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Trump administration escalates resistance. TRANSCRIPT: 5/15/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Carol Leonnig, Melissa Murray, Stephanie Schriock, David Maraniss

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, a 12-page refusal letter that says the White House won`t turn over documents to House Judiciary.  So the Democratic Committee Chair likens the President to a king, accuses the White House of acting as if Trump were a tyrant or dictator.

Meanwhile, our elements of our own government really trying to get us into a war with Iran?  They claim incoming threats from Iran but members of Congress have at least one British general don`t seem to know what they are talking about.

And the Alabama governor signs a bill effectively banning abortion, it intentionally violates the law of the land and reproductive rights are now in something of a ground war across our country as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 846 of this Trump administration.  The State of Alabama has now passed what is in effect a ban on abortion in that state.  The most restrictive apportion law in the land.

The governor who signed it today admitted quickly it unenforceable because it goes against the law of our land, but this bill is designed to challenge that very President.  Tonight, we`ll look at what this means for the women of Alabama, the future of Roe versus Wade, the effect this may have on 2020.  All of that as a head.

But we begin most urgently in Washington because there is news tonight on the continued White House efforts to push back to defy Democrats in Congress.

Just today came a 12-page letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler.  Cipollone argues Congress is not a law enforcement entity and has no standing to investigate the President.  The White House counsel rejected requests for the records and testimony from current and former Trump officials that House Dems say they need to see and go through in order to investigate obstruction.

Cipollone goes on to write, "Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid and evaluate potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or pursue unauthorized do-over of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice.  That do-over reference there is a drive by reference to the Mueller investigation.

Well, tonight that House Judiciary chairman, the Democrat from New York, Jerry Nadler, insisted the House is not backing down.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITEE:  The White House and the Department of Justice is enabling the White House to try to evade all accountability to the American people.  To say in effect the President is a tyrant and dictator with no limit on his power.

We will use a subpoena power in any other legal power we have with respect to Mr. Muller, to -- with Mr. McGahn, with anybody to do our job of holding administration accountable.


WILLIAMS:  Democrat haves issued subpoenas that to nearly 10 current and former Trump officials among them the Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, he is still refusing to release six years of the President`s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee and has until Friday this time to reply.  Today on Capitol Hill Mnuchin was asked about that deadline.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How do you plan to respond to Chairman Neal`s subpoenas?

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY:  Well, we haven`t had an official response yet.  We will comply with the timing of it.  And I think you can pretty much guess how we`re going to but I haven`t made a decision.

The Democrats are trying weaponized the IRS and it`s a very, very dangerous issue.


WILLIAMS:  Mnuchin also said he had not spoken to the President or the White House about how to handle the demand for records.

We are also learning that leaders in the House are taking their time about making any more serious movers against this White House.  They are holding off any kind of a dramatic floor vote to hold the attorney general or any other big name senior officials in contempt.

With that as our predicate, time now for our lead off discussion on a Wednesday evening.  Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," moderator of Washington week on PBS.  Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Price-winning Investigative Reporter for "The Washington Post."  Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press.  And Maya Wiley, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now with the New School here in New York.  Good evening and welcome to all of you.

Carol, this 12-page long effort to say no to House Democrats, how does it differ substantially from other letters intended to say no?

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER:  I think what is most striking about it, Brian, is fairly bold claim which the White House has made in a less dramatic way court but in this instance laying out their legal reasoning for saying the White House doesn`t have to give anything to Congress because Congress doesn`t have legitimate standing to investigate the President.

It`s something that a lot of legal scholars sort of spit up their coffee over because they don`t believe that that`s true but it does give the White House this opportunity to say, "Hey, it looks like you just want to harass our guy, so we want to hear from you, your legitimate purpose for getting all these records and then we`ll consider your request."

WILLIAMS:  Indeed.  Jonathan Lemire, this notion of Congress is not a law enforcement entity was not -- for most of us walking around the earth was not a thing as of yesterday.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  No, no, it was not.  It had become, though, a growing talking point among some Trump allies in recent days.  And now, one of the White House been moralized in these 12-page letter has really seized upon.  The idea that your job in Congress is to legislate, that`s the White House`s claim.  Your job is not to be a law enforcement agency.

Now of course we realize part of Congress` responsibility is to provide oversight over the executive branch.  That is something we did know before yesterday.

WILLIAMS:  It`s in that constitution.

LEMIRE:  I read -- what?  Yes.


