LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Chris Sommerfeldt, great reporting. Thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news tonight, define U.S. law and his own FBI director, the President admits he take far endured on his opponent saying, "They have information, I think I`d take it."
And the breaking news from "The New York Times" tonight, it`s apparently happening. The Justice Department seeks to question CIA officers and Russia inquiry review. One of the reporters on the story is standing by to talk with us.
Hope Hicks will appear before the House Judiciary Committee next week behind close doors just as Don Jr. did with Senate Intel today.
And the President on his unexpected and beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un and new reporting on the young North Korean dictator. THE 11TH HOUR on a Wednesday night starts right now.
And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 874 of the Trump administration and just the past few hours we`ve had something of an avalanche of breaking news including if there is such a thing anymore of a stunning admission from the President himself.
As one veteran, Politico put it tonight, the President`s comments were shocking but not surprising. That came during an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News in which the President indicated he likely would have no problems accepting damaging information on a political opponent from a foreign power. It was response to a question about his son Don Jr. and that e-mail he received back in June 2016 from a business associate, the associate wrote the Russian government was willing to give the Trump campaign, "document and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be useful to your father." E-mail goes onto say the information "is part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump." Don Jr. response, "If it is what you say, I love it."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: Should he have gone to the FBI when he got that e-mail?
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK. Let`s put yourself in a position of New York congressman, somebody comes up and says "Hey, I have information from your opponent." Do you call the FBI? I don`t think --
STEPHANOPOULOS: If it`s coming from Russia, you do.
TRUMP: I`ll tell you what, I`ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don`t think in my whole life I`ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don`t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.
TRIMP: Well, that`s different, a stolen briefing book. This isn`t a stolen -- this is somebody that said, "We have information on your opponent." Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn`t work that way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that`s what should happen.
TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information for your opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?
TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don`t -- there`s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent. Oh, I think I`d want to hear it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that interference in our elections?
TRUMP: It`s not interference. They have information. I think I`d take it.
If I thought there was something wrong, I`d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. Oh, let`s call the FBI. The FBI doesn`t have enough agents to take care of it.
When you go and talk, honestly, to congressman, they all do it. They always have, and that`s the way it is. It`s called oppo research.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President`s comments came hours after his son had made a return appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. This time, responding to a subpoena, this time, to clarify inconsistencies between his earlier testimony and what`s actually written in the Mueller report regarding that Trump Tower meeting. After taking committee questions for three hours, behind closed doors, he told reporters he stood by his prior testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: It`s the reality there was nothing to change. If there needed to be clarification because Michael Cohen who is not forget is serving time right now for lying to these very investigative bodies. I`m happy to do that. I don`t think I changed anything of what I said because there was nothing to change.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, are you worried of perjury?
TRUMP JR.: Not at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And President Trump was asked about his son`s testimony today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your son Don Jr., is up before the Senate Intelligence Committee today. And again, he was not charged with anything. In retrospect though --
TRUMP: By the way, not only wasn`t he was not charged, if you read it, with all of the horrible fake news, I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go to jail, this is a good young man, that he was going to go to jail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: On another front, the President`s Attorney General William Barr is now conducting a review of the beginnings of the Russia investigation tonight. "The New York Times" reporting that Justice Department wants to question senior CIA officers as part of that review. Michael Schmidt one of four times bylines tonight joins us in a moment.
"The Times" notes that the Justice Department inner view plans indicate, "they are focused partly on the intelligence agencies` most explosive conclusion about the 2016 election that President Vladimir Putin of Russia intervened to benefit Donald Trump."
There`s also news tonight about Hope Hicks, the young woman who saw it all and heard it all from the campaign, right on through her position on the White House. She will appear before the House Judiciary Committee. It will be next week. It too will be behind close doors.
She`ll be the first former Trump`s aid to go before the committee and its obstruction investigation. Earlier this month, you recall the White House told Hicks not to cooperate with a subpoena for documents. And indeed, a White House lawyer will accompany her during her committee appearance.
