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Trump tries to clarify comments. TRANSCRIPT: 6/14/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Susan Page, Annie Karni, Laura Barron-Lopez

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  I could tell you this is a powerful new song and video, it`s from Vic Mensa and he will tell us all about what he`s getting into this immigration discussion with his music Monday night on "THE BEAT."  Thanks for watching THE LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams" starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the President tries to walk back his willingness to accept campaign dirt from a foreign power while trashing his former White House counsel, who happens to be a giant potential witness for the Democrats.

Plus, the lasting impact of Trump`s all out assault on the FBI and the man in charge of the agency who the President diminished again just this week.

And the stage is now set for two nights of Democratic debates at an art center in Miami.  Two separate match-ups of 10.  You`ll need a program.  And tonight we are that program as the Friday edition of THE 11TH HOUR gets under way.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 876 of the Trump administration.  This happened to be the President`s 73rd birthday.

And while the cleanup effort continued stemming from the damage done when the President said of course he`d accept dirt on political opponents from a foreign power, today`s news was more dominated by an attack by the President on a very high value target, Don McGahn.  McGahn who has returned to private practice after serving as Trump`s White House counsel.  He knows a thing or two because he saw a thing or two in that job.  His testimony to Mueller was so valuable he was quoted in the Mueller report more than any other witness and emerged really as one of the report`s de facto narrators after testifying for over 30 hours about what he witnessed inside the Trump White House.

McGahn described how Trump urged him to pressure DOJ to get rid of Mueller by insisting that he raise that he raised -- that Trump insisted were Mueller`s so-called conflicts of interest.  Well today, we heard Trump deny McGahn`s account to ABC News in George Stephanopoulos as he essentially accused the former White House counsel of lying today while under oath to the special counsel.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR:  He lays out a lot of evidence including the episode where you ask your White House Counsel Don McGahn, you tell him Mueller has to go.  You call him twice --


STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- and say "Mueller has to go.  Call me when it`s done."

TRUMP:  I was never going to fire Mueller.  I never suggested firing Mueller.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  That`s what he says.

TRUMP:  I don`t care what he says.  It doesn`t matter.  That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.  But we had a business --

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Why would Don McGahn lie?  Why would he lie under oath?  Why would he lie to Robert Mueller?

TRUMP:  Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer or, or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen including you, including the media, that Robert Mueller was conflicted, Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  And has to go?

TRUMP:  I never -- I didn`t say that.


WILLIAMS:  The Mueller report notes nearly half a dozen other witnesses testify to the President`s intent to remove Robert Mueller, the special counsel.  Close Trump allies like Chris Christie, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon as well as meticulous notetakers like Annie Donaldson, McGahn`s former chief of staff.

Our NBC News colleague Peter Alexander obtained a responds to Trump`s comments from a person close to White House Counsel; Don McGahn, who said this and we quote, "Trump doesn`t actually contradict Don in any meaningful way.  All he does -- all he says is that he didn`t tell Don to fire Mueller.  Don never said that.  He said that Trump told him to call Rod Rosenstein and say these conflicts are too much and Mueller needs to go."  The source goes on to say, "It`s just fantasyland."

The President was asked why he made no effort to actually sit down with Mueller`s team.  Trump`s answer sounded a lot like what we`ve heard often from his lawyers that Trump was trying to catch him in what the Trump people prefer to call a perjury trap.


STEPHANOPOULOS:  If you answer these questions to me now why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath?

TRUMP:  Because they were looking to get us for lies, for slight misstatements.  I looked at what happened to people and it was very unfair.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  You didn`t answer questions on obstruction?

TRUMP:  Wait a minute, wait a minute, I did answer questions.  I answered them in writing.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Not on obstruction.

TRUMP:  I don`t know about this, I don`t know.  I answered a lot of questions.  They gave me questions, I answered them in writing.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Not on obstruction.

TRUMP:  Look, George, you`re being a little wise guy.  OK, which is, you know, typical for you.  Just so you understand.  Very simple.  It`s very simple.  There was no crime.  There was no collusion.


WILLIAMS:  House Democrats want to hear from McGahn and Mueller for that matter in person before the Judiciary Committee, which will hold its second hearing on the Mueller report next Thursday.