LEMIRE:  We`ve all read it.  And that they are now saying, though, that with Congress, strictly of course the Democratic House of Representatives is that they`re saying it`s partisan over reach.  They`re saying that you know, the special counsel didn`t deliver the verdict you wanted and didn`t find that the President colluded with Russia, you didn`t make a judgment on obstruction, so therefore, this is a double jeopardy, if you will.  You`re trying to get another bite at same apple and they`re saying that has crossed the line of being political harassment.  Obviously Democrats are saying quite the opposite.

They are saying that this is of course our responsibility, this is our constitutional duty to do this and that they proceeding a pace aggressively with subpoenas and everything else.  And this White House time and time again, what we saw today was just the sharpest escalation of their strategy which is to just say no.  You know, they`re not going to, at least today, go invoke blanket executive privilege.  They hinted that they still could down the road.  They have to be -- it only cooperate in the most narrow of senses.

But this is from the Oval Office itself.  The President has said, "We`re not going to cooperate, we`re going to stone wall on every front whether that`s witness testimony, whether that`s the underlying evidence of the Mueller report, whether that`s the President`s tax returns."  They`re just going to trip the gun and say no to everything Democrats want.

WILLIAMS:  As luck would have it, we have a really good lawyer sitting next to you --

LEMIRE:  Oh, hey.

WILLIAMS:  -- who gets the next question.  Counselor, is any of this legally sustainable in your view and if the not, why not?

MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  No.  So, I mean, the short answer is no.  And it doesn`t mean there aren`t arguments that are valid arguments that can be made in certain circumstances including you can imagine and certainly though the statute on tax returns is very explicit that says --


WILEY:  -- shall.  That doesn`t mean there aren`t constitutional arguments about people`s ability to say but I`m not.  It`s just that they don`t necessarily apply here I think.  But certainly you can certainly make arguments.

I think where it really gets complicated is Trump doesn`t have any good arguments on this.  Most of this is communications rather than constitution and that is the primary point here.

You know, we`ve had previous administrations that have said we are not going to give you Congress these things you`ve asked for in the context of the Obama administration and the, you know, the, you know, gun walking case of fast and furious where ATF, you know, did a gun walking exercise to try to track guns into Mexico and turned out they got used to kill a border patrol agent.  The Republican Congress very aggressively started investigating the Department of Justice ATF ended up in a contempt vote against Eric Holder.

But the point is, in this instance, Eric Holder and the Department of Justice had actually turned over a large amount of information and documents to Congress.  It was only with holding some communications.

Even in that case court said Amy Jackson Berman you might remember --

WILLIAMS:  Yes, that`s right.

WILEY:  -- from some of the Mueller cases said, "Sorry White House, sorry Department of Justice, you do have to turn those over."  Required litigation.  But my point is, fighting about it is not what`s anti- constitutional.  It`s fighting about everything.

It`s the absolute stone walling and the refusal to acknowledge that Congress has any oversight authority.  And the conflation, the conflation of Robert Mueller`s criminal investigation with Congressional oversight.  Congress` standard is not a criminal standard.

WILLIAMS:  Point of personal privilege and that has to do with Robert Costa who got to return to the state where he was educated in college, back home again in Indiana where today they buried former Senator Dick Lugar, a rare Republican globalist, clearly from another era on Capitol Hill.

And Bob, I`m asking because I know you happen to be the reporting pool on board Air Force 2 with our Vice President, Mitch McConnell.  The majority leader in the U.S. Senate and for good measure, the chief justice.  What, if anything, did you glean about the status of the high-flying GOP?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Quite a group on Air Force 2 today.  It was notable as the pool reporter to notice that Chief Justice Robert sat away from the Congressional delegation, was careful to not have any kind of interactions beyond hello and a pleased to see you to the Vice President and Mrs. Pence.  You could see, everyone though I did not speak to him the Chief Justice was being quite careful understanding the dynamic of a reporter watching and having this kind of group in the tight quarters of an airplane, Air Force 2.

With regard to the political question, Brian, when you talk to White House officials, they say they want this fight with the Democrats because when the Democrats are talking about obstruction and talking about subpoenas that, they`re not talking about the trade war.  They`re not talking about tariffs and how farmers in the swing states in the midwest may be feeling the pain.

And this for the Republican is a political winner because they feel now that the Mueller report is over, they are just going to taunt the Democrats legally and politically as much as possible.  And when they heard about the Attorney General making his remark to Speaker Pelosi today wearing handcuffs in terms of holding him in contempt and maybe putting him in prison arresting him, they loved it.  That`s the mood inside of this West Wing.