Here for our lead-off discussion on Wednesday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Price-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post." Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Post," moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS. Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent, he`s also a distinguished research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and happens to be the author of "Messing with the Enemy, Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News." And the aforementioned, Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize- winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times."
Clint, gathering your past experience all up into one answer, your initial reaction tonight, is what the President saying illegal for viewers who have not heard. And how is a foreign leader to view what they just heard our President`s saying?
CLINT WATTS, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes, to put it shortly. I mean, the President`s job is to protect all Americans and not just some Americans from all enemies, foreign and domestics. We do not take any sort of influence or any sort of help at our elections from a foreign power at all.
Imagine these scenarios that play out from -- based on his statements tonight. If you are someone who has receive the ire (ph) of the President at different times, whether it`s Twitter or directly an ally, maybe you`re Germany or France, some of these countries that have been our long-term allies.
Right now you might be saying, "Well, if there is no boundaries to foreign influence, maybe I will take all the information I know about the current U.S. President and start feeding that to candidates or dumping it out on the open."
On the flip side, then we have our adversaries, whether it`s Russia, China, Iran, all who have done some sort of foreign influence in our elections in the past or try to manipulate the outcome of what we think in this country. You have just said, it`s a free for all. And hey, why don`t we look at this information? If it is good for me, I`ll use it and if not, maybe I`ll call the FBI or maybe not.
And then I think the third part is, we have the foreign influence task force of the FBI now. We have the U.S. government going around doing essentially counter intelligence briefs to all the democratic candidates.
Imagine you are one of the FBI agents or someone on those teams right now that`s going out doing those briefings, you turn on the television tonight and you hear the President say that the FBI director is wrong. This makes the mission almost impossible instead of looking at 2020 as an opportunity to really reset and make sure our elections are about America. Or essentially saying 2016 might be 2020 and we`re not going to pass this at all.
WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, before we talk to you, let`s all listen to what the FBI director said on this topic about a month ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I think my view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that`s something that the FBI would want to know about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Michael Schmidt, the question is after two plus years of an investigation to the elemental beginnings of his administration, is the President do you think aware of the weight of what he`s saying or was this just Wednesday in the Oval Office?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I`m not sure. I mean, even if he -- he obviously believes what he`s saying -- what they did during the 2016 campaign created so many problems for them. It`s surprising that they`d be willing to go down the same path again.
Even if they think they have done nothing wrong, they had the Mueller investigation, they still have committee on the Hill that are looking at this issue. And it was highly problematic and created an enormous at the very least, enormous perception issue for them.
So, I am not sure what it is, the President tends to dig in on things and he may think he`s simply just defending his son. But once again he is taking this Russia issue which they, you know, had moved past somewhat in the after math of the Mueller investigation and bringing it back to the forefront.
WILLIAMS: Ashley, no matter what we all hear tonight into tomorrow, the President stands alone on this amid all patriotic people in Washington. Has this just had the insularly effect of further uniting the resistance?
ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It`s a good question. I mean the truth is, some of these camps are already pretty firmly divided, what he in set their positions. So does it harden the resistance? Maybe. But the resistance was already probably there.
And one thing that is just so striking about all of this which bears repeating is all us as reporters we spend a ton of time calling sources, running around, trying to figure out what the President is saying privately behind closed doors when no one is there, when no one is listening. But sometimes, as you saw in this interview of George Stephanopoulos, and as you saw during the campaign, what he said. Russia, if you are listening, release the e-mails. The President publicly will sort of very publicly say the stuff that you can not possibly imagine that he would say.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, who`s around to recite the law of the land for the President? Who`s around to tell if there is any regret and do we all just wait to see if there is a Twitter walk back in a couple of hours?
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Inside of the administration, you have people like FBI Director Chris Wray who take an entirely different position than President Trump on this matter. But when you talk to the people who were around the President day in and day out, they say he does not see this issue as an ethical term or a national security term. What he sees is a personal terms only. It`s always about his legitimacy of his victory in 2016, he thinks any question about interference in 2016 is a question about his own legitimacy as President and they always say privately and publicly he has this knee jerk response of not taking the same approach as his own leaders inside the administration, inside the Pentagon and the national security apparatus.
WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, back to your work today it`s getting real as the DOJ investigates the investigators. Talk about despite the old saying that the truth will set you free. Talk about the chilling effect this may have on those who do intelligence for a living.
SCHMIDT: Well, it certainly will put the CIA even sort of in a weaker spot here in the entire thing. The interesting sort of phenomenon of what`s going on here is that the attorney general has essentially made himself an inspector general. He has made himself the person who`s going to go out and look at these other departments and get to the bottom of it.
Now, the government has an apparatus for it, it`s the inspector general. But he has done this himself which is unusual. This is not being done with criminal powers of the Justice Department. They`re going out and asking questions just to sort of find out facts, find out whether there were problems that need to be investigated further. And that`s unusual and that`s different and that`s what sets this all apart. So it sort of operating off to the side in a way that a typical criminal investigation would.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Clint, your colleagues determine it was Russia, you have written a book in part on what Russia did and how they work, what`s your reaction to this now getting relitigated using this precious time in the run-up to 2020?
WATTS: In terms of being the devil`s advocate, I like to think through big investigations that passed. And what you typically see is there will be a thorough review of any large investigation, whether it`s the Clinton e-mail investigation or going back to 9/11 or whatever it might be. And this would seem appropriate.
But, the difference is, the pattern which we have seen since Attorney General Barr has taken that position, which is to be selective in terms of information that is released and to put the contacts that they prefer on it. This is why sometimes I don`t trust that the right thing will be done.
I also think in terms of counter intelligence whether you are the FBI or the CIA, if you were assigned essentially to do foreign influence task force or to try and protect the 2020 election, would you want that mission right now if you are in one of those organizations? If you lead any investigation and depending on the political outcome, you will be the next one investigated. I think that`s a very tough position to put these long time civil servants in and it really hurts our capability sensation (ph) to defend against these kinds of things.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, oh by the way, two Cabinet officials were held in contempt of a House committee today, it`s about our federal senses. What do our viewers need to know about the story?
COSTA: House Democrats are probing the inclusion of a question about citizenship and the U.S. census. They want to learn more about what Secretary Ross and the attorney general know about this. And the inclusion of the citizenship question, was it appropriate in terms of how the United States figures out who`s part of its population. And the attorney general and Secretary of Commerce are now being moving to be held in contempt of the House Democrats on this issue.
Just real quickly, Brian, in the other front of the investigation, a lot of my sources who are close to the Department of Justice say they trust the I.G. to follow through with the report, but they worry about the attorney general hovering on the side with his own conclusion and his own memo and the same way he handled the Mueller report. And they really would prefer those in the law enforcement community that they talk to let the I.G. play out on its own.
WILLIAMS: Ashley, how consequential will the Hope Hicks appearance be? We note she has already spoken to a Senate committee, she has already been interviewed by Mueller at all? And a sub question, how do these witnesses keep securing closed door appearances from the Democrats in charge of the House.
PARKER: So the mere fact that Hope Hicks is appearing is significance in of itself. That said, it`s unclear how cooperative a witness she`s going to be. If she`s going to be accompanied by someone in the White House`s counsel office, you sort of got a sense in some of these statements that are not necessarily expecting her to be wildly forthcoming.
But the wild card is, if she was and depending how much she is willing to give and share is that Hope Hicks, two things, one that is pretty wildly known is that she was the President`s confidante, they were incredibly close, he called her "Hopi" (ph) and she was there for all -- almost of these key moments that Mueller was probing and that these congressional investigators want to hear more about. She is a firsthand witness for all of these things.
The other lesser known thing is Hope Hicks is a consummate professional who has basically a photographic memory for details, for dates. And that, frankly, if she again, chooses to be quite cooperative could be very helpful. But we really don`t know how much.
