JEFF DANIELS, ACTOR: It is sacred. There is truth, there is honesty, there is decency, there is integrity. All those things that Mueller -- I mean look at the guy`s life, for God`s sake, and Atticus is the same way. It`s -- he believes in the same things and he hopes that there`s a better angel in everyone and I think we`re going to find out in the next few months.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: As the former anchorman yourself, you know the clock is unforgiving, and so that is going to be it for us. Jeff Daniels gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Do you want to take the rest?
DANIELS: "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC, HOST: Tonight, the President admits Russia helped him get elected before taking it back. He wonders how the courts will allow his impeachment not realizing it`s not up to them.
A defensive day at the White House, this day after Mueller broke his silence.
Meanwhile, 51 members of Congress now support impeachment. The pressure on Pelosi is growing but no party consensus on whether it`s the path to salvation or to ruin.
And the central warning from Robert Mueller, the systematic attack we`re under from Russia. Did the administration make any moves to make sure our next election is clean? Our guests tonight will spell out the clear and present danger. THE 11TH HOUR on a Thursday evening starts right now.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 861 of the Trump administration, and on this day after Robert Mueller broke his silence, not surprisingly the President attack Robert Mueller and all those who have worked for him.
The President started his day with this rather surprising quote. "Russia, Russia, Russia, that`s all you heard at the beginning of this witch hunt hoax. And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected."
Interesting wording there. Let`s give him that. Quickly walked back by the President on the South Lawn in a pre departure flurry of misinformation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe that Russia helped you get elected.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected.
Russia didn`t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think helped the other side.
ROBERT MUELLER, FMR. SPECIAL COUNSEL DEPT. OF JUSTICE: They used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.
TRUMP: He said essentially you`re innocent. I`m innocent of all charges. And, you know, the thing that nobody brings up, there was no crime.
MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.
TRUMP: There was no charge because he had no information.
MUELLER: Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So not long after Trump made his comments, his steadfastly loyal Attorney General Bill Barr held the line again today and was critical of Robert Mueller in an interview taped for CBS News. Specifically he questioned Mueller`s choice, what Mueller saw as his obligation not to make a decision on obstruction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I personally felt he could have reached a decision. The opinion says you cannot indict a president while he`s in office, but he could have reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity, but he had his reasons for not doing it, which he explained. When he didn`t make a decision, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I felt it was necessary for us as the heads of the department to reach that decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump has also renewed his allegations that the former special counsel was a biased investigator. Describing him as the "highly conflicted Robert Mueller."
Trump later elaborated on that, retelling the false story that Mueller "came to the Oval Office along with other potential candidates seeking to be named the director of the FBI. He had already been in that position for 12 years. I told him no. The next day he was named special counsel. A total conflict of interest."
Trump wasn`t finished. He later tried to drive that point home as the cameras were rolling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think he is a total conflicted person. I think Mueller is a true never Trumper. He`s somebody that dislikes Donald Trump. He`s somebody that didn`t get a job that he requested, that he wanted very badly and then he was appointed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: However, there`s this, the Mueller report includes testimony from White House Adviser, Steve Bannon, saying that he "recalled telling the President that the purported conflicts were ridiculous and that none could come close to justifying precluding Mueller from serving as special counsel."
The report goes on, "although the White House thought about beseeching Mueller to become director again, he did not come in looking for the job."
Mueller made it clear yesterday he wants his report to speak for him and he does not want to testify in person before Congress. A lot of Democrats nonetheless are pressing for him to appear.
And according to "The Daily Beast," they`re now being joined by some in Trump`s inner circle, a number of whom have been eager to declare Mueller`s case close.
Sam stein, who joins us in just a moment, reports some of Trump`s closest advisers want Mueller to be "subjected to conservative lawmakers` questions about the conduct and outcome of his investigation."
Meanwhile, according to NBC News, 51 -- 50 House Democrats and one Republican are now in favor of starting an impeachment inquiry into the President. Today Trump was asked about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think they`re going to impeach you?