WILLIAMS:  Well, let me ask you this about the Democratic base and by way of getting there, your colleagues at the "Washington Post" wrote about this today, "Pelosi told Democrats in a closed door caucus meeting Wednesday morning to stick to their policy agenda ahead of the 2020 election rather than initiate impeachment proceedings and not a single lawmaker challenged her."

This is so interesting, Robert, because the rank and file has been a little critical and a little frustrated.  They have heard a lot of crickets from leadership.  Last we heard from House Judiciary Committee was the bucket of chicken incident which was kind of Chairman Schiff malpractice in hindsight, so now from the speaker full speed ahead it`s agenda all the way.

COSTA:  And they also know that this speaker does not get enough credit for her use of political power.  We always talk about President Trump having his party within his grip.  Democrats privately constantly tell me Speaker Pelosi is the tough presence inside of the Democratic Party holding back this committee chairman, holding back the rank and file saying focus on 2020.  Focus on the swing state infrastructure, the economy, health care, pursuing every kind of oversight possible but not giving Republicans the political cajole they saw covered (ph) in impeach.

And she brought them back from the wilderness.  Wins in `06, losses the gavel and 10 comes back years later.  They don`t have any other figure to trust on the big picture strategy other than Speaker Pelosi.

WILLIAMS:  Great point.  And Carol Leonnig, to your bailiwick, we return to my reading there was no mention of executive privilege in this 12-page letter today.  Is that something they can still have and hold and bring out later?

LEONNIG:  Absolutely, Brian.  And they did -- even though it was 12 pages of legal arguments, they avoided that assertion which has to be formally made by the President.  In a way, that is putting down the court the ultimate reckoning and fight, right?  Because, if you`re going to assert privilege and someone is going to dispute it then, we move quickly to contempt.  So, we`ll see where this ends up going.

But I think that Bob is exactly right about Pelosi`s political smarts and avoiding the word impeachment in a way that 12-page letter today is baiting the Democrats.

You know, if you really want these records, you know, you can always open an impeachment proceeding because the argument for demanding the records is a lot stronger legally to get them right away in that setting.  But Pelosi is holding them back saying, you know, we don`t have an American public that is convinced that`s the way to go.

And as she says, Trump and her view will self-impeach with his own actions and with Democrats trying to criticize him all the way into November.

WILLIAMS:  And Maya Wiley, speaking of baiting the Democrats, I`m going to play something for you from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


SE. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) NORTH CAROLINA, CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  What you see happening is Congressional committees are now beginning to take the place of prosecutors and that`s danger for us all.

And if I were Don Jr.`s lawyer I`d be reluctant to put him back in an environment where two other people on the Intel Committee in the Senate are running for president of the United States.


WILLIAMS:  So, it`s just a Wednesday in 2019 repeated signals from the chairman of Senate of Judiciary Committee to the son of the President, don`t respond to this subpoena, don`t you dare come back here.

WILEY:  Right.  You know, the lesson from the Don Jr. subpoena from Senate Intel is fight like hell despite the fact that you have no legal grounds.  You are a private citizen.  You too can thwart Congress.

And you can thwart Congress despite the fact that there is a public record that suggests that you lied directly.  And we`re not talking about Russia, we are talking about you lie to Congress when you said you were not aware that other countries -- foreign governments were trying to support the campaign of Donald Trump when he met in August 2016 with a representative representing Saudi Arabia, United Arab emirates that was pledging support for the campaign, foreign nationals trying to find ways to influence a campaign, that is not, you can`t even make an argument that that falls under the Mueller investigation.

And you cannot make an argument that Donald Trump Jr. is part of the White House.  So, what we have seen is a White House that has not just over stepped on and fundamentally undermined a constitutional order established by the founders of this country, we have this now extending into private citizenry thwarting congress, even when there is evidence of perjury winning that round.

And here is why I think so much of the Democratic base that is really quite frankly concerned about not having impeachment putting aside the very important political prowess of Nancy Pelosi is, if not now when?  When in this country does Congress say politics aside, we have to protect the constitutional order and the prerogatives of Congress.  And I think this is a perfect example of where that example arises.

WILLIAMS:  Well, Jonathan Lemire, let`s take up that last point.  Rick Wilson was on tonight on this network.  We`ve had him on this broadcast before.  His contention is Trump is hoping, praying for impeachment, knowing he won`t get nicked in the Senate.  Wanting to run as a victim, wanting to fund raise on it, its all his political social media life has been predicated on.  Knowing him as you do knowing his character as you do, does that much up with known reality?