And to your second question, this close door private testimonies, they really cut against what the Democrats are hoping do right now which in some ways is to move and shift public opinion. Hope Hicks sitting down having that broadcast live on all of the television networks could be compelling viewing for the American public. A transcript released afterwards simply does not have the same umph that the Democrats really need right now.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. All four of our guests have agreed the stay with us because we have so much to discuss. We`ll fit in a break.
Coming up when we continue, as one former federal prosecutor put it tonight, Republicans have sanctioned what the President is saying by their silence. We`ll have more on how members of Congress are responding to tonight`s development or not.
And later we`ll hear from the author of a new book that reveals many of the secrets surrounding Kim Jong-un as the President is asked to clarify what he meant about spying on North Korea. THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this busy Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?
TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don`t -- there`s nothing wrong listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, "We have information on your opponent." Oh, I`d think I want to hear.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our election?
TRUMP: It`s not interference. They have information. I think I`d take it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was our President in the ABC News interview, here was the reaction from our own contributor Frank Figliuzzi who used to run counter intelligence at the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: The moment they agree to sit down at Trump Tower and listen to dirt being offered to Hillary Clinton, they are owned by that foreign power. That is the recruitment operation.
I am more convinced than ever that this President may will be owned or will soon be own by the time the 2020 election is over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, that`s saying something. And remaining with us are Ashley Parker, Robert Costa, Clint Watts, and Michael Schmidt.
Clint, starting with you, coming off Frank Figliuzzi`s comment, if you are Putin watching this tonight, what happens?
WATTS: You just laugh and you just tickle that the American President would essentially allow any foreign power, he or Russia, any of them to try to influence the U.S. election and that the President would not do anything about it.
And in fact that, if you did probe, if you are Putin now and you did probe, you did go to a campaign, Democrat or Republican and you offer dirt, or just showed to a meeting or do an incidental bump, you have now started an investigation potentially where the President will go against the investigators. You can actually -- if you wanted to go at the Counterintelligence Division of the FBI right now, you will go and hit a campaign, provoke an investigation and tie up the investigators and end the investigation of them.
It is just remarkable how this has turned around, such as I don`t know how the FBI or the CIA, the NSA does the counter intelligence investigations around an election. And that`s the question I really have for Attorney General Barr right now is, under what circumstances would the U.S. government trying to a defensive counter intelligence operation on a political campaign? I don`t know what circumstances that would be. I think it would be extremely confusing to anybody working law enforcement right now.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, a source close to our executive producer tells me you were on the phone for the commercial break. I wonder if you can hear the sound of crickets come through the phone. Is there any Republican reaction to what we witness the President say tonight?
COSTA: No. And the silence speaks volume because we`re just months ahead of the 2020 and the 2020 election. This is a Republican Party that believes President Trump is instrumental for them to win reelection in 2020 and to hold power in Congress and to hold on to the White House.
There are few Republicans who raise concerns about interference in the 2016 election and looking forward. And when the moment comes that committee hearing, they strike the right notes about pursuing these certain kinds of things and echoing what Chris Wray, the FBI director have said. But in terms of going after the President and criticizing the President, to them, politically he is king and they don`t want to mess with that at all.
WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, it`s time to rescinder ourselves yet again, what the President was talking about, a straight up violation of U.S. code, a violation of the policy. We heard the FBI director himself lay out just minutes ago and yet we are asking in effect, what will happen as a result? Did all Democrats on the race, all two dozen of them just get their races empowered by these words?
PARKER: I think we don`t know. You know, again, the President is -- was still striking also to see him say, "Well, my own FBI director is simply wrong." I think what Democrats can infer from this is that going forward we can expect another year or so of the President if there is foreign interference or anything suspicious being absolutely willing to publicly and privately contradict as he has before on the issue of Russia interference, his own top intelligent -- intelligence community folks which is just unprecedented.