TRUMP: I don`t see how. They can because they`re possibly allowed, although I can`t imagine the courts allowing it. I`ve never gotten into it. I never thought that would even be possible to be using that word.
To me it`s a dirty word, the word impeach. It`s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word and it had nothing to do with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There you have it. And here with us for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, former U.S. Attorney, Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor. A.B. Stoddard, Columnist and Associate Editor at Real Clear Politics. And the aforementioned Sam Stein, Politics Editor for "The Daily Beast."
Sam, you get to go first because your name was invoked.
SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICS EDITOR: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Where do we stand tonight after a day of some epic falsehoods on the South Lawn?
STEIN: It`s a good question. With respect to Mueller testifying, I believe that we are getting to a place where basically a good majority of each side of the political aisle now are pining for him to come to the Hill to answer more questions. Mueller, of course, said that he wanted the report to speak for itself and has resisted privately and treats (ph) for him to come to the Hill in part because he`s worried about being a political circus.
But today, when my colleague and I went asking around to some of the members of the legal team for President Trump, they had done a 180. Prior to now, of course, President Trump had said, publicly, he didn`t want Mueller to testify publicly on the Hill. The standing line from the White House was that the case was closed and it was time to move on.
But we talked with Rudy Giuliani today, among other people, John Dowd, the President`s former lawyer, both of them now want Mueller to be dragged up to the Hill. The possibility of a subpoena was mentioned. And they want it because they believe that Conservative lawmakers on the Hill can ask him pointed questions about the origins of his probe, about the composition of his team. And that they can do so effectively to muddy the waters after what was seen pretty universally as a very difficult critical press statement that Mueller gave on Wednesday.
So, it`s a dynamic situation, but I wouldn`t be surprised if we saw a groundswell of more support for Mueller coming to the Hill to testify eventually.
WILLIAMS: A couple of things here just to back up Sam`s point. Here is a bit of Mr. Hannity from tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Robert Mueller, I am telling you, is scared to death to testify. Why? Because he`d have to answer real tough questions from people like Congressman Jim Jordan, Congressman Mark Meadows, Congressman Devin Nunes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, A.B. Stoddard, that is the state of play tonight as we come on the air and then there is the matter of Mr. Barr. I`m going to play for you another bit of the interview in Alaska with CBS News. This is about how Barr responds to the current criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: We live in a hyper-partisan age where people no longer really pay attention to the substance of what was said but to who says it and what side they`re on and what its political ramifications are. I`m going to make the decision based on the law and the facts.
I think it just goes with the territory of being attorney general in a hyper-partisan period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, A.B., you heard the man, it goes with the territory. Nothing to see here would be another takeaway from that. And yet, we had a former Fed on this broadcast last night who was appointed by Barr to her seat who called him straight up a liar.
A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOC. EDITOR AND COLUMNIST: This whole tour that Bill Barr has done from -- as soon as he was confirmed as attorney general from the presentation of the summary of the Mueller report to the press conference proceeding, the release of the redacted Mueller report, to his Fox News interview, to his CBS interview has revealed that he is intentionally -- I thought it was interesting the words he chose. He said people are looking at political ramifications and not substance.
He`s intentionally not giving us substance on why he believes that the investigators have to be investigated. But he`s intentionally using provocative language to produce a political ramification that pleases the President and casts aspersions on the investigators, including Mr. Mueller, with whom he went on the air with CBS precisely to contradict the day following Mueller`s public statement.
He is talking about spying. He is talking about people -- may have not committed treason in the legal sense. Maybe they thought they were doing the right thing. He has -- before he`s collected a set of facts cast doubt on this process that Mueller said yesterday was done in a fair way with integrity. He is absolutely playing a political game.
He is not protecting the Department of Justice. He`s not protecting Bob Mueller. He`s not backing him up.
