IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Robert Mueller agrees to testify. TRANSCRIPT: 6/25/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Michael Steele, Carl Hulse

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Nicole Austin-Hillery, thank you for this invaluable reporting, we really appreciate it. 

AUSTIN-HILLERY:  You`re welcome.  Thank you for having me on.

O`DONNELL:  That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  The breaking news tonight, Robert Mueller will testify in public before cameras and on live television on July 17th before two committees, House Intelligence and House Judiciary.  That`s after he was subpoenaed by both committees.

Tonight what this news means for Donald Trump as he faces a crisis of his own making with children at the border, potential war with Iran and a rape accusation all in a few day`s time.

And about the Democrats, this is also the eve of that first debate in Miami.  Steve Kornacki will take us to Florida, show us the new poll numbers, all as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on this busy Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News head quarters here in New York.  Day 887 of the Trump administration.  And on the eve of the first Democratic debate of the 2020 cycle there is breaking news, as you heard, on another front tonight involving this man, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, has agreed to testify in public and on camera.  July 17th before both the House Judiciary and House Intelligence committees, one after another, about his findings and his report on Russian interference in our 2016 election.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff announced Mueller`s decision just a few hours ago now.  They both indicated Mueller had agreed to appear, this is important, despite deep reluctance after the two committees issued subpoenas.

California Congressman Schiff spoke about Mueller`s decision earlier on this network.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE INTEL CHAIRMAN:  I don`t think the special counsel`s office would characterize it as a friendly subpoena.  He did not want to testify.  He made that very clear.  Nonetheless, they will respect the subpoena.  He will appear.


WILLIAMS:  So Schiff there runs the Intel committee.  He also said there will be a closed door session with his committee and members of Mueller`s team.  You may recall Mueller telling us all publicly he did not want to do this.


ROBERT MUELLER, FMR. SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEPT. OF JUSTICE:  Now, I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner.  I am making that decision myself.  No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.  There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress.

Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report.  It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made.  We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself.

And the report is my testimony.  I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.


WILLIAMS:  Of course members of both committees will now try to test that.  His agreement to now appear and testify comes as this President is facing a crisis on the border, an increasingly tense standoff with Iran, more on that coming up.

But, tonight the President`s allies are reacting to the former special counsel`s upcoming Capitol Hill appearance.  A member of the President`s personal legal team spoke by telephone tonight with Fox News.


JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP ATTORNEY (via telephone):  There was no collusion conspiracy with the Trump campaign.  That was the legal conclusion reached by Bob Mueller.

As it relates to obstruction of justice, as Bill Barr said so perfectly correct legally, no obstructive intent.  So those are the two questions.

So, the fact that Bob Mueller is going to testify, I don`t think you`re going to see anything different in his testimony than what`s in his report.


WILLIAMS:  More on that in a bit.  And one of Trump`s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill made this prediction.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA:  So it is case closed for me.  So, they can do anything they want in the House. I think it will blow up in their face.

Is that conclusions can`t change.  There is no collusion.  That`s what told damn (ph) thing was about to begin with.


WILLIAMS:  And just a short time ago tonight, the President himself, weighed in with just this.  Calling the latest development "Presidential harassment."  That was the last we heard from him.

And here with our leadoff discussion on a Tuesday night, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and Pentagon, former Chief Counsel for, the aforementioned, House Intel Committee, and former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years, give or take, as a federal prosecutor.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Frank, we have reason to believe this is about duty, honor, country.  He is not a -- he is a deeply reluctant witness.  People should remember he is not there to do help for any specific political party, I`m guessing.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  He is all about duty, honor and country.  So we should not get our expectations very high that he`s going to go beyond the four corners of his report as he said.  But Brian, I would assert there is tremendous value in America hearing from Bob Mueller.  We`re in a society that gets the news from Twitter, from a digital stream.  Get catches a few minutes here and there on the evening news.  And we don`t read anymore.

The hottest trend in the book industry is audible books.  We simply don`t read.  And if Bob Mueller got on T.V. and read from the phone book, there would be value in it and Americans would tune in.  And so if he simply sticks to the four corners and recites passages from his report in response to questions, Americans maybe hearing those passages for the very first time.

Joyce Vance, here is Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democratic congressman from the west side of Manhattan talking on CNN tonight.


REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, CHMN. HOUSE JUDICIARY CMTE.:  I think one of the questions that isn`t specifically in the report would be you wrote a letter Mr. Mueller to the special -- to the attorney general saying that he had, in ways, misrepresented the report.  How so?  But I think it`s important the American people hear from him what he did find and what he didn`t find.


