Florida voting meddling. TRANSCRIPT: 5/16/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Greg Miller, Marc Caputo, Clint Watts, Rick Wilson

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

REP. ROSA DELAURO, (D) CONNECTICUT:  Thank you.

O`DONELL:  Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, there are new revelations about Michael Flynn, a legal filing from the Mueller team just this evening reveals he was approached by individuals allied with Trump who wanted to influence his dealings with Mueller and perhaps buy his silence.

Plus, Trump says he hopes we`re not going to get into a war with Iran, but some of the members of his own administration sure seem to be gunning for it.

And the growing anger in Florida where the FBI says the Russians hacked into two local election systems but they won`t tell the people of Florida which communities were hacked as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 847 of this Trump administration, and just when we thought we knew all we could from the Mueller effort, we`ve learned something new tonight, and this confirms the feeling a lot of folks have had, that we might just be living in the midst of a mob movie.

This story has to do with Michael Flynn, who Trump hired as national security adviser despite being warned about it.  There are new revelations tonight coming from the Russia investigation.  Flynn, you may recall, lasted 24 days on the job.

He pleaded guilty back in December of 2017, lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, and he`s been cooperating with the special counsel`s investigation ever since.

A newly unredacted court filing made public late today says Flynn told Mueller`s team that people connected to Congress as well as individuals tied to the Trump administration tried to influence his cooperation with the Russia investigation.

Flynn is said to have described multiple instances before and after his guilty plea in which he or his lawyers, and we quote, "received communications from persons connected to the administration or Congress that could have affected both his willing nets to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation."

Flynn is said to have provided a voicemail recording of one such communication.  The Mueller report does refer to a voicemail message left for Flynn`s attorneys late 2017 by an unidentified Trump lawyer who says, "If there`s information that implicates the President, then we`ve got a national security issue.  So, you know, we need some kind of heads up.  Just for the sake of protecting all our interests if we can.  Remember what we`ve always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn, and that still remains."

The special counsel`s report said that message was left shortly after Flynn took himself out of a joint defense agreement with Trump.  A federal judge is now demanding that recording.

And tonight "The Washington Post" additionally reports the judge has ordered prosecutors make public, meaning we`ll be able to read this, a transcript of a phone call that Flynn tried hard to hide.  He was willing to lie to cover it up, his conversation with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak in late 2016.

This latest news will no doubt add to the pressure to hear from Robert Mueller directly in testimony before Congress.

"The Journal" is reporting discussions over his appearance are stalled over questions about whether Mueller`s testimony will be limited by a White House claim of executive privilege.  "The Journal" further says Attorney General William Barr told the paper, "It`s bob`s call whether he wants to testify."

Indeed, you`ll recall Barr has previously said publicly he`d be fine if Mueller testified.

And on another front, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York is firing back at the White House which yesterday sent him a letter demanding his committee end its investigation.  Today Nadler sent his own letter back to the White House counsel adding, "your failure to comprehend the gravity of the special counsel`s finding is astounding and dangerous."

The chairman along with House Speaker Pelosi also offered this response to Trump`s strategy ongoing of resistance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, CHMN. HOUSE JUDICIARY CMTE.:  The President`s policy now, the President`s posture now is making it impossible to rule out impeachment or anything else.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER:  I think the President every day gives grounds for impeachment in terms of his obstruction of justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  On that note, with us tonight for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday evening, making a rare visit to our New York studios, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House reporter for "The Washington Post."  Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.  And Greg Miller, Pulitzer Prize-winning National Security Correspondent also with "The Post" among the reporters who work to break the story of Mike Flynn to begin with.  Also happens to be the author of "The Apprentice, Trump, Russia, and the Subversion of American Democracy."

And Greg, with all that in mind, I`d like to start with you, what struck you about this court filing late today?  What should be the takeaway for our viewers and how momentous will it be if we get to read what Flynn said on a recorded phone conversation with the Russian, Kislyak?

GREG MILLER, AUTHOR, "THE APPRENTICE":  I think that will be quite interesting to see the actual language that the incoming national security adviser fought so hard to keep not only the public but other senior incoming officials of the new still forming Trump administration from knowing about.  Remember, he -- he lied not just to the public, he lied to the incoming vice president, he lied to the press secretary at the time at the White House about what had taken place on that call.