And I think it`s astounding to see him on a press tour that continued from Alaska because of Bob Mueller`s surprise statement. He wanted to get on top of them the day after and contradict him and say I think he could have made a call on obstruction. When he knows what the special counsel said yesterday was the entire frame of the OLC guidelines, is you don`t taint a President with a charge or even -- it`s just that there is no fairness when he can`t defend himself. The entire criminal justice system is separate. It`s only remedied in the Congress and that we can`t even begin.
That Mueller basically said, I could have never said I do think he`s guilty of obstruction but maybe we won`t charge him. Or, I mean, what Barr said today, he knows better and he absolutely and intentionally just contradicted Bob Mueller. I thought was staggering.
WILLIAMS: Joyce Vance, as someone who has devoted your adult life to the law, as someone who teaches law to law students currently, can you remind our viewers as ever you wish how far out of plum for the job of attorney general this looks?
JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: It`s, I think, very difficult to convey how far out of whack this is just because we`ve walked down this path one step at a time. And the norms have receded to such a great distance that I think it`s difficult for us to remember what it looked like when an attorney general was loyal to the people who worked for them and backed them up. Instead, this attorney general has accused his people of spying and refused to back them up.
When an attorney general would have never violated the clear notion that an attorney general doesn`t stand up at the podium in the Justice Department and lie about the content of a special counsel`s report, which is what this attorney general did, giving the President his headline "no collusion, no obstruction," when, in fact, that is not what the Mueller report found.
So I fear that the damage that`s being done to the Justice Department, which, of course, can operate to keep our community safe only because people believe in its integrity, that that damage will be long term, it will be sustained and there will be a long road back for the Justice Department when this is over because in large part of what this attorney general has done.
WILLIAMS: Sam, you`ve heard it in the last two answers. And say nothing of people who knew Barr back when.
WILLIAMS: And were excited about his appointment and are rather amazed today at how pliant and loyal he has proved to be to one client. I imagine the folks on the Trump team are very happy at his selection.
STEIN: Well, it`s difficult to remember, it wasn`t that long ago, but it`s difficult to remember when Barr was nominated there was a massive sense of relief among the legal establishment and even among some Democrats on Capitol Hill.
STEIN: At the time Matt Whitaker, who had been Sessions` Chief of Staff, was in that acting role and there was an assumption that he was going to be a sycophant for Trump and do his bidding. And it turns out that every fear applied to Matt Whitaker`s tenure has been actually realized by Bill Barr, who was considered an institutionalist but has become perhaps Trump`s best defender in the administration.
And I remember shortly after Barr went out and summarized the Mueller report we began asking people in and around the President how they felt about the job he was doing and they were ecstatic, ecstatic at the interference that he was running on the President`s behalf. They had assumed that this was going to be the role that Jeff Sessions had played. But Jeff Sessions actually took a far more different approach, a far more hands off approach than Bill Barr has.
And the question I guess going forward is, is there any remedy to this? Remember, Barr was supposed to be called, was supposed to go in front of the House Judiciary Committee, but he declined to do so on the basis that they were going to have lawyers on the committee ask the question. At the time that was a big deal but because we live in this sort of hyper news cycle, that story seems like it was eons ago.
And so I don`t know if there`s a remedy that House Democrats can summon to push back against what Barr is actually doing right now.
WILLIAMS: And, Joyce, back over to you for a question I saw you ask, at least rhetorically on social media yesterday that people will be left with for a good long time, what if Mueller had spoken first?
VANCE: There`s no reason that the comments we heard from Special Counsel Mueller yesterday could not have been the American people`s first introduction to what was after all the special counsel`s report. So I think we`re left with this really plaguing question of why we heard Bill Barr`s inaccurate comments. I think at this point we have all decided what the answer to that question is and we should all be troubled by the fact that Mueller`s comments, which we heard yesterday, were fair, they were accurate and we were kept from hearing them for two months.