LEMIRE:  It does.  I mean, I think that the President himself we know from reporting has had conversations with Speaker Pelosi where he is wonder the law like, "you`re not going impeach me, right?"  I mean, I think that there is some degree of concern that he would be afraid that`ll be the first line in his political victory, right?

WILLIAMS:  That`s right.

LEMIRE:  That`s how we`ve already remembered in the history books.  Even though those around him tactically think that would be the politically best thing that could happen to him.  That, yes, first of all, we known he`s born to play the victim role sometimes.  He`s born to sit there and say the system is rigged.  The deep state is against me.

Look, you know, I`m being treated unfairly.  We`ve heard that time and time again as for the candidate and now the commander in chief.

But they feel like they can -- the Republicans feel like they can go to the Democrats into this.  They think that if they do commence with impeachment talk or even impeachment proceedings, that they`re able to say like, look, this is over reach.  That this is, you know, Special Counsel Mueller did not come back with a guilty verdict if you will.

And yet you`re still going down the lines.  And they believe the American people is going to feel like they`ll get tired of this, they`ll be fatigue of the talk of the scandal of the investigations.  They`ll start to take the President side that he is being the victim here.

And that they feel like that that is the best way that he can run.  He can raise money out of it, he can go out there and barn storm against it and say, "Look, look at the economy, look what I`ve done yet they are still trying to unfairly bring me down."  So that`s a fight the White House absolutely wants.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Robert Costa, you`ve been elected to deliver the last word.  Take us to commercial break and that is, just where are we tonight in this administration keeping in mind trade war with china, threats of a hot war with Iran, which is our very next segment.  Let`s not forget things like Venezuela, let not forget the coming reelection fight.

COSTA:  We used to talk in 2017 about who is in the President`s ear, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, somebody else in Congress at the time.  Based on my reporting and conversations of White House officials, it`s the President alone driving the trade discussions, hold the line, even if the market feels a lot of unease, hold the line, listen to Peter Navarro but it`s really about the President moving forward on that.

On foreign policy, yes, a hawk is in his ear, like John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, but the President is saying I`m not really keen to do intervention at this time in Venezuela or Iran.

And when it comes to the dealings with Congress, it`s fight them all, reject everything.  So, it President Trump, just like he was in that 26th floor of Trump Tower directing the scene.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa and the rest of our always excellent friends and contributors, Carol Leonnig, Jonathan Lemire, Maya Wiley, can`t thank you enough.  Really appreciate you starting off our conversation tonight.

And coming up, this talk of threats from Iran, real or imagined?  We`re going to talk to a veteran correspondent who sees some parallels to the past.

And later, that just signed Alabama abortion law, the most extreme in our nation appears to be designed for just one thing.  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Wednesday night.


WILLIAMS:  The U.S. State Department today ordered all non-emergency personnel to leave the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and our consulate in Northern Iraq.

Now, pause for just a second and remember, this is the kind of thing flying Americans out of embassies we usually hear about when our people are in a dire situation overseas.  This is important.  Senior State Department officials say they see a "imminent threat from Iranian proxies."  The U.S. already has an air-craft carrier strike force in the area.  That`s a lot of power.

There`s already been, as you know, loose talk of a potential force of 120,000 U.S. troops to the region.  Should Iran attack U.S. forces?

And now both Republicans and Democrats and Congress would like answers including Trump`s very good friend Lindsey Graham.


GRAHAM:  Removing personnel from embassies and consulates is clearly a serious move by the State Department they feel the threat.  And I would urge the State Department and DOD to come down here and explain to us what`s going on because I have no idea what the threat stream is beyond what I read in the paper.


WILLIAMS:  Well, Graham got his wish.  Tomorrow the Trump administration will brief Congressional leaders, that will be interesting.

"The Washington Post" reporting tonight that President Trump is frustrated with some of his top advisors who he thinks could be rushing the U.S. into a military confrontation with Iran.  And we quote, "Trump grew angry last week and over the weekend about what he sees as war-like planning that is getting ahead of his own thinking said a senior administration official with knowledge of conversations Trump had regarding National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo," that`s a sentence.

"They are getting way out ahead of themselves and Trump is annoyed, the official said.  There was a scramble for Bolton and Pompeo and others to get on the same page.  Bolton who advocated regime change in Iran before joining the White House last year is just in a different place from Trump although the President has been a fierce critic of Iran since long before he hired Bolton.  Trump wants to talk to the Iranians.  He wants a deal and is open to negotiation with the Iranian government."