And, you know, of course, the question that has always hung over this is why -- why did he make those lies?  I mean, we are -- we have been led to believe that the call, that the actual details of that call are quite explicit and will be -- will make it only harder to understand why he failed to be more forthcoming or to recollect the nature of that conversation when he was interviewed by the FBI at the White House.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s show our audience what brings Ashley Parker to New York tonight.  Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue is surrounded by New York City Department of Sanitation dump trucks filled with sand, and that passes for security in this era we live in.  Kind of a protective ring around the building.  The President spending only the fourth night of his presidency in what passes for his home in Trump Tower.

Ashley, my reading of this transcript was rather cold.  If we gave it to Silvio Dante from "The Sopranos," it might sound the way it reads to a lot of us.  Yet, does this add to the drip, drip, drip nature of it taking away that with hunt argument, writ large?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  It does add to the drip, drip, drip nature.  I don`t think you`re going to see the President stop making the witch hunt argument.

What`s interesting is talking to people who are even allies of the President, they all sort of privately say, "Look, do I think he was willing to collude?  Sure.  And do I think he maybe tried to obstruct justice?  Quite possibly.  But then they sort of get to brass tacks and say "but politically none of this really matters.  It`s not changing any minds."

And what they are sort of waiting for in a little bit of fear is if there is some sort of bombshell, right?  Something that really up that is not a drip, drip, drip that really upends the public`s understanding of this.  So, Mueller testifying before the cameras or potentially something like this.  But, again, we don`t know what the transcript of that call will say.  We don`t know how this will play out.  It just happened tonight.

But each one of these new developments sort of provides an opportunity where it could be more harmful for the President or it could just be just another data point that doesn`t really move voters either way.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, your former director, Mr. Comey, FBI director gave us those famous words, "lordy, I hope there are tapes."  Well, there turn out to be a couple of tapes we know of.  Cohen recorded the boss.  We have the transcript from this voicemail tonight.  Now we learn we`re going to be able to read what Flynn was saying to the Russians.

How much does this add to at least the public understanding of the work done by your former colleagues at the FBI?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  It certainly puts more flesh on the bones of the Mueller report and shows us that the people in and around the White House, in and around -- around Trump all trying to cozy up and, in fact, cozying up to Russia.

I`ll be intently interested with regard to the conversation between Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak if Flynn invoked the name of the President, if there was a quid pro quo discussed with Russia, you do this for us, we`ll do this for you.  If the Russian came back and said we want this from Donald Trump.  That`s what I`ll be tuned in to and whether or not there is an implication there that Trump -- I`m calling on behalf of Trump.  Trump asked me to say this.  Trump is telling me to tell you this.  That will be significant.

And then, this puts into a new light, the actions of Barr and Rosenstein, because now on this obstruction issue, where we`re seeing phone calls from a personal lawyer of the President, a voicemail left, other attempts at obstruction, it just even puts in sharper focus how poor the decision was by Attorney General Barr to just declare that there was no obstruction when, in fact, we`re getting more and more meat on that argument that there was, indeed, obstruction.

WILLIAMS:  Greg, let me read you from federal court filing.  This is quoting Flynn, "The defendant relayed to the government`s statements made in 2016 by senior campaign officials about WikiLeaks to which only a few select people were privy.  The defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta e-mails, during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed."  How important a component is that, Greg?

MILLER:  It`s, you know, that`s one of several really important areas that Flynn was directly involved in that helped us to understand why he was such an important witness for the Mueller team and why, you know, even today they are once again going to bat for him in terms of sentencing.  I mean, so you have WikiLeaks and his ability to explain the Trump -- the campaign`s efforts to try to get those missing Hillary Clinton e-mails or to figure out what was coming next from WikiLeaks, even when it was clear that those e-mails had been stolen by Russian intelligence services.

Then he`s involved in the -- this sort of suspected, long suspected quid pro quo, if there was one, as Frank just alluded to.  He is the one who makes the call after Trump wins the election to the Russian ambassador saying stand down on any reaction to these sanctions that the U.S. is imposing, we`re going to be in position to take care of you guys very soon.

And then he`s the one who utters the first big lie to fall of this administration on Russia.  I mean, he`s only, as you said, Brian, in office 24 days before his lies is exposed and he is forced to resign, and that is what really set this whole story aflame.

