ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tom gets tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts right now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, after touring the battlefields of France where he took time out to fight with Nancy Pelosi, the President returns home to battle Nancy Pelosi who may have more say over his political future than any other individual right now.
Plus, an act of aggression on the high seas as a Russian destroyer comes very close to hitting a U.S. navy vessel that`s forced to take evasive action. Admiral William McRaven here with us for analysis tonight.
And the President takes on NASA for going to the moon, reversing his own goal of going back to the moon. He then claimed the moon is part of mars as good people everywhere were left to wonder what on earth he was talking about, and as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Friday night.
Well, good evening, once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 869 of the Trump administration. The President returns to the White House and his political battles after a five-day trip to the U.K., Ireland and France.
While onboard Air Force One on the way home, couldn`t help himself, Trump sounded like a man who couldn`t wait to get back to work. He wrote, "Heading back to D.C. many great things are happening for our country."
Tonight Trump announced that a deal has been reached with Mexico on illegal immigration and, "The tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday against Mexico are hereby and definitely suspended." More on that just ahead.
Politico points out what it calls the harsh reality of what`s ahead for Trump who is, "returning to a feud with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi," also noting, "intensifying oversight probes." That can hurt.
While Trump was primarily overseas to participate in events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, he was also on a state visit to the U.K, let`s not forget, which was long on pageantry and opportunities to sound and act presidential.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This week, we commemorate a mighty endeavor of righteous nations and one of the greatest undertakens in all of history.
I offer a toast to the eternal friendship of our people.
Last night was really quite unbelievable with the queen, because that is a great woman.
The enemy is strong. And we know by thy grace and the righteous of our cause, our sons will triumph.
This beach code named Omaha was defended by the Nazis with monstrous firepower. It was here that tens of thousands of the Americans came.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: About the London visit, despite the President`s claims to the contrary, he was not widely welcomed in that city. Just judging by the protesters which he interpreted differently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As I said, where the are protests? I don`t see any protests.
PIERS MORGAN, GOOD MORNING BRITAIN HOST: You were not able to serve in Vietnam because of a burn spur condition --
TRUMP: Well, I was never a fan of that war. I thought it was very far away.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: You said you don`t care if Mueller testifies.
TRUMP: Let me tell you, he made such a fool out of himself. Nancy Pelosi is a disaster, OK? She`s a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, that attack on Pelosi came in the wake of reports that in a private meeting she told her caucus she want to see Trump in prison rather than impeached.
Trump continued his attacks today sending this from Air Force One and we quote, "Nervous Nancy Pelosi is a disgrace to herself and her family for having made such a disgusting statement, especially since I was with foreign leaders overseas. There is no evidence for such a thing to have been said. Nervous Nancy and Dems are getting zero work done in Congress and have no intention of doing anything other than going on a fishing expedition to see if they can find anything on me, both illegal and unprecedented in U.S. history. There was no collusion. Investigate the investigators."
Next weeks, House Democrats will ramp up their various investigations. They have announced a series of hearings related to the Mueller investigation with the first one beginning on Monday. House Judiciary Committee Attorney General Bill Barr, former White House Counsel Don McGahn and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for good measure are all facing potential contempt votes or possible legal action from the House.
Meanwhile, the President will also be confronted with a legislature that has by no means tabled the discussion of impeachment. Here`s the wall of faces and names. Today, the lone Republican congressman in this sea of faces who is in favor of impeachment was laying out his case for a move against the President based on the findings from the Mueller report.
Judiciary Committee member, David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, was much more direct in his assessment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D) RHODE ISLAND, JUDICIARY CMTE.: No one in the country including the President of the United States is above the law. We`re going to get to the truth, we`re going to follow the facts where they take us. We have to stop hoping the President is suddenly going to behave, as if he will going to honor the rule of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There are also new reports unfolding in the cases spun off by the original Mueller investigation. Tonight, Politico is reporting a former aide to one-time Trump adviser, the unforgettable Roger Stone, has given a grand jury all of his text messages between him and Stone from October 2016 to March of 2017. Plus, the written agenda for Stone when he was at the Republican National Convention back in 2016.
