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Trump imposes new sanctions on Iran. TRANSCRIPT: 6/24/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Neal Katyal, Elliot Williams Anita Kumar, Joshua Jamerson

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Thank you very much (INAUDIBLE), really appreciate it.

"THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, the President says, who knows what`s going to happen with regard to Iran as he signs more sanctions to put pressure on Iranians having decided at the last minute not to attack Iran.

Plus, are Democrats running out of time to get Robert Mueller before them to testify?  Negotiations in high gear this week as another House Democrat now calls for impeachment proceedings.

And Mayor Pete under the microscope in his hometown of South Bend, Joe Biden trying to right the ship ahead of Thursday`s debate.  THE 11TH HOUR on a Monday night gets under way now.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 886 of the Trump administration.  And the President is, again, punishing Iran days after suddenly reversing a decision to launch military strikes to retaliate for the downing of an unmanned U.S. drone.  He`s imposing new sanctions now targeting Iran`s leadership.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Today`s action follows a series of aggressive behaviors by the Iranian regime in recent weeks including shooting down of U.S. drones.

We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran until the regime abandons its dangerous activities and its aspirations including the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

I look forward to discussing whatever I have to discuss with anybody that wants to speak.  In the meantime, who knows what`s going to happen.  I can only tell you we cannot ever let Iran have a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Just days ago, we learned of Trump`s decision to stop an attack on Iranian targets just as it was about to begin the.  The reversal came hours after the President said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  They made a very bad mistake.  OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How will you respond?

TRUMP:  You`ll find out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you willing to go to war with Iran?

TRUMP:  You`ll find out.  You`ll find out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Trump`s handling of Iran is renewing concerns that his negotiating style of pushing toward the brink then pulling back just before carrying out on a threat is putting our nation somehow at risk.  The "Associated Press" writes tonight that Trump`s, "abrupt decision against military strikes may have prevented open military conflict with Iran, but it also showed him anew to be an unpredictable, unreliable, partner at home and abroad.  On trade tariffs, immigration raids and now the standoff with Iran, his course reversals, confound allies as well as adversaries, and his own party in Congress."

Here`s another example.  Exactly one week ago, Trump sent out this warning and we quote, "Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.  They will be removed as fast as they come in."

Then on Saturday, a day before the deportations were to begin, he wrote, "At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the illegal immigration removal process, deportation, for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the asylum and Loopholes," capital L, "problems at the southern border.  If not, deportations start."

Our NBC News colleague Julia Ainsley reports that two DHS officials say Sunday`s raids were called off in large part because details of the plans had leaked to us in the media.  "The Washington Post" reports this about Trump and we quote, "policy turnarounds by President Trump this month have underscored his free-wheeling governing style, an approach that some experts warns sends mixed messages and puts U.S. national security at risk."  They add, "Trump is increasingly employing brinksmanship in an effort to achieve key policy goals."

Here for our leadoff discussion on a fresh Monday night, we`re fortunate to have these first three former, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Chief Counsel for House Intel.  Annie Karni, White House Reporter with "The New York Times."  And Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post."

Annie, I`d like to begin with you.  Do you, indeed, fueled by your reporting or simple observation see this as a theme?

ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  It`s certainly a theme.  He likes to go to the brink.  It`s brinksmanship. Threaten some severe action, and in the last minute pull it back.

Now, the question is here, is he achieving policy goals through this style of governing?  The answer is sometimes a little bit, sometimes not much.  Is he -- what is the aftereffect of this?  We`ve seen it here on the Iran strike, on the tariffs with Mexico that he threatened and then at the last minute reversed course, and on the ICE raids.

And one thing that`s in common with all these pieces here is that often even while making the threat, he doesn`t make it clear what actions would stop him from taking that action.  For instance, when he announced the tariffs on Mexico, it was very vague what actions Mexico could take to stop him from imposing the tariffs completely.  On the night they were announced, the Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said they will be looking at Mexico`s actions on a day-to-day basis.

It wasn`t clear what actions need to be taken for the ICE raids to be put off permanently, not just for the next two weeks.  And it`s not clear what casualty number would have deterred Trump -- would have not deterred Trump from making that strike against Iran.  So his actions also are not explained.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, a dual question to you.  Everybody likes having optionality and wiggle room, but A, what kind of signal does this send to our allies?  B, how should we be treating Iran right about now?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, the President I think made three big mistakes.  First he minimized the strike against the U.S. aircraft in international airspace.  It wasn`t an accident as the President suggested.  It was a third effort by Iran to down U.S. aircraft.