WILLIAMS:  Joyce, that`s one interesting point there.  This is a guy who is zealously agnostic, famously taciturn.  How do the Democrats go about this job of questioning a guy they view as a friendly witness?  How do you proceed?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  So, I agree with Frank on this one.  I think that the biggest value that Democrats can get from Mueller`s testimony is to let him tell the story of the investigation.  Because for many Americans, that story still hasn`t come into focus.  They`ve not read the report.

If Democrats will stay away from the process questions, asking Mueller about the investigation, what he did, what he didn`t do, those are questions he`s really not going to answer, and that would be an unsatisfactory sort of a hearing.  But letting him tell the story of the investigation will be productive for the country.

WILLIAMS:  Joyce, is the difference between a subpoena and a friendly subpoena the difference between a merely reluctant witness and a hostile witness?

VANCE:  Sometimes yes, but maybe not here.  Mueller was very clear that he didn`t want to testify.  He believes that the report speaks for itself.  That said, he won`t be the sort of reluctant witness who is obstructive.  He`ll answer the questions that he can, but I don`t think he`ll hesitate to tell the representatives, the members of Congress when he believes it would be inappropriate for him to answer a question as well.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, a double question for you.  How do the Democrats try to make him their witness, and why have staff meet with staff, Mueller`s staff, Hill`s staff, in off camera executive session?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, first, Brian, I think there are two areas where Bob Mueller will contribute to the record.  First, as noted, I think he can tell the narrative arc of his investigation.  After all, the fundamental question at the heart of the investigation is what leverage does a foreign adversary power have over our President, our presidency, and American foreign policy.  I think Bob Mueller can explain the extent to which Putin intercede on Donald Trump behalf, he sent which to which Donald Trump sought, received, and rewarded the Russians for that interference.

And second, I think there is some new information that Mueller can explain which is, why did he implicitly state both in the report and his press conference or his press statement that the President had committed obstruction of justice.  Now he stated as a double negative.  You know, I did not find that the President did not obstruct justice.  But what was clearly meant by that is I did find that the President probably did obstruct justice, but I couldn`t prosecute him because he`s the President, over to you, Congress.  If he just merely explains that in a clear, coherent way, I think he adds to the important record here.

And as for the staff on staff discussion, I think that`s really to illuminate some of the classified information has still underlies the report.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, what`s the chance you and I looked at each other while Jay Sekulow was speaking by phone in that clip to Fox News, was that a movement of the goal post saying no obstructive intent?  As far as I know, the President`s mantra has been no obstruction, no collusion.

FIGLIUZZI:  Yes.  We do see a shading occurring here.  And of course you know and your viewers know you need to prove intent to prove obstruction of justice.  And it`s very hard to do. But they`re already starting to say well, maybe there was some sign of obstruction, but he didn`t really mean it.  And I think we`re going to continue to hear that.

The other thing to watch for, Brian, between now and July 17th are -- is can this President contain himself?  Can the President stop himself from picking up the phone, calling the attorney general, and trying to talk the attorney general into some kind of claim of immunity?  Will there be a Hope Hicks situation where Ms. Hicks showed up but wasn`t allowed to answer questions?  What`s going to transpire in the next couple of weeks?

WILLIAMS:  OK.  This is -- I want to play it for you, Frank, this is Robert Mueller on May 29th.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


MUELLER:  The indictments allege and the other activities in our report describe efforts to interfere in our political system.  They needed to be investigated and understood, and will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election.  And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.


WILLIAMS:  We play this in the context, the President is going to the G20 meeting with his friend, Mr. Putin.  You touched on this, Jeremy touched on this.  Could the good that comes of this be perhaps at long last a renewed sense of urgency beyond our discussions with you on television that is maybe shared by the American people?

FIGLIUZZI:  The sense of outrage is not there in the American public regarding what Russia did to us and our election process.  And they should be outraged.  And they should be demanding answers from elected representatives and state county and local registrars of voters.

And I think, if Mueller does nothing else he can lay out on T.V. for the American public, here are all the things that Russia did to mess with us.  They`re going to do it again.  And Americans can say, "Wait a minute.  Next time it won`t be my party they`re helping.  It will be the other party.  We need to do something about it."

WILLIAMS:  Joyce Vance, I`ve been listening to the spin by various Trump surrogates tonight on Fox News.  There`s talk of the origins of the investigation.  There`s talk of Strzok and Page.  But Joyce, if you`re running the President`s legal team, do you tonight say "OK, this is probably going to be bad for us?"

VANCE:  You`ve got to believe that it`s going to be bad for the President, because the facts, the shared detail that`s contained inside of the Mueller report whether or not it amounts to sufficient evidence to charge a criminal case, it`s damaging.  It`s damaging to this President.  Both the intelligence aspect, the conspiracy and the collusion evidence and also the obstruction paints a very different picture of Donald Trump than the picture that the American people heard from Bill Barr when he released his summary of the report.

