LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Senator Doug Jones gets the last word tonight. Thank you for joining us, Senator, really appreciate it.
JONES: Thank you, Lawrence. Always great to be with you.
O`DONNEL: And "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, the President says he had minutes to spare before calling off strikes on Iran. Our exclusive NBC News interview and what Donald Trump had to say about Iran and impeachment.
Also, the text messages between Paul Manafort and Sean Hannity out tonight. We`ll tell you the people Manafort says he would never give up.
And fish is on the menu, so is retail politics. Democratic presidential candidates descend on South Carolina`s fish fry. THE 11TH HOUR on a Friday night starts right now.
Good evening once again from our NBC News head quarters in New York. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams. Day 883 of the Trump administration and we`re tracking important news on multiple fronts tonight. We will wring you transcripts of text messages between Fox News host Sean Hannity and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
But first, we are learning more about President Trump`s decision to call off a retaliatory strike against Iran after they shot down an unmanned U.S. drone near the Strait of Hormuz. Earlier today President Trump sat down with our own Chuck Todd to discuss the situation with Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not looking for war. And if there is, it will be obliteration like you`ve never seen before. But I`m not looking to do that. But you can`t have a nuclear weapon. You want to talk, good, otherwise you can have a bad economy for the next three years.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: No preconditions?
TRUMP: Not as far as I`m concern. No preconditions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: This morning President Trump posted on Twitter, "We were cocked and loaded to retaliate last night on three different sites when I asked how many will die. One hundred fifty people, sir, was the answer from a general. Ten minutes before the strike I stopped it. Not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry. Our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting and more added last night."
We should point out, "The Washington Post" reported today the White House did not impose new sanctions despite that claim from the President.
During the interview with Chuck Todd, the President also discussed his thinking when it came to calling off the strike.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: So did you green light something or had you said if we do it, I`ll do this? What was the order you give?
TRUMP: Nothing is green lighted until the very end because things change. Right?
TODD: OK. You never gave a final order?
TRUMP: No, no, no, no. But we had something ready to go subject to my approval. And they came in and they -- came in about a half hour before and they said "Sir, we`re about ready to go." I said, "I want to better --
TODD: Flights in the air or planes in the air?
TRUMP: No, no, we`re about ready to go.
TRUMP: No, but they would have been pretty soon, and things would have happened to a point where you wouldn`t turn back or couldn`t turn back. So, they came and they said, "Sir, we`re ready to go. We`d like a decision." I said, "I want to know something before you go. How many people would be killed?" In this case, Iranians. I said, "How many people are going to be killed?" "Sir, I`d like to get back to you on that." Great people, these generals.
They said came back and said "Sir, approximately 150." And I thought about it for a second. I said "You know what, they shot down an unmanned drone, plane," whatever you want to call it. And here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half hour after I said go ahead.
TRUMP: And I didn`t like it. I didn`t think it was -- I didn`t think it was proportionate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And tonight both "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" have published new reports within minutes of each other that shed some light on the President`s decision.
"The Washington Post" reports, "Trump`s initial public response was a tweet at 10:15 a.m. declaring that Iran made a very big mistake. Later in the morning, Trump gave the green light for the Pentagon to prepare for strikes after he was informed it would take military officials several hours to get everything in place. He had been briefed about casualties and other risk before giving the approval, officials said."
In the "New York Times" reports Trump had been speaking to Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently, "While the President`s national security advisers were urging him to order a military strike against Iran in retaliation for shooting down an unmanned drone, Mr. Carlson in recent days had told Mr. Trump that responding to Tehran`s provocations with force was crazy. The hawks did not have Mr. Trump`s best interest at heart, he said. And if he got into a war with Iran, he could kiss good-bye the idea of getting reelected. However, much weight that advice may or may not have had, the sentiments certainly reinforced the doubts that Mr. Trump himself harbored as he navigated his way through one of the most consequential foreign policy decisions of his decision."
Meanwhile, the dispute continues over whether the drone was shutdown. Iranian state television released this video showing what they say are parts of the U.S. that were recovered. The U.S. says the drone was shot down in international air space. Iran says the drone was in Iranian air space.
The United States has asked the United Nations security counsel to meet about Iran on Monday.