Democrats were handed something of a setback today in their oversight efforts.  We`ll explain this.  The Justice Department today said the Treasury Department doesn`t have to give the House Ways and Means Committee President Trump`s tax returns, saying the request lacked a legitimate legislative purpose.  The battle over those records, those tax returns, now appears headed for federal court where a lot of experts predict the administration could lose this one because the language in the law is very plain.

And as we mentioned, Trump today tried to clarify statements he made to ABC News about accepting campaign help from Russia or other foreign governments without automatically notifying the FBI.  During an attempted cleanup in the form of a long phone interview with Fox & Friends this morning, here now is what the President is saying about being offered incriminating information on political opponents.


TRUMP:  Of course you have to look at it because if you don`t look at it you`re not going to know if it`s bad.  How are you going to know if it`s bad?  But of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.  But of course you do that.  You couldn`t have that happen with our country.

Nobody is going to say bad things to me.  They know I am a very straight player.  They know one thing about me, I love this country more than anything.  I love this country.


WILLIAMS:  This is all happening as there is a certain amount of upheaval in the White House Communications Office.  Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving at the end of the month perhaps to run for governor back home in Arkansas.  NBC News reports some of the top contenders to replace her include Stephanie Grisham, Communications Director for the first lady, Hogan Gidley, the current White House Deputy Press Secretary, and Steve Cortes, he`s a former Trump campaign official who these days appears on CNN to defend the President pretty much regardless of the topic.

Reporter Annie KArni of "The New York Times" who will join us in just a moment notes the White House is now thinking about bringing back the daily briefing.  It`s been 95 days since the last one.  She writes, "Some White House officials have argued the daily briefing is a powerful tool that would help elevate Mr. Trump above his Democratic opponent in the 2020 race.  Others have argued that Mr. Trump has never liked the daily briefing as a forum to disseminate the message of the day, preferring to do it himself on Twitter."

Keep in mind Trump is now just days away from officially launching his re- election campaign.  That happens next Tuesday when he holds a rally in Orlando, Florida.

Without delay here for our lead-off discussion on a Friday night, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for "USA Today," author of the best selling new "Barbara Bush Biography, The Matriarch."  Annie Karni, White House reporter for "The New York Times" and Jonathan Allen, our NBC News national political reporter.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Susan, I`d like to begin with you.  Mitch McConnell last night repeated his phrase, case closed, on all of this, on the entire Mueller matter.  Why do you think the President thought of speaking out on it now that he could perhaps make things better?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  You know, I don`t think the President probably set out to talk about it but George Stephanopoulos is very predictably ask him about it.  and what was extraordinary.  It was as though that the previous couple years of investigations by Robert Mueller never happened.  I mean, the President outlined a willingness to do exactly what got him in the previous hot water of the long investigation into Russian collusion and after that obstruction of justice.

You know, this is really an extraordinary self-inflicted wound on the part of the President.  If the case is closed as the White House would like to say, as Mitch McConnell, who was a very discipline person likes to say, the President should decline to address these issues or at least play out a position that doesn`t take him right back to where he was in the 2016 campaign.

WILLIAMS:  Hey John, what`s the upside, do you think as Trump sees it of going after Don McGahn?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  It`s a great question, Brian.  I mean, one of the things we`ve talked about through all of this is the President`s efforts to intimidate witnesses and perhaps he is trying to leverage Don McGahn in some way.  Perhaps he believes that he can put some sort of fear in Don McGahn by calling him a liar or at the very least get his own supporters to believe that anything Don McGahn says before Congress is untruthful.  Maybe even to get the Justice Department to believe that anything Don McGahn says is untruthful.

It is unfathomable that the credibility of Don McGahn, his testimony before Robert Mueller, and the witnesses that Robert Mueller had supporting that would be called into question as compared to what the President says in an interview with George Stephanopoulos.

WILLIAMS:  Annie, I have something to play you that those watching in real time thought was a great bit of analysis on the fly.  Here is how Nicole Wallace opened her broadcast this afternoon at 4:00 Eastern.


NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR:  If you swapped in Robert Mueller for George Stephanopoulos, the Mueller investigation may have ended very differently.  When seated with anyone other than Sean Hannity or Laura Ingram, Donald Trump seems to fall apart, he seems to lack the mental acuity and the truth telling capacity to field real questions from real journalists.


WILLIAMS:  Annie, what`s the chance she has it about right there?