WILLIAMS: A.B., this is an outgrowth of a discussion we had on the broadcast last night that the Mueller report was perhaps written and produced for an attention span that no longer exists in this country. This is a hell of a piece of writing in the current "Atlantic." "Mueller is a man" -- this is by Ken White. "Mueller is a man out of time. This is the age of alternatively factual tweets and sound bites. He`s a by the book throw-back who expects Americans to read and absorb carefully worded 400- page report. Has he met us? His high standards sometimes manifest as touching naivete." Too harsh? Fair?
STODDARD: Well, it`s hard to be harsh because he`s an honest man of integrity who might be from another time but was expecting us in a sort of a moment of national emergency to invest time in the 448 pages.
WILLIAMS: Imagine that, yes.
STODDARD: And so what I saw in his public comments yesterday was the realization, and I think he was driven there by several reasons, I think he wanted to contradict Barr, which follows his initial two letters, saying that the attorney general created confusion about the context of his report -- the contents.
I think he wanted to say to the American people you haven`t read this report and this concerted attack by the Russians is really, really dangerous and it will happen again. That`s why he started his comments with that and finished repeating the same line about how it deserves the attention of every American.
I hope more Americans will read this, but perhaps his expectations were too high, that many people would read it. I think they took Bill Barr`s word and his assessment and thought they could go on with their lives.
WILLIAMS: Sam, last word.
STEIN: Yes, I mean, I almost feel like it`s understating it. You know, Bob Mueller could have summarized his point in a 280-character tweet, and even if he did that Trump would have just contradicted it.
I mean, look what happened this morning. Donald Trump admitted that Russia helped him get elected, in a tweet. He did it twice because he wanted to correct a separate part of the tweet, but he repeated it. And then minutes later, he was in front of cameras denying that he ever said such a thing.
So, we live in this weird dystopian reality that I don`t think can accommodate a Mueller report, regardless of the length it`s in.
And just to AB`s point, you know, it is -- it`s true that Mueller emphasized the Russian interference part first. And I think for good reason, which is that that is perhaps the most existential threat in the coming election. And I`m just struck by the fact that what seems so out of the realm of possibility, the idea that a presidential candidate would willingly accept a foreign power`s interference has now become for a swath of the country basically accepted.
It`s not just Trump`s tweet this morning, but over the past week Rudy Giuliani, the top lawyer for the President has been openly courting help from Ukraine to take down Joe Biden. So we are living in a post-Mueller world in more ways than one, I guess.
WILLIAMS: Let`s leave, shall we, detailed accounts for our grandchildren about this era when everything mattered and yet nothing mattered at the same time. On that philosophical note, our thanks to three very smart people for starting us off tonight. To Joyce Vance, to A.B. Stoddard, to Sam Stein, thank you all.
STEIN: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: And coming up for us, following the special counsel swan song, the Democratic drumbeat now towards impeachment proceedings growing louder. Some believe it`s the path to salvation. Others believe it`s the path to ruin for the party.
And later, that warning from Mueller. We`ve been talking about multiple systematic efforts by the Russians to attack us. Did anyone act on that today? Two experts in the field are standing by for us as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There was no crime. You know, it`s high crimes and not with or, or, it`s high crimes and misdemeanors. There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor, so how do you impeach based on that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So we`re good. The impeachment debate among Democrats is heating up nonetheless, following Robert Mueller`s public remarks yesterday. So far at least 51 members of the House now favor starting an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The number includes one Republican, Justin Amash of Michigan, nearly a dozen members of the House Judiciary Committee, notably.
"The New York Times" reports today supporters of the inquiry argue they are not necessarily seeking to remove Trump from office. "Opening an investigation, they say, could increase Democratic chances of winning court orders to require compliance with House subpoenas. But others are wary, saying it would be politically risky. Impeachment implies an effort to remove the President from office, and Mr. Trump is primed to try to exploit any such effort politically."
We`re happy that with us back again are Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor over at Politico, and here in the studio, Jeremy Peters, political reporter for "The New York Times." Good evening to you both.