So, can the Democrats use that? Maybe. But again, this is something we have seen before and it hasn`t really moved public opinion in the way that Democrats would hope. That said, would they be well within their rights to sort of drive home to voters, how unusual, unprecedented, sort of jumping through the standards of normal Presidential behavior this would be? Absolutely.
WILLIAMS: And Mike, into the world investigations we go, which of the standing investigations on the Hill would be tempted to take action or ask questions based on the President`s words with George in the Oval?
SCHMIDT: Well, what action could they take? I mean, what would they do? I think that we have seen time and time again struggle to even get witnesses for hearings.
As we saw the other day, it was a bit of a cable news panel that they had testifying at a hearing about the question of whether the President obstructed justice. And I think they can jump up and down as much as they want on Capitol Hill. But, without a public hearing with a witness who`s going to explain to the American public from a firsthand account, how the President tried to obstruct justice, I don`t think public opinion is going to move on this at all. And they seem very, very stock on that. They`re going to court, they`re trying to look at documents.
The Mueller report in of itself is pretty rich. And that doesn`t seem to have satisfied them as they look for more. But it does not seem like they have been able to effectively figure out how to do oversight on the White House and actually get answers from them in a typical fashion that we would see between him (ph) and a presidency in the past.
WILLIAMS: For the folks keeping score at home, this, along with the fact that the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup tonight is where we are on the 12th of June, 2019.
And our great thanks to our front four, Ashley Parker, Robert Costa, Michael Schmidt, and Clint Watts. Thank you so much for being with us.
And coming up, the President shrugs off the polls that say half a dozen of those Democrats could defeat him in a hypothetical general election, calling it instead, "fake polling." More on that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: The President started his day by slamming recent reporting that said his own internal campaign polling had him losing to Joe Biden in a lot of key states. The source with direct knowledge of the situation told NBC News today the numbers are quite worrisome and the President hates the narrative over the interim internal polling.
The source added that Trump`s allies were hopeful that troubling polling would convince the President to be more presidential. Roll that around for a minute. The President was asked about the polling earlier today at White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Are you concerned about your internal polling as it relates to Joe Biden?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: No, because we have great internal polling. They were fake polls that were released by somebody that is ridiculous. No, we are winning in every single state that we polled. We`re winning in Texas very big, we`re winning in Ohio very big, we`re winning in Florida very big.
WELKER: Some of your advisors say there is concern. Is that accurate?
TRUMP: No, they`re not advisers, it is fake news. You don`t understand what I`m saying. Don`t advisers don`t exist. They don`t exist. It`s made up by the newspapers. It`s fake news. (END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: After the President`s comments, the Trump campaign communication director posted this quote. "We have new data, not the same as the alleged internal polling that was old anonymously sourced, inaccurately described and subject to erroneous media speculation. The new data tested issues. Dems are running on. In all 17 states polled. POTUS leads.
Let`s talk about that. Back with us tonight, David Jolly, a former Republican member of Congress from the great state of Florida, who has since left the House, and for that matter, left his political party. We`re happy you`re out of the House, at least of tonight.
I want to combine these two things, the President, again, straight face saying that news organizations and polling firms have just made up and released fake numbers. Don`t believe what you see in here. And that goes hand in hand with our lead story tonight. You were talking to me in the commercial break about our conditioning.
DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he`s conditioned us to accept moments like today and we always don`t feel the outrage we should. And, Brian, I think today`s moment taken an isolation what the President said behind the resolute desk, in and of itself is an impeachable moment.
This was not the president of the United States being cavalier. This was Donald Trump suggesting he would be willing to engage in a commission of a crime to benefit his own reelection, that he would entertain collusion if you will, support from even an adversary for his own benefit and an adverse interest to our democracy.
And, the eyes of the nation tonight must look to Nancy Pelosi. It is not her fault that this moment has occurred. She has not had a hand in Donald Trump`s behavior. But she occupies the highest constitutional office outside the White House. This is the moment where we are begging for leadership.