At the end of Mueller`s testimony, if he, in fact, tells the story of the report, a lot of people in this country may find themselves asking why they were lied to for so many weeks.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, this may call for an interpretation on your part, but I`m imagining one of the questions that one of the Democrats on this committee is going to have for the special counsel is the President says, at least once a day, no collusion, no obstruction.  Does that sum up your findings?  Is that true or is that false?  Do you believe Mueller will have a satisfying, for the public domain, what frank was talking about in 2019, a satisfying answer to that question at hand?

BASH:  Look, I think he`s going to be resistant to try to be the political sound bite of the moment.  But I think it`s inescapable that Bob Mueller disagrees about that conclusion by the President.  That`s what his 400 plus page report says.  That`s what his nine-minute press statement reiterated.  And I think you`re going to hear that loud and clear from the special counsel that the special counsel fundamentally disagrees with and undermines this presidential mantra, and in fact, the evidence disproves it.

WILLIAMS:  We`ve all touched on various forms of this answer, but here`s the question, and I`ll go around the horn to each of you, starting with Frank.  What one question would you want to ask Mueller?  What one question would you want to hear the answer to?

FIGLIUZZI:  Question number one, if Donald J. Trump was not President of the United States, would you be able to bring charges against him for obstruction?

WILLIAMS:  Joyce Vance, same question.

VANCE:  Well, Frank just stole my question.  I`ll add to that one.  I think we`d all like to know why Mueller did not ask the President to sit for an interview.  Why he didn`t pursue the option that he had in court in that regard, but I suspect that if he`s asked that, he`ll decline to answer it and we`ll have to live with the answer in the report which is that he didn`t do it because of the time that would have been involved.

WILLIAMS:  And to you, Jeremy.

BASH:  I think the fundamental question is why, why did Putin support Trump?  Why did Trump want Putin`s support?  And why did everybody in the President`s inner circle lie about it?  I think once those answers are really brought to the fore, we`ll have a factual basis to figure out how Congress and the American people are going to proceed.

WILLIAMS:  And we leave you assuming some former fashion of all those questions will be asked before this witness on July 17th.  To Frank Figliuzzi, to Jeremy Bash, and to Joyce Vance, our thanks for responding to this breaking news and joining us tonight to start us off.

Coming up, the political risks the President is facing over the prospect of this testimony from Mueller on live television.  While we quickly add this is not without risk to the Democrats either.

And later, the latest poll numbers on this eve of the first Democratic debate, how they stack up at this early stage heading into Miami as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Tuesday night.


WILLIAMS:  We are back.  And without delay, we`ve been joined by two more of our frequent guests to react to the breaking news that we are covering tonight.  Robert Costa, National Political reporter for "The Washington Post," Moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS, and Michael Steele, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, former Chairman of the Republican Party.  Gentlemen, welcome.

And, Robert, to you first, your reporting and I know it`s early yet, reaction to this news that Mueller is going to show.

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Based on my conversations tonight with sources in the Senate, senators who are both Republican and Democrat are already talking about bringing Mr. Mueller to the other side to the capital to ask their questions.  Republicans are eager to ask about the Russia probe and that origin to the investigation.  Democrats want to hear more about Russia interference in the 2016 election and the episodes of alleged obstruction of justice.

WILLIAMS:  Michael Steele, this does require an opinion and some analysis on your part.  Is this in your view a case of be careful what you wish for?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR RNC CHAIRMAN:  Yes, for both sides, actually.  You know, Mueller is sort of the unspoken word in all of this.  We, you know, we`ve seen the word on paper but we`ve not seen him stand at a podium except for about eight minutes in which he riveted the country`s attention, and put out in his own words with his own voice what he thought about what his report said.

And I think when you get into a situation whether it`s House or Senate, Democrat or Republican, and he`s sitting there given his experience in these matters.  And quite honestly, the degree of reverence that`s probably a strong word, but I think it does apply to some degree with him, that these senators and Congress members have for him and his work.  It will be a very tricky situation that when he gets into a space, he doesn`t want to answer, and they`re going to press for questions.  Republicans certainly are going to be trying to build that wall around Trump as much as they can.  As Democrats are trying to take out each brick they put in place.  And Mueller, that I think that works to his advantage, quite honestly.

WILLIAMS:  And Robert, a big caution to the Democrats here would be to any of those who view Mueller as their guy, he is so deeply and intrinsically agno -- agnostic, forgive me.

COSTA:  They are a little cautious on the Democratic side that Mr. Mueller could get pulled into the Republican rip tide of questioning about how the Department of Justice handled the investigation.  But there`s more of an appetite among Democrats to try to get some new answers, some analysis from Mr. Mueller about Russian interference in the election.  So often we`re talking about Volume 2 of the report.