:  Well, there is -- I mean, you can draw a line between this interview with George Stephanopoulos and the now famous interview Donald Trump did with Lester Holt where he explained the real reason why he fired Comey and gave the real reason.  So when he does these straight interviews, he steps in hot water in a way that he doesn`t do on the Fox & Friends phone.

So, I think there is something to say that these settings that his aides have pushed him and convinced him would be good end up back firing.  Even White House officials were admitting today that this did not go.  He didn`t say things that were particularly helpful to him in this interview.

WILLIAMS:  Speaking of which, Susan Page, the backtrack on election interference on accepting intel from a foreign power, you could tell that moved the needle because by my viewing it forced Republican senators to say words, some of them critical of this President.  And I guess that backtracking is going to have to continue.

PAGE:  Well, the idea that the President of the United States would basically invite the Russians to once again come forward with negative information about his Democratic opponent in this race I think was just a bridge too far for people like Mitt Romney and even Lindsey Graham who is one of his closest allies in the Senate.  It did provoke controversy.  It was very hard to find a defender of a President on this issue.  And that is pretty rare.

You know, you also had the head of the FEC putting out a statement saying, it is illegal to do that.  This is not allowed by any foreign entity and especially a foreign government and one that is an adversary of the United States.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, Susan, you and I have been around a bit.  I do not remember anything on FEC letterhead, going back decades, anything like the tone and tenor of that letter.

PAGE:  Because and directed at the President of the United States, saying, to be clear, this is not acceptable.  This is not legal.  And it hasn`t been for a long time.  So that is I`m sure why the President decided to walk it back on Fox & Friends, although, he didn`t really walk it back all the way.  He didn`t say he`d refuse to listen to dirt from a foreign entity.  He said he would turn around and alert the FBI or another law enforcement agency but he would listen to it first.

That is at odds with for instance what Tom Downey, the congressman from Long Island did when he was working for Al Gore`s presidential campaign.  And a briefing book, George W. Bush`s briefing book showed up at the campaign headquarters over the transom.  They didn`t look at it.  They immediately called the FBI.  That is the expected.  That is political norm in our country for things like this.

WILLIAMS:  And Annie, in the meantime you`ve reported on this, Sarah sanders is departing.  A ton of people having a ton of fun with this especially on social media.  Somebody said today, "We`ll know it`s true when she denies it."  For her part she said she wants to be remembered as transparent and honest.  I tend to think, however, she`ll be remembered as Sarah Sanders.

So, going forward, talk to us about the candidates for this job and the potential of reviving after 95 days the White House daily briefing not because it would be good for the republic but because it might be good for this President.

KARNI:  Yes.  The briefing is something that Donald Trump has never liked from the beginning.  He always wanted to get rid of it, he doesn`t see the point.  But there is an internal debate right now going on in the White House that as he enters the thick of election season, as you said he`s kicking off, he`s officially kicking off his campaign that he has been running for two years in Orlando next week, they see it as a tool that someone described as it would be malpractice to pass up this powerful tool that gets broadcast every day, that no Democratic opponent would have.

And so, Mulvany, Mick Mulvany, the Acting Chief of Staff has been pressing for at least an off camera daily briefing where the White House could set the agenda a little bit.  Then there`s other people who think that it is counterproductive.  And it`s also hard to get someone willing to do it just to tie it back to what we were just talking about.  When the President contradicts himself it puts aides who speak on his behalf in a very awkward position.

The campaign, I spoke to Tim (INAUDIBLE), the campaign spokesperson yesterday asking if the campaign agreed with the President that they would at least look at foreign dirt, "dirt."  And he said, "We are afraid of the President`s statement."

What do you do when the President switches his statement the next day?  It`s an awkward position to be in speaking for him speaking, that`s a problem for whoever takes the job.

But the lead -- one of the lead candidates I`m hearing about is Stephanie Grisham, she`s been with Trump since 2015.  He trusts her.  She serves as communications director for the first lady who apparently has given her blessing to do whatever she wants in the White House.  She is seen as loyal.  She has good relationships with some members of the press because she`s been around for so long.

Hogan Gidley is expected to do the job in the interim at least, he`s the Deputy Press Secretary right now.  But I`ve heard that Trump is most interested in terms of a permanent position filling it with a woman.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  So, John, about this launch of the re-election campaign what kind of preview can you offer us?