Back with us tonight, Andrea Mitchell, our NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, the host of "Andrea Mitchell Reports" weekdays on this very network.

Andrea, I`ll ask this straight up, do you believe that reporting in "The Washington Post?"

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely.  It was signaled by the President himself when he said just a few days ago that John Bolton is more hawkish than he is, that he tempers John Bolton and that there are other doves around him so that he is the decider.  That was a rebuff and a vert pointed one at that.

Then the President also pushed back on that "New York Times" report that one of the options put out by the Pentagon was 120,000 troops.  Now, it didn`t explain that that`s 120,000 total more than the 50 or 60,000 already in the region, so it`s not fully -- full deployment of 120,000 and that was a high-end option.  But he said that that was fake news, it was not true.  Then he said, "If we`re really serious, I`ll send a heck of a lot more."

Again, that bluster and bluff maybe he feels that it worked at least in part to get Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table.  It hasn`t worked to get a deal or any kind of denuclearization.  It`s not going to work with Iran.

And what he`s ignoring is the aggressive steps that his own Pompeo, Bolton access have taken against Iran, which Iran in Teheran is viewed as American is provocative.

And in fact the Europeans are more sympathetic to Iran in this measure than to the U.S.  They acknowledge that Iran has been guilty of bad behavior regionally in all sorts of ways but in terms of the nuclear threat, they are on the side of Iran, not the United States.

WILLIAMS:  I`m glad you mentioned that 120,000 figure.


WILLIAMS:  Again, the President first called it fake news and said I would never send so few.  Well, today, you talk with Senator Tim Kaine with the Commonwealth of Virginia, a man who ran as vice president candidate with Hillary Clinton.  He happens to be part of a military family and he talked about this notion of just tossing out the figure of a 120,000.  We`ll discuss it on the other side.


SEN. TIM KAINE, (D) VIRGINIA:  My Virginia families, my military families, they have suffered through repeated deployments.  Deployment after deployment after deployment to the Middle East and if this is just kind of bluff talk by the President, they don`t take it as a bluff.  They take that as a very existential challenge to their family lives.

Is there going to be another war in the Middle East?  Are there going to be another series of deployments?  It`s been for the last 18 years.  Are we going to have a multi-yearlong war in the Middle East with more deployments?  That kind of thing is psychologically terrorizing to military families to loosely throw around notions of deployments of this kind.


WILLIAMS:  Andrea, I was really glad he made that point.


WILLIAMS:  It`s the easiest thing to toss out from the cheap seats and the confines of Washington D.C.

Separate question, hasn`t John Bolton wanted to pave Iran for decades?

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  And in fact, when -- before he became national security advisor he gave a speech in Paris for the MEK, the exiled group of anti regime, anti Tehran activists and called for regime change and said, "You finally have a president in Trump who is also in favor of regime change."

Pompeo has talked about being in favor of regime change and you`ve got the access also of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the emirates all pushing that, as well.  So the real fear in Europe now, which did not buy John Bolton`s intel when he took that diversion in the middle of the night they heard he was on his way to Brussels not to Moscow to barge in really, to charge into their meeting with them saying that they didn`t -- they were not going to give him a chance address all of the Europeans there, so he met individual with the Germans, French and the Brits.  But they didn`t buy what he was trying to sell there.

And the fact is that they are very skeptical.  They were burned in 2003 as were many people in the media, the secretary of state, a lot of people bought the intelligence arguments from people like John Bolton who was in the administration then.

And so there is a lot of skepticism.  And I should quickly point out that there was a big push back.  We got a briefing over at the State Department from officials that we cannot name but these officials were saying, look, they really are threats and these were veteran diplomats, not just people who had just come in.  And they said there is a threat stream not related to the tankers that there is no evidence, real hard evidence that Iran was behind that.

What they say, in the last week, there has been new intelligence.  Tonight "The New York Times" posting that satellite imagery has picked up pictures of the Iranian and paramilitary forces, the IRGC loading missiles, fully made missiles on to small boats in the Persian Gulf.

We haven`t seen this evidence.  They haven`t presented the evidence to Congress or the allies yet so we don`t know again whether this has been.  It`s -- there is a real credibility factor with Bolton, Pompeo and others who have called for regime change in the past with America`s track record here, they`ve got a problem and people in the State Department know that there is a lot of skepticism about what they are claiming.