Meanwhile as tensions with Iran mount, it is important to point out it`s been six months since Former Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned. This week, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced that he will be stepping down and taking his name out of consideration for the role of Pentagon chief. President Trump named Army Secretary Mark Esper to take over as Acting Secretary of Defense this week. And we learn tonight the President intends to formally nominate him for the post.
Here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, Nayyera Haq, former Obama White House Senior Director and former state department senior advisor, and with me here in New York Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer prized winning columnist for "The New York Times."
Nick, let me start with you, the President saying in that clip we showed here he`s not looking for war with Iran. Apparently getting advice from Tucker Carlson saying, "Hey, if you have war here this is going to affect your reelection chances." If that strike had gone forward last night, what were the odds that would have led to war with Iran as opposed to just being sort of a one-off tactical strike of the sort we sometimes do see?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, THE NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED COLUMNIST: I think that, you know, there seem to be -- the President had advisors seem to be living in his fantasy world in which they take actions and Iran does not respond.
And, you know, in a major attack, this apparently involved three different sites might have involved after 150 casualties. Of course Iran would have responded. It would have responded by killing Americans in Iraq, in Syria, elsewhere. It might have taken action against Saudi royal infrastructure against traffic traveling for the Strait of Hormuz.
There is a lot that Iran can do to create headaches. And that`s why Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, we heard he was strongly resisting, trying to counsel them, it`s not just what you would do, it`s also what Iran does. And, you know, I`m glad that President Trump called off the strike. But the problem is that we remain on this collision path, in this very, very dangerous situation without a lot of exit ramps on either side.
KORNACKI: Well, so then the question becomes -- look, the attack did not happen obviously, Nayyera, but what message was does Iran take from that? The fact that now we know the President has said and explained the entire process from his vantage point that he considered it, he was ready to do it and then he backed off and didn`t take action. What does that -- what message do leaders in Iran take from that?
NAYERRA HAQ, FMR. WH SENIOR DIRECTOR UNDER OBAMA: Yes, it definitely comes across to folks in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world that Donald Trump choked at the key moment of making a decision that projected strength. And his -- him and his national security adviser and the Secretary of State have ratcheted up the rhetoric to the point where it really almost was a red line and point of no return waiting for that moment when Iran did something that would trigger a U.S. attack.
There are several other options on t table. Diplomacy is one of the key options that has gone unexplored by the Trump administration. Glad he didn`t take the shot. It would have been disastrous for American interests in the region and American troops overall who are already depleted and war weary from the 18 years in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq. But it comes across unfortunately overseas as the United States being incoherent and lacking strength.
KORNACKI: So, what are the consequences of that if the Iranians look at this and say "Trump, this administration, the United States of America are incoherent and lack strength," Nick just laid out how escalation in his view might have resulted if there have been an attack. If the interpretation is, as you`re saying, practically speaking, what`s Iran going to do because of that?
HAQ: The irony is that Iran has never really been a good actor in the region. So, they`ve struck out U.S. drones before, they have attacked oil tankers in the past as far back as Ronald Reagan. It`s a matter of how the U.S. responds.
And not having a Pentagon briefing, for example, it`s been more than 300 days since anyone has briefed from there. We haven`t had a White House press briefing. So these leaks and rumors and the President effectively speaking off the cuff and making national security policy, people are taking their signals from wherever they can, and Donald Trump allowing John Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo to box him in so early in the game, made it very difficult to make this decision that ultimately was the right one.
KORNACKI: John Brennan agrees with the point you just made. And obviously he`d been a sharp critic of this President, this administration. But let`s listen to what he said earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: I`ve been a very tough critic of the Trump administration`s policy toward Iran in terms of pulling out the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, as well as this policy of economic strangulation, believing that Iran is going to go to its knees. But I applaud Trump`s decision not to carry out what would have been a disproportionate strike that would have led to about 150 or so fatalities. And that could have had a very dangerous escalatory spiral following it that could have brought that region to greater military conflict.
So I do think that Trump recognized that he needed to explain to his critics exactly why he pulled back. And again, I give him credit, and I rarely do that, but I give him credit for being almost the adult in the room because of the war hawks like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo who are pushing toward this confrontation that is not in anyone`s interest, especially the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, Frank, and again we`ve heard that response from a number of people that ultimately the idea that this was a good thing, that it did not happen, but if there`s a down drone, if Iran did down an American drone, what should the response be?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Well, first, I`m no apologist for Iran. They are a state sponsor of terrorism, they fund Hezbollah. The IRGC is responsible for death and terrorism around the world. But, you know, the President learned a new word apparently because we keep hearing it today. It`s four syllables, he likes it, it`s proportionate. So, he`s learned that a response needs to be proportionate.