The first was successful over Yemen, the week before last.  And they shot at one of our predators which we put over top the stricken tanker the week before last.  And then they took down for the first time a U.S. flag carrier in international airspace over international waters.  So, first he minimized it.

Second, he yanked the operation out from under the troops.  And I think any time you give a command downrange, you have to have clarity and discipline.  You don`t want the troops at the strike group commander level or the wing commander level looking over their shoulder wondering whether or not the President is going to pull back an order.

And third, he told an obvious falsehood that he called it off because of civilian casualties.  We all know he was briefed about that hours before.  That was not the reason.  I think he just lost his nerve.

What should we do?  I think we have to be prepared for military action.  And everyone should not be breathing a sigh of relief.  If the Iranians now feel emboldened by the President`s lack of action and take another shot at aircraft in international airspace, I think it` going to be game on.  I think we have to tighten our screws.  Get allies lined up.  Our posture in the reach, it has to be aggressive.

I like the sanctions action, and I think there are other ways to pressurize them.  But ultimately we have to know what our end game is, drive them back to the negotiating table and get back into this Iran deal.

WILLIAMS:  Phil Rucker, Speaker Pelosi has said take no action against Iran without Congress` approval.  The President was asked about that today by the T.V. arm of the publication "The Hill."  We`ll play the clip for you, talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I like the idea of keeping Congress abreast but I wouldn`t have to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sure.  Nancy Pelosi said you must have Congressional approval.  So do you disagree with her on that?

TRUMP:  I disagree.  I think most people seem to disagree.  But, I do like keeping them.  They have ideas.  They`re intelligent people.  They`ll come up with some thoughts.  I actually learned a couple of things the other day when we lad our meeting with Congress which were I think were helpful to me.  But, I do like keeping them abreast, but I don`t have to do it illegally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Phil Rucker, we need alas a viewer`s guide for what we just heard there.  What is the truth?

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF:  Well, what you just heard there, Brian, is a president who is trying to act all powerful but he is, indeed, part of a co-equal branch of government.  The Executive Branch is equal to the Legislative Branch.

Congress controls the power of the purse and that is why Congress traditionally in this country, you know, is given advanced warning of these sorts of things and is consulted about these sorts of moves.

And it`s interesting the mission, the attack that Trump was set to authorize in Iran last week, he did not communicate anything about that to Speaker Pelosi or to other leaders in Congress, that`s according to their accounts.  And so, we`ll see if he does that in the future, but he does not seem inclined to do that.  He doesn`t seem to value their input or really respect the power of the offices that they hold.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy, I`ll just go ahead and ask this because it was the first -- the initial thought of anyone conspiracy-minded when the Iran attack was called off, what`s the chance this President`s choice is at all informed by Vladimir Putin who he`ll see later this week at the G20?

BASH:  I don`t know how much that played a role in this.  It`s true that actually Putin has gotten his way largely in the Middle East.  He has supported obviously the Assad regime.  Iran has long sought to create a land bridge all the way from Iran, through Iraq, through Syria, and dominating Lebanon, out to the Mediterranean.

There is an alliance of sorts between what Putin`s trying to achieve in the region and what Iran is trying to achieve.  I don`t know how much it motivated the President in this case.  But I think at a larger level, Putin looks to Trump and said this guy backed down, he somehow lost his nerve.  There`s no way he`s ever going to push me around.  He`s going to be a pretty easy foe if we ever get into it.

And I just think that that augers poorly for the United States and our interests around the world.

WILLIAMS:  And Phil Rucker, if I have the math right, the President arrives at the G20, and the first morning session is almost exactly concurrent with the second night Democratic debate.  All the Democrats will be in Miami --

RUCKER:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  -- the President with world leaders, is there a chance we`re looking at him trying to create a counter headline of some sort?  He has, after all, been called the "cable news president."

RUCKER:  Certainly possible, Brian.  I mean, President Trump does not go to these global summits without creating some sort of drama or headline.  We`ve seen him, you know, when he was at NATO last year threaten to pull out of NATO.  It was a huge moment there at the NATO headquarters for a couple hours of uncertainty and there could be similar drama as he heads to Japan.  He`s going to be meeting with various foreign leaders to try to shore up alliances with regard to Iran.  But he`s also going to be thinking about the nuclear threat from North Korea.  He`s got meetings with Putin but also with Chinese President Xi, with the king of Saudi Arabia, and with a number of other leaders.

