LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thank you. That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, less than 36 hours to go now until the reluctant and widely awaited testimony of Robert Mueller. And why the Justice Department seems nervous about what this now former employee might say and how far he might go.
Plus, the important question we were left with after the Mueller report. Would Donald Trump have been indicted were he not president? A deeper look at the 10 instances of possible obstruction found in the investigation.
And entering a second week of attacks on four members of Congress, the President today calls them "racist and not very smart," all of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Monday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 914 of the Trump administration. That puts us less than 36 hours away now from what will be Robert Mueller`s 89th appearance before Congress, likely the most consequential of his long and consequential career. On Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, the first of two back- to-back hearings will begin, and it sounded today as if the President might have given this some thought.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not going to be watching. Probably, maybe I might see a little bit of it. I`m not going to be watching Mueller because you can`t take all those bites out of the apple.
Robert Mueller, I know he`s conflicted. He had lot -- there`s a lot of conflicts that he`s got, including the fact that his best friend is Comey. But he`s got conflicts with me, too. He`s got big conflicts with me. As you know, he wanted the job of the FBI director. He didn`t get it. And we had a business relationship where I said no, and I would say that he wasn`t happy. Then all of a sudden he gets this position.
But you know what, he still ruled and I respect him for it. He still ruled no collusion, no obstruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Again, Mueller will testify before two committees starting with House Judiciary from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Eastern then it`s on the House Intelligence from noon to about 2:00 or 2:30 in the afternoon. We`re also learning that Mueller, "will have a brief opening statement and then offer the entire report of the special counsel investigation as his full statement for the hearing record." All of this appears to line up with what Mueller laid out in his public comments, this was back on May 29th. Remember the appearance that he wanted to be his last public comment on the matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And then today it got even more interesting when the Justice Department sent Mueller a letter, reminding the now former DOJ employee that there are limits to what he talks about on Wednesday. "Testimony must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege, including information protected by law enforcement, deliberative process, attorney work product and presidential communications privileges."
Earlier on this network, the former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neil Katyal said this development concerns him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: I think it looks like they`re trying to gag Mueller and trying to say that anything that`s not in the report is presumptively privileged. And, you know, Mueller is so by the book as expected he will, that that will influence him greatly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Politico is reporting Robert Mueller has been preparing extensively for the hearings. If he didn`t, it would be the first time in his life he was not prepared and that he`s relied on veteran Washington Attorney Jonathan Yarowsky for help. Yarowsky was a -- is a partner at Wilmer Hale. That`s the law firm where Mueller once practiced law. He also served as special counsel in the Clinton White House and was counsel to the House Judiciary Committee.
As for Mueller himself, he`s already testified before Congress 88 times as we mentioned, starting in 1990 always in the capacity as a government official. His appearance this week will be his first as a private citizen. There`s been a lot of speculation over what the law makers will end up asking him and how.
"New York Times" put together its own list of potential questions that includes one that goes to the heart of Trump`s actions and we quote, "If Mr. Trump were an ordinary citizen, would you have found that there was sufficient evidence to charge him with obstruction of justice?" We`ll have much more on the question of obstruction coming up.
Here`s what Mueller had to say about it on May 29.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation.
As set forth in the report after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime.
Under longstanding department policy, a present president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited.
Charging the President with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There is this tonight. The NBC News Capitol Hill reporting team tells us the Judiciary Committee Democrats plan to hold a two-hour prep session tomorrow and that many members will attend. This past weekend, the Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York, made clear what he sees as the primary goal of this week`s Mueller hearings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, CHMN. HOUSE JUDICIARY CMTE.: I think there was very substantial -- well the report presents very substantial evidence that the President is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. And we have to present -- or that Mueller present those facts to American people and then see where we go from there because the administration must be held accountable and no president can be above the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Here for a leadoff discussion on a Monday night, Berit Berger, former Assistant U.S. Attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York. Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the "Washington Post," moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS. And Annie Karni, White House Reporter with the "New York Times." Good evening and welcome to you all.
Bob, it`s not an elegant question. It`s pretty basic. How big a deal is this, this week?
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: A significant deal for the Trump presidency, because they know heading into 2020, they feel confident inside the White House tonight about the economy. But they know that this Mueller testimony, while Mr. Mueller says he will stand by his report, it could go in different directions. And I want to see Republicans on Capitol Hill question the investigation itself.