But, do you know what needs to be proportionate? Is a discovery of how we got to the brink of war yesterday and what the response should be is an understanding that Iran feels threatened and cornered because the President tore up an agreement that by almost all accounts was in substantial compliance. Iran was compliance. Our allies generally concur. The U.N. Security Council generally concurs that Iran was substantially in compliance with an agreement that President Obama approved.
So, how did we get here, President Trump tore it up and now Iran feels threatened and is now feeling like they need to defend their economy and their existence. And this is at a time when there are pro western factions inside Iran that we need to court and cultivate. And the way to do that is not to get to the brink of war and paint America as the country that`s about to attack.
If we want to enable the pro western factions, we need to talk. A dialogue is necessary, because trust me on this, Iran can hurt us. This is not Iraq. This is not some other country. This is a country that has the capability to hurt us and we need to call time out and enter into a dialogue.
KORNACKI: OK. Nick, what would a way forward look like here? because if this administration is not getting back into the Iran deal and there`s no indication that`s on the table here, then, put that aside, no strike last night, what do you do now?
KRISTOF: So there are a few things we can do. I mean, first of all there is this basic dispute about where the drone was and whether it entered Iranian air space. So, we have to resolve that for the sake of the U.S. credibility and for the sake of justifying any kind of response. And that also has the benefit of delaying any immediate crisis. That should be verifiable. There`s no excuse for not transparently explaining where exactly where that drone was.
Then, I think, we also need to make very clear to American commanders in the region that they are not to shoot except in the most extreme cases of self-defense or in orders of the President.
One of the historic problems in this area, one that the U.S. Navy has been very concern about is some accident, some incident hot heads, you know, perhaps provoked by the IRGC on the Iranian side that just explodes and escalates. And, you know, every Iranian knows that in 1988 we, the U.S., mistakenly shot down an Iranian commercial plane with 290 people aboard. That we mistakenly thought it was an F-14. That just can`t happen again.
I think that we need to diffuse the tanker problem by telling other countries "Look, these tankers are taking oil to your countries. You need to step up. You need to help protect them." That also makes it an issue between a multilateral issue not just between the U.S. and Iran. I think that will help.
And look, at the end of the day, it`s going to be difficult, but I think we have to initiate secret diplomacy and try to patch up the nuclear accord. Perhaps with face saving measures on each side that will allow, you know, everybody to claim triumph. But at the end of the day, you know, President Trump has been very successful in tactics that have created pain in Iran.
Those tactics, though, haven`t been harnessed any strategy. And so, aside from inflicting pain on Iran, they have simply pushed Iran closer to nuclear program. They have antagonized allies. They have created more insecurity. What we need is a strategy to be attached to those tactics.
KORNACKI: And Nayyera, everything that`s coming out and that we`re learning through this reporting about the decision making process, yesterday and the President sort of, you know, apparently being of two minds, you know, an alternate times on this. What`s your confidence level that he has landed in a position he`s going to stick with now versus the possibility that a week or two or in the not too distant future he takes a different posture when it comes to Iran and force?
HAQ: Now, this Iran question is certainly not solved for this administration. They`re going to the U.N. on Monday, and we`ll see how they pitch this battle or rhetoric, rhetorical battle with Iran at the U.N. security counsel where frankly those are the signatories to the Iran deal, Russia, China, Germany, other allies in Europe.
The people that Trump is looking to satisfy or that Bolton is looking to satisfy in the region by fighting their war for them, Israel and Saudi Arabia are not watching out for American interests at this point. So, understanding that Trump thinks are U.S. interests, luckily we know that indiscriminately killing people, he seems to agree that that is not in U.S. interest. But does he think that regime change is going to advance U.S. objectives? Does he think that nuclear deterrence through diplomacy is the best way to advance U.S. objectives? We don`t know what the theory of the case is for this administration in dealing with Iran and that`s the most problematic part of where we are right now.
KORNACKI: And Frank, from Iran`s standpoint, what are the next moves to look for here?