They say that the draw down in Baghdad was necessary as well as in Erbil.  That`s also very suspicious.  You`ve been there, I`ve been there.  This is the most heavily fortified embassy in the world.  It`s very hard to understand why a post such as Baghdad where there is no family, no dependents, only people who are supposed to be essential, why they would have that draw down?  That seemed more symbolic than real.

WILLIAMS:  That was really --

MITCHELL:  It just -- it seemed to be part of a threat tempo.  And the real problem here is Congress has not been briefed.  There will be a briefing for the Gang of Eight tomorrow but Tim Kaine won`t be in that briefing.

Others, Lindsey Graham won`t be in that briefing and the fact that the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees have not been briefed tells you how much distrust there is even among some Republicans and this White House over this, the lack of information.  They don`t feel they have to brief them on Chinese tariffs before he announces them.  It just so different than the man you were talking about earlier with Bob Costa, someone I revered you knew so well.  Dick Lugar, Richard Lugar would never have tolerated this.

WILLIAMS:  The one person we wanted to hear from on this story and you`re looking at her, Andrea Mitchell, our thanks for joining us from Washington Bureau tonight.

Coming up, why the Governor of Alabama would sign a restrictive abortion law and call it unenforceable.


WILLIAMS:  Alabama`s new abortion law, the strict desk in our country is setting a direct challenge to Roe versus Wade in the Supreme Court.  That`s what it was designed to do.  Just tonight, Governor Kay Ivey signed into law this ban on abortion at all stages of pregnancy.  The only exception here is if the mother`s life is in jeopardy.  It`s similar to bills in Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky except it goes further.

This law does not include exceptions for rape and insist and carries a felony charge for doctors punishable by a sentence of up to 99 years in prison.  Let`s be frank and put this in other way.  A rapist in Alabama will get a lighter prison sentence than the doctor called upon to end an unwanted pregnancy that might result from that rape.  This will now be challenged in court which is ultimately the point.


STATE REPRESENTATIVE TERRI COLLINS, (R) ALABAMA, ABORTION BILL SPONSOR:  So in our mind, in my mind, this bill is to address Roe versus Wade and to let hopefully that decision go back to the states so that states can make the laws that are most appropriate for their people.


WILLIAMS:  And before our conversation here tonight, just a reminder of where the American people stand on this issue.  According to this Gallup Poll, 79% of adults say abortion should be legal.  And for more, we welcome to the broadcast tonight, Melissa Murray, Professor of Law at NYU, she was notably former clerk to then Judge Sonia Sotomayor when the future justice Sotomayor sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals.  She also testifies during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.  And Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY`s List, an organization that works to elect Democratic women who support reproductive rights.

Good evening and welcome to you both.  Counselor, I want to start here in New York by showing you what Jeff Toobin said on CNN and then having you react to it.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Donald Trump said in the third debate with Hillary Clinton, if I get two or more appointments to the Supreme Court, automatically that`s the word he used, automatically Roe v. Wade will be overturned.  And I think the President was exactly right.  Roe v. Wade is gone and every woman in Alabama who gets pregnant is going to be forced to give birth soon and that the going to be true in Alabama and it`s going to be true in Missouri, and it`s going to be true probably in Georgia and that`s what the law is because that`s what the presidential election was about in part last time.


WILLIAMS:  Agree or disagree and why?

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR:  So I disagree slightly.  I think Jeff Toobin right that President Trump made a promise to the American people that he would appoint judges who would overturn Roe versus Wade.  I testified in the Kavanaugh hearing that, that is exactly what I thought Brett Kavanaugh would do.

But I think the wild card in all of these is Chief Justice John Roberts.  He was not appointed by Trump, and who throughout his tenure as chief justice has made very clear that he takes very seriously the institutional reputation of the court.  If the court is seen as overly partisan as being captured by the president of the administration, that`s not great.

The court is already been hobbled by the debacle of the Kavanaugh hearing.  And there is already a wide swath of the American public who thinks the court is bipartisan, to decide a question like the continued viability of Roe versus Wade at this juncture when the court is hobbled in this way, I think would give some pause to Chief Justice Roberts.

And again, we`ve seen that in some other cases from this term and I think we`re likely to see it going forward.  That`s not to say that abortion is in the clear.  I think what we are going to see is the court taking again more incremental steps to hallow out Roe rather than eviscerating it entirely.

And I`m not sure whether that`s even a good outcome for the American people.  In fact, over ruling Roe entirely would actually have a galvanizing effect that would take this into the 2020 election and would really put it to the American people and I think that`s exactly what Chief Justice Roberts doesn`t want.