WILLIAMS:  Annie Karni, in no particular order, trouble with Iran, the G20 getting under way, and the President faces a rape allegation, actively and currently.  In anyone`s view, is this just a Monday in the Trump administration?

KARNI:  The threat from Iran is a different sort of thing than anything else he`s confronted in that this was an action that they took that pushed him into making -- to a serious judgment call and a test that he hasn`t really faced yet.  These other issues have been one that he is the preemptor, not vice versa.  So that`s something different and something escalated here.

The rape allegation is the most serious allegation of sexual assault among the more than a dozen women who have come forward to make accusations against him in the past.  We saw him dismiss this one as he`s dismissed all the other ones using the same language and in that interview with "The Hill", he also said "She`s not my type" which is how he`s dismissed these allegations in the past.

But as much as it feels like a sort of a climactic point in this administration, it often feels like that every week, so, time will tell.

WILLIAMS:  I`m guessing tomorrow will be Tuesday.  To our lead guests tonight, to Jeremy Bash, Annie Karni, Phil Rucker, can`t thank you enough very much.  Appreciate you coming on to start a new week with us.

And coming up, one high-ranking Democrat warns the clock is ticking when it comes to trying to subpoena this man to appear before Congress.

And later, pressure on this administration increases by the day as dire living conditions continue by the day for migrant children detained along the border.  As THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  So it`s now been over two months since the redacted version of the Mueller report was released to the public.  Democrats are still pushing for Robert Swan Mueller III himself to testify.

On Sunday, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Congress is running out of time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  We have been in private discussions with the special counsel`s office.  It`s not clear that he will refuse to come involuntarily.  We are negotiating what the conditions of that appearance might be.

But yes, we are running out of time.  It`s my hope that we`ll reach a final conclusion, either he`s going to come involuntarily or we`re going to have to subpoena him.  I hope that we`ll reach that decision this week because we want to have him come in during July.  And I think that`s going to be the case, Jake, whether it`s voluntarily or involuntary by subpoena.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And then there`s this front, the number of House Democrats supporting an impeachment inquiry is growing, albeit slowly by the day.  Today, it was Connecticut Democratic Congressman Jim Himes who serves on the Intelligence Committee.  He became the latest member of Congress to voice his support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  The time has come, Mr. Speaker, for the House of Representatives to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.  From the moment of his inauguration, this president has shown contempt for the truth, has attacked our institutions, and has ignored the Constitution he swore to defend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Here`s the math, 76 Democrats, there they all are, now say they support an impeachment inquiry or proceedings and one Republican, Justin Amash of Michigan.

But to be clear, the Democrats backing impeachment represent 32 percent of all the Democrats in the House, still less than a mathematical third of the Democrats.  And remember, Nancy Pelosi has said, all along there would have to be overwhelming public support for impeachment.

Back with us tonight is Neal Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General during the Obama Administration.  He has argued 39 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Also happens to be a veteran of the Justice Department where he drafted the special counsel regulations under which Mueller was appointed.

Counselor, thank you for coming back on with us.  I have a dual question for you.  How critical, really, is Mueller`s testimony under the "Be careful what you wish for" caveat?  And number two, what could the Democrats be doing right now that you from the outside look at them and wish they were doing?

NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL:  So I think Mueller`s testimony is important.  It might not have been after he issue -- after he wrote his report, the problem was this intervening factor of Attorney General Barr going out and spinning the report before anyone had a chance to look at it.

You know in Supreme Court litigation, we really think about framing the debate is kind of giving you the chief advantage, the first person to speak.  And normally that first speaker doesn`t really distort the facts and cover stuff up.  But that`s what happened with Barr.

And so I think what`s going on now and why you see, Brian, these increasing calls for impeachment among Democrats is because, frankly, they`ve now read the report.  And I think the American public, more and more people, are now reading the report and understanding that what Barr called the report was not the report.  The report makes very clear, it`s now over a thousand federal prosecutors, former federal prosecutors have found, that just on its own terms, you just read the report, and it amounts to obstruction of justice, a very serious felony, by the President of the United States, a sitting president doing those things.  And so that`s why I think we`re seeing these increasing calls.

And, you know, what can Congress do?  I think they could -- those who haven`t read the report should.  I think that`s number one.