FIGLIUZZI: Well, we need to see. They`re going the take a while, scratch their heads and figure out what this President really describe. What he told Chuck Todd simply scares a lot of people because it doesn`t ring true with how execution orders are given for air strikes. It just doesn`t. So, Iran is going to figure out, is he playing a game with us? Is he trying to come across as the peace keeper in his administration? And that`s a dangerous game to play with Iran.
They`re going to -- I predict they`re going to keep at it. We`re going to see more activity to block the international transport of oil. They`re fighting for the survival of their economy. They`re not going to back down. This will be continued.
KORNACKI: All right, Frank Figliuzzi, Nayyera Haq, and Nicholas Kristof, thanks to all of you.
And coming up, text messages between Paul Manafort and Sean Hannity public tonight after a judge orders them released. What Manafort said Mueller was trying to do to him.
And later, Democratic presidential candidates head south for some fried fish and real in (ph) some voters in a key primary state. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Friday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Let me as ask you this, why do you think Nancy Pelosi has held off her impeachment caucus?
TRUMP: Because I think she feels that I will win much easier. I mean, I`ve been told that by many people.
TOOD: Do you think impeachment is good politics for you?
TRUMP: I think I win the election this year, but, you know, I`m not sure that I like having it -- look, I did nothing wrong. I was spied on. What they did to me was illegal. It was illegal on the other side. I did nothing wrong. So, impeachment is unfair thing because nothing that I did was wrong. And if you look at the Mueller report, there was no collusion. This was all about collusion. This was about conspiracy.
TODD: Nowhere in the Mueller report -- by the way, Mr. President, are you`re saying no collusion? There is not a single -- I`ve read this Mueller report, both --
TRUMP: Use the word collusion or use --
TODD: There`s not one place that says nothing happened.
TRUMP: Use the word collusion, use the word conspiracy.
TODD: It never says no collusion.
TRUMP: I`ll be honest with you, nobody even mentions Russia anymore since the Mueller report. They don`t mention in all fairness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Tonight, there are now 74 House Democrats and one Republican who say it is time to open an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump over the findings of the Mueller report. But, still no signs that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is budging in her opposition to pursuing impeachment.
There is also new information tonight concerning another target of the investigation. Late today a federal judge unsealed more than 50 pages of texts between former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort and Fox News host Sean Hannity, texts from the years 2017 and 2018. Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May of 2017. In two months later on July 26th of that year the FBI carried out a raid on Manafort`s Virginia home.
On August 9th, the day that news broke, Hannity sent this text to Manafort, "there are so many obvious crimes that are not being investigated. A deep state leak a day and little to nothing being done. If you ever want to talk, grab dinner, vent strategize, whatever, I am here." The next day Hannity told Manafort to watch his show. Then on august 11th Manafort wrote back, "I appreciate what you tried to do. Mueller is trying to intimidate me. This raid is just one example. I feel alone out there."
The two men remained in touch throughout 2017 with Hannity continuing to offer his unwavering support. Then in late January of 2018 Manafort wrote, "Sean, per our conversation this morning, my attorney, Kevin Downing, will call you at 11:30 tomorrow. He will update you on what we are doing and how it connects to your reporting." Hannity replied "Awesome."
Later that year another exchange shows Manafort insisting he would strike no cooperation deal with Mueller. Hannity starts the exchange, "Why don`t you get a sweetheart deal like Gates. Manafort says, "They would want me to give up DT or family, especially JK. I would never do that." Hannity, "Understand, there is nothing to give up on DT. What about J -- what did JK do?" Manafort, "Nothing, just like I did nothing. They will want me to make blank up on both. I will never do that."
Tonight, Hannity responded by posting this on social media, "My view of the special counsel investigation and the treatment of Paul Manafort were made clear every day to anyone who listens to my radio show or watches my T. V. show."
Manafort is now serving a seven and a half year prison sentence on charges brought by former counsel Robert Mueller. He was the only defendant to be convicted at trial in that investigation.
Joining me now, Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor for Politico.
Josh, let me just start with you on the sort of the mechanics of this. This news crossed the wire a couple hours ago that all these text messages were suddenly out there. What prompted that?
JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think there`s been an effort by the judge that handled the Manafort case as well as by journalists to try to get all the sort of loose ends of the various Mueller prosecutions unsealed. And so we`ve been seeing it in a variety of different contexts, at different court proceedings, dribs and drabs coming out of things that were filed under seal at different points when the case was being hotly litigated involving Manafort. And so it finally emerged on a Friday afternoon as they were sort of cleaning up some of the paperwork, I think.
