there`s this from the Mueller report.  "The President also told advisers that he wanted an attorney general who would protect him, the way he perceived Robert Kennedy and Eric Holder to have protected their presidents.`

"The President made statements about being able to direct the course of criminal investigations saying words to the effect of, `You`re telling me Bobby and Jack didn`t talk about investigations or Obama didn`t tell Eric Holder who to investigate?"

Meanwhile, it is so important to remember this uncomfortable exchange between the current Attorney General and Democratic California Senator Kamala Harris from earlier this month.


SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone, yes or no, please, sir?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The President or anybody else --

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

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

HARRIS:  Perhaps they suggested?

BARR:  I don`t know.  I wouldn`t say suggest.

HARRIS:  Hinted?

BARR:  I don`t know.

HARRIS:  Inferred?  You don`t know?  OK.


WILLIAMS:  Well, that was uncomfortable.  And "The New York Times" points out just today that the Attorney General Bill Barr is taking a personal role as they called it in the review of this Russia investigation.

When we come right back after one last break the news today that had a whole lot of us thinking back to a talent the likes of which we hadn`t really seen before.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight for people as we like to say of a certain age there came a moment this afternoon about 2:00 p.m. East Coast Time when we heard that a part of our past had died.

Dating back to the time not that long ago when there were just three TV networks to watch and when Carol Burnett hosted what was by consensus the funniest show on television, it co-starred Tim Conway who was by consensus perhaps the funniest man on television.

The great Tim Conway died today at the age of 85, and tonight Harry Smith has our look back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Congratulation.

HARRY SMITH, NBC NEWS:  Tim Conway had a funny face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What`s the matter now?

HARRY SMITH:  Oh this girdle`s killing me.

SMITH:  A face that as it shape shifted a way through a bit always drew laughs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Say something to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can you hear me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Listen, Charles Parker reporting aboard, sir.

SMITH:  Conway first came to our attention as Ernest Borgnine, the helpless number two and some Parker on McHale`s Navy.  But Conway really made his mark and won Emmys as part of the remarkable ensemble on the Carol Burnett Show.  In sketches where either Burnett or Vicki Lawrence or Harvey Korman would inevitably crack up because of Conway`s antics.

CONWAY:  They had no idea that I was going to immobilize myself with Novocain.  So when I punched my hand, my head, my leg the whole thing and went completely, he actually wet his pants.

SMITH:  Of Conway Carol Burnett said today, I`m heartbroken, he was one in a million.  He`ll be in my heart forever.  Ours, too.  Harry Smith, NBC News, New York.


WILLIAMS:  With a farewell to one of the all-time greats that is our broadcast for tonight.  Thank you so very much for being with us and good night from our NBC headquarters here in New York.

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