My Democratic sources in the House say, there hasn`t been enough attention on Volume 1.  And that`s why the chairs like Chairman Nadler are so interested in having him come to testify because they want to start to tell the story to the American people if they`re going to move forward with impeachment.  Not just about the President`s conduct, they have to tell that story, dig into his intent, try to get some answers from Mr. Mueller on intent, but add some illuminating thoughts from him, that`s their hope on the Russia front.

WILLIAMS:  A reminder of where we are as we have this conversation tonight.  The current occupant of the White House is facing what we would call three crisis where this normal times, the tensions with Iran, a new accusation that our President raped a woman as a civilian two decades ago, and our treatment of migrant children at the U.S. southern border.  This one incredibly sad photo may become one of those photos that galvanizes public opinion.  This was taken in Mexico, Monday, they are apparently refugees from El Salvador.  Just today the President`s latest Acting Head of Customs and border patrol resigned amid the stories of children on concrete floors with a foil sheet, lacking soap and toothpaste.  The President was asked about these conditions this afternoon.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you personally concerned about the conditions at these border facilities?

TRUMP:  Yes, I am.  I`m very concerned.  And they`re much better than they were under President Obama, by far.  And we`re trying to get the Democrats to agree to really give us some humanitarian aid, humanitarian money.  You know, the Democrats don`t want to sign anything.  And now I think they`re going to probably sign this --


WILLIAMS:  So, Robert Costa, you heard and saw it there with a straight face.  This is the Democrats and conditions are so much better than they were under President Obama.  Please, do us the honor of fact checking those.

COSTA:  So here`s the fact check very briefly.  The Democrats have moved forward in the House of Representatives to try to provide some more funding for the crisis at the border, to try to provide more judges to move forward with funding for facilities.  But you have an administration that is led by President Trump and also at a secondary level by Stephen Miller inside of the White House who has a tight grip over immigration policy.  He comes out of it Jeff Sessions school of the GOP hard line tactics to try to deter immigration from Central America.  That`s who`s driving the policy, that`s why there are tensions inside of the border patrol and DHS.

And so you have an administration that is looking at its own base and is wondering how they`re going to stop this influx of migrants at the border.  They know they have some pressure from Conservatives and also have pressure from the Democrats.  But this is a problem that this is at the center of this administration.  And for them to throw the blame on Congress, it`s an administration-driven situation.  And they are running the administration.  The ball stops with them.

WILLIAMS:  Indeed.  Michael Steele, we`ve discussed the comparison to the frog boiling experiment.


WILLIAMS:  People`s capacity to believe certain things stretches a little bit every day.  This is the President saying that the actions of his administration are the fault of the Democrats.  I`m sorry, that was a actually a question and not leading into a clip.

STEELE:  I was waiting for a clip there.  Yes.  That`s what -- that`s typical at this point.  You know, he doesn`t get it.  Trump doesn`t want to get it in that sense.

And to be quite honest and rather it`s not even cynical because this is how this is going to play out, Mueller now agreeing to testify, actually is a good thing over the next couple of weeks for Trump, because it splits the screen further for him.  And unless there`s something that`s horrendously tragic on top of what`s already been horrendously tragic at the border.  He knows the press is going to be fixated on the Mueller line, certainly as we get closer to the 17th of July, that`s going to be a bigger drum beat for him.

And so in that sense, it`s easier for him to throw the dart out to Robert`s point about, you know, this is the Democrat`s fault without having to stand there in the well of the country and explain to the American people why this is happening on his watch.

WILLIAMS:  And Michael, and then to you, Robert, same question.  Do the Democrats, Michael, just keep returning and returning and returning to these issues we`ve just mentioned tomorrow night regardless of our moderator`s attempts to steer the conversation elsewhere?

STEELE:  Yes.  I think they do.  And I think, you know, in a real sort of human sense, this crisis on the border is one that will rivet people`s attention.  And people are starting to ask what are the answers here?  How are we caring for these children whom we`ve assumed custody of?  Regardless of how they died here, they`re now in our custody, and how are we as Americans, how are we as a country, and how is our government respond to that?

So, I can see the Democrats tomorrow night certainly with all the other news has been breaking around Mueller, bringing back to the sort of human interest story, if you will, about our capacity as Americans to care for these kids.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, the same question, keeping in mind that that photograph does stop you in your tracks.

COSTA:  There`s so much talk about who is going to take on who at this debate in Miami tomorrow night or Thursday night.  What matters when you talk to the top political strategist in this country is who has the most compelling message to be Commander in Chief, to be president of the United States and have an answer on immigration that`s more than just a shot at President Trump to articulate their own message on its complicated issues, foreign policy, trade, immigration, race.  Who is going to emerge as a leader in this debate rather than just someone who takes a shot?