WILLIAMS:  Ashley Parker, I have something to show you.  Fox News accompanied the attorney general to South America on an official trip for which they were rewarded with an interview on camera.  We`ll play this.  Talk about it after we see it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I`ve been trying to get answers to questions, and I found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate.  And I`ve also found that some of the explanations I`ve gotten don`t hang together.  So, in a sense I have more questions today than I did when I first started.

I think people have to find out what the government was doing during that period.  If we`re worried about foreign influence for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale.  And so I`m not saying that happened, but I`m saying that we have to look at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was important right there.  He`s tying together in terms of importance potential foreign influence on our election and how it was reacted to here by the federal government.  Are they the same?

PARKER:  Well, what he`s really doing is sort of buying in to the President`s calls, which even proceeded him and we saw on Twitter for basically his Department of Justice to investigate, frankly, his political rivals, his enemies, the investigators who were investigating him, and that is sort of a theory of the case that the President and some of his allies have long made.

People say that`s sort of politicizing the Department of Justice and the government, and so it is very striking to see that that is something that Barr is accepting and willing to use the power of his department to move ahead on.

WILLIAMS:  Some big names warned Donald Trump against promoting Mr. Flynn, General Flynn as national security adviser.  And you remember back during those times.  It was a shortened tenure of 24 days.

PARER:  It sure was, but it`s hard to sort of overstate the importance that General Flynn played in Trump`s orbit until he was fired, basically, and that is he was someone who came on the campaign and imbued it with a credibility that didn`t really exist at that time.  And so he came on and he sort of played the role of national security adviser even on the campaign.

His word had credibility with the President, with his family.  He suddenly started introducing the President -- I remember being at rallies and events when Flynn would come out first and speak.  And that means in that freewheeling orbit of that campaign, the two of them were basically on the campaign trail paling around and chatting and getting very close.

And so, he was appointed over some very strenuous objections.  It turned out those were probably pretty savvy points of caution, but he was a huge player in the President`s orbit until he was forced out 24 days in.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, perhaps you sensed that effort to compare, rationalize, even conflate an attempt at foreign influence in our system with how it was reacted to here domestically.

FIGLIUZZI:  Yes, so, the statement by Barr that you just played is just appallingly dangerous because what he`s saying and then taking back in the same breath is, yes, somebody may have put their thumb on the scale, someone at the bureau, someone at FBI or justice might have ginned up this whole Russia thing and I`m going to get to the bottom of it.

Well -- and then he says in the next breath, I`m not saying that happened.  Very dangerous to attack our institutions like that.

And let`s remember, there is a system inside the Department of Justice that is set up just for such allegations and investigations.  It`s the office of the inspector general.  Yet Barr decides that that`s too up just for him.

He`s going to hand pick the U.S. attorney in Connecticut to do this job for him.  Why?  That U.S. attorney answers directly to Barr.  And that`s why I`m deeply concerned about where this is going and whether Barr is essentially shopping for the right answer.

WILLIAMS:  To our audience, these are the journalists and experts we wanted to hear from tonight.  And we can`t thank them enough.  Ashley Parker, Frank Figliuzzi, Greg Miller, great thanks for coming on tonight.

And coming up, the President`s message to his new defense secretary about going to war.

And tonight, it is fair to ask the question of this administration, after 18 years of war, who exactly is excited about the prospect of attacking Iran?

And later, two Florida counties hacked by the Russians during our Presidential election.  You`d think the FBI would want us to know which counties, but you`d be wrong.  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, are we going to war with Iran?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Hope not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you afraid it can escalate, Mr. President?

Are you afraid this can escalate, Mr. President, with Iran?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Tonight there seems to be even less clarity about what exactly the White House is planning or not with regard to Iran.

A new report from "The Wall Street Journal" highlights growing questions about the information coming out of that region to begin with, and we quote, "Intelligence collected by the U.S. government shows Iran`s leaders believe the U.S. planned to attack them, prompting preparation by Tehran for possible counterstrikes."  See the chick and egg theme here?

"That view of the intelligence could help explain why Iranian forces and their allies took actions that were seen as threatening to U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere prompting a U.S. military build-up in the Persian Gulf region and a draw down of U.S. diplomats in Iraq."