Jeremy, I`d like to begin by showing you a voter who was interviewed in the pretty much rock ribbed conservative congressional district of Mr. Amash out in Michigan. She was interviewed about the Mueller report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report at all about President Trump. I hadn`t heard that before and I mainly listened to conservative news, and I hadn`t heard anything negative about that report and President Trump had been exonerated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, that woman would be an American. She lives in America and she has a good many Americans just like her. So if the standard for the Democrats is an overwhelming national agreement that this needs to happen, how far do you reckon we are from that?
JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. I would also add not only is she an American, but she`s probably a voter, too. So --
WILLIAMS: Oh, yes.
PETERS: -- I mean, this is --
WILLIAMS: Who cares enough to be at her local town hall?
PETERS: Exactly. These -- there are -- is nothing like this that has ever happened in American politics, American political history before, Brian. And by that I mean we have not had a major national trauma like an impeachment proceeding unfold in this new media culture where you have this twin phenomena of a president who is singularly able to drive and shift the narrative of the news cycle unlike anyone who has ever held the office before and a news media apparatus that is loyal to him that will defend whatever he does. And that really, I think, changes the equation in terms of how Americans look at an impeachment, whether they see it as valid even.
And I often think to myself as like a thought exercise of just -- to illustrate just how much things have changed. What would have happened if the My Lai massacre occur while Donald Trump is president and Sean Hannity was on the air at Fox? How would Americans have processed that? Would they have thought that it really even happened?
And I think that -- those are the stakes. That`s what you need to think about going into something like a national trauma that the impeachment would be.
WILLIAMS: Wow. I`m old enough to remember that story and Lieutenant Kelly and the scars it left.
Anita, is there any way a reporter like yourself can find out rationally in that West Wing how great a fear of impeachment really does exist?
ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don`t know. It is a tough thing to say because, you know, they do -- we`ve talked about this before. The President and his aides and more importantly his campaign really do push that they see this as a political win for them. I know that sounds kind of absurd, right? But they`re banking on the fact that there aren`t the numbers. There are literally not enough Republicans.
I mean you mentioned there is one lone Republican out there and look at the reception he`s gotten in the last week or so since he came out and called for impeachment. I mean, not just the Trump, you know, President Trump`s allies but just Republicans. They are, you know, mocking him and saying that there`s no one else that`s going to be like him, right? He`s probably going to get primaried. He may not even be in office, you know, coming up here.
So it`s just a -- they are banking on this, that they -- that the Democrats don`t have the votes. And so at the moment they feel OK about it. Now, that could change.
It was very interesting to hear what Robert Mueller said yesterday, but, of course, the talking points from the White House and the campaign were still, eh, it`s still nothing, right? There`s still nothing there when clearly things had changed.
WILLIAMS: All right. On that note, both of our guests have agreed to stay with us. We`re going to fit in a break.
And when we come back, we`ll look at what the 2020 candidates are saying about what the President today called that dirty, filthy, disgusting word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No president is above the law. This president must be held accountable.
REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Act now or lose our democracy forever. That is the choice before us.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the right thing right now is to hold this president accountable for his actions.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s a point of each one of us who swore an oath to the constitution saying that is not permissible for a president of the United States.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it would be crazy not to do it, to be quite honest, we have to go out and try to get the facts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: An increasing number, as you just saw, of the 2020 Democratic candidates, and there are about 2020 of the Democrats, now supporting impeachment in the wake of Robert Mueller`s remarks on the Russia investigation. By our own NBC News count, 10 of the 23 candidates are now on board. More have publicly expressed they`re leaning in that direction.
We`re back with our guests for our double jeopardy round, Anita Kumar and Jeremy Peters. Anita, this has a slight edge to it, but let me proffer the following. What is the real cost to a Booker or a Beto or a Hickenlooper or a Gillibrand to come out for impeachment? I could argue it will be the cheapest thing they do all week. What`s the consequence to them?
ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Right. I mean, you`re exactly right. Obviously, though, the Democratic Party is split. The country is split on this. Clearly leaders in the Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi to name one, don`t want to do this right now.