KORNACKI: And Harry, 50 pages of text, we read from some of them there. You know, you hear Sean Hannity`s responses, he says, "Look, this is basically what I say in my T.V. show every night." And certainly reading through them I was getting that same impression, having that same reaction. Is there anything legally significant in this text or is it just interesting to see?
HARRY LITMAN, FMR. DEPUTY ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I don`t think there`s that much legally about him. Of course, we knew, it`s true, Sean Hannity knew his viewpoint but you didn`t know he was participating in cahoots, so to speak, with Paul Manafort. The legal significance went to Manafort who was under a gag order at the time and was brazenly violating it. And that`s the reason in fact, the stuff first came up and eventually stopped. Judge Jackson said, "What`s going on? You`re under a show cause order, that you`re not violating this." And that`s when he stopped, you know, playing footsie with Manafort.
So there`s no legal issue. But there`s a kind of a strange political issue the way things are intertwined between supposed objective reporters and one of the actual objects of the story.
KORNACKI: So again, this is related to the Mueller investigation. Then there are, of course, there are the Congressional investigations in news today from Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman.
Josh, on one front Nadler talking about that appearance by Hope Hicks yesterday where Hope Hicks said very little. Nadler said he got something very significant out of that hearing. What is he claiming?
GERSTEIN: So Nadler told our Politico reporters in an interview that he believes that Hope Hicks is intransigence when it comes to answering certain questions. She really wouldn`t answer any questions related to the time she served in the White House.
And Nadler believes that the breadth of that refusal on Hicks` part will actually be to the committee`s advantage. There are going to be court fights not about Hicks` testimony, but also about testimony from various other witnesses, folks like Don McGahn and others. And those fights are already underway in federal court with different committees.
And Nadler believes that the breadth of this refusal on Hicks` part, you know, she refused to discuss where her desk was in the West Wing of the White House, she refused to say whether a war broke out over certain topics during the time she was there. And the chairman of this Judiciary Committee thinks that just the way that that was handled will highlight to judges sort of the implications of granting this kind of a broad protection to the White House and effectively tactically undercut the White House`s case.
KORNACKI: So Harry, we`ve seen a couple times now Nadler has claimed dramatic brake throughs publicly. Here is one case -- also he talked about getting access, he said, to some of Mueller`s most sensitive, most significant files. Is this bluster? Is this somebody trying to make it seem very significant in terms of the court of public opinion of what`s happened or do you think there`s something to the argument he`s making here that this is going to really help him, really going to help Democrat in these court fights ahead?
GERSTEIN: Bluster mostly. I don`t think it really gave him that much. The breadth, as Josh says, the breadth of the objection was already clear. It`s somewhat dramatic to see a transcript where a 155 times she`s ordered to stand down and not respond. But the legal rationale is the same.
The sense that it sets up something big that wouldn`t already have been set up, I think theirs is this, you know, ongoing tension in the caucus whether it`s worthwhile to have brought her in, whether it was OK to do her behind closed doors. And I think in a sense he`s claiming victory where at best he got a tie.
KORNACKI: Also some new reporting tonight. I think we can put this up on the screen from the "Wall Street Journal." This having to do with the Attorney General William Barr in the investigation he`s launched into the Russia investigation from the "Wall Street Journal." This review they say is focussed -- there you see the headline is "focused impart on the U.S. intelligence assessment that found Moscow intervened in the 2016 presidential election to help then-candidate Donald Trump. That it will look in particular at whether there were disagreements among the intelligence analysts and that the review is also likely to look into whether the findings were motivated by political opposition to Mr. Trump."
And Harry, that`s a theme obviously, I think you heard it right there in that interview we played from the President coming in. That`s a theme that he and his supporters, he`s allies have been pressing heavily. What do you make of what we`re learning about the contours of this investigation Barr is leading?
LITMAN: Well the fact of it, and what we already knew was significant. That he`s doing this for a third time and he does really seem to approach it with a sense of real gravity about what might have happened.
In terms of the contours, and we`ve done this two or three times, they`re pretty obvious contours for what the U.S. attorney in Connecticut done and would be looking at anyway. So I think this is a kind of report that states the obvious, and that is really not source. But yes, of course, if you`re going to look at that, you`re going to talk to certain people, I don`t think that tells you anything new.