ALLEN:  I expect the President to be excited about his rally in Orlando coming up next Tuesday.  This is an opportunity for him to get out there and talk about the numbers he wants to.  There`s been leaked bad following for him from March, many states -- many swing states where he is down pretty badly to Joe Biden, but he is going to get out there and talk about the economic numbers, he`s going to get out there and talk about low unemployment.  He`s going to talk about all of the, sort of familiar themes over the last couple of years.

And this is what really gets his juices going.  He wants to get out there, he wants to start throwing punches.  When you talk to people who are involved in the last campaign, people who are involved in this campaign, he loves having a foil.  Right now that`s Joe Biden to some extent.  So, expect him to get out there and start whacking those Democratic opponents hard.  You know, he`s revved up.

WILLIAMS:  To Annie Karni, to Susan Page, and John Allen on a Friday night after another epic week, our thanks for starting off our conversation so nicely.  Greatly appreciate it.  Thank you.

Coming up for us, --

ALLEN:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  -- this week the President called out the man he put in charge as the director of the FBI, nothing new there.  But tonight an FBI veteran will assess the long-term damage to the bureau.

And later, the line-ups are now set for night one and night two of the Democratic debates, now just a dozen nights away.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started here on a Friday night.



TRUMP:  Somebody comes up and says, "Hey, I have information on your opponent."  Do you call the FBI?  You don`t call the FBI.  You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever --

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:  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.


WILLIAMS:  There is a piece in Politico currently about how remarks like that are impacting efforts to fight election interference, "The comments according to interviews with nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans have undone months of work, essentially inviting foreign spies to meddle with 2020 presidential campaigns and demoralizing the agents trying to stop them.  And it has backed Director Wray into a corner, they added, putting him in a position where he might have to either publicly chastise the President and risk getting fired or resign in protest."

We are joined tonight by Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official who for a time served as counselor to Robert Mueller.  He also happens to be host of the new MSNBC podcast "The Oath" with Chuck Rosenberg.

Good to see you, my friend.  Thank you for coming on.

Talk about the impact as you see it on your former institution at the FBI.

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY:  Sure.  Look, I think that article that you talked about, Brian, is a little bit right and a little bit hyperbolic.  Let me explain.  It`s a little bit right because when the President continues to attack the men and women of law enforcement or in the Intelligence community, the FBI of course is both, sure it`s demoralizing.  Nobody likes to hear that kind of stuff about their work or their colleagues or their mission.

On the other hand, the notion that it`s undone months and months of work strikes me as hyperbolic.  Here is why.  This threat from Russia, this election interference that started in 2014 according to the Mueller report and will certainly extend past 2020 is something that the FBI has been focused on for a long time.  I don`t think the men and women there are riding the Trump roller coaster.  I don`t think they wake up every day, you know, breathlessly awaiting his latest tweet, you know, the latest insipid tweet from the President.  They have work to do.  They have serious and important work to do and they will continue to do it.

So, I wouldn`t over react to it.  It`s -- the statements he made are wrong.  They`re discouraging, as I noted they`re insipid, but they are not going to undo the work of the FBI.

WILLIAMS:  Just for emphasis let`s listen to Chris Wray about a month ago talking about the law and reality.


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.


WILLIAMS:  So, Chuck, the concern for Director Wray, and I know he is an adult and can stick up for himself and has the ability to put his head down and do his work, is that, you know, the President just straight up said he was wrong yesterday.  For how long after the President throws a high hard one at him, for how long can this director continue to foul them off?

ROSENBERG:  Yes, or duck them, Brian.  And maybe this is a situation where you just duck.

Look, what Director Wray said was spot on.  He was a hundred percent right.  I don`t think he needs to repeat it.  And by the way, I don`t think this is a red line for him.

You know, the times that you make public statements are the times when you have I think no other choice.  And here, Chris Wray said it well, he said it cogently, he said forcefully, and he was accurate legally.  What more does he really need to say?

The thing that would happen next were he to take on the President is they would get into a back and forth which doesn`t help Chris Wray and certainly doesn`t help the FBI.  And that has to be the director`s primary consideration.

So, you know, Brian, we`re both baseball fans.  You foul some off, you duck others.  You live for another inning.

WILLIAMS:  So, you also don`t buy the argument that for other countries especially bad actors, the President`s own words let them know that we have even a more willing mark than was first assumed in the Oval Office?