There are many impressive Democratic candidates.  But when you have all them together, it`s a test and we haven`t seen that yet who is going to rise to the moment.

WILLIAMS:  Gentlemen, thank you for answering the bell in light of our breaking news tonight.  We appreciate it.  Robert Costa, Michael Steele, our thanks.

Coming up, Steve Kornacki ends his long journey to the Miami Democratic debate.  A preview of tomorrow night among other things when we come back.


KORNACKI:  Beginning the road to Miami.  As you said, I-95 in the state of Maine.  And in fact, I`ve even got a snack with me here in the car for the trip.

I had to stop at an ATM machine.  Thought I would get some cash in tax free New Hampshire for the rest of the trip.  I took out $100 and then I realized I`m in New Hampshire and $100, that is a politician`s salary.  Back in my home state.  Very excited here.

I have been looking forward to this leg of the trip.  Little Rhody, the URI rams the Providence College Friars.


KORNACKI:  And how about colorful politicians?  I`ll tell you what.  Connecticut, maybe its most significant moment was the last time around was the rise of Donald Trump.  It has been bumper to bumper on the Cross Bronx Expressway.  I don`t know what happened here but it always seem -- let me just roll up the window here.

There`s something else we`re thinking about all of them are members in good standing of the New Jersey State Hall of Fame.

You all know the big story here.  Pennsylvania, election night 2016 by a margin of 44,000 votes.  Donald Trump won this state.  Hello to the first state Delaware, home of the University of Delaware.  The fighting -- oh.  Of course.  Delaware.  The toll booth.

And, you know, we couldn`t help ourselves.  We were driving I-95 through Meyer then we said we`ve got to stop at Baltimore`s inner harbor.  What do you notice right away?  You notice that slogan.  How long have you been hearing and seeing that slogan?  Virginia is for lovers.

We climbed a mountain today and politically I guess the equivalent of climbing a mountain would be climbing the biggest mountain in politics, it would be winning the presidency.

Of course, Charleston, South Carolina is also the hometown of the most famous unsuccessful candidate in a South Carolina Presidential primary.  The 18th green.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, boy.

KORNACKI:  At Augusta.  Tiger Woods has just bogeyed this hole, he is now in the club house and now, Clint Watts --

WILLIAMS:  Oh my goodness.

KORNACKI:  -- MSNBC`s own winner of the 2002 Greater Quantico Open is putting.  He has sunk the putt.

WILLIAMS:   He`ll be known for all time as hole in one Watts.  In my own defense, on this segment and this segment alone, I am not told in advance what the team has prepared each night, but indeed our long day`s journey in tonight has come to an end on this, the eve of the first Democratic debate.

If you`ve been watching and if you just saw that then you know Steve Kornacki has been taking the road to Miami along I-95 through 14 states in the district of Colombia.  Tonight we reach our destination.  The Sunshine State.  Florida is easily four of the most interesting states you will ever visit or live in.  Miami, Steve Kornacki back at the big board tonight.  Let me see it.  Hello, Steve.


WILLIAMS:  Oh boy.

KORNACKI:  We finally made it.

WILLIAMS:  Oh my, you hate to see that.

KORNACKI:  And after a long journey like that, and especially after the Cross Bronx Expressway, that horrible day, we said let`s give ourselves a beach day.  We got the debate tomorrow, we got the debate Thursday.  So we figure let`s lounge on Miami Beach.  And of course, every day in Sunny Southern Florida is a beach day.

I actually am a northerner.  I`m kind of partial to winter to be honest.  So I actually looked this up when I got down here.  Have they ever had a winter day in Miami?  Has it ever snowed in Miami?  And guess what.  Once I take you back to January 19th, 1977, they call it the Blizzard of `77 in Miami.  Look at this.  Enough snow that you could write the date on the windshield of your car.  Snow in Miami the headline.  How much did they get?  We`re talking about a good quarter of an inch at most.

It`s officially listed in the record books as trace amounts as a dusting of snow.  The only time in the 20th century, the only time in the 21st century so far as well that it actually snowed in Miami.  So we`re lucky we didn`t get a snow day.  We got a beach day today but we`re getting ready because tomorrow of course we get serious about the presidential race.

We got to debate the next two nights.  We`re going to be talking about Florida this week, we`re going to be talking about it throughout the campaign because it feels like every presidential campaign comes down to what Tim Russert said here almost two decades ago, Florida, Florida, Florida.  And it hasn`t always been that way.  It just feels like it and that has to do with what happened on that night, November 7th, 2000 when Florida became the Florida we know today.  We thought we would take you through what that was all about.  It was election night 2000.  It was Bush, it was Gore.