So, I mean, they could lose support, but you`re right, those are the ones that are, you know, polling so low they have to do something. I don`t know that it could hurt them at this point, right? They`re just trying to get noticed at this point.
And they`re hearing from their base. They`re hearing from people when they`re out there. People are talking to them, pushing them, and you`ve got to say that Robert Mueller`s words yesterday, whether he meant them or not, really did open the door.
I mean, you saw several of them say that just listening to what he said. He said there was another remedy, you know, in your court, the balls in your court now, Congress. I mean, he didn`t really say that but he kind of did.
WILLIAMS: And Jeremy, for you, I have a reading from -- first read from NBC News today. This is very interesting. "If you wanted a taste of what the 2020 Democratic presidential race might look like, if Congress goes down the impeachment rabbit hole, you got it yesterday after Mueller`s statement. The 2020 field took second or third stage. Impeachment most likely would real gate the Democratic race to the back-burner and freeze the contest until afterward."
I`m tempted to ask you if that would make the Democrats focus plainly on electability, and we all know what most Democrats answer.
JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, this is a problem, Brian, that I hear a lot of Democrats talking about privately. Democratic candidates for president are not breaking through with voters right now.
Now, it`s early so there are --
WILLIAMS: There`s limited oxygen, right?
PETERS: There`s limited oxygen, but guess who is sucking up two-thirds of that oxygen on most days.
And that`s an issue. It`s, of course, galvanizing for the left because they`re then reminded of how much they want to remove him from office. But in a situation like an impeachment, I think Donald Trump`s ability to reframe the narrative, to shift -- look what he did with the Mueller report, for example.
Before any of us had read it, we had the four-page statement describing what was in it. What did he come out and do? He said, "I`m innocent." Exonerated --
WILLIAMS: No collusion. No obstruction.
PETERS: No collusion. No obstruction, 100 exonerated. That wasn`t true.
Actually it said, this report does not exonerate you. But you know what? It set him up to have the advantage in the court of American public opinion and his approval rating actually went up after that. So I don`t think that we can assume an impeachment would do the Democrats any good whatsoever.
WILLIAMS: So often by doing their jobs good reporters leave us only with more questions, as has been the case tonight with Anita Kumar and Jeremy Peters. We thank you both for coming bank on the broadcast.
And coming up for us, what the response to Russia`s continued disinformation threat could and should look like in this country. We`ll talk to two leading experts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And, of course, in our modern age it didn`t get the attention today of every American as it deserves. Our NBC News political team highlights some of the consequences of Russian interference writing, "It produced Hillary versus Bernie chaos entering the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. It helped launch scores of stories looking into internal Clinton communications from John Podesta`s hacked e-mails. And it aided part of Donald Trump`s closing message, with him mentioning the word WikiLeaks some 140 times in the final months of the general election, a race decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. The lack of urgency and attention to that interference remains, in many ways, the real scandal."
Before departing the White House for Colorado this morning, the President was asked what`s being done to stop future interference. He said, of course, that Obama did nothing to combat interference in 2016 and then he added this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We are doing a lot and we`re trying to do paper ballots as a backup system as much as possible. Because going to good old fashioned paper in this modern age is the best way to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So there you have it, and here with us to talk about it tonight, Michael McFaul, former US Ambassador to Russia. His recent book is entitled "From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin`s Russia." And Malcolm Nance, Veteran of Naval Intelligence Special Operations Homeland Security, 35 years working in the field. He`s also the author of "The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West." Both timely books making these leading experts to talk to, Mr. Ambassador, I`d like to begin with you.
You heard Robert Mueller yesterday. What ran through your mind as you did?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, MSNBC INTELLIGENCE AFFAIRS ANALYST : Just the way you set it up, Brian. I mean the other parts of what`s legal and not you`ve been talking about, but he began and he ended with the fact that Russia attacked us in 2016. They violated our sovereignty in a multiple-pronged attack designed to influence the course of that presidential election.