Number two, you`re absolutely right to say right now, it`s only 32 percent of something of Democrats in the House, but there aren`t people opposed to impeachment yet.  And I think that`s because they haven`t gone and looked at all the facts and the like.

And then I think the final variable here is actually the administration.  You know, it might be one thing, maybe impeachment could have been avoided if the administration actually did what prior administrations did and make witnesses available, but this administration has asserted executive privilege over all sorts of witnesses including Kelly Anne Conway and Don McGhan, the President`s White House counsel.

And I think the one thing I`d like to see right now the Democrats do is call McGhan up to the Congress.  Call it impeachment.  I don`t care what you call it.  You have to ask him a simple question.  Mr. McGhan, you told Robert Mueller that you -- that President Trump ordered you to fire Mueller and you didn`t carry that out.  Why not?

They don`t want that on live TV because they know the answer to that which is McGhan believed that was an illegal order.  And to see that on television for the folks around the world to see it just as we all saw that oral argument last week about children and the horrible conditions they`re in, you know, to see it on video I think will change the debate immensely and I think it`s got to happen.

WILLIAMS:  So you concede that if the Nadler committee truly finds their voice and their stride, they could have hearings that are impeachable-like, impeachment-esque in everything but title.

KATYAL:  Absolutely.  I think that`s a core function of what the Congress of the United States is about and I think that the Democrats right now are wasting some time and for, you know, I understand they wanted to see would the President assert the executive privilege?  But now we know, he has a view of executive privilege that would make Nixon blush.  And so, you know, there is only one remedy at that stage which is to call for an impeachment or impeachment-like inquiry to pierce these bogus notions of executive privilege.  We could fight it out in the courts and undoubtedly the Democrats would win but that would take a long time.

WILLIAMS:  President has gotten recently expansive in the answers to some questions.  Chuck Todd got him to admit that his biggest regret was the appointment of Jeff Sessions.  Here`s what he said to "Hill TV" today, tonight, actually, about Christopher Wray and this is not a ringing endorsement of the FBI director he appointed.

"President Trump on Monday declined to say he has confidence in Christopher Wray and stressed that he disagrees with the FBI director who has said he does not believe there was spying on the President`s 2016 campaign.  "Well, we`ll see how it turns out," Trump said in exclusive interview with "The Hill" when asked about his level of confidence in Wray.  "I mean, I disagree with him on that.  I think a lot of people are disagreeing.  You may even disagree with him on that."

Counselor, this is not the first time the President has cast doubt on one of his hires not the first time he has cast doubt on the director of our Premier Law Enforcement Agency.

KATYAL:  Yes, so, just starting with Jeff Sessions, the idea that the President would said that`s the one mistake he made, which is appoint a guy who had one shred, one day when he issued something of independent judgment by stepping aside in this whole Russia inquiry, that that`s the guy that you regret as opposed to, say, Michael Flynn, a convicted felon who`s your national security adviser, or Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt who are guys who I think were so corrupt they`d make my own hometown, Chicago, old-style politicians blush or my parents` politicians and in -- their Indian villages blush.

I mean, this is, you know, really absurd to think that that`s the mistake.  And I think it goes to the larger pattern, Brian, that you`re indicating, which is when it comes to rule of law officials, whether its judges, the FBI director, the attorney general or the rule of law, itself, this is a president who thinks he`s above that.

And that everything is tied back to that simple thing.  Whether it`s executive privilege, whether it`s impeachment, whether it`s obstruction of justice, or how he talks about his own Cabinet and the Federal Judiciary.  This is someone who has an assault on the rule of law.  And it is up to our Congress to stand up for us and to say, "This is not who we are as Americans.  This is not a party thing.  This is simply a foundational principle that our country is built on."

WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to a veteran rule of law guy, Neal Katyal, for coming back on the broadcast.  We appreciate it.

KATYAL:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Another break for us.  And coming up, the Speaker of the House told the President he was scaring children in this country.  It seems to have worked for now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Hundreds of migrant children have been moved out of a Texas border patrol station after they were found to be living in deplorable conditions.  An attorney who visited the facility described what she saw earlier tonight here on this network.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN BINFORD, WILLAMETTE UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR:  We saw children who were being forced to live in horrendous conditions that no child should ever have to live in.

Many children reported that they regularly were forced to sleep on the cement including infants and toddlers.

We saw the children who were dirty and some of them smelled.  We saw their clothes were stained.  There was no soap.  They were infrequently allowed to brush their teeth.