They also know Democrats are prepared, because everything is on the line for many of these congressional Democrats, the House Democrats who know that this will determine whether they move toward impeachment or not. They`re looking for Mr. Mueller to give them political and legal ammunition.
WILLIAMS: And, Robert, help us back up to what we heard the President say when he came on the air. He repeated the, "Mueller found no collusion, no obstruction, not true." What -- again, I`ve asked you this probably six times on the air. This notion that Mueller is conflicted, the President cites, Comey is his best friend. The President cites he wanted the FBI job. The President cites some business conflict we know having to do with the golf club. Can you lay out what finally is this business of Mueller being conflicted?
COSTA: The best way to answer that question is to go to the reporting on President Trump`s conversations with his own White House counsel at the time, Don McGahn, who, when he had multiple exchanges with the President about whether Mr. Mueller was conflicted because of a dispute over golf course fees at Mr. Trump`s golf club. Don McGahn said that`s not a conflict based on the "Washington Post" report. "You can`t argue, Mr. President," he said, "that this is a real conflict at all." There wasn`t a real dispute of any significance and it wouldn`t matter in court about the way the President is presenting it. So the President is offering an opinion just like a tweet is an opinion. It`s not a fact and reporting backs that up.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Annie, your colleague Michael Shear writes this tonight, "Mr. Trump`s history of remaining glued to television news, especially when the coverage is about him suggests that he is certain to be tuned in as Democrats on Capitol Hill use Mr. Mueller`s appearance to amplify the damning report about the President and the people in his orbit." Annie, all I`d to that is beyond amplifying the report, for some it will be the first time telling of the report. So, how worried is this White House?
ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, they -- first of all, I think it`s very interesting that Trump is trying to indicate that he`s not even going to watch. Before the first Democratic debate, his aides floated the idea that he might live tweet. So it`s interesting to see the different ways they use his interest in the television program to indicate how worry they are. This, they`re trying to make it like this is the phrase he keeps repeating, another bite of the apple.
The White House messaging, today we heard Kellyanne Conway speak saying, "America, this is Congress who thinks you`re too stupid to read the report yourself." They`re trying to downplay that there is anything new here and repeat that the Barr letter really set the playbook here, which is there`s no collusion.
There is not much of a rapid response plan that they`ve been previewing. Last week Robert Mueller was originally supposed to testify last week and they had a rally plan that was a counter programing rally. That turn into a regular programing rally when Mueller was rescheduled and Trump spoke about the, "squad" and those chants of "send her back" broke out. So, they are watching it but they are kind of in a reactive mode. They don`t have a lot of pre-messaging other than to say there is nothing to see here.
WILLIAMS: Berit Berger, let`s talk about this letter from the Justice Department. If this were a baseball game, we might all be saying, "Hey, I wonder if that fast ball near my chin was a brushback pitch, was a message." Difficult as it maybe to believe that DOJ is trying to tell a career public servant, the parameters in which he can answer questions and give an opening statement. Is that really what we`re seeing here?
BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Yes, I mean, the letter itself is really interesting too. There`s almost some snide comments in there where the letter writer says at one point, you know, normally we would not even let a prosecutor like yourself testify --
BERGER: -- in front of Congress, as if Robert Mueller was just an ordinary prosecutor and not, you know, the primary investigator in one of the most significant investigations in history. So the tone of the letter was interesting.
Ultimately, though, my view is I don`t think this letter is going to have much of an impact. I don`t think we were ever going to see a version of Robert Mueller that was going far beyond the four corners of his report. So whether it`s guidance from the DOJ or whether it`s Mueller`s own sort of internal compass, I`m not sure this really moves the needle for the substance of what we should get from his testimony.
WILLIAMS: I have something else from the "New York Times" to read you here. It says, "Even as Mr. Mueller`s appearances over his 12 years as FBI director under Mr. Bush and President Barack Obama remain mostly respectful, members of Congress often praised his stewardship, they featured a regular amount of political preening that made Mr. Mueller deeply uncomfortable." What do you think? If you were counsel to House Judiciary or Intelligence, what is the best way to bring out a deeply reticent, and in this case, reluctant career public servant?
BERGER: Right. So we know he`s reluctant to be there. In his statement, he told us that pretty directly. I think the way that you`re going to draw him out, the way that you`re actually going to see a little bit of, you know, energy from him is if people are misstating his work. Because as much as he doesn`t want to be there, he also doesn`t like people misrepresenting what he`s done.
WILLIAMS: Who could be misstating his work?