And so far, despite what the president just said now, we`ve done next to nothing to prevent that in 2020, and I think moving forward we have to continue to remind your viewers and the American people to put pressure on the Trump administration and the US Congress to enact the legislation that would protect that vote.
WILLIAMS: And, Malcolm, when most people hear that, I think they throw up their hands. They don`t know what to do, though they`re justifiably scared about the intrusion into our lives and the tinkering with our election process. What is the danger to you? And add to that, is it that the President doesn`t only share the urgency, he doesn`t share the problem?
MALCOLM NANCE, AUTHOR, "THE PLOT TO DESTROY DEMOCRACY": Well, he certainly doesn`t share the problem because he fundamentally does not believe that anything happened in 2016 because he has tied Russian interference to his own legitimacy. And that`s valid for him because there are some questions which do crop up.
Robert Mueller made it eminently clear that this attack on the United States, which we saw three years ago, is most likely going to happen again. So that being said, the forces in the United States who could do something about it, Department of Homeland Security, national security agency, state and local law enforcement organizations with some cyber capability, they`re left on their own because there is no force of leadership from the President.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Ambassador, we have been led to believe through reporting, especially a piece in "The New York Times," that the last secretary of homeland security, Secretary Nielsen, was waived away, was told not to mention Russian interference to the president of the United States. You know more about the potential than the rest of us, but we`ve certainly been led to believe that on top of social media, on top of our elections, they also have a thorough reach into things like our power grids and wheels of our American life that they can turn and control almost by whim.
MCFAUL: They have tremendous cyber capabilities, that`s right. And you just widened the aperture of other things we need to be worried about in addition to our campaigns and our elections. But I think we have to stop waiting for the administration to do it.
In fact, Brian, there are four things, very concrete acts that the US Congress could pass. The DETER Act, which ties new sanctions if there is interference, the PAVE Act, which provides for those paper ballots that the President just talked about, the Fire Act, just introduced a couple of weeks ago which -- not just allows but makes all campaigns have to report on foreign activity that they have, and then the honest ads act.
So there are four acts, Fire, PAVE, DETER and Honest Ads act. They`re all drafted. There`s -- to me it`s just a no-brainer. Those acts need to be passed now before the 2020 election.
WILLIAMS: Malcolm, give us a consumer`s guide. At the end of this broadcast, you and I go home, we`re just a guy with a phone. We`re scrolling through whatever we scroll through, social media, whatever our favorites are. Tell us how folks with their phone at home at night are affected by the Russian reach into just take social media. Is it visible to us? Is it invisible to us? What would we notice? What would we not know we`re being hit with Russian interference?
NANCE: Well, it`s extremely visible and the Mueller report itself made clear that Russia`s reach into the mindset, really, of the United States public, they reached 129 million voters through their disinformation warfare campaign, which was then amplified by the platform that it was on, which is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others.
So you don`t initially know whether you`re reading something that`s true or false. For example, Hillary Clinton stumbles and has a brain disorder. That was a piece of propaganda which was fashioned by an American citizen, but then was amplified through this enormous cyber mega phone that the Russians had put in place, team Trump had put in place, and it became a real story.
The biggest problem is, to a certain extent, us, the news media. We are the medium in which false stories grow. And so, once the media starts learning to police itself and not jump out, you know, after every rabbit that pops up out of a hole and chases it, then, you know, and we clear that with, you know, third party organizations or through our own research and we realize when we are being taken for a ride with real information that may just be -- have a false basis and may be just a vehicle for the news media to be a mega phone for more distraction.
WILLIAMS: And Mike McFaul, if you`re watching on a flat screen TV in the basement of the Kremlin, are you interested when Donald Trump comes out on the South Lawn prior to boarding Marine One and goes after the chief prosecutor in this case, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller?
MCFAUL: You`re loving it. You know, this is what they wanted. They wanted to sow division in America. They wanted this polarization, this weakness that we see now abroad. And, you know, they think that this has been a very good thing, in terms of us fighting against each other. That means we`re not talking about the Russian threat. That`s exactly what they had anticipated and that`s what they have received so far. We`ve got to start pushing back on that.
WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, we knew by inviting you on this would be the sobering segment of the evening. You lived up to expectations, Michael McFaul, Malcolm Nance, thank you, as always, for coming on our broadcast tonight.
Another break for us and coming up, Trump calls it a well-meaning gesture, others calling it a disgrace. The latest on the stunning order issued by the White House, at least an official inside the White House that in the process shamed once again a great American name.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it`s fair to the sailors of the John McCain that they were banned from hearing you speak simply because they serve on the McCain?
TRUMP: Yes. I don`t know what happened. I wasn`t involved. I would not have done that. I was very angry with John McCain because he killed healthcare. I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape or form. To me, John McCain, I wasn`t a fan, but I would never do a thing like that. Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn`t like him, OK, and they were well-meaning, I will say.
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WILLIAMS: Here`s something to think about. John McCain`s mother, Roberta McCain, is 107 years old. She can hear this. She is aware of the President`s attacks on her son. She`s an admiral`s widow and an admiral`s daughter-in-law and the mother of a POW, the three generations of McCains in the US Navy for whom the USS John McCain was named.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report on e-mails exchanged between the White House and the Navy ahead of Trump`s trip to Japan. A copy of the e-mail obtained by CNBC reads, "USS John McCain needs to be out of sight."
According to the journal to comply, a tarp was hung over the ship`s name ahead of the President`s trip and sailors were directed to remove any coverings from the ship that bore its name. You can see the Trump in question in a photo taken during Trump`s trip. Sailors from the McCain were also apparently barred from the President`s event.
Senator McCain`s death changed nothing about how the President talks about him. It all stems from McCain`s thumbs down vote that upheld Obamacare and coverage of pre-existing conditions. His daughter, Meghan McCain, responded to Trump`s attacks on "The View" today.
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MEGHAN MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN`S DAUGHTER: I will say, the President`s actions have consequences, and when you repeatedly are attacking my father and war heroes, it creates a culture in the military where people are clearly fearful to show, you know, my father`s name in one way or another.
It`s impossible to go through the grief process when my father, who has been dead ten months, is constantly in the news cycle because the President is so obsessed with the fact that he`s never going to be a great man like he was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: As for who might have been responsible for this, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee has called for an investigation along with, notably, Republican Martha McSally, who happens to be a US Air Force combat veteran, also happens to sit on that committee and filled John McCain`s seat in the Senate after his death.
Another break for us and coming up, we don`t get to report this often, but someone last seen in the Oval Office is reportedly now in a prison camp. The story coming up when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is a reminder of who we`re dealing with in North Korea.
The Reuters News Agency is reporting that the North has executed Kim Hyok- chol, its special envoy to the US, because Kim Jong-un apparently blames his foreign ministry for the collapse of the summit with Trump three months ago. But wait, there`s more.
They cite a South Korean newspaper report that Kim Yong-chol who had been US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo`s counterpart, in the run-up to the summit, he is also said to have been subjected to forced labor and idealogical education. That can leave a mark.
You may remember him. He`s the guy who had been in the Oval Office. He delivered the giant letter to a grinning president of the United States. They say, "The North Korean leader is believed to be carrying out a massive purge to divert attention away from internal turmoil and discontent," according to the newspaper. They say at least one other negotiator and an interpreter have been sent to prison camps. And don`t buy stock in Kim Jong-un`s sister either. She is apparently lying low in, quote, "Since the summit."
And just as a reminder of how this North Korean regime talks, I want to read for you a commentary from a North Korean paper with the reminder that all North Korean media is state-run. So imagine you`re reading this if you`re Kim Jong-un`s sister knowing he already executed your own uncle.
And we quote, "Acting like one is revering the leader in front of others but dreaming of something else when one turns around is an anti-party, anti-revolutionary act that has thrown away the moral fidelity toward the leader and such people will not avoid the stern judgment of the revolution." Interesting times these are in North Korea.
That is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so much for being here with us and good night from our 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