WILLIAMS:  That`s for sure.

Stephanie, let`s talk about the intersection of politics and law and for you, I`m going to play a graduate of the Yale Law School named Pat Roberts.


PAT ROBERTS, TELEVANGELIST:  I think Alabama has gone too far.  They passed a law that would give a 99-year prison sentence to people that commit abortion.  There is no exception for rape or insist.  It an extreme law and they want it challenged Roe versus Wade but my humble view is that this is not the case we want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose.


WILLIAMS:  Pat Roberts` son, Yale Law School Graduate, nonetheless.  So Stephanie, that`s an interesting notion that this piece of legislation hand carved to go to the Supreme Court is in his view even too severe.

STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK, EMILY`S LIST PRESIDENT:  Well, the truth is that the Republican Party is completely focused on figuring out how to overturn Roe v. Wade.  I think that is the important part of this.  And this Alabama bill now law is clearly unconstitutional and so damaging for women.

There are laws coming out of Georgia, out of Ohio, out of Mississippi.  We had over 30 measures I believe passed this year through legislatures by Republican legislatures.  Anti choice, Trumpian legislatures that are driving this to overturn Roe.  And I think what`s most important here is the number you started with, 79% of Americans believe that Roe v. Wade should stand as law of the land as it is today.

And so for the moment of galvanizing, I believe what happened yesterday in Alabama, what happened last week in Georgia has ignited a new fire across this country in so many women and men who care very, very deeply about this and want to ensure that women have access to reproductive justice.

They are trying to ban abortion completely that is not where the American people are and I do think this will be a major issue in the 2020 election and we`re talking about election that I believe could be an electorate of 54% women.  And I think we`re going to see even higher turnout over this.

Here is the bigger point it`s not just about politics.  Women are getting hurt.  Right now in states where there is barely any access already and we have to really think about the policy makers that are sitting at our decision making tables making these laws and it`s for us to stand up and find the good candidates who are going to fight for reproductive justice and fight for women and hold these folks accountable.  Legislatures matter and I think every voter in this country has to think about who is representing them today and I`m proud to be at an organization that is completely committed to electing pro-choice democratic women.  We need more now than ever and it is time.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Counselor, take 30 seconds.  When Toobin says women are going to have to carry a pregnancy to term, explain to our viewers, does this supersede in any states the law of the land until and unless there can be a challenge to the holding of Roe versus Wade?

MURRAY:  So in states that have more liberal abortion laws, those laws were made in place.  Terri Collins who is the Alabama legislature who introduced this bill said the whole point of this is to make laws that are appropriate for the people and the citizenry of each particular state.  And so this is Alabama`s take on it.


MURRAY:  It does not necessarily affect individuals in New York.  That said, there will be a lot of reproductive tourism if this law goes into effect in Alabama and by that, I mean you`re going to see women in Alabama becoming reproductive refugees fleeing to other states where there are more liberal and more accommodating abortion laws.  So this really does changes the landscape.

And Emily is exactly -- Stephanie is exactly right.  The whole purpose of this and the activity that we`ve seen around abortion in this term has really been about this change in climate.  They anticipate a more hospitable court, whether that`s at the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts and they are legislating to put this issue in front of the judges.

WILLIAMS:  Thanks to you both.  We`re going to try to replay this entire conversation as this goes down the road to Melissa Murray and Stephanie Schriock, our thanks.

Coming up, this nation has been through a lot.  We`re just talking about so far this week.  We have a Pulitzer Prize Winner to tell us how much capacity we have exactly.


WILLIAMS:  Time to time, we need a reminder on nights like tonight, it`s only Wednesday we seen already seen some stunning headlines this week on a whole range of issues.  With us tonight to talk about all of it, David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, presidential biographer, veteran of the Washington Post.  He also happens to be the author of his newest work, it is called "A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father."

David, we`re very happy as always to have you on the broadcast.  By way of explaining your family`s history in the McCarthy era, how does that era look right about now?  How bad has it been because these days we have normalized a whole lot of fear and loathing and anxiety?

DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, "A GOOD AMERICAN FAMILY":  Well, there certainly are echoes from the 1950s to today, including the manipulation of fear as a political weapon, the demonization of outside groups, questions about what it means to be an American and what it means to be patriotic.