I understand Speaker Pelosi is tired of this. She says yesterday she doesn`t want to speak of Donald Trump. The nation is weary right now of this. We can`t feel the outrage on a daily basis.
But Thomas Paine said, "It is exactly for those who expect to benefit from freedom who must endure the fatigue of protecting it." The nation is weary right now. We`re begging for leadership. And we should expect that the second in line constitution officer steps up to this moment.
WILLIAMS: So what does she do starting tomorrow morning, keeping in mind that the Democrats have several different looks on this depending on the day of the week?
JOLLY: She resets the entire plain field. First, no more three-day workweeks for the House of Representatives.
WILLIAMS: You`re here.
JOLLY: No more five weeks off in August and a week off every three week. You command the awesome stature of your office to bring the attention of the nation, the eyes of the nation to this moment where the President of the United States said he`d willing to engage in a commission of crime.
You bring your five chairman of relevance, front and center, and Nancy Pelosi should address the nation on this very matter. Do it in prime time. If she fails to do so, she may be doing so because she`s fatigue, she may be doing so for political convenience. But many across the country will look at 2020 and say, who can I believe in?
WILLIAMS: Yet, the counter review is, if you impeach this guy, if you set in motion, that process in the House, the Senate under McConnell will not nick this guy and this guy runs and wins as a victim.
JOLLY: The House doesn`t take its instruction from the Senate. This is Donald Trump has destroyed the integrity of the Article Two branch. The House risk impugning the integrity of the Article One branch by not responding as our four fathers asked them to in this moment.
If not, the moment when a president sits in the Oval Office at the resolute desk and says, "I will engage in a crime for the sake of my own reelection." Then at what moment does the House of Representatives stand up and say, "There is impeachment activity, impeachable activity coming from the President."
I get people who will follow Nancy Pelosi wherever she wants to go. She is the leader of the Democratic Party. But if you only look at it through the lens of the political consequences, we are abandoning what Thomas Paine implored us to do, which is every benefit from freedom suffer the fatigue of protecting it.
WILLIAMS: Our guest here again tonight, former Republican member of Congress, David Jolly. Congressman, thank you as always.
JOLLY: Good to be with you.
WILLIAMS: Coming up as Trump continues to praise Kim Jong-un, a new book delves into the life of this young sociopath, schooled in Switzerland who enjoys basketball, repression and casual cruelty. The author of the new book is with us here tonight when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He just wrote me a very nice letter, unexpected, and some day you will see what was in that letter. Someday you will be reading about it, maybe 100 years from now maybe in two weeks, who knows. But it was a very nice letter. It was a very warm, very nice letter, I appreciated it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President there speaking in glowing terms about a letter he received from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. It`s worth remembering that Kim is a rather ruthless fellow who exiles and murders his enemies on a whim, including members of his own family, and whose people live in poverty and starvation.
The author of a new book, who joins us in just a moment, describes Kim`s rule this way and we quote, "He injected a new dose of terror into society ensuring everyone lived in constant fear. The general populace came under new levels of repression, and elites in the regime who accumulated too much power risked being exiled to the far corners of the state or worse."
We are so happy to have Anna Fifield here with us tonight. She happens to be the Beijing Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, must more importantly right now, she is the author of "The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-un."
Let me start at a place I wasn`t going to start just to ask you about the letters. What wording is he putting in the letters to get the response from the US President? What`s he putting in these things?
ANNA FIFIELD, AUTHOR, THE GREAT SUCCESSOR: Just imagine extreme flattery. Like Kim Jong-un has Donald Trump figured out. He`s, you know, using very differential language, using all the superlatives he can think of to say, you know, you are the greatest president America`s ever had, this kind of thing, to, you know, to appeal to his ego. And it`s working. Look at the reaction.
He doesn`t have to offer any substance. He doesn`t have to offer to give up his nuclear program. He just flatters the President and the President is won over.
WILLIAMS: And now to go back to where I planned to begin, round about page 50, there is as portrait of this young man reminds me of some of the kids I grew up with. When you`re obsessed with basketball, you sleep with a basketball.