It was a close race, early in the night 7:49 p.m., Florida was called for Al Gore.  And everybody started talking about how Al Gore was going to be the next president because if he had Florida, he was going to get to 270.  A sure look at that way.  The Bush campaign said no, they think the count is wrong in Florida.  So then there was a little bit of suspense.  Look at this.  Gore at one point there.  He was close to 200.  He was leading Bush.  He had a clear path to 270.  And then you`ll look at the clock, 10:18 p.m. Tom Brokaw, said what the networks give, the networks take it away.  There`d been an error.

And look at that, Gore`s count went down.  Florida, they took the blue off.  Florida was now uncalled.  The night continued.  Tim Russert, remember, they didn`t have this big fancy big board back then.  They had the white board and they had a magic marker.  And there was Tim Russert all night doing those different computations trying to come up with the path for each candidate.

About 2:17 a.m., the call went to George W. Bush.  George W. Bush they said won Florida.  And because he won Florida, George W. Bush would be the 43rd president of the United States.  You thought the night was over then?  You were wrong.  Because then the Gore campaign said no, we think the count is wrong.  And the count got changed.  Gore retracted his concession to George W. Bush.  They stopped him at the last minute before he made the speech.  Everybody suddenly under 270 in this race.  No clear winner.  Florida looked this way at about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning barely any votes separating the two of them.

And then what ensued?  The 36-day recount we talked about hanging chads and butterfly ballots, voters in one county who may have accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan and remember all those things and then finally the Supreme Court stepped in a 5 to 4 ruling that is still talked about to this day and went -- made George W. Bush the next president.  He had dueling concession speeches, December 13th, 2000 and really that ended the 2000 election, but every election since, Florida, Florida, Florida, and 2020 will be no different, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Steve, you`ve outdone yourself.  I`m here to tell our viewers Steve is going to stay with us and will rejoin us after the break.  It`s going to be really interesting to see his choice of attire then.  The stakes could not be higher for the 20 Democrats debating over two nights in Miami.  New polling on where the candidates stand ahead of the competition when THE 11TH HOUR continues.


WILLIAMS:  Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead the 2020 primary field.  A new national Emerson poll released today puts him ahead of Bernie Sanders by 7 points.  Elizabeth Warren remains in third.  Biden`s poll numbers have not taken a significant hit since his comments on the segregationist he served with in the U.S. Senate.

And tonight`s Politico headline may say it all about the gulf between the people on cable news and the people who will vote.  "Joe Biden keeps stepping in it and voters couldn`t care less."

Back with us by popular demand and fully clothed I`m here to tell you is Miami Steve Kornacki.

And, Steve, you filled in for Nicole Wallace today and talked about this topic.  It really is a gulf.  Also tell us where the new numbers are, where the other candidates stand?

KORNACKI:  Yes.  I mean it`s -- we`re sort of in this holding pattern we`ve been talking about the last few weeks.  Biden now in front, you know, somewhere in the mid 30s, high 30s depending on what poll you`re looking at.  Sanders probably second but Warren has been moving.  So Sanders and Warrens sort of a battle for second place.  Harrison, Buttigieg, both getting some support but they`re not quite at that level.  And then you`ve just got this massive jumble of candidates who are all dying to get some attention more.

But I think the headline with Biden as he say is not just that he`s ahead after this rough week.  If you look in particular at the polling among black voters, this was a controversy that involved race and there were all sorts of questions about would Biden pay a price with black voters who have such a large presence in Democratic politics?  The answer at least according to this new Morning Consult poll today, not yet.  He was at 45% with black voters in their poll a week ago, 46 % in the new one today.  So a week of controversy and actually up a point.

WILLIAMS:  All the pros in our business and in politics said there were two good ways to handle that.  A, not at all.  B, if you must discuss the topic, say I was one of 100 senators.  I couldn`t overturn the wishes of voters in other states.  It was during a time when we had to work together to pass legislation as part of our American past.

KORNACKI:  And I think that the most significant thing that I take away from it at least just in terms of what we can expect from the Biden campaign going forward is the choice he made there was no apology.  You know, no falling on your sword.  No saying I was wrong.  And I think that was a bit of a surprise just given where the media coverage was, given the fact the timing of this too.  Remember, it wasn`t just that this controversy sort of he stepped into it.  Then he went to South Carolina.  The electorate is going to be 60% plus black in the Democratic primary next year.  And there`s this decision not to apologize.  And if he`s able to do that and not suffer any meaningful damage in the poll and that`s what we`re seeing right now, I`m curious to see how that will affect things going forward because the Biden does have a tendency to wonder in the controversies.  Is that going to be their approach?