On that note here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night, Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for The Associated Press, Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for Politico, and Elliot Williams, former federal prosecutor, who was also deputy assistant attorney general and counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee once upon a time. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Jill Colvin, this tariff debacle which was averted to coin a phrase at "The 11th Hour", in your view, was it ever real, in your view, how real is this deal they worked out? Have you seen anything on paper with something like State Department letterhead yet?
JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it was certainly real in the eyes of many White House staffers who believed up until some point yesterday that the President was really going to go through with this and were making preparations for the President to impose these tariffs. It seemed like he was really into the idea, but then again, it`s very difficult for anybody to speak on the President`s behalf while he`s out of the country and you`ve got staff-level negotiators who are at the table.
We did see very late tonight the State Department did put out a document that describes the deal that Mexico agreed to. According to them, it does include some changes. For instance, we already knew that Mexico had agreed to deploy their national guard throughout the country and to their southern border with Guatemala. That was something that Mike Pence and the President had really been pushing for.
They`ve also agreed to sort of accept this thing that the White House has already been doing, that the U.S. government has already been doing, where when people come and they request asylum, they`re asked to wait for their cases to be processed on the Mexico side of the border. Mexico has now agreed to embrace this policy and to expand this policy. But that`s something they`ve already been doing. And one of the big White House asks here, asking Mexico to basically overhaul its entire asylum system, we`re not seeing in this agreement.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Nancy, our mutual friend, A.B. Stoddard, writes the following, "Majority leader Mitch McConnell knows any relief from a deal will only be temporary. McConnell has a uniquely honed long view. What he can see down the road ahead to Election Day is the President`s fondness for tariffs and other drastic threats and the majority he leads in peril."
Well, two points here, number one, it`s good for the President to have a human backstop in the Senate. Number two, the majority leader has another day job which is providing for all of us beyond the strategy and the game of it all.
NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, I think that what we saw this week while the President was abroad and having all these ceremonial events, some of them somber, some of them just sort of fun, and full of pomp and circumstance, was that people who were here at the White House this week, and I talked to a bunch of them, were inundated with calls from Republicans on the Hill, particularly Republican senators who did not want these tariffs. And think part of the reason that this agreement was reached was because we saw a potential fracturing between Republican lawmakers on the Hill who have mostly gone along with the Trump agenda but who are really starting to balk at the idea of tariffs. And I think there was a real hope on the part of the White House officials that were here this week that Trump would back down a bit.
And I know Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Air Force One as they were returning from the U.K. tonight or Ireland, excuse me, was trying to, you know, talk to the President about a deal. And this is in part a response to Republican lawmakers like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Elliot, if the Democrats in the House find their legal voice, so far it seems they`ve been limited to writing these letters that say some version of why I ought to, if they find their legal voice, how much of a real legal threat could they pose to this administration? How soon?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the how soon is the big point because the real legal threat will come from these contempt citations that are coming up, so, you know, as you teased the beginning of the segment, Brian, Wilbur Ross and William Barr, the two Cabinet officials, are, you know, going to face contempt votes in Congress this week, which ultimately means Congress is approving a lawsuit against -- that`s what it means in plain language, right, Congress is voting to approve the right to sue them, to get them to come appear.
Now, right now, that`s what`s going to make this work, like kicking this matter into the courts. It`s clear that the President and the administration aren`t going to send their witnesses to testify before Congress or face legal peril just by virtue of Congress being a co-equal branch of government so you got to go to the courts but the problem is courts take a notoriously slow time. And so when we live in a world and the President clearly lives in a world of Twitter and immediacy, courts will take, you know, weeks and if not months to resolve things.
But the trouble to the President is if his folks start getting ordered by courts to show up and testify and give documents to Congress. Now, the other thing is that as all this litigation and these other cases are percolating, the President as we know has never met a bright shiny thing he didn`t like. And just gets distracted easily, and the tweets and the -- and so on.
And so, even if there isn`t immediate legal peril to the President, the mere fact that cases and matters are still percolating will distract the President and keep the tweets and keep the private conversations that trickle out going. And I think, you know, that gets in the way of the President`s underlying agenda. Because let`s be clear, as long as the President is having private conversations in the White House about how furious he is about Nancy Pelosi and tweeting about how Mueller is, you know, as long as he`s doing those things, he`s not focused on putting kids in cages. And to some extent, there`s a value in that.