A short time ago, the Secretary of State defended the President`s moves so far.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE:  All should know that there is real data that underlies the risks that we`ve identified that cause us to make these decisions.  The previous administration appeased the Islamic Republic of Iran, so we are pushing back.  And when you push back, tension does increase.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Well, there you have it.

"The New York Times" reports that Trump has told his acting Defense Secretary, Patrick Shanahan that he does not want to go to work with Iran.  NBC News has confirmed this reporting.

The paper says Trump is trying to tamp down these reports that his National Security Adviser John Bolton, a longtime anti-Iran hawk who has spent much of his career calling for regime change there is looking to launch some sort of military confrontation.

"The Times" also reports the President`s, "less frustrated with Mr. Bolton over his handling of Iran.  He favors the tougher measures as a warning to Tehran, than over the evolving narrative that his national security adviser is leading the administration`s policy in the Middle East, according to three officials."  We know that`s a no-no with this President.

Law makers have been complaining the administration`s been less than forthcoming about its plans or lack of them.  Today members of the so- called gang of eight, leaders of the House and Senate as well as heads of the Inter committees from both parties received a classified briefing from the White House on Iran to get.

The full House and Senate are scheduled to get classified briefings next week.  What could go wrong?

We have asked Frank Figliuzzi, given his counterintelligence background, to stay with us.

Frank, as Americans go to bed tonight, should they be more worried about any threats from Iran or more worried that forces within this government are jonesing for a military strike on Iran?

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. it seems like that`s become my role here on your program, Brian, but I have to tell you that Intelligence and national security professionals are looking at what`s played out over the last 24/48 hours and they`re shaking their heads saying this is amateur hour.  And by that I mean that Intelligence professionals are not calling the shots here and it`s so important to get the real Intelligence agency pros inside this and advising the White House and the President because when the filter is just John Bolton or just Secretary Pompeo telling the President what he might want to hear or what he doesn`t like to hear, it doesn`t matter then because the analysts that do this everyday aren`t saying to them, "hey, look, time out."

Iran -- the posture you`re seeing in Iran, the movements, the defensive movements of military and missiles and armaments, even in -- and the chatter, you`re hearing and intercepts.  We`re telling you they`re doing that because of you.  They`re doing it because you`re puffing your chest out and you are getting them concerned and they`re moving into a defensive mode.

And how did this all happen?  The President tore up the Iran nuclear deal that other countries had signed on to, that there was little evidence -- no evidence that they were not complying with.  He tore it up and now Iran has reacted accordingly.  And now Trump is reacting to their reaction.  And we were this close to some kind of preparation for war and hostilities because of a mistaken sense that Iran was preparing to attack us.

WILLIAMS:  So, Frank, you know how this President is seen around the globe.  We can see and hear him having public differences with the Bolton`s of the world.  We can see and hear the President coming out against his own FBI director.  How does the world view this kind of thing?  It can`t be that we look strengthened in their eyes.

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, I think we saw a glimpse of international posture toward this kind of thing, and it`s a refreshing thing to say.  It`s sad but it needed to happen.  And that is that our allies have come out on the Iran issue, Brian, and said, wait a minute, that is not at all what we`re seeing.  We don`t see an increased threat with regard to Iranian presence in Iraq and the withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Iraq because we think the Iranian presence is going to hit.  That`s not what we`re seeing.

We`re seeing business as usual, is what the Brits have told us, it`s what the Germans have told us.  So the response now is to come out and counter our administration and say here are the facts.

WILLIAMS:  I believe the Spaniards have well pulled out of the carrier strike group. Frank Figliuzzi, our thanks, as always, for being part of our conversation here tonight.

And coming up for us, an update on some actual Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election.  What the FBI knows but has chosen not to share with the American public when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  So here`s where we are.  We now know Russian hackers breached voter systems of two Florida counties in 2016.  Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis confirmed this news for us earlier this week.  Then he went on to say he has signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI, promising not to be the one to tell the public which voter registration systems were hacked by the Russians.

Earlier today Florida lawmakers received a classified briefing from the FBI where they learned the identities of the counties.

Our next guest, Marc Caputo of Politico, confirmed a story in "The Washington Post" tonight.  The gist of which is we know one of the counties, one of the voter registration databases.  It was Washington County, Florida, breached by the Russian hackers in 2016.  Small county, Florida Panhandle, where like the other counties in the Panhandle it went heavily for Donald Trump.