Then they were given the same breakfast, same lunch, same dinner day after day and we`re talking about instant foods.  We`re talking about Kool-aid.  And we`re talking about frozen burritos.  It is just not a way to care for children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  These reports came just days after a Trump administration lawyer attempted to defend those very same unsanitary conditions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATSUSHI WALLACE TASHIMA, SENIOR JUDGE OF THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT:  It`s within everybody`s common understanding that, you know if you don`t have a toothbrush, if you don`t have soap, if you don`t have a blanket, it`s not safe and sanitary.  Wouldn`t everybody agree to that?  Do you agree to that?

SARAH FABIAN, DOJ ATTORNEY: Well, I think it`s -- I think those are -- there`s fair reason to find that those things may be part of safety and sanitary.

TASHIMA:  Not may be, are a part.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Those are federal judges, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  And with us to talk about it tonight, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent, Associate Editor for Politico, Elliot Williams, former Federal Prosecutor who was Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Counsel to the US Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as former Assistant Director for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE.  Good evening.  Welcome to you both.

Elliot, I`d like to start with you because of attempts out in the media to normalize this.  We`re hearing the refrain from the current crowd.  This is the same thing that Obama did/Obama was even more aggressive on this front.  Elliot, once and for all, since you were there, what of this is a continuation of Obama policy?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER ASSISTANCE DIRECTOR, US IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT:  Let me make something abundantly clear.  The Obama administration never had a policy of deliberately separating parents from their children as a means of deterring people from coming to the United States, period.  And that`s the thing.

Like, the -- And I think what`s getting lost in this is, you know, the mere fact that if children were ever separated from their parents, it was incidental and immediately they were reunited with -- at least the intent was to reunite them with their parents or their families.  There was never a goal.

And the administration now, the Trump administration, has stated we intended to deter people from coming to the United States with the fear that your toddlers will be taken away from you.  That is certainly sinister to say the least.  And I think it`s a means of distancing themselves from the true intent of the approach that they`re taking here.

But again, what this all exposes is what we need to be having is a bigger, broader, comprehensive conversation about how we ensure orderly access to the United States via the immigration system, how we ensure safe and orderly removal from the United States, you know, as to people who ought not to be here, but also how we fix the conditions, the horrific conditions, frankly, throughout parts of the hemisphere that have led to the mess down at the border.  And we`re not having that critical conversation that needs to be had with Congress, needs to be had with the public and with the White House, the administration.

But, you know, but I think we`re getting into the weeds of a lot of these (inaudible) and what we need to be having is how we humanely treat our immigration system.  And I think that`s getting lost in this whole discussion.

WILLIAMS:  Anita, I want to share with our audience what some of this normalization sounds like.  Here`s the President with Chuck Todd.  We`ll discuss it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I ended separation.  I inherited separation from President Obama.  President Obama built, they call them jail cells.  They were built.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Let`s talk about what`s happening now.  Your administration, you`re not doing the recreation.  You`re not even schooling these kids anymore.  You`ve gotten rid of all that stuff.

TRUMP:  We`re doing a fantastic job under the circumstances.  The Democrats aren`t even approving giving us money.  Where is the money?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Anita, is any of that going to get traction that this is because of Democrats?

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO:  Well, that`s been the President`s talking points, right?  He has been blaming Democrats and trying to pressure them saying that it`s their fault, they have to fix it.  He did give them two weeks, you know, the Congress two weeks to try to come up with some laws.  I don`t think you`ll find a Democrat or Republican in Washington who thinks that Congress can solve this problem or even pass a bill on the border, related to the border, in the next two weeks.

So, you know, it is something that he`s going to be talking about on the campaign trail.  It`s something he`s been talking about and we`re going to hear him blame the Democrats over and over for this issue.

I mean, nobody wants to be blamed for things that are happening to small children.  You saw the President last year say when there was the child separation issue, when there was an uproar from both sides, both Democrats and Republicans, you saw him turn the page on that.  He said I`m not going to do that anymore.  And I don`t think he wants to be blamed for what`s going on right now.

WILLIAMS:  Elliot, If I appointed you special master for this and lord knows I wish I could, what one specific cruelty would you try to remedy and how?

E. WILLIAMS:  You know, Brian, look, I`m the parent of two very small children and, you know, I think if we`re getting into the specifics of cruelty, you know, the specifics of whether toothbrushes or soap are, you know, constitute safe and humane conditions for the floor is, again, I think we`re getting lost in the bigger and broader conversation which is we`re not having a humanitarian discussion about the western hemisphere.