Kim Jong-un slept with a basketball at boarding school in Switzerland. It`s almost a tender half-page portrait before we realize that when he grows up, he becomes someone else. Is he now a full-on sociopath? And talk a bit about his -- how he came to be.
FIFIELD: Yes. I think, you know, there is a tendency to view Kim Jong-un as this madman, as a total nut job as Donald Trump once said.
But in fact, you know, well, he did have a very abnormal childhood. He was treated like little princeling. You know, he wanted for nothing while the people around him dies. And he grew up in this very cloistered decadent environment.
He didn`t show himself to be a sociopath, like from an early age. He was, you know, he was a spoiled brat but he wasn`t torturing (inaudible) or, you know, doing anything that we might see as future, as evidence of future, you know, craziness.
And, you know, I think that his time in Switzerland far from convincing him that he should, you know, eventually take his own country down this kind of liberal Democratic path, probably prove to him that if it wasn`t for North Korea or in this, you know, fantastical state that his family had created, he would just be no one. He would be another normal kid sleeping with his basketball in his bed and he wouldn`t be somebody special and revere.
WILLIAMS: The resistance to him a few years back, I know tried a system of launching balloons over the North that would burst to the certain altitude, and drop clusters of thumb drives on the population, hoping that they`ll plug it in a computer and see Western TV shows and media, as a way of letting them know about the outside world.
I know you`ll be asked a lot and I`m wondering about your answer. What would it take to topple this guy?
FIFIELD: I mean, that`s a question that`s been asked many times and predicted so many times over the decades. I mean -- and so, far nothing has worked. This regime has defied the odds. They survived the collapsed of the Soviet Union, the economic transformation of China next door. They survived the death of the eternal president, Kim Il-sung, a famine.
You know, it keeps -- it`s so anachronistic, he keeps on surviving and we don`t know why. But I think that, I mean, part of the reason the regime has survived is by isolating itself from the outside world, by closing those borders, by trying to stop information getting in. The more of these thumb drives that make it to people, you know, the more that they see that they do not live in a socialist paradise as they are constantly told, maybe the more they will increasingly feel empowered to do something about it.
WILLIAMS: And yet to our viewers, the portrait painted in here of the life Kim Jong-un has made for wealthy millennials in that country, who are eating steak and read meat, and foods and beverages that can`t be dreamed of by the general population. It is worth picking up the book in the first place.
Anna Fifield has been our guest tonight, the new book is, "The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny," perfect title by the way, "The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-un." Thank you so very much for making a stop here in our studio.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, our next stop on "The Road to Miami" is where I-95 meets the City of Brotherly Love. Steve Kornacki in the studio at the big board when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We are two weeks away from the first Democratic presidential debates on this very network. And we`re continuing our series, "The Road to Miami." Steve Kornacki making his way along the bustling and vital I-95 Corridor, telling us everything we need to know about the key states along the way.
Last night, if you were watching, then you know, Steve visited the great state of New Jersey. Tonight, he has crossed the mighty Delaware River. He has arrived in the keystone state, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He is at the big board tonight. Hey, Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian.
We almost made a big mistake today. We were driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, heading straight to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, then my navigator told me, by the way, the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95, they split off. You want to stay on I-95, you got to cross the Delaware, you got to into Pennsylvania.
So, we did. We are committed to staying on I-95, even though it added time to this trip, and yet it was a good decision, because look where we ended up.
We are here in Philadelphia, the Palestra. This is one of the most famous sporting venues in all of America. This building is almost 100 years old. You know, famous arenas, they`re usually known for being the home of one team. The Palestra, it is the home to the big five, the Temple Owls, the Penn Quakers, the La Salle Explorers, the Villanova Wildcats, Saint Joseph`s Hawks.
They have all claimed this arena as their home at some point. They still play each other here when you get one of those match-ups. It`s an amazing thing to see. And it`s also the home of a particularly amazing tradition, my favorite in all of sports. It involves the Saint Joseph`s Hawks and it involves the Saint Joseph`s Hawk.