WILLIAMS: And Elliot, second question, in normal times, how big a deal would that John Dowd voicemail have been? Leaving a voicemail on his opponent`s counsel`s phone to say, in effect, we hope you`ll do the right thing.
E. WILLIAMS: I wish I could -- I wish we had a few hours to talk about if we were in normal times.
E. WILLIAMS: All the things that would have been fatal to a presidency at this point going back to, frankly, the President not releasing his tax returns in 2015, but that ship has sailed and let`s move on.
So, on the John Dowd voicemail, it`s interesting, it was in the Mueller report, you and I talked about it a week ago tonight. It was in the report and people read it, but there`s just something to hearing it. The recording was made public yesterday. I would urge people to listen b to it. And it just has a different narrative impact when people hear the attorney for the President stuttering and pausing and being deliberate and very meticulous in the words he`s choosing but ultimately, and in an almost mob boss like way, leaning on a witness and trying to get a witness, trying to force or push a witness or at least hide behind national security as a means of just trying to get information out of another witness.
So, under normal times it would be horrible and almost devastating to a presidency. All of this, and getting back to the John Dowd voicemail, all of this, I think, leads to the conclusion that we need to hear from Robert Mueller, himself, or someone from the special counsel team. It`s one thing to have a 448-page report that no one in America has read except you and me and Nancy and Jill, the folks on this panel, that`s one thing. It`s another thing to hear an individual say in plain language this is what my findings are, this is what the voicemail says, this is what the voicemail sounds like, and I think that will resonate with millions of people in a way that`s sort of a sterile act of just reading a report hasn`t thus far.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Nancy, I hope this isn`t an oxymoron, but when they`re being honest, how do you think this White House feels about this trip?
COOK: I think that they would probably think that it went pretty well. I mean, you know, Trump did display, you know, some moments of presidentialness and calm. You know, he gave a great speech or the short speech that he gave at the D-Day ceremony, I think they thought that that went well. He interacted with the queen in a pretty good way. There was no major breach of protocol. And the President seemed happy with those meetings.
You know, there were lower points that i feel like they would gloss over like him giving an interview with Laura Ingraham right before the white crosses in that cemetery. But I would say, you know, the bar is a little bit lower with this President in terms of the way that he acts on foreign trips and how he constantly gets dragged into Twitter fights or dragged back into domestic politics.
And I feel like on this particular trip, it was a bit more of an even keel for him. And I think that they walked away pretty happy with it. I feel like we`ll have to wait to see until Monday because often the President is reacting to news coverage of the trips in realtime and so we`ll have to get through the weekend and see how he reacts to the headlines and the news programs and how those, you know, how the news need media and how we sum it up this weekend.
WILLIAMS: And Jill, you started us off. I`d like you to provide the last word. Is -- have we seen all the evidence we need to see that Nancy Pelosi has broken through? Perhaps except in the amount of power she wields right now politically because she has a very big decision to make about this President`s immediate political future.
COLVIN: She does, indeed, and it seems very clear that the President recognizes it. I mean, the way that he lashed out at her in that interview with Laura Ingraham, as Nancy described just sitting there with all of those crosses behind him in this hallowed ground and going after her, he is angry. He is no longer interested in working with her. He`s looking to undercut her.
It`s going to be really interesting, actually, to see the way the President sort of fully unleashed against her. It goes toe to toe with Pelosi.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, gang. Our big three on a Friday night after another long week, it seems. Jill Colvin, Nancy Cook, Elliot Williams, our thanks.
And coming up for us, an incredibly close call on the high seas as a Russian destroyer comes within feet of crashing into a U.S. navy guided missile cruiser. Admiral William McRaven will be with us next.
And later, Trump`s latest unexpected, somewhat confusing attack, against a large government agency. As "the 11th hour" is just getting started on this Friday night as Abe Lincoln looks on.
WILLIAMS: As you`ll understand when you see this video, a near collision between a U.S. warship and a Russian destroyer in the Philippine Sea is raising tensions between the two countries. The navy released this video taken from the U.S. side. It shows the Russian destroyer barreling toward a U.S. navy guided missile cruiser. The USS Chancellorsville closing to a distance of about 50 feet, forcing the 10,000-ton American vessel to slam its throttles into reverse, in effect, all back full. The Russian vessel was close enough to be able to see Russian sailors sunbathing on the deck.