So, again, now we know one of the counties hacked but no word on the other.  Meantime, the public is being asked to believe the government when it says election results weren`t impacted by these breaches.  There is no evidence that voter databases were tampered with.

Politico is tonight quoting from a member of Congress in Florida who says the FBI briefing "Lawmakers weren`t able to get with certainty that the databases had been left alone" explaining the FBI told them, "Hackers were able to enter the garage but not the house of the two county networks."  That lays aside the fact that often in the garage you can walk right into the kitchen, but be that as it may.

Let`s talk about that with Clint Watts, former FBI Special Agent.  He is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, happens to Author of "Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorist, Russian and Fake News."  We welcome to the broadcast as well tonight Marc Caputo.  He covers 2020 Politics and all things Florida for Politico.  He is tracking this story tonight in Miami, making him a Florida man by extension.

Hey, Marc, I assume that we know the identity of Washington County, no thanks to the FBI.  What is the state of play there tonight as you know it? 

MARC CAPUTO, REPORTER, POLITICO:  Well, state of play kind of across the state is puzzlement, whether it`s Republicans or Democrats, no one`s really sure why the FBI is keeping just the information about the identities of these two counties secret.

This is something that happened in 2016.  The FBI said, as you just quoted, that the voter registration data was not changed.  Now we`re supposed to believe them.  They say voter tabulation systems, which are separate systems, were not changed.  We`re supposed to believe them.  And they said there was no threat posed afterward, and yet this information is being kept by people.

And information abhors a vacuum, especially when it comes to voting and voters systems.  Numerous lawmakers and election supervisors are criticizing the FBI basically saying they`re kind of useful idiots for the Russians.  Because what the Russians did as they came in, they hacked, they caused chaos, they had a disinformation campaign at a random social media and the like.  And what the FBI is doing is kind of unwittingly -- well, unwittingly going along with this idea and not allowing people to have more information.  And as a result more speculation is flooding in.

Now people are doubting whether vote tabulation systems and vote tallies were changed.  Now they`re doubting whether the election really was done fair and square.  And one way to counter this and one way to overcome this is to give people just a little more comfort, a little more information.  This isn`t me saying it.  It`s Republican members of Congress, it`s Democratic members of Congress, it`s the Republican governor, it`s the Democratic Party of Florida, and it`s election supervisors of both stripes.  It`s really puzzling as to why this is being kept secret.

WILLIAMS:  That`s why I have a former G-man sitting just to my left here in New York.  Clint, if a mortar round landed in, let`s pick one, Pasco County, Florida.  The local people would be told.  How is this any less of attack, the fact is things weren`t broken by this.  In all your time with the FBI, did you ever sign a governor to a nondisclosure agreement like a celebrity nanny?

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  I never did but that wouldn`t necessarily be out of protocol, meaning that if it still classified, if the information is still classified, they may have someone sign an NDA.  That is --

WILLIAMS:  And why would the information still be classified?

WATTS:  That I think is the point that we should focus on, which is it`s been three years.  At this point it just sows more conspiracy every single time this comes up if you don`t close it out.  What did we see when the Mueller indictments came out?  What did we see when the Mueller report came out?  It was answers.  And as soon as there are answers, people tend to settle down and they will go with, "OK, this is documented.  This is what we know."

The only things that I can think of, is, one, you don`t want to let your adversaries know where they got you and oftentimes how you detected them.  That doesn`t apply here because the Mueller report has already come out.  That`s how we know about some of this.

The other part of it could be that it`s part of an ongoing investigation.  Maybe there is some other portion of this that they still trying to pursue investigatively.  In terms of an intelligence investigation or in terms of maybe some sort of indictment down the road.  That could be that redacted portion we see.

Beyond that, it might be protecting a foreign intelligence source that maybe helped us to try to discover this stuff, but they don`t really need to disclose that.  They can still tell us what happened without telling us how they figured that out.  So it`s really puzzling to me how they don`t see conspiracy being sown after we`ve seen those fore three years now, by not coming forward and saying this is what we know.  This is what you need to know as a public.  Nothing was changed.  And here`s what we`re going to do to make sure it doesn`t happen next time.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Marc, how is Governor DeSantis handling this?  Voters can sometimes have long memories.  He`s new to office.  This kind of counters the public image he had crafted for himself in Congress.