We are not having a bigger, broader conversation about how the immigration system ought to be structured, whether it`s effectively or efficiently structured now.

I mean, I`m on the record, I wrote an article about this a couple months ago about, you know ,-- frankly, the fact that I think that immigration shouldn`t even be in the Department of Homeland Security in the first place.  Because I think it, you know, it creates a false sense that immigration is about safety and security exclusively, and not about people wanting to come to the United States to work, which is a fundamental aspect of the immigration system.

So, you know, I`m reluctant to get into any specific -- because they`re all, you know, there`s, like, you used the word, deplorable, earlier, Brian, and they`re deplorable conditions.  And I think to rank one over the other is sort of a dangerous area.  The whole thing is a mess and we just need to get more systemic about it. 

WILLIAMS:  And Anita, to get politics about it, is this Stephen Miller and/or others saying, boss, be strong, this is a winnable issue for us in 2020? 

Kumar:  Well, we`ve been hearing that for weeks and you`ve seen the results for weeks that the President with Stephen Miller whispering in his ear and others saying that he has not been tough enough.  They have not had stronger policies to deal with the immigration issue, his number one issue that he campaigned on in 2016.

And so, that`s why you`ve seen the secretary of Homeland Security left or was fired.  You`ve seen other people come and go that the president feels like he really needs to make some headway on this.  It`s something he`s been talking about for two-plus years and hasn`t gotten where he wants to be.

But, yes, you`re right.  You saw in his first campaign rally last week that this is still going to be an issue he`s going to be talking about and he wants to show that he has made some, you know, accomplishments on this issue.  He wants to prove that his record, he wants to show people that he did what he said he was going to do.  So I think we`re going if be hearing more about this and we`re going to see -- keep seeing some changes.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s keep that word, deplorable, though, front and center.  To Anita Kumar, to Elliot Williams, thank you, both, for coming on again tonight.

And coming up for us, rising star, Mayor Pete, facing tough criticism during his day job as mayor of South Bend, Indiana.  How a local tragedy could impact his national standing, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get the racists off the streets.  It`s disrespectful that I wake up every day scared.  It`s disrespectful that I have three boys that I have to teach today what to do.  Get them off the streets.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I will say that if anyone who is on patrol is shown to be a racist or to do something racist, in a way that is substantiated, that is their last day on the street.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg was forced to confront some difficult questions on race relations in his home city, as you saw there.  He left the campaign trail briefly following the shooting of a black man by a white police officer in South Bend, Indiana.

The New York Times characterizes the mayor`s response this way.  "Mr. Buttigieg`s public demeanor dealing with a homegrown crisis over the last week has drawn criticism that he has failed to convey empathy toward distraught citizens and that, therefore, he is less committed to solving a problem than to salvaging his political viability."

We are happy to have with us tonight and welcome to the broadcast, Joshua Jamerson, National Political Reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  And, Josh, let`s talk about this because in his answer to that question, no matter how much empathy he was, perhaps, trying to convey, he did it in the demeanor and cadence of his answer to every other question.  He is all about cool under fire and being in control.  This situation is not under control.  His city is hurting.

JOSHUA JAMERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  And that`s what a lot of Democratic primary voters are going to have to assess about Mr. Buttigieg going forward.  What I think is really interesting about how Mayor Pete has handled this is, and the big question really is going to be going forward, how able is he to compartmentalize what`s going on in South Bend and his responsibilities on the campaign trail.

Like you mentioned earlier, he was off the campaign trail Friday night and I was with him Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina, where he seemed to be his normal campaign self.  He was walking down the streets in South Bend with half a marching band behind him, walked in that South Carolina Democratic Party Convention to a boisterous crowd, gave his normal stump speech and mentioned what was going on in South Bend at the top in a very succinct manner.

So, I think that`s the both immediate and long-term question is how is he going to be able to juggle his day job with his campaign responsibilities.

WILLIAMS:  And on your last point there, if you`re going to run bragging on your day job and your executive experience, this sure is a lesson in the responsibilities of that.

On top of everything else, I noticed this weekend, video started popping up of a tornado in South Bend, Indiana.  Sooner or later, you`re going to really start feeling that your job compels you to be there even though he is due to be onstage in glamorous Miami, Florida, with nine of his closest friends Thursday night on this network.