U.S. officials say these images serve as evidence that the act was intentional. They point to the wake from the ship to show the change in course. According to the navy, the ship, "accelerated and closed to an unsafe distances," forcing the Americans to "maneuver to avoid collision." The incident prompted this reaction from Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY: The behavior is unsafe and unprofessional. We`ll have military-to-military conversations with the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Russia disputes the navy`s accounts saying it was the Americans who crossed their path. U.S. plans a formal protest, as you just heard.
With us again tonight, Admiral William McRaven. He retired with four stars, commanded all U.S. special forces including supervision of the raid that killed Bin Laden. He happens to be the author of the new book, already a "New York Times" bestseller, "Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations."
Admiral, welcome back to the broadcast. What does that video tell you? What does this incident tell you?
ADM. WILIAM MCRAVEN, U.S. NAVY (RET.): Yes, thanks, Brian, Great to be with you.
Well, first, incredibly irresponsible on the part of the Russians to conduct high-speed maneuver that close to the USS Chancellorsville. The fact of the matter is had either helmsman on the Chancellorsville or on the Russian ship, you know, made a slight change of course, you would have had collision at sea that would have put American sailors at risk and Russian sailors as well.
But I think more to the point, this is really kind of Putin flexing his muscles again. You know, he flexed them in Crimea and the Ukraine and Syria, intervention in our election process, so sooner or later we`re going to have to figure out a way to send a message to the Russians that, frankly, this kind of behavior is inappropriate. Not just the election meddling, but the interaction with our Navy and our Air Forces, you know, around the world.
WILLIAMS: I want to read you what a mutual friend of ours said, he also happened to retire with four-stars on his shoulder, Barry McCaffrey. "This is an indication of terrible indiscipline by this Russian captain. He was doing this at his own initiative. Shows you the level of animosity which pervades their armed forces. This kind of behavior now common. Russian military actually second-tier threat." Do you concur?
MCRAVEN: I do concur. I mean, the Russians have been, frankly, a second- tier threat for a long time. That doesn`t mean they`re not a threat and that doesn`t mean we don`t need to pay attention to them. But it does show the lack of discipline on the part of the Russian navy and, frankly, in any military unit if you don`t have good discipline, good order in discipline, then that shows the quality of the navy. And clearly the Russians don`t have the discipline necessary to prevent and action like this by their captain at sea.
WILLIAMS: Admiral, we haven`t t you since this incident which I imagine pains you, as the vessel was named for two U.S. admirals and one POW, your reaction to these reports since confirmed that the USS John McCain was ordered kept out of the view of the commander in chief while in port.
MCRAVEN: Well, I will tell you, I take the President at his word that he didn`t know that the White House had requested this. And having worked in the White House for a couple years, you know, the sad thing is I think it reflects the character of the White House. So the White Houses take on personality of the man in the Oval Office.
I will tell you, however, that from everything I understand, the navy declined the request to shield the name of John McCain from the commander in chief and I`m proud of the navy for not allowing that to happen. To your point, you know, you have not only Senator McCain, POW McCain, but his father and his grandfather, three remarkable naval officers that have tremendous history, all three of them heroes. And so, again, I think the Navy made the right decision not to shield the name of the McCain and, you know, hopefully that`s a good message back to the White House.
WILLIAMS: Just while we`re on the subject here, of course, the senator`s son makes for the fourth generation of McCain serving in the U.S. Navy. Can you think of a modern history American family with that much influence in one branch of the service?
MCRAVEN: Yes, nobody comes to mind. There are clearly some legacies out there. Some remarkable legacies. McArthur obviously had a father who served. You know, Roosevelt. So there are some great family legacies but in the Navy, the name, McCain, John McCain, is at the top of the list.
WILLIAMS: Another question about the commander in chief has to do with some hallowed ground, perhaps the most serious piece of land to Americans anywhere outside this country and that is Cauville-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast of France. Your reaction to his behaving in anything but a completely solemn manner. I`m speaking, of course, about the Fox News interview.
MCRAVEN: Right. Well, I think he struck the right tone on his D-Day speech. I mean, he showed the appropriate dignity and honor for those that had landed on the beach on June 6th. So, I appreciate the fact that in his kind of formal remarks, he acted presidential and, again, showed the right level of dignity to those that serve.