WILLIAMS:  I don`t want to steal all of our own thunder but tomorrow evening I know you`re preparing a segment for us to answer the question OK, just how early is it?  At this point in other elections, who are the other people who thought they were just as good as president-elect at this point?

KORNACKI:  And sometimes the ones who are ahead at this point end up winning.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, that is true.

KORNACKI:  You know, you can talk about that.  You know, Ronald Reagan was ahead early in 1980 and he went all the way.  But I think, you know what, if you`re Joe Biden and you`re ahead right now, maybe a cautionary tale, it`s Rudy Giuliani from back in 2007, 2008.  He was ahead at this point.  He was in about the high 30s at this point.  He was universally known among his own party`s voters, among all voters.  He was America`s mayor back then.  That`s what Rudy Giuliani was known for.  Widely liked by Republicans.

There were some issues Giuliani wasn`t in alignment with the Republican base on and it just sort of was a slow bleed for him in the polls throughout the rest of the year.  Question with Biden is to me, how does he hold up in this debate, how does he hold up under the spotlight now that he`s going to be campaigning a lot more than we`ve seen him campaigning.  Is he going to wear well on Democratic voters when they start seeing him every day and they start hearing from him every day?  Or is there a fadeout?

WILLIAMS:  And in social media the news cycles, a day is what a week used to be.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  And in that -- and picture Joe Biden.  I think the other question with Biden, the interesting one maybe raised by this week too is has the rise of Donald Trump in this social media culture changed what -- you know, the Biden gaffe used to be?  Does it play out differently in this culture?  I think that`s another question.

WILLIAMS:  And our way in the media using two different sets of standards covering these two desperate men.  Steve Kornacki, we have hours of coverage tomorrow night.  We are overjoyed you`re going to be part of it.  Thank you and thank you for your series of reports.

KORNACKI:  I had a blast.  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  We`ve had a blast watching and we`ve learned a lot along the way.  Our thanks to Steve Kornacki.

And coming up, a look at the power of the Supreme Court and why our next guest calls Mitch McConnell the most skilled obstructionist ever in the U.S.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One last question on the Supreme Court.  Will you put forward a nominee between now and the election if there`s an opening on the Supreme Court?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Would I do that?  Of course.  Do you have any recommendations?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, you have a big long list, right?

TRUMP:  I do.  I have a good list.  I have a good list.  Already chosen.  I have a beautiful list of great very talented people.  Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But do you square that with Merrick Garland? 

TRUMP:  No.  I have a lot of respect for Judge Garland, by the way.  I have to tell you that.  I know people that know him.  I`ll tell you, who told me incredible things about him is justice, now Justice Kavanaugh.


WILLIAMS:  So much material there.  Just last month Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020.  Those remarks of course were almost designed to draw cries of hypocrisy after McConnell refused famously to grant Merrick Garland a hearing in 2016, denying President Obama an election-year pick for the court.  McConnell cited an election-year tradition, keeping the seat open until a new president was elected.

In the new book with the wonderful title of "Confirmation Bias" the veteran journalist Carl Hulse examines what impact McConnell`s decision had on our 2016 election.  He writes that by the end of election night 2016 "McConnell had achieved a monumental victory, one that would forever secure his legacy as the most skilled obstructionist ever in the Senate.  The Supreme Court ended up being the single biggest issue in leading Trump to get 90% of the Republican vote.  McConnell said as he later weighed the outcome, it ended up helping him win the election."

With us is the author, Carl Hulse.  He`s chief Washington correspondent for the "New York Times" and again, the book is "Confirmation Bias: Inside Washington`s War Over the Supreme Court, from Scalia`s Death," let`s not forget that was the triggering event, "to Justice Kavanaugh."  It`s great to have you.

CARL HULSE, AUTHOR, "CONFIRMATION BIAS":  Thank you.  I really appreciate you having me here.

WILLIAMS:  Carl, what has happened to the process of filling a vacancy on the court that did not exist when you and I were young kids?

HULSE:  It`s in tatters.  I mean, it`s super partisan.  And, you know, both parties have played a role in this.  But Senator McConnell took a big gamble the night that Justice Scalia died, decided after briefly considering his own personal relationship with the justice, he was close to him, he was going to stop President Obama.

Now, Mitch McConnell had a lot of reasons for making that decision.  One, protecting his own right flank.  There was a debate that night.  They didn`t want other Republicans to get out ahead of them.  But even Senator McConnell didn`t know how much it was going to help Donald Trump.  And it led to Donald Trump being able to hold on to conservatives and evangelicals who were concerned about his character.

Republicans, as we both know, vote a lot more on the court than Democrats have in the past.  So it set off this cascading series of events.  The court could have flipped under President Obama to a liberal majority.  That didn`t happen.  Donald Trump was elected president.  Republicans retained the Senate.  Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh sit on the court today.  There`s big decisions coming out tomorrow that will probably be 5-4.  So huge consequences.