ROSENBERG:  Well, look, clearly, the words invite other countries to do what Russia has been doing.  These are poor -- poor doesn`t even begin to do it justice.  These are awful words the President used, right?  And the Russians were brazen in their attacks and they have every reason to be brazen again.  But remember, the Russian attacks started in 2014.  That`s what the Mueller team lays out in volume one of its report.  And it`s not the first time the President has invited Russia into our tent.

Remember, campaigning in Doral, Florida in 2016 he said, "Russia, if you`re listening, where are the missing Hillary Clinton e-mails?"  And so this is more of a pattern by the President as opposed to something new.  No president of the United States should invite a foreign adversary to do what this President invited Russia to do.  No President should ever do that.

But again, I don`t think it undermines the work of the FBI.  They have a serious mission.  They will fulfill it.

WILLIAMS:  Chuck, I`m fond of saying that more than the fact that there isn`t any one Presidential election, there are 50 state elections.  Much more than that elections are local matters.  Knowing that, and knowing just how much flawed machinery, dated machinery there is out there, can you assure our audience that the FBI, the Intel community that you know will, at least on their own, be doing their dead level best to make sure we have an accurate vote with integrity next time out?

ROSENBERG:  I can.  You know, DHS, of course, has an important role in the protection of our election infrastructure, the FBI and the Intelligence community of course and Counterintelligence matters.  But let`s not lose sight, Brian, of the bigger picture, too.  Whether it is election interference or counterterrorism or cyber crimes or Medicare fraud, I mean, the work of the FBI goes on.

As I said earlier, they`re not riding the Trump roller coaster.  They don`t wake up every day to see what the President has tweeted.  Is it demoralizing?  Sure.  Of course it is.  Nobody likes to hear about their mission or their boss, Director Wray, spoken of in these terms.  But they have a job to do.  And the FBI know, that I know, they do their job.  And thank goodness for that.

WILLIAMS:  A man who tells it straight always, reassures us when he can.  Chuck Rosenberg, thank you as always for coming on the broadcast.

ROSENBERG:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us a dozen days to go now till those first Democratic debates.  We`ll look at who made the cutdown and the two groupings on the main stage when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  We now have the official line-ups for each night of the first Democratic presidential debates here on MSNBC.  Night one is on Wednesday, June 26th, taking the Miami stage will be Cory Booker, Juliana Castro, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O`Rourke, Tim Ryan, Elizabeth Warren.

Second night, Thursday the 27th Michael Bennett, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang.  And in the lounge, Bette Midler and Dave Chapelle.  Kidding about the last two.

Our own Jonathan Allen sums up the match-ups this way.  The opening 2020 Democratic debate double feature is set.  Elizabeth Warren versus the field on the first night.  And establishment Joe Biden versus Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders plus two more of the top five polling hopefuls, and six undercard candidates in the lord of the flies closer.

The 20 eligible candidates were first divided into two groups on cut down day yesterday.  Those polling an average at or above 2 percent those who polled below 2 percent.  A random drawing then took place to create two separate groupings of 10.  This morning the president gave his preview on "Fox & Friends" of how he views his potential democratic opponents.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Everybody knows that Joe Biden does not have what it takes.  OK?  He doesn`t have what it takes.  Everybody knows that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What does that mean?

TRUMP:  It means mental capacity.  It means a lot of different things.  He doesn`t have -- never did have what it takes.  Until Obama took -- he ran two or three times.  I used to call him 1 percent Joe because he never got more than 1 percent.  Then Obama came along and surprisingly took him off of I say the trash heap.  And ran.  But everybody knows Joe is -- doesn`t have it.

Now I see that Pocahantas is doing better.  I would like to run against her frankly.  I see that Bernie Sanders is not doing well at all.  I would have frankly like to run against.  I think it`s probably those three.  I don`t see the other ones.


WILLIAMS:  The almanac of American politics thanks to "Fox & Friends."  With us to talk about it tonight, Laura Barron-Lopez, National Political Reporter for POLITCO.  And still with us, we`ve talked Jonathan Allen into sticking around a few more minutes.

Jonathan, I was joking about Dave Chappelle because Jason Johnson said on this network earlier today what we were all thinking.  It`s like going to a comedy club.  You`re there for Chappelle.  You kind of know he`s going to bat cleanup at the end of the evening.  Sometimes that means sitting through a lot of aggressively bad standup.