I was, obviously, disappointed by his remarks on Fox News. You know, petty politics has no place when the President is standing on hallowed ground. Hallowed ground, as you mentioned. And I certainly wish he hadn`t have done that.
WILLIAMS: Admiral William McRaven, thank you for coming back on the broadcast and taking our questions tonight. To our viewers, once again, his book is called "Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations." Our great thanks.
MCRAVEN: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, our next stop on our trip down I-95 happens to be our last stop in New England. Steve Kornacki returns to the big board and explains the unlikely role played by this late primary state back in 2016 when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We don`t like to let an hour go by without reminding you the first Democratic presidential debates here on this very network are just 19 days away and we`re continuing our series, "The Road to Miami," where Steve Kornacki is traveling along the teeming I-95 corridor from Maine to Florida telling us everything we need to know about the states along the way.
Tonight, we`re crossing from Rhode Island into what they used to call the land of steady habits. The constitution state. The great state of Connecticut. And with us again tonight, our national political correspondent Steve Kornacki. Hey, Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian. That`s right. Here it is, our final New England State on this journey. This is the last one before we head down to New York. Connecticut. They also call it, of course, the nutmeg state. Some of the sites, some of the attractions we saw today, we resisted the urge to do some gambling at Foxwoods. We crossed that line separating where all the Red Sox fans live and all the Yankees fans live. A little bit of an east/west divide there. Had some pizza in New Haven. Saw the mansions down in Greenwich. The gold coast they call it.
You`re wondering maybe why is there a jail on this map. Why is there a prison on this map? This was actually the funniest part of our day in Connecticut. We took a little detour up Route 8 to the city of Waterbury, full disclosure, that is my mom`s hometown. But Waterbury also has a reputation for, I`m not sure how to put this, massive political corruption. I think is what I`m trying to say. They had recently three consecutive mayors from Waterbury faced criminal charges. They produced a governor, John Rolland, who went to prison twice. He just got out, in fact, I think it was a year ago last week. There`s all sorts to old stories in Waterbury about rigging here regularities voting the dead Joe Lieberman used to say he wanted to be buried in Waterbury so that he can remain politically active the reputation of the brass city. But I love that place, I love Waterbury.
So that`s what we saw in Connecticut. But in terms of its relevance to the presidential race next year. Well we know Connecticut is generally been a solidly blue state. And here`s the deal, too. Here`s the primary, look where it falls on the calendar next year. You got Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Super Tuesday, all these other states, way at the end of April.
You get to the Connecticut primary. There`s a good chance this thing will be settled by the time they get there. There have not been many consequential Connecticut primaries. Memorable moment came when Bill Clinton got stunned by Jerry Brown in `92. But I tell you what, Connecticut, maybe its most significant moment was the last time around. Was the rise of Donald Trump.
Remember this. Remember the Wisconsin primary in early April 2016? Remember Ted Cruz beat Trump? This is when folks said, hey, that Republican establishment is getting its act together. They`re uniting behind Cruz. They figured out how to beat Trump. Maybe Cruz is going to win the nomination. Maybe the establishment is going to stop Trump. And then where did the race go after that Wisconsin primary? It went to a bunch of states in the northeast. Pennsylvania. Connecticut was one of those states and it turned out Trump was extra strong with Republican voters in this region. He won every single one of these states. They weren`t even close. That included Connecticut. You see there, Trump got 58%, John Kasich 29%. Very distant second. That was winner take all. He won all the delegates there, won the bulk of delegates in all those contest in that.
Brian, I think that night, if you remember it, is when we really knew Donald Trump was going to be the nominee when he swept those states after losing Wisconsin.
WILLIAMS: We remember that. I think we were here in this very room. Steve, we`re loving this tour. Next week we get to the state we`re sitting in right now. After that, we get to my home state, that`s gravy as we go south. Steve Kornacki, have a great weekend --
WILLIAMS: -- thank you so much for your contributions here this week.