The big news, of course, is just that the probe is going on, and that while it`s going on, Trump has a great talking point for his political rallies. You know, investigate the investigators and the like.
KORNACKI: All right. Harry Litman, Josh Gerstein, thanks to both of you for joining us on a Friday night.
GERSTEIN: Thank you.
KORNACKI: And coming up, another woman steps forward and accuses the President of sexual assault. What Trump had to say about it when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E. JEAN CARROLL, ELLE ADVICE COLUMNIST: I felt that the situation in Bergdorf is my fault. I blame myself for that. I said I am the stupidest woman who`s ever walked. And I did that for years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Advice columnist and author E. Jean Carroll is now the 16th woman to publicly accuse the President Trump of sexual misconduct.
The New York Times also spoke with the author this afternoon. It writes, "Ms. Carroll said she decided to write about her experience now because she felt she owed her readers transparency." "I just thought it`s time. I owe it to my beloved readers. I can`t keep up this facade," she said.
NBC Correspondent Anne Thompson has more on the author`s allegations.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ANNE THOMPSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: E. Jean Carroll has had many roles, Advice columnist, writer, talk show host.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twice every day, E. Jean offers her advice on everything.
THOMPSON: Now in a new book exalted today in New York Magazine, Carroll reveals a shocking claim, saying President Donald Trump assaulted her in the `90s. An accusation the White House calls false and unrealistic.
CARROLL: I had a run-in with the President in a dressing room in Bergdorf`s. I fought. It was shocking. It was against my will.
THOMPSON: The Bergdorf Goodman Department Store is across Fifth Avenue from Trump Tower. She can`t remember the exact date, either the fall of 1995 or spring of 1996, but Carroll does remember Trump recognizing her as that Advice lady.
She writes, he asked her for help in buying a present for a girl. Eventually they went to the lingerie department, joking about trying on a lacy body suit and into a dressing room.
CARROLL: The minute he closed the door, boom, he threw me up against the wall and tried to kiss me. It was so shocking to me.
THOMPSON: She says he forced himself on her. It lasts three minutes, she writes. She pushes him off and runs out of the dressing room.
A friend of Carroll`s confirmed to NBC News that Carroll told her about the alleged attack the next day.
CARROLL: It just became time for me to tell my story. And I hope it helps empower other women to come forward with their story, because it is not easy.
THOMPSON: In a statement tonight, President Trump says I`ve never met this person in my life. She`s trying to sell a new book. That should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section.
The statement goes on to say, "It never happened." He points out there is no evidence and he questions Carroll`s political motivation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And that was our own Anne Thompson reporting.
Coming up, a South Carolina congressman`s annual fish fry tonight kicks off a busy next several days for all of those Democrats hoping to be president. More on that when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope to be your nominee. I`m going to work as hard as I can to get your support. But here`s the deal, whomever the Democratic nominee is, we have to stay together and elect a Democrat.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This election is not about one person, one office. It is about who we are as a nation.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we`re going to bring our people together around an agenda that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And in our America, we will have a president of the United States who is in the business, not of beating people down but lifting people up.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our chance, 2020. We can dream big, fight hard, and win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Looks like Bernie Sanders didn`t get the memo on the t-shirt. We are now just five days away from the first Democratic debate right here on MSNBC, NBC News and Telemundo. And tonight, 22 Democratic presidential candidates are in the crucial early primary state of South Carolina for Congressman Jim Clyburn`s World Famous Fish Fry. That`s what they call it.
The candidates are making their pitches to the state`s African American voters in particular. About 60 percent of the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate will be black next year. Tomorrow, they will get another chance to make their case to voters, the South Carolina State Party Convention.
Tonight`s event was also the first time that former Vice President Joe Biden was in the same place as most of his rivals, following his comments about his past work with segregationist senators.
The most recent South Carolina post carrier poll that was taken days before the Biden controversy, it shows him in the lead in the state with Elizabeth Warren in second place followed by Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.
With us to talk about this busy weekend for Democrats, Tal Kopan, Washington Correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle and Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter.