CAPUTO:  Right.  Ron DeSantis made an image of himself, forged a political brand in Congress of being one of the number one critics of the FBI over the Russia investigation in defense of President Trump.  He then gets in office, this information unfolds and the FBI kind of rolled him and said, "Look, we`ll tell you the information but you got to sign this NDA."

So suddenly he kind of goes from this attack dog of the agency to a little more of a lap dog in kind of doing its bidding.  When I asked him about it yesterday, he was none too pleased about it.  He said, "Look, I`m frustrated by it and he believe it was over classified.  But DeSantis, understandably, maybe the calculation, saying, "Look, I`d rather have the information rather than not have the information, but you`re seeing a chorus of lawmakers, DeSantis a little more muted but not much more muted saying, "Look, this information needs to be disclosed."

And as we`ve seen in Washington, it`s already leaking out anyway.

WILLIAMS:  Clint Watts, you`re the last thing standing between folks wanting to go to bed, content or not.  Are you content that our election systems have been hardened going into 2020 compared to 2016?

WATTS:  Yes, they`re better.  You know, DHS, the Narciso Group, they`ve done a much better job.  They still have about five states I think left where they`ve got to do some sort of paper ballot backup verifiable audit trail.  That`s on election integrity of the vote.

Clearly, what has happened today is we are not prepared for an influence campaign because all you have to do -- think of what the Russians did.  One hack was successful.  Getting maybe two people to click on it, they got into two databases and nothing happened and it`s three years later.  And what do we see?  We see politician attacking institutions.  People are unsure about their vote from three years ago.  We`re unsure about what`s going to happen in 2020.

You know, the successful attack in the military is one where you put your strengths against your enemy`s vulnerabilities, and when you strike them they make themselves weaker and weaker over time.  You can win without even fighting.  A guy named Andy Marshall used to say that at the Pentagon.

We have just had this done to us and we`re continuing to fight each other rather than really dealing with the Russia attack.  Anybody right now could see how to map this how the, the Mueller report because we haven`t put any of these real impediments in place.  The Mueller report is a blueprint for how to attack America in 2020, whether it`s Russia, another foreign state or even a domestic actor at this point.

WILLIAMS:  Spoken by the man, by the way, who literally did write the book on this subject.  Clint Watts, our thanks, Marc Caputo, our thanks for joining us from Florida tonight, fascinating if not troubling conversation.

And coming up, a new poll with surprising numbers this evening that tell us where this presidential race is right now, other than crowded.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  We are back.  A brand-new Fox News Poll tonight shows former Vice President Joe Biden pulling away from the pack in the 2020 Democratic Primary race.  Biden`s ahead with 35 percent, double-digit lead over Bernie Sanders, who is at 17.  Look at those numbers below, however.

It is worth noting here more than half a dozen candidates, some with national names, are still polling at 0.0 percent.  It`s also worth noting that the very same poll shows a majority of Americans would vote for anybody else besides Donald Trump.  It`s worth repeating, in fact, this is a Fox News Poll, and the first primary is light years away politically, nine whole months from now.

Here with us tonight to talk about it, a Veteran Journalist, Jonathan Allen who happens to be NBC News National Political Reporter tracking the White House and the campaign and Rick Wilson, he`s a Florida man, he`s a Veteran Republican Strategist whose views about our 45th president are best summed by the title of his book "Everything Trump Touches Dies" which is now out in an updated form in paperback.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Rick Wilson, first to you, what would your cautions be as we read the numbers in a poll like this?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I think there are two big cautions that I would say is, your best day in any campaign is your first day in a lot of ways.  So Joe Biden has a number of opportunities to have a slip or a downfall here.

However, I think to the benefit of the Democratic Party, this put a real break on the sort of Bernie Sanders cult that`s out there that was sort of pushing him ahead of the rest of the pack.  So I think you`ve got, you know, an opportunity now for Biden to stretch a little bit and you`ve got an opportunity for some of the serious candidates who are slightly beneath the Biden/Bernie category to sort of start showing their chops a bit.