Coming up for us, it`s the reason we`re told we can sleep soundly at night. Our National Security. So how do you feel? Do you feel like you know the members of the National Security Council? That`s where our next guest comes in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you satisfied with the advice you received from John Bolton?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Yes. John`s very good. John is a -- he has strong views on things, but that`s OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing, isn`t it? Nobody thought that was going to -- I`m the one that tempers him. But that`s OK. I have different sides. I mean, I have John Bolton and I have other people that are a little more dovish than him and ultimately I make the decision.
WILLIAMS: Lot of talk about the tenure of this President`s third national security adviser. Reports circulating that Trump is frustrated with longtime neocon hawk John Bolton who`s been pushing regime change in Iran for decades, just for starters. In a new book on the history of the National Security Council, author John Gans writes quote, "no one knows whether Bolton will continue as adviser or be fired over Twitter tomorrow. As the world and Washington wait and interpret Trump`s tweets for the latest on who`s up and down in a mecurial White House, the NSCs history with its tendency to fight for the President and capitalize on disorder and government makes the Trump and Bolton staff worth watching closely, particularly as the President pushes for more aggressive policy on trade, Iran, and more."
And so with us tonight is the author, John Gans, a former chief speech writer over at The Pentagon. He`s now Director of Communications and Research at the University of Pennsylvania`s Global Policy Institute. His new book, "White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Changed the American Way of War."
Thank you so very much for coming on. Let`s start with what is the NSC and when was it born? What`s the short answer you`d tell someone who learned what you just wrote when they`re sitting next to you on a plane?
JOHN GRANS, AUTHOR, "WHITE HOUSE WARRIORS": Well I just tell them that Franklin Roosevelt won World War II without a National Security Council. But the rest of the government kind of thought it needed one, because he kept things pretty tight, and kept it secrets to themselves, and didn`t talk to many people. But a lot of government at a time of global war, at a time of nuclear weapons, wanted to bring everybody together into one room. They created a council to include the President, secretary of state, secretary of defense and others. And when Congress said, hey, we`re getting all the big names in the room, we have to give them a little staff to help them make sure they show up on time and keep the minutes.
WILLIAMS: And let`s talk about that staff. That staff has also been referred to as the deep state.
WILLIAMS: My question to you is, how much of the NSC stays intact at the NSC from president to president to president? What is the there, there beyond the political appointees?
GANS: So the -- from that humble secretarial beginning as grown almost to 300 or 400-person staff in the heart of government.
GANS: Depending, you know, shrinks and grows a little bit with every new change. But you basically have, you know, a 30, 40 person political appointees who change with the President. But the rest of the staff is mostly held over. So they`re made up of appointees from all the different branches of government. The intelligence community, Defense Department and they stick around. They`re sort of considered the holdovers or the civil servants and they`re supposed to create continuity in government between changes in President.
WILLIAMS: Do you -- is it fair to point them as kind of a moderating force, a moderating presence?
GANS: I think they can be. They certainly can be and they can certainly be a source of consistency. But the issue is that what you have is a relatively unaccountable power. The National Security adviser, none of the staffers, are -- nor confirmed or even ever held to hearings in Congress. They never give press briefings. They rarely are seen by the public. And so what you have is they are a force of consistency, they are centralizing, they help bring things together. But also have a unique opportunity to help shape policy especially during breakdowns in government behind the scenes.
WILLIAMS: They also have been there when we`ve gotten into trouble. The NSC did not throw its collective body in front of 43 when he decided to invade Iraq. After the Iraqis took down zero of our buildings in lower Manhattan.
GANS: Yes. I mean, if you look at actually, and I look at the NSC from President Truman to President Trump, the NSC has been there at every sort of escalation in American war, from Vietnam to Iraq. And the best example is the surge in Iraq. Which was after, obviously, the invasion. But there was literally when President Bush decided to make the surge in January of 2007, nobody on his cabinet was in agreement with him other than Vice President Cheney.
Basically the Secretary of State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, everybody had opposition. But it was a few NSC staffers with the help of the National Security adviser who helped develop a surge from just an idea and helped fight for it, push it to the President and the President ultimately decided upon it. And in done at time again for our history and I`m sure there`s NSC staffers, they`re helping pushing President Trump in a direction that we don`t really know right now.
WILLIAMS: If memory serves, the first NSC-related headline of the Trump era was the fact that as much of Washington was horrified to learn Steve Bannon was sitting in on NSC meetings, what do you tell people about the state and health of the National Security Council thus far in this presidency?