So, obviously, the big question hanging over tonight and this weekend in South Carolina is Joe Biden. Will there be fallout because of these comments this week that were reported, this controversy. We have some sound from the ground there at this fish fry tonight, voters being asked about Biden. Let`s take a listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANIE FAIR, PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA: I liked Joe Biden when he was vice president, but I`m not sure about him as president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you say that?
FAIR: Well, I don`t know. I`ve just got to hear what he has to say as the president. There`s a big difference between being vice president and being a president.
DALHI MYERS, VICE CHAIR, RICHLAND COUNTRY COUNCIL: I think that what happened with Joe Biden was an unfortunate mistake and so far as people`s analysis of it. I`m not going to focus on that. I`m going to focus on the substance. He has a record of over 30 years of substantive achievement. And I`m focused on the substance of everybody`s record. And so, that`s what I`d like to focus on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Tal, we show Biden has been leading in South Carolina, doing very well with black voters. The approach he`s taking on, once this controversy began, the refusal to apologize. There have been some calls for him to do it. What do you make of how he handled this so far?
TAL KOPAN, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Well, he may be making a bet on the makeup of the electorate. You know, if you notice, many of the lawmakers that have been coming to his defense, many from the Congressional Black Caucus, they`re from sort of earlier generations. They were the leaders of the civil rights movement.
They`re Clyburn, John Lewis, you know, and many of the voters in the south may also be of that generation. And they may have a reaction that it`s not quite as shocking to them to see, you know, Joe Biden who came up through the `70s. This is sort of the era that they were all a part of.
Now, to younger voters perhaps this is something that is less familiar to them and they did not grow up with it. So, you know, there may be a bit of a calculation, is the Democratic electorate going to look more like this older generation of voters or are there going to be younger voters who may, you know, sort of respond to this as sort of maybe not questioning what`s in Joe Biden`s heart necessarily but looking at him as sort of a product of an older era.
And that has always been one of the big concerns for the Biden camp, is when he gets on the stage with some of these younger candidates, is he going to look out of touch. And so, this is -- this seems to be another sort of brick in that wall. But he may not be wrong if you think about who votes, it tends to be the older generations.
So we still see him holding onto that lead. The question is whether it`s a ceiling instead of a floor.
KORNACKI: Well, you mentioned John Lewis, Jim Clyburn there in South Carolina coming to Biden`s defense. Let`s play a little of what they had to say about that in the last couple of days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: He is keeping with the philosophy of the civil rights movement. We reach out to people. We try to work with individuals. We don`t give up on anyone. That`s what we did during the `60s.
We met with people like Governor Wallace in Alabama. We met with law enforcement individuals, even with people who had arrested us and jailed us.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: So you work with people who you do not agree with in order to get things done for your constituents. And so, I don`t blame Joe Biden for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Jon, Cory Booker in particular has tried to make this issue going after the vice president on this week. And the former vice president and the former vice president fired back and told him that Cory Booker should apologize instead.
The fact that you have luminaries like John Lewis who apparently have Joe Biden`s back on this, does that cut into the effectiveness of the attack that Cory Booker was launching this week?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Sure. It`s always worth listening to what Congressman Lewis has to say. I mean, this is somebody who has been for generations now identifying friend and foe to the civil rights movement, somebody who literally bled for his right to vote, not for so many millions of others, so absolutely worth listening to. And somebody who has a very strong views on this, and somebody who has credible views on this.
All that said, I think one of the questions about agreement or about the agreement that Joe Biden was talking about and disagreement Joe Biden was talking about with regard to Jim Eastland is, Joe Biden believes that he didn`t agree with Jim Eastland because Joe Biden was not an unreconstructed bigot which Jim Eastland was.
Joe Biden came into the Senate as part of a wave of moderate white Democrats replacing older border state and southern segregationist Democrats, and in some cases some Republicans who were pro-civil rights, but also had a limit to what they wanted to do to use the government to force integration.
So there were places where Joe Biden was in agreement in policy with Eastland, for instance on school bussing which we`ve heard a fair amount about already in this campaign. And that was not a small place of agreement. Joe Biden was not somebody who voted with Eastland on bussing. He was somebody who led the anti-bussing movement.
He is somebody who talked about bussing being a bankrupt concept and didn`t want the federal government to get so deep into forcing integration in schools as to be able to bus students from one district to another. And that was a debate that went on for years and years. That`s not just like one vote. That is, you know, the `70s and even into the early `80s.