So with that in mind, Jon, what do you make of these two groupings and why did I hear you today talking about how you`re going to be watching Beto O`Rourke of all people?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, let me start with the Beto O`Rourke question.  I mean, Beto O`Rourke, his polling has suffered and fallen to the point basically in a lot of these polls, 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent.  Where he really has to have a breakout moment in one of these debates or you`re going to see all this fundraising dry up.

This is somebody who has gotten a ton of media attention, somebody who has gotten a ton of resources to run his campaign and really hasn`t lived up to it in terms of polling.

He is somebody we`ve seen get much more aggressive in the last couple days.  We saw him in a "Morning Joe" interview this last week really go after the former Vice President Joe Biden aggressively.  I think he knows that he`s got to have this kind of breakout time.  He`ll be on the stage with Elizabeth Warren in that first night debate and several of the other, eight other candidates.  And I think this is his opportunity to really make something of himself.  Reintroduce himself on the national stage.

But the truth is all of these candidates, this is the first big opportunity for anybody who isn`t one of those top five candidates and that`s Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and whichever order you want to put them.  Anybody who`s not in the top five you`re basically a margin of error candidate meaning that you`re polling within the margin of error of zero.  As one Democratic strategist put it today if you are in the margin of error you have no margin for error.

WILLIAMS:  Laura, let`s continue to speak English here.  Bill de Blasio can`t get quoted in New York.  You`re under so much pressure to have a moment and say something that makes you stand out.  If you`re Jay Inslee or Michael Bennett or anyone at that level, how on earth do you prepare for this evening and how do you keep it from going over the edge and being remembered for all the wrong reasons on your way out the door?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, POLITCO NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well look.  You`re someone like Jay Inslee, I think he`s going to try to create as much contrast as he can between himself and who he shares the stage with.  Specifically around climate change.  That`s an issue he has been trying to own and no one`s plan goes as far as his to date.

And so, he will be able to own that issue.  I think it is similar with other candidates that if they can carve out a lane for themselves either on a specific policy issue that may be where they can shine.

I want to talk about warren a little bit, because, yes.  She -- the next person on the stage is Beto that maybe has a chance to go toe to toe with her a bit.  Initially, this looks as though she drew the short straw.  But I think that she definitely, this gives her an opportunity to just shine unopposed and kind of own the stage and she will have plenty of opportunity after this to go head to head with Bernie and to go head to head with Biden.

WILLIAMS:  And, Jon, to the elephant in the room, to the elephant in the field, if you`re Biden, if you know it`s going to be an evening of incoming when you take the stage, how do you prep, how do you gird for that?  How do you future proof your campaign and your presentation?

ALLEN:  I mean the big thing for Joe Biden is to not falter.  Right now he`s still riding a wave of wide approval, great name recognition.  And to get out there and show people he could still perform at the level that he did as vice president, you heard the president of the United States attack him and say that essentially that he is not still all there.  All he has to do is go out on stage and perform reasonably well.  It would be likely his advisers are telling him shorter answers are better like your producer would probably like me to do.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, stop that right now.  We`ve never had that complaint.  You are one of our best behaved guests.  So, Laura, in the jet fighter business when they do flyovers if it`s a memorial they talk about the missing man formation.  The missing man formation on these two nights is going to be Donald Trump.  In a way that looms all over the conversation he will obviously be the control group that dominates this conversation.  Talk about that aspect of these two nights.

LOPEZ:  Right.  So I think in the second night, the one that has the majority of the front-runners, Biden, Bernie, Buttigieg, Harris, it`s going to be difficult for Biden I think to keep that narrative going that he has tried to since he launched his campaign, which is this is between him and Trump.  And he hasn`t really paid that much attention to the rest of the field.  He`s tried to avoid creating contrast between himself and them as much as possible.

And so now that he is going against Bernie and Buttigieg who are going to take as many shots I think as they possibly can at him it is going to be difficult for him to continue saying this is about him and Trump.  On the other hand, in the other debate I think Warren and Beto could have more space to do that, to take more direct shots at the president.

WILLIAMS:  I want to thank you both on a Friday night for stopping by and putting us on your dance card.  Laura Barron-Lopez and Jon Allen, appreciate it.  Thanks so very much.  We`ll be talking I`m sure along the way as next week comes around.