JAMERSON:  And what`s going to be interesting about that, Brian, is what sense we get from his rivals that they feel that he is vulnerable in the primary race on this front.  Like I said, so far, you know, we`ve kind of seen what`s happened in South Bend and what`s happening on the campaign trail as it relates to Mr. Buttigieg remains somewhat separate.

We talked to some Democratic primary voters in South Carolina who were eager to learn more about what`s happening in South Bend.  But to the extent that that is penetrating on the campaign trail, I think that`s something we`re going to have to watch over the next couple of weeks.

WILLIAMS:  When they say in politics when you`re explaining you`re losing, that has not numerically that much applied to Joe Biden yet, but he`s still digging out.  I`m going to play for you a clip of Joe Biden with Al Sharpton.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST:  It hurts when you call a racist like you normalize.  You`re not -- that`s not the Biden I got to know.  Don`t you understand that?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I do fully understand.  That`s not what I said, though.  They didn`t print the whole deal, you know what I mean?  The context of this was totally different.

And by the way, the fact of the matter is, I ran against all those folks.  Let me tell you something, you got to deal with what`s in front of you.  And what was in front of you are a bunch of racists that we had to defeat them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Josh, that gets him back to what most people think would have been the best way to explain this.  I was one of 100 senators.  You can`t change who the voters of Mississippi and Alabama duly elect.  You can only try to pass legislation.  Long story short, do you think Biden suffers more damage the night he`s not on the stage or the night he`s on the stage?

JAMERSON:  I think that`s probably one of the biggest questions a lot of political junkies have is when -- which night are the knives going to be out more, if at all?  I think what was interesting about that clip you just played for those of us who are there watching him speak, it was interesting to watch Reverend Al Sharpton in a comfortable setting, you know, those two go back quite a bit.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

JAMERSON:  Reverend Al was giving him opportunity after opportunity to apologize and -- for his remarks.  And the vice president kept further explaining himself but stopping short of that apology that Reverend Al was trying to -- it seemed like, talk him toward and that`s one of Joe Biden`s rivals in the race, Cory Booker has called for.

But one thing I would note is that, you know, Cory Booker, watching the two of them cross paths both Friday night at Jim Clyburn`s fish fry and Saturday at the South Carolina party convention, was watching them interact just like kind of cross paths and it seemed like everything was OK.

And then also talking to Cory Booker after with reporters, you know, we asked him if the two had buried the hatchet in their interactions over the weekend.  And Cory Booker said that there was no hatchet, that he respected and had a great deal of gratitude for the vice president.

So, I think that`s the big question going forward is just what`s it going to be like both, when Biden`s on the stage and when he`s not?

WILLIAMS:  Joshua Jamerson, the man behind the byline in the Wall Street Journal, pleasure having you.  Thank you very much for coming on with us tonight.

JAMERSON:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up for us, Steve Kornacki at the big board.  Here`s a hint.  He`s getting closer to Miami.  He`ll show us more about the peach state tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  We are two days away from the first debate night here on this very network.  We`re continuing our series, "The Road to Miami."

Steve Kornacki is traveling south along the bustling I-95 Corridor with everything we need to know about the states, he drives through on the way.  And I`m not allowed to know what`s in these segments, so this will be a surprise for all of us.

Steve is almost there.  In fact, we expect him in Miami around this time tomorrow night.  Tonight, he has left South Carolina for the Peach State, the state of Georgia.

So with us tonight, our own Miami`s Steve Kornacki in a truly aghast venue, Steve?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you, Brian.  We are at the 18th Green --

WILLIAMS:  Oh, boy.

KORNACKI:  -- at Augusta.  Tiger Woods has just bogeyed this hole.  He is now in the clubhouse.  And now, Clint Watts --

WILLIAMS:  Oh my goodness.

KORNACKI:  -- MSNBC`s own winner of the 2002 Greater Quantico Open is putting for the green jacket.

He sunk the putt and won.  Congratulations.

CLINTON WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  Thank you so much.

KORNACKI:  The green jacket (inaudible) to Mr. Clint Watts.  He can add another championship --

WATTS:  That`s right.

KORNACKI:  -- to his resume.  Clint, how did you make that shot under such immense pressure?

WATTS:  I like to go to the Senate and testify to build my stress response.  And then really focusing here and try to imagine I`m not going to miss it.

KORNACKI:  It was an amazing shot.  Congratulations.