BERGER: It`s impossible to even imagine how that could happen. So I think if he sees questioners, you know, going out there saying things like, well, clearly you found that there was no collusion, no obstruction, I could imagine that he would, you know, take umbrage to that and sort of push back a little bit. I mean, the other area that you would see him possibly fighting back is if people try to impugn sort of the integrity of the investigation, which you could also see. This is sort of a common tactic.
If you don`t like what the person is saying, you say, well, this was a witch hunt to begin with and, you know, you have such conflicts. I think you could expect to see him pushing back if the questioning goes that way as well.
WILLIAMS: And Robert costa, as much as the Democrats have decisions to make and as much as the Democrats have to worry about appearances. Don`t forget, this is the committee that brought a bucket of chicken the day the attorney general stood them up. The Republicans, it seems to me, also have a huge decision to make individually and as a group to grandstand or not to grandstand.
COSTA: There is a real debate among some of my top Republican sources tonight about how to handle this. Some Republicans inside of the House tonight are arguing to each other. They`re saying, "Don`t make this a scene. Let it fade that the network is covered on Wednesday. Let it just trickle away as a news story." Others are saying this is their moment to prove to President Trump their loyalty, to tear into the Mueller investigation. They`ve been waiting for this chance for months. And there is a tension there on the GOP side. There is also tension on the Democratic side.
Mr. Mueller says he`s going to stick to his report, so then what is the strategy, if that`s his approach? A lot of Democrats tonight are saying the real area to target is Attorney General Bill Barr and the way this was rolled out. Mr. Mueller has written a letter expressing his concerns about the rollout. If they go at that and try to peel that apart, maybe that`s one area where Mr. Mueller could unravel a bit from his tight presentation and hew into the report.
WILLIAMS: And Annie Karni, if we can agree that historians will somebody look back at this among other things, as the era of complete frailty, what do you think happens tomorrow when the President is hosting the GOP Senate leadership at 4:00 p.m.?
KARNI: Well, I don`t know if he will talk to them directly about this. But one thing that we need to be watching here is if Mueller`s testimony sticks to an outline of the report which on one level will be new to a lot of people who haven`t read it and it will be a televised version.
A big question here is how does the President react to it? Does he create another news cycle like Robert is saying? There is some disagreement, Republicans want just to get this over with and move forward. Will the President allow that to happen?
A lot of coverage of the White House is about how he reacts to things. Will this provoke him in some way to see it read out loud, to see it outlined on television in a different way than just the release of a written report? Will that ricochet and he creates another news cycle out of it? That`s a big question we will see.
WILLIAMS: And Robert, the other way of asking the question about how they present themselves to the public watching this on television, both parties, really, they have among them superb questioners and they have among them not so superb questioners. They all have great lawyers of counsel to these committees. That will be interesting as well.
COSTA: It will, because you have the ranking member and Jim Jordan in House Judiciary, you have the Chairman Nadler, and in Intelligence you have Devin Nunes and you have Adam Schiff. And so you have some major personalities and you have back bench congressman. And that`s the way a lot of Republicans feel uneasy. If you let some of the back bench members of these committees start to really dominate and they pull the strategy of the ranking members away on the Republican side, then you could have a political vulnerability for the GOP.
WILLIAMS: To Berit Berger, to Robert Costa, to Annie Karni, our thanks for starting of our conversation and our week this Monday night.
And coming up for us, as we have established, the Mueller report is lengthy and dense with specifics that would surprise a lot of Americans, perhaps. The list of 10 items that Donald Trump may fear the most.
And later, the insults targeting four elected members of Congress and during their second week, tonight a new response to the President`s continued attacks as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Monday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: No collusion, no obstruction. After that, it`s almost -- it`s amazing.
They were very disappointed. It said no collusion and no obstruction and no, nothing.
So he said essentially you`re innocent. I`m innocent of all charges.
I`ve been totally exonerated. No collusion, no obstruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: A reminders tonight that Robert Mueller`s actual report laid out 10 instances where the President is suspected of obstructing justice. And it at no point offered any exoneration. Here are the 10, the reports 448 pages go into explicit details on these.
Trump`s pressuring of former FBI Director James Comey to end the Michael Flynn probe. Trump`s response to the Russia inquiry. The firing of Comey and its aftermath. Efforts to remove the special counsel. Efforts to curtail the Russia investigation.