And coming up for us "The Road to Miami," Texas through state known for its crabs and its competition.


WILLIAMS:  As we just mentioned, line-ups for the first democratic presidential debate are now set.  Only 12 days away on this very network.  And we`re continuing our series, "The road to Miami," the one where Steve Kornacki breaks down everything we need to know about all the states along the bustling I-95 corridor.

If you were watching last night, then you know, Steve was in Delaware.  That didn`t take long.

Tonight, he has crossed the border into the old line state, the State of Maryland.

Back at the big board tonight, our national correspondent Steve Kornacki.  Hey, Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Hey Brian.  And well, you know, we couldn`t help ourselves.  We were driving the I-95 through Maryland and then said we`ve got to stop at Baltimore`s inner harbor.  What an amazing place.  So that is our pit stop for the evening.

And, you know, when you are in the inner harbor, when you`re in this area, your mind tends to turn to seafood and you wonder, where can I get the best crab cakes around here?  And that`s actually a matter of some dispute.  It is one of the rivalries that define Maryland.  Where do you get the best crab cakes around here?  Is it Faidley`s?  Is it Gertrudes?

There was actually a food network special a few years ago that pitted these two institutions, these two restaurants against each other.  Faidley`s ended up winning that one, probably not a surprise if you know the place.  It is the iconic institution when it comes to seafood in Baltimore.  But that`s one of the rivalries, it`s another rivalry in these parts.

How about sports?  How about baseball?  Are you an Orioles fan?  Are you a Nationals fan?  This is a kind of a new rivalry.  Remember the Nationals?  They used to be the Montreal expos.  They move to the area back in 2005.  It`s the D.C. area against the Baltimore area.  They`ve played 70 games since then, 39 for the Orioles, 31 for the Nationals.

Another rivalry?  Hey, the iconic Baltimore television series "The Wire."  Everyone has an opinion what is the best season?  Is it season one?  Is it season four?  Nobody seems to think its season two.  A lot of people don`t think it was season five either.

These are the two that tend to get the most votes.  These are some of the rivalries that define Maryland.  But what about Maryland politics?

Maryland politics has contributed to one of the most enduring and consequential rivalries in Washington of the last two decades.  And it involves the most powerful Maryland Democrat in Congress.  The most powerful Maryland politician in Congress.  You know this man.  Steny Hoyer, right now the Democratic majority leader that makes him number two in the House Democratic leadership, number two behind of course the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

And this is how it has been.  In the Democratic ranks in the house for basically two decades, Pelosi number one, Hoyer number two.  This goes all the way back.  This was the headline, "The fall of 2001, Democratic leadership election."  For the number two post, the whip, you see Pelosi holding the whip there.  Pelosi/Hoyer.

But everybody knew that leader, the top job, the leader`s spot was coming and open soon.  Whoever won this race was going to be the next Democratic leader.

It had been years in the making and came to a head that fall.  Pelosi won 18, Hoyer 95.  Pelosi becomes the top Democratic leader.  Later, Hoyer moves in a slot behind her at number two.  They never really trusted each other after.

When Pelosi became speaker in 2006 one of her first moves was to try to oust Hoyer from the leadership.  But he stood his ground, he stayed at number two.

When the Democrats lost the Congress in 2010, he thought it was his opening.  Pelosi would have to step down.  But she didn`t.  She stood her ground.  Pelosi/Hoyer one, two, a lot of history, a lot of friction there.

Here`s the thing, we say it is a rivalry.  We think of it as an east coast, west coast rivalry, Maryland versus California.

But here is where it gets wild.  Because before she was Nancy Pelosi from California, she was Nancy D`Alesandro from Baltimore, Maryland.  And her father, Tom D`Alesandro was the mayor of Baltimore.

Politics is in Nancy Pelosi`s blood.  And so in the 1960s, more than half a century ago, she got her start as an intern in the U.S. Senate Office of Maryland Senator Daniel Brewster.

And you know who else was an intern in the same office at the same time?  Steny Hoyer.  Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer more than half a century ago interned for the same U.S. senator then they moved 3,000 miles apart.  They made their own political careers, Hoyer in Maryland, Pelosi out in San Francisco, and then they collided again.

Decades later in Congress, their ambitions clashed, they both wanted the top job, Pelosi won out in 2001, Hoyer got second place.  And for two decades, it has remained that way, an enduring rivalry, truly made in Maryland.