WATTS:  Thanks too.

KORNACKI:  Wear that jacket with pride.

WATTS:  Thank you.

KORNACKI:  Let`s see if it`s an absolute fit.  Clinton Watts, ladies and gentlemen.  He has won the green jacket.

Well, Brian, that is, of course, a great Georgia tradition there.  I can put this fake microphone down now -- a great Georgia tradition.  We`re on the green here but we got segue to politics.

So, instead of green, let`s talk red and blue in Georgia, of course, traditionally known as a red state.  Republicans win this thing in presidential elections.  But Democrats think they can make it a blue state in 2020.  So look, this was of course the national popular vote in 2016.

Democrats are always talking about winning back the Rust Belt, but what if instead a state like Georgia came into play for them.  In 2016, Trump won this state by five points.  That`s down a little bit from what Republicans normally do.

In 2018, in the midterms, Democrats got even closer in the gubernatorial race.  They didn`t win it, but they got close, close enough that they are talking about being able to flip this in 2020.

One of the reasons they talk about Georgia being more competitive.  It`s in the Atlanta Metro Area.  It is in the suburbs in part just outside Atlanta, the sixth district, the sixth congressional district.  We`ve talked a lot about this, one of the big special election there a couple of years ago.

Here is why.  The sixth district, watch this trajectory.  Back in 2012, Romney won this congressional district by 24 points, rock ribbed Republicans suburban.  Donald Trump comes along.  He wins the district but only by a point in 2016.  Look at that massive shift toward the Democrats.

There was the special election I mentioned in 2017 early in the Trump administration.  The Republicans didn`t win it.  They won it by four points.  Democrats said, hey, the good news for them is that presidential resistance to Trump, maybe you are seeing that in the House race now and then.

Last fall, in the midterm, there it is, Lucy McBath.  Democrat wins the district.  So that kind of movement in the suburbs, some population changes in Atlanta, itself, that area of Georgia.  Democrats think maybe, maybe Georgia is the kind of state they could a little bit of surprise put in play.

So it could make and from Democrats stand point, they could make it, a blue state in 2020.  So, from the green of Augusta to red and blue, a little bit of everything there, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Steve, you did yourself tonight.  Clinton Watts, a West Point graduate, FBI veteran, scratch golfer and so badly in need of a tailor.  Thank you all very much.

Another break for us.  When we come back, why many are asking why a certain story just isn`t getting as much traction as you`d think.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight.  This isn`t a happy or light topic, but perhaps it says something about our times that at this very moment and for the past several days our President stands accused in effect of rape.  Make no mistake.  The allegation against this President is the most serious of all the allegations in the public domain by women against Donald Trump.

The reaction to this story and the absence of a widespread outcry is truly surprising.  During normal times, this would be beyond a lead story.  The allegation contained in a new book by long time writer and advice columnist, E. Jean Carroll about an encounter with Trump allegedly close to 20 years ago in a changing room at Bergdorf Goodman here in New York.

By her description, it started out light hearted and became a fight after he forced himself on her and violated her sexually.  She told her story to Lawrence O`Donnell on this network Friday night.  Hear again a portion of that conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

E. JEAN CARROLL, COLUMNIST, ADVICE:  It became a fight.  And it was-- it hurt.  And it was against my will.  And it -- I don`t know where I got the strength because he was big.  But I think I was stomping my foot.  I had my hand bag in this-- I never put it down.  I just-- I`m holding it.  I have no idea.  The only reason I know I`m holding it is because when I got out in the street, I still had it in my hand.

So, somehow I got my knee up and pushed him back.  And the minute he backed up, I was out the door.

I felt that the situation Bergdorf was my fault.  I blamed myself for that.  I said I am the stupidest woman who has ever walked.  And I did that for years.  And I still can`t kick that feeling that it was my fault.  I can`t- - sorry to get rid of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The President denied ever having met her, but a photo shows the two of them at a New York gathering years ago, the President with his then- wife, Ivana, Carroll with her then husband, the legendary New York local television reporter, John Johnson.

Then just today, the President in an interview with The Hill said, Ms. Carroll is "totally lying."  He went on, "I`ll say it with great respect.  Number one, she is not my type.  Number two, it never happened.  It never happened, OK?"

A remainder, the President remains accused of sexual misconduct by over a dozen other women for his alleged actions over the years.

And that`s going to do it for our broadcast tonight.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Goodnight from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END