WILLIAMS:  The American Bar Association was the gold standard, the be-all and end-all when we were kids.  Are they even involved these days?  When the President says I have a list of judges, who gave him that list?

HULSE:  The federalist society and the Heritage Foundation and Don McGahn.  Actually in the book I explain a little bit the night of the -- Scalia`s death Trump`s going to the debate, he`s on the phone with Don McGahn, who is his campaign counsel, and they`re worried that Ted Cruz is going to put Trump on the defensive.  His sister was a federal judge.  You know, people thought he might appoint liberal judges.  And Trump says what if I throw out some names.

And that was really the origin of the famous list.  They said they needed names to confirm -- to convince conservatives that they were going to be OK.  And of course Don McGahn`s first name he said was Brett Kavanaugh.  But they didn`t end up using that name that night.  But the ABA, yes, the ratings, it used to be a factor.


HULSE:  The Republicans disregard them unless they are really good, like where they were with Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.  They were both, you know, considered qualified.  But on some of those lower court judges they`re not -- they`re rated badly by the ABA, but it`s dismissed.

Yes, the whole process has really, really been torn apart by the nuclear option in 2013.  And the problem here, Brian, is that in the past even though they didn`t -- there was a filibuster of judges but it wasn`t all the time.  But the need for 60 votes, even though they didn`t really do it, would create a consensus around some of these judges.  And, you know, now you can do it with a simple majority and boom, you`re through.  And they`ve changed the rules so much, now they`re doing them on basically two-hour cycles in the Senate right now.

WILLIAMS:  Well, I wanted to show the folks watching the perils of turning the U.S. Senate into a confirmation machine for federal judges.  Witness this hearing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?  Mr. Peters.  Have you ever tried a jury trial? 








UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  State or federal court? 



WILLIAMS:  Andrew Peterson was nominated to be on the federal district court.  Matthew -- I`m sorry.  Peterson.  That`s the peril.

HULSE:  So Don McGahn in taking the counsel job, he wanted a lot of control over the -- picking the judges.  Usually there`s committees and the Justice Department and it`s pretty rigorous.  Don had a lot of control over this and was appointing some people -- he had served within Mr. Peterson on the Federal Election Commission.  Don picked him and put him forward and he obviously ran into a buzzsaw there and had to withdraw.  There were a few of those.  Another person that Don knew ran into trouble because he hadn`t quite disclosed some of his ties.  He`d also been a ghost buster in one of his previous jobs.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  And who among us can make that claim?  I wanted to have you put your -- take your author hat off for now.  Go back to being a daily deadline journalist.  Tell me what kind of a lead you would write about our breaking news tonight that Robert Mueller is indeed going to speak. 

HULSE:  If I was writing an analysis, because I probably wouldn`t write the news story, I`d say this was a big advance for the Democrats and big -- and a good news for Nancy Pelosi.  Optics alone.  The Democrats have struggled to make this look like an important proceeding going forward.  You know, they had John Dean as one of their -- that wasn`t cutting it.  Now they`re going to have Robert Mueller.  I`m not sure what Robert Mueller`s going to say, but he`s going to be sitting there being questioned.

Nancy Pelosi is playing for time here.  She doesn`t want to start an impeachment proceeding.  This gives her some more time.  I don`t want to get too in the weeds on the congressional schedule here, but they`re out for a week, then they come back for three weeks, and then their year`s really almost done.  Then you`re into 2020 and it`s hard to impeach a president I think in an election year.  There`s not much time.

WILLIAMS:  That`s why Schiff talks about their losing the clock.  Gee, and I thought they worked such a rigorous schedule.  Here is the book.  The author, Carl Hulse, has been nice enough to join us tonight.  "Confirmation Bias: Inside Washington`s War Over the Supreme Court, from Scalia`s Death to Justice Kavanaugh."  Thank you very much.

HULSE:  Thank you.  I appreciate it. 

WILLIAMS:  Pleasure to have you. 

Before we go tonight, one additional reminder to all those watching.  The first Democratic debates of the cycle take place on this very network over the next two nights.  There`s the hall in Miami.  20 candidates, two groups of 10 over two hours each.  Tomorrow night our preview coverage comes on the air 7:00 Eastern Time.  I`ll be joined by Nicolle Wallace and all our contributors here in this studio.  Then at 9:00 Eastern here is the slate of candidates for tomorrow night.

Afterwards we come back on the air for good measure from the studio.  Our live coverage will continue from 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time to 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time.  We`ll do the same thing the next night as well.

For now, that is our broadcast for this Tuesday evening.  Thank you for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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