GANS: Well, I think the NSC has been the heart of the collision between a very irregular, unconventional President, somebody like President Trump who`s never served in government, never served in the military. And really the regular order of Washington, right. The way things have been running for 30, 40 years. And so, there was always going to be some tension. But it has been at times pure conflagrations.
And part of that is how he`s decide to do things, whether there was appointing Michael Flynn who had very strong opinions, had been fired from government before.
WILLIAMS: What did he call hissing a accolades?
GANS: They call that -- the people appointed to the NSC staff flintstones. So, you know, that National Security people aren`t without a sense of humor, at least. But so he created -- he brought in a lot of uncertain, irregular people with them and they sort of had a bad mix with the current -- with the existing government.
And so you`ve had a lot of fights along the way. You had a lot of dramas behind the scenes. And there have been a few moments of peace but this President behind the scenes has been one steady source of drama and irregularity behind the scenes in government which is scary in National Security. It might be sort of the way things go on domestic security but in national security with the highest stakes, you do worry about this kind of instability.
WILLIAMS: As Ph.D.`s turned authors go, your timing is pretty impeccable.
GANS: Wow, thank you very much.
WILLIAMS: And I wish you well with the book. John Gans, again, is the author of "White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Changed the American Way of War." Our thanks for stopping by.
Coming up for us, a look back on a week for the history books with a Pulitzer Prize winning historian who knows from history books, when we come back.
TRUMP: The meeting with the Queen was incredible. I think I can say I really got to know her because I sat with her many times and we had automatic chemistry.
There are those that say they have never seen the Queen have a better time, a more animated time.
I look at the weather we have, we have beautiful weather. It`s been this way wherever I`ve been. She`s a terrible person, and I`ll tell you, the name, it`s Nervous Nancy because she`s a nervous wreck.
We have Cryin` Chuck Schumer who`s a disaster, by the way. He`s a total political, you know, jerk.
WILLIAMS: Just a small assortment of the more jarring comments from the President on a Fox News interview with just over 9,000 headstones of American war heroes just over his shoulder there. Some of the most hallowed and haunting ground on earth.
With us this evening, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Presidential historian, Jon Meacham. His latest work is out next week. Co-authored with Tim McGraw. It`s called "Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest And The Music That Made The Nation".
Jon, I`ve been trying to come up with a question to stump the band and it`s not easy and here it is. Explain --
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes.
WILLIAMS: -- an institution, the U.S. presidency, with the elasticity and forgiveness to have as part of the same club, the same lineage, FDR, Eisenhower and Donald Trump?
MEACHAM: It`s the genius of America. It`s the remarkable resilience of we, the people, ourselves. I really do believe that, you know, when you write history as when you`re doing minute-to-minute journalism, you`re always seeking continuities and contrasts, right? And what you -- when you think about something like the D-Day commemoration, you go back to 1964 when former President Eisenhower went with Walter Cronkite, walked on the beaches and warned about the wages -- the costs of war, the importance of peace.
Very much in 1964, the same year as the Daisy Ad that Lyndon Johnson aired against Barry Goldwater. Very much a Cold War moment. Eisenhower, the warrior who understood peace, warning us about heedless and the cost of war.
You go to 1984, President Reagan turning D-Day and Operation Overlord into an essential chapter in the story of American restoration. You go to Bill Clinton in 1994, the generational shift, when these men were young, they changed the world, and when we are young, we have our duty to do. You go to George W. Bush, in `04, the same week Ronald Reagan died, he`s talking about alliances, projection of force, the need for moral authority. Barack Obama, the need for an international order.
And now, is this a continuity to this week or a contrast? It is self- evidently a sharp contrast. And one of the things we`re going to be dealing with for a very long time is to go to some of the men you mention.
We had a fairly coherent political conversation in this country for about 75 to 80 years. It was ferocious and pitched and virulent and even violent. But Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama governed in the same vernacular more or less. Donald Trump doesn`t. And we have to figure out, do we want that vernacular to take root or do we not?