But I do think with 9,417 people in the field, it`s a bit crowded and it`s going to have to shake out sooner than later, I think, if they`re going to start turning this campaign from being, you know, who is the most progressive, you know, who is the most woke to who can beat Trump, which I think should be their primary focus. 

WILLIAMS:  Indeed.  Jon, I think we should start naming all the Democrats, including local officials who are not running for president.  That would be more economical at this point. 

JONATHAN ALLEN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS:  We`re going to have to go to "The 12th Hour."

WILLIAMS:  Yes, exactly.  Thank you for that.  That`s -- don`t tell our bosses you had that idea.

WILSON:  Nice, well done.

WILLIAMS:  Our friend Alexi McCammond over at Axios writes this about the Biden campaign.  "Joe Biden is trying to snuff out his Democratic competitors before the race really gets going.  By all accounts, Biden`s strategy is working even though his campaign isn`t even a month old and others are noticing and feels threatened."  Alexi was on with Nicolle Wallace today and has a ton of reporting to back this up.

Jonathan, how do you think the Joe Biden story progresses from right now tonight?

ALLEN:  You have to be pretty pleased if you`re Joe Biden, and generally speaking maybe if you like this we can call it the THE 11TH HOUR rule for the early part of this campaign.  If you are polling at a number above the total number of candidates running in the race, you`re in pretty good shape.  So he`s at 35, there`s 20-some candidates running.  That`s a good place to be.

But I also understand that Joe Biden was vice president of the United States for eight years, served in the Senate for 36 years, and generally is well-regarded within the Democratic Party.  It shouldn`t be shocking that he is doing well among a field that are, you know, somewhat lesser known.

I mean, not everybody -- I wish everybody was tuned into political shows all day long every day, and I encourage them to do so.  But not everybody is, not everybody`s on Twitter all day.  And I think in the early part of this race right now, you`re seeing a reflection to some degree of name ID.  I think the Biden rollout has been strong.  I think you`re seeing that in some of his early fund-raising numbers.

And for him I think what he`s going to have to do is prove when he gets on a debate stage with these other contenders that he has got something to offer, that sounds good to the rest of the Democratic electorate.  And I think he`s going to have to campaign somewhat and campaign hard in Iowa and New Hampshire and these other states because that`s what the other candidates are doing right.

They are getting on the ground and meeting voters, doing those coffees and those town halls that Joe Biden did many years ago and probably doesn`t have to do as much of because of that name ID.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Both gentlemen have agreed to stay with us.  We`re going to fit in a break.

When we come back, the 23rd Democrat, we`re serious, is now in the race.  And the media coverage is centered on the number of people that don`t want him to run.  That is generally, traditionally a problem in politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DE BLASIO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Working Americans deserve better, and I know we can do it because I`ve done it here in the largest, toughest city in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  It`s a bad sign when there are protesters making noise outside where you announce you`re running for president, but that`s what greeted Bill de Blasio when he appeared this morning at "Good Morning America" to officially make himself the 23rd Democrat in the race.

Again, those are not supporters of his.  He now begins a national campaign as a less than popular figure back home in New York.  Recent polls showed three-quarters of New Yorkers don`t want him to run.  Here was the cover of the conservative New York Post that New Yorkers woke up to on news stands this morning.

A New York Times opinion writer was downright charitable.  "In a city with this history of colorful mayors, de Blasio appears somehow manages to be a shade of muddy taupe.  If he can`t distinguish himself here, how does he expect to distinguish himself on the national stage?"

President piled on from a cellphone video onboard Air Force One.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I would be very surprised to see him in there for a long period.  But it`s just not going to happen.  If you like high taxes and if you like crime, you can vote for him, but most people aren`t into that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So still with us for more, Jonathan Allen, Rick Wilson.  Rick, what do you make of this guy?

WILSON:  You know, I worked for a mayor of New York City who ran for president, and he was a guy who at that time very well-regarded because he had done a pretty good job during 9/11.  You know what that got him, nothing in the presidential race.

Bill de Blasio`s record is basically killing groundhogs and being unpleasant.  This is not a guy who is going to go very far even in the Democratic field.  You know, I don`t understand the motivation for it.  I don`t understand the reasoning behind it, and I don`t think even Bill de Blasio really does.  This is a guy who is just really like running out of a sort of twitch instinct of some kind.  But his campaign is already dead.  It`s just too dumb to lay down.