Now, look what he`s doing here. He is flapping his wings. They`re in the warmups right here. Here`s the rule. Here`s the tradition at Saint Joseph`s. The Saint Joseph, I think they want to be called.
That hawk, that`s a student, he`s on scholarship. He`s considered a member of the team. He must flap his wings from the minute the team takes the court, through the warmups, through the game, through every whistle, every time-out, even half time. Can only stop when the buzzer sounds and the game ends. It is estimated the hawk does 3,500 nonstop flaps for the game. Really earns that scholarship and, of course, the slogan, the motto of Saint Joe`s is, "The Hawk Will Never Die." And for 63 basketball seasons, the hawk has not stopped doing that.
So, that`s the sports tradition in Philadelphia. What about the political tradition in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania?
Well, we`re talking about the significance for 2020. You all know the big story here. Pennsylvania, election night 2016, by a margin of 44,000 votes, Donald Trump won this state, didn`t just win this state, this is one of those states that he flipped. They were talking about the blue wall. Democrats were heading into election 2016. States like Pennsylvania, Michigan as well, Wisconsin, we`re going all the way back to the `90s, even to the `80s. Democrats had been winning.
In Pennsylvania, you had to go back to `88 to find the last Republican victory, Bush Sr., but then Trump pulled it off by a fraction of a point in 2016. You know it, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin.
Can Trump do in 2020 what he did in 2016? It`s a big question that hovers over this entire election. Where does he stand right now? In Pennsylvania, here`s the most recent head to head polling.
From a couple weeks ago, Quinnipiac, and you see Joe Biden, 11 points ahead of Trump. Remember, Biden always playing up Scranton, always playing up his Pennsylvania roots. His campaign headquarters in Philadelphia, so Biden doing the best, but all these other Democrats also leading Trump in Pennsylvania at this early point.
As well, Trump`s approval rating in the state, 42/54, not a number normally you look at and say is good for an incumbent to be at. The one thing to remember, we can show you those head-to-head numbers, we can show you the poor approval rating. I have to show you this, as well.
Election Day 2016, in Pennsylvania, the favorable/unfavorable rating for Donald Trump was 42/56. You didn`t want to have that number, either. His opponent was pretty unpopular, too, by Election Day. It was just enough to allow him to win the state.
So can he win -- that was the favorable/unfavorable. Job approval, is that different to voters, is that more significant, will that keep him from putting together that scenario that he did in 2016, could be the big question in Pennsylvania, in other states, and the entire election.
WILLIAMS: Unbelievable. Spent a ton of time in Philly, never knew about the hawk. I`m a little bit embarrassed and yet also in awe. Steve Kornacki, these have been fantastic, we`ll look for you tomorrow night.
KORNACKI: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Steve Kornacki at the big board.
Coming up, a final word on when to call the FBI.
WILLIAMS: There`s Tom Jefferson, which brings us to the last thing before we go tonight.
After listening to the comments from the President earlier tonight, if, indeed, the President`s attitude toward accepting political dirt on a rival from a foreign power is no big deal, and if, indeed, people agree that this President, out of all those who have served is the least bound by the lessons of history and precedent, well, then along comes the word of Michael Beschloss on social media tonight, who gave us a reminder of what our founders feared about this.
John Adams wrote Thomas Jefferson, this is two years before we had a president, December 6, 1787, about American elections. "You are apprehensive of foreign interference, intrigue and influence. So am I."
Then, there`s the law, present day, 52 US Code 301-21. "It shall be unlawful for a foreign national directly or through any other person to make any contribution of money or other thing of value or to promise expressly or impliedly to make such contribution in connection with an election to political office."
And that is why the President`s comments today on this topic, on top of all his comments, on all other topics just today or for this entire week, for that matter, attracted the attention of so many people who have reacted tonight so strongly.
That is our broadcast for this Wednesday night. Thank you so much for being here with us. Good night from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York.
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