WILLIAMS:  Wow.  Take a bow.  We didn`t even mention Ted Agnew.  Take a bow.  That was fantastic stuff.

Our ride continues on Monday.  Steve Kornacki, our thanks for this great week of reports.

KORNACKI:  Thanks.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, we will turn back to the escalating tension we`ve been monitoring in the Middle East.  A conflict the president says, quote, "Has Iran written all over it?"

The very latest when we come right back.


WILLIAMS:  We wanted to bring you a report tonight from a dangerous place where things have gotten very dicey this week.  The Gulf of Oman where two ships have been attacked and rocked by explosions and fires.

Earlier today, the President blamed Iran for the attacks, but Iran is still pushing back hard denying any involvement.  Our Chief Foreign Affair Correspondent, Richard Engel has the latest from Istanbul tonight.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  Brian, there are many in this region who say they`ve seen this movie before with disputes over U.S. intelligence escalations and now the risk of conflict.


ENGEL (voice-over):  Tonight, the U.S. and Iran are trading accusations and escalating their rhetoric over who attacked two tankers in the Persian Gulf.  The U.S. military released what could be damning evidence, aerial reconnaissance video, which U.S. officials say shows Iranian sailors removing an unexploded mine from one of the attack tankers, apparently to hide Iran`s involvement.

And this photo showing where the alleged mine was placed.  President Trump called in to Fox News to say the Iranians were caught red-handed.

TRUMP:  Well, Iran did do it.  And you know they did it because you saw the boat.  I guess one of the mines didn`t explode and it`s probably got essentially Iran written all over it.

ENGEL:  But the Japanese owner of one of the tankers insist his vessel was attacked not by a mine but some kind of fast moving explosive which is how rescue ships first reported the attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, HYUNDAI DUBAI EMERGENCY BROADCAST:  All stations, all stations, motor tanker Front Altair in fire.  Most probably torpedo attack.

ENGEL:  Iran says it was involved.

NBC`S Ali Arouzi is in Tehran.

ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS TEHRAN:  Iran is ruling out any talks with the U.S., blaming America for seriously threatening stability in the region, with so much animosity and an absence of dialogue, the odds of conflict by accident is increasing every day.

ENGEL:  Tonight, tensions remain high.  A U.S. military official said Iran was preventing tugboats from recovering one of the tankers.


ENGEL:  And Brian, there`s another source of tension -- drones.  The U.S. military doesn`t talk about it much but there are a lot of drones flying around this part of the world, and officials tell us there were two incidents in recent days, one in which an Iranian-backed militia shutdown an American drone over the Red Sea, and another in which Iranians shot at but missed an American drone.  Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Richard, thank you.  Richard Engel, our chief foreign correspondent reporting tonight from Istanbul.  Another break for us.

And coming up, wanting to leave that Trump touch behind for future presidents whether they want it or not.  That story, when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, there`s a great old story about Lyndon Johnson at an air force base during his presidency.  Young military officer is escorting him across the tarmac and says, Mr. President, your helicopter is over here, to which LBJ famously replied, Son, they`re all my helicopters.

Well, it would see that that same sort of thinking might be seeping into the current White House, where in the middle of his interview with George Stephanopoulos this happened, the president showed the mockup artwork for the new Air Force One.

The livery, fancy word for the paint job, is quite a bit different.  White up top, stripes down below.  There were immediate comparisons to Trump`s own paint scheme on his private jet.

Mind you, these are the new Air Force One models.  They`re on order for a 2024 delivery date.  So that means the president`s choice will affect future presidents and not him.  But just the notion of doing away with the current and iconic powder blue paint scheme rankles a ton of people.

JFK`s first Air Force One was a military looking silver, white, and orange Boeing 707.  And with the help of the first lady, Mrs. Kennedy, he commissioned a French designer who came up with the color we associate with the plan today.

One the topic of the change, the president said today, I like the concept of red, white, and blue.  The baby blue doesn`t fit with us.  People get used to something, and it was Jackie "O," but we have our own Jackie "O" today, it`s called Melania.  We`ll call it Melania "T."

And this week as we come to an end, there`s already an effort under way in Congress to block the president from being able to change the paint scheme on Air Force One.

That`s where we`ll leave it.  That`s our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  And good night from our NBC News headquarters in New York.


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