And so, this is something Joe Biden is probably going to have to talk more about. But if you look at the totality of his career, he was also extremely who is extremely strong on the voting rights extensions, Voting Rights Acts extensions as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and ranking member, Civil Rights Act extension, broadening some of these other rights to various communities.
So this is a much more complicated nuance issue than most people are giving credit to right now.
KORNACKI: And, Tal, what`s your sense of all the Democratic candidates, particularly the ones though who are going to be on stage with Biden next week, whether it`s this issue or any other. The appetite the other candidates have, his opponents have to directly take him on, on that stage next week?
KOPAN: Yes. I was talking to one of the campaigns today about this very issue. And, you know, I think one of the things you`re seeing with some of these civil rights leaders coming to Biden`s defense, there is not much of an appetite among Democrats to really go after each other.
I mean, we had a nasty primary in the 2016 cycle, and they don`t want to have sort of that knockdown drag out fight again. Many of them are genuine friends.
At the same time, we`ve already seen with Cory Booker, with Kamala Harris really condemning these comments. They`re going to go after specific differences that they see with these candidates.
So I don`t think you`re going to see a real sort of shark pile on attack on Biden on that debate stage. I think there`s a fear that that might really backfire. At the same time, these candidates are going to have to draw distinctions between themselves.
And when they see an opportunity to go after sort of an idea instead of a person, which is something Cory Booker talked about who is -- one who has really preached, you know, being friendly and amicable through the process. When they can go after the idea and concept instead of having to attack the candidate directly, I think that is where they`re going to feel on firmer ground.
And so, you`ll probably going to see some of those flash points emerge more on sort of these substantive issues.
KORNACKI: All right. Tal Kopan and Jonathan Allen, thank you.
ALLEN: Thank you.
KORNACKI: We`re back after this.
KORNACKI: Well, you know what? It has felt to me for a long time now or at least the last couple of years that a lot of people are more interested in politics, care more passionately about politics than was the case before. Maybe it was the case, that`s something that always felt like to me, or at least it has for the last two years.
Now we have some numbers to back up maybe that gut feeling I`ve had, maybe you`ve had it too. It`s from our new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll out this week. And we asked people this question, "How important is politics to your life?"
Let me take you through what we found here. That question, not at all important, 3 percent in our new poll said, "No, politics not at all important to my life," OK.
The next option was, "well, it`s not very important." It is something there, but it`s not very important, 10 percent said that. How about somewhat important? Politics is somewhat important in my life, 43 percent said politics is somewhat important in their life.
And how about this, the biggest single number on the board, "very important," 44 percent said that politics is very important to their life, 87 percent in other words said that politics in some way is important to their life.
Put that this way, 87 percent said it`s important to some degree, 13 percent, not important.
Now here`s the part where I say it feels like it`s different now than it was a few years ago. Unfortunately, this is not a poll question we`ve been tracking year to year, but this is a poll question that the Gallup Organization asked about a generation ago.
In the spring of 1990, May and June of 1990, take yourself back, if you can. Same question was asked, what was the result? 87/13 now, back then 50/50. 50 percent said that politics really wasn`t important to them a generation ago. Now, 87 percent say it`s important to them.
That`s a pretty big jump over the course of the last generation. And I think it says a lot about it. By the way, there is a partisan difference on this. Overall you can see most people saying it`s important to some degree.
But the folks who say it`s very important, the ones who say it`s the most important to them, there`s a bit of a partisan divide. We can show you that.
Among independents, 36 percent right now say politics is very important to them. Among Republicans, 43 percent say it`s very important to them. Among Democrats, 49 percent say that politics is very important to them right now. So there`s a bit of a difference there.
But overall, everyone or almost everyone is saying it`s at least important to them right now. Make of that what you will.
Coming up, a look ahead to next week`s big event when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
KORNACKI: And next week is a big week for us here at MSNBC, the first Democratic presidential debate, a special two-night event will take place in Miami, Florida on Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, Warren, Booker, Klobuchar and more, will take the stage. And then on Thursday, Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris will battle it out with six others. You can watch it all right here on MSNBC.
And this reminder, seconds from now at the stroke of midnight, Saturday morning, there will be exactly 500 days to go until Election Day 2020.
That is our broadcast for tonight. Brian will be back on Monday. Thank you for being with us, and goodnight from NBC News Headquarters in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END