WILLIAMS:  Jonathan, with apologies to the groundhog community, we just showed the video in question.  Same question to you about Bill de Blasio.

ALLEN:  It`s so hard to follow Rick Wilson.  But I will say that, on the bright side for Bill de Blasio, at least the protesters weren`t encouraging him to run and leave the state, because I think there are a lot of New Yorkers who will appreciate that at this point.

I think he will not be the only candidate that by running for president will prove how unpopular he is at home.  And I think that`s a real risk for some of these candidates who re showing that they are not able to raise a lot of money, that they might be able to get primary pretty easily back home.  And I`m not sure what de Blasio is hoping to accomplish.

As Rick points out, what is popular in New York is often not popular nationally.  It`s hard to see how someone who is unpopular in his home city of New York is going to be popular nationally.  Most of the rest of the country runs against the city of New York.

WILLIAMS:  To prove that he is, in fact, a Florida man, Rick Wilson told 500,000 Twitter followers tonight that he may or may not wear pants during this broadcast, so not knowing the answer, thank you for remaining seated.

But a question to you as a Florida man, Rick, how do you feel basically as a Florida voter knowing that two of your local voting systems were hacked by the Russians in 2016 and if the FBI had it to decide, you would not be told which two?

Wilson:  You know, look, I view this as something slightly short of an act of war against our country.  And if this iterates out beyond Florida and beyond small counties like Washington, we have to really start looking at whether or not, you know, we need to take extreme and extraordinary steps to secure our voting system and move to paper ballots immediately and swiftly.  I hope that Senator McConnell will allow the paper ballot voting bill to move forward if this continues to prove true.

I`m enraged by it and I think the fact -- I think Governor DeSantis expressed a correct amount of discomfort that the Russians sure as hell know, you know, who they hacked and we don`t.  And so, I think this is a major problem.  I`ve talked to a lot of folks here in Florida in the last couple of hours tonight who are deeply concerned about this, Republicans and Democrats, who are deeply concerned that this is something that we`re going to see, then maybe it`s more than two and maybe it`s deeper than we thought.  It`s a real troubling revelation.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  It`s an incredibly important story, obviously not a local but a national story.  To Jonathan Allen, to Rick Wilson, gentlemen, and I mean that, thank you both for coming on our broadcast tonight.

WILSON:  Thank You, Brian.

ALLEN:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us, with apologies for all of our other guests this evening, we`ll bring you a piece of civilian political analysis that aired on this network earlier this evening that just might be better than some of what we`ve heard from the experts.  It comes from that town.  We`ll have it after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, Chris Matthews traveled to his native Pennsylvania this evening for a special hour-long broadcast.  He went to Wilkes-Barre and Luzerne County, one of the places that went to Obama before it went to Trump, one of the places that`s always been the backbone of blue-collar labor in the state of Pennsylvania.  And in front of an audience on the factory floor that included Tom Perez, the chairman of DNC, one of the most illuminating pieces of political analysis came when a local union electrician rose and was handed the microphone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I`m a union member.  I`m a member of the International Brotherhood of Electricians.  I heard this gentleman talk about San Francisco Democrats.  I`ve heard this gentleman talk about getting involved in Mueller.  It`s just gimmicks.  We`re getting involved in gimmicks.  This is what happened in 2016, was gimmicks.

He came in, the Democrats -- I`m a Democrat.  I`m a lifelong Democrat.  My grandfather was a Democrat.  They came in and sold us something in the Republican Party thinking that they were for us.  The Democrats, Mr. Perez, the candidates got to come here.  They have to talk about workers` rights.  Right to work is a huge issue in Pennsylvania.

We can`t have candidates that are only concerned with social issues.  A social issue for me is the ability to go out and provide for my family. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Damn right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  With justices now on the Supreme Court because of the gimmicks that was used to get conservative nominees, Janis went through.  I as a union member don`t have as many rights now.  I can have someone come in, and no offense, Mr.  Matthews.  You could come in to my (inaudible).  If right to work goes through federally, you can come in and be an electrician.  I don`t want to be a TV host.  I don`t think you`d want me running your show.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  You can learn it faster than being an electrician.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Chris Matthews tonight in a stretch of America now critical for the Democrats if they wish to retake the White House in 2020.

That is our broadcast for this Thursday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  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