But there is one huge difference between then and now.  It was called the McCarthy era, named for Joseph McCarthy, the senator from Wisconsin.  He was just a senator.  He had many of the same attributes as Donald Trump, sort of a salesmanship ability to ride the Wave of whatever he wanted at that point.  He wasn`t really an ideologue, but he found his issue and rode it, much as Donald Trump is not really an ideologue, but is more interested in himself and his celebrity.

But Donald Trump is the president and Joe McCarthy was only a senator.  There is a huge difference in power there, and there is one other major difference.  In the early 1950s, you had Margaret J. Smith, a Republican speaking out against Joseph McCarthy.  You had a president, Dwight Eisenhower, Republican, working against him, and one of the figures in my book, Charles Potter of Michigan, who was a member of U Act (ph) and then elected to the Senate and worked with Joseph McCarthy on his subcommittee until he saw what was going on and the machinations of McCarthy and later wrote a book called "Days of Shame" regretting what had happened during that era.

I wonder two things where is the Margaret J. Smith today and what Republican is going to write that book, "Days of Shame."

WILLIAMS:  Well, also you get to something else.  And I`m sitting here thinking that Eisenhower really took his time, and Eisenhower hung back as while a lot of this was going on.  History is judging people right now during this period we`re living through.  History is judging a good many members of the Senate and House.  And that, of course, is part of the history of the era you`ve written about.

MARANISS:  You`re right about Eisenhower.  He used Joseph McCarthy in 1952 in his election.  Campaigned with him up in Appleton, Wisconsin where McCarthy was from.  But then slowly, as McCarthy started turning on the army, which was Eisenhower`s bulwark, then it changed and he turned against him, even though he probably was always -- he always thought McCarthy was a little bit loony, but he was using him for political purposes.

And I`ve see that same codependence today.  You know, you look at the events of this week.  You look at what`s going on in Iran and elsewhere, and you hawks, long-time hawks using Donald Trump to do their own bidding, just as you saw conservatives in Congress support Donald Trump and allow him to sort of develop this imperial if not autocratic presidency because they`re getting what they want in terms of conservative judges and throwbacks of regulations and so on.  So there is this odd codependency where Trump is becoming more and more of an authoritarian figure, and people who really don`t like that are nonetheless using it for their own purposes.

WILLIAMS:  David Maraniss has written with great elegance about subjects as disparate as Bill Clinton and the City of Detroit, and by all accounts, he has focused his amazing intellect on his own family.  It is called "A Good American Family" and is the latest piece of work by this Pulitzer Prize Winner.  David, always a pleasure having you on.  Thank you.

MARANISS:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, could it really be true that the number of Democrats in the race for president is going to hit 23 tomorrow morning?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  About a battle in Washington that you`ve spoken about.  Obviously you`ve been a very vocal critic of President Trump`s, and there is talk already that you may be considering a run for president in 2020.  Will you rule that out?  You`re shaking your head no.  But will you rule that out right here and pledge to New York City voters that you will remain in office for all four years should they give you a second term?

BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR, NEW YORK CITY:  Yes.  I`m looking that camera right there, Grace.  To my fellow New Yorkers, I`m running for run thing only, for reelection as mayor of New York City.  It`s an honor to be major of this great city.  I want to serve for four more years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Will you pledge to serve for four more years, sir?

DE BLASIO:  I believe I will serve for four full years.


WILLIAMS:  So that brings us to our last thing before we go tonight.  Bill de Blasio pledging to serve out his term as New York City mayor, and by all accounts, he is still going to get that chance.

A high school journalist broke the story today that the New York Mayor will apparently announce tomorrow on "Good Morning America" before heading to Iowa where the host organization promptly misspelled de Blasio`s name.  And that very same smooth running political machine is apparently poised in the morning to make Bill de Blasio your 23rd Democrat in the race.

He has, shall we call them, popularity issues.  Not just because he roots for the Red Sox in the home of the Yankees and Mets.  His own staff members have called him stubborn, arrogant and entitled.  Regular citizens seem to agree.  A Quinnipiac Poll found 3/4 of New Yorkers don`t want him to run.

The "New York" magazine headline from just this past week reads "Who hasn`t told Bill de Blasio that he shouldn`t run for President?"  Well apparently not enough people.  Only 8.5% of New Yorkers voted for Bill de Blasio, but that`s how elections work here.  A lot of other things don`t work here, and a lot of things look really bad here, and they look really bad if you live in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina.

On the upside, the pizza here in New York is still the greatest in the world and totally worth the effort to get to that perfect slice.

That is our broadcast for tonight.  We thank you so much for being here with us and good night from our NBC News headquarters in where else, New York.

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