WILLIAMS: Here`s another way of putting it from our mutual friend Matt Miller, formally of the Justice Department. So, this week Trump continued his feud with a dead man, picked a new one with Bette Midler, attacked the royal family member, said Ireland should build the wall on its border with northern Ireland, that he didn`t serve in Vietnam because it was far away and the moon was part of Mars, cool, cool.
Jon, it is clear that the President saw this international trip as a chance to comment on desperate topics.
MEACHAM: Well a fascinating thing is to me is -- and you`ve been on a lot of these trips. You know, American Presidents and foreign travel for American president is really while they`re in office is a fairly recent phenomenon. So it`s really Roosevelt forward where they -- it`s a central feature of the presidency. But Nixon went to Egyptian to avoid Watergate. They used to leave the country to get away from domestic politics.
President Trump has flattened the world. He takes these fights with him. And deploys the various foreign moments to fight these Twitter battles and these counter punching, punching battles, whatever you want to call them. He`s basically a 24/7 professional wrestler who happens to have the nuclear codes. And the choice facing the country and whether it`s congressional action and impeachment, or the fast-approaching election, is this who we want in charge of our affairs?
Is this who we want chatting up the Queen of England? Is it who we want when the crisis comes we`re going to depend on his judgment? And perhaps his alone.
WILLIAMS: It is all help me thinking back I interviewed President Obama almost on the very spot as that interview. And of course we kept to the one topic, generally the military, but certainly the sacrifice represented by the Stars of David and crosses behind us.
The President seemed genuinely interested that the beach had the code name of Omaha. Genuinely interested to learn of the casual he`s face by the first wave. He remarked to Macron. He signed a D-Day proclamation, we`ll put it on the screen. Guess which signature was Donald Trump`s? Those of you who guessed upper left in blue ink, that would be correct.
Jon, it was unlike to your previous points, any other trip that any of our chief executives have made in these 75 intervening years since this event that changed the world.
MEACHAM: It did and it was long time coming and it was not the end, but the beginning of the end. Many Americans, many allies spilled a lot of blood and gave a lot of sacrifice on the road to Berlin and we shouldn`t forget that. Unimaginable, isn`t it, the way -- to think of this American President in the same frame with the way the 32nd President, the commander in chief, 12 years in office, four times elected, decided to commemorate that day in realtime.
The only remarks Franklin Roosevelt made in public on June 6, 1944, was to read a prayer of his own composition, that he`d written the weekend before using of this -- oh this Book of Common Prayer is Paul Watson (ph), his Chief of Staff`s House, that was in the shadow of (INAUDIBLE). And it`s a remarkable document. I would commend everybody if they`re not totally D- Day out, to take one more moment over the weekend and just read Franklin Roosevelt`s D-Day prayer and try to imagine it being prayed today by this President. And that will tell us how far we`ve fallen.
WILLIAMS: Jon Meacham, our thanks as always for being with us. Jon, talked about contrast and continuity. We`ll be back with a story that contains both.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight. Here is Mike Pence with his serious face on speaking in his capacity as the head of the President`s Space Council trying to summon his inner JFK a little over two months ago.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: As President Trump said, we will return American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.
The President has directed NASA and administrator Jim Bridenstine to accomplish this goal by any means necessary.
WILLIAMS: So we`re going to the moon. The lack of a robust audience response there may have been because people were surprised to hear it or didn`t believe it or both. But since then, the President repeated that goal three weeks ago on Twitter right there, we`re going back to the moon, then Mars. Then we said it out loud a week ago.
TRUMP: We`ll be going to the moon. We`ll be going to Mars very soon. It`s very exciting.
WILLIAMS: But then today came this and it`s a barn burner. And we quote, "For all the money we are spending, NASA should not be talking about going to the moon. We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing including Mars, of which the moon is a part, Defense and Science".
Forgetting for the moment that this completely erases the work of Mike Pence as head of the President`s Space Council, we cannot emphasize how much the moon is not a part of Mars. For starters, Mars is a planet. You can get to the moon in three days give or take. Mars is a seven months trip because, again largely because Mars is a planet that is far away, that the moon is not a part of.
The President`s change of heart may have had to do with Neil Cavuto, who questions why we`re going back to the moon? That was on Fox Business. While the President was on board the plane, his tweet followed shortly after. Sometimes, that`s all it takes.
In hopes that we`ve clear that out, that is our broadcast for this Friday and this week. 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