Efforts to stop public disclosure of evidence. Attempts to push former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take over the inquiry. Trump ordering the White House counsel to deny he tried to fire Mueller. Trump`s actions toward Flynn, Paul Manafort and several other witnesses, and Trump`s actions toward Michael Cohen.
There was also this clarification from Robert Mueller in his only public statement thus far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Remaining with us, veteran federal prosecutor Berit Berger, and joining our discussion, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press. So, to you both, welcome all over again.
And Jonathan we have, I think, established and agreed the report was perhaps written for an America of another time, a time before social media and a time of great attention spans that no longer exist. To use Nicolle Wallace`s theory, how much damage do you think Mueller can do, if, indeed, he stays within the four points of the report?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I can certainly tell you the people in the White House still feel like he can deliver quite a bit of damage. As some reported to me in the last day or so, yes, the report was 448 pages, it was dense. A lot of it was sort of very lawyerly and there is a sense that a lot of lawmakers and a lot of Americans didn`t read it. And someone said to me, well, they may not have read the book but they might watch the movie. And that`s what we`re going to get on Wednesday, is Robert Mueller, you know, sitting before Congress, his hand in the air testify or taking the oath and testifying, and only his second public statement. The other one clocked in about nine minutes. This one is going to go about five hours.
And he is going to, even if he doesn`t stray from much the report, he is going to detail -- and that`s the key word here, it`s detail -- all the those incidents of obstruction, in addition to of course to discuss the matter of collusion and that could, will the investigations into whatever can, into the conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. And though he didn`t find enough evidence to charge it, there is going to be certainly some smoke there, if not necessarily fire. But the obstruction, I think, is where all Democrats really want to spend their time. And I think that they are going to press him on these questions.
And that to hear Mueller outline a case by case, those instances and others, is just going to be damaging to this President, you know, politically if nothing else. And it`s going to then reset again where this term goes the next year and a half. That`s the fear around the White House. So even if they`re trying to -- you`ve seen the President attack his press -- special counsel`s credibility time and time again. It goes to show you that they are afraid, even at this late date, two-plus years in this investigation, that he can still say something that`s going to make Donald Trump`s life harder going forward.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan -- Berit, a quote, it`s a great quote by our own Mike Memoli, "they didn`t read the book, will they see the movie?" With your experience in making a case, a movie, perhaps in front of a grand jury of our peers, how do you illustrate this? How do you put this into ways that a public reluctant to curl up with a 400-plus page report may now understand and take note?
BERGER: Yes. I mean especially in a situation like this where you do have a reluctant witness, I think you essentially have to do what we`d call a friendly cross, right. You`re not trying to break him, you`re not trying to get, you know, a few good men moment here where he crumbles on the stand.
WILLIAMS: You can`t handle truth.
BERGER: You can`t handle the truth. What you`re trying to do here is to take his own words, to take details from the report, to put it into some sorts of a leading question, right? To say, did you find substantial evidence that -- and then fill in the blank. Describe in detail each of the obstructive acts, then Robert Mueller can simply say yes. He doesn`t have to elaborate. He doesn`t have to go beyond the four corners of the report. But he can give us a sync answer. Right there you have a sound bite that is in direct contradiction to the there is no obstruction. Because here you have Robert Mueller saying, in fact, there was obstruction.
So, I think they have to sort of work through each of those 10 elements or 10 instances, go through them in detail, sort of lead Robert Mueller through them using his own words. I think that`s how they`re going to get the most success here.
WILLIAMS: What`s the danger of a broader question like, when the President says no obstruction, no collusion, total exoneration, is he telling the truth, is he correct? Is there a danger to a question like that?
BERGER: I think the danger is he`s not going to want to answer that. So, I think you`re going to -- you`re not going to get a clear answer, and for the Democrats, they`re not going to get the sound bite that they want. They`re going to get some sort of long-winded explanation of, well, as we said in the report and as we said we`re bound by the -- oh, we`ll see the - - you`re going to get sort of a lawyerly explanation. I don`t think that`s really what they want to the extent that the audience for this is the public, right?
If the audience is just fellow Democrats trying to make a decision about whether or not there is enough to go forward with an impeachment proceeding, then maybe that`s what they want to do. Maybe they want to ask open-ended questions that they really want the answer to. If the audience is the public and they`re trying to sort of drive home some points of things that were in the report, I think they want to try to keep the questions narrow and really sort of lead him to the answer.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, I`m going to quote a great writer for the Associated Press named Jonathan Lemire as writing.
LEMIRE: He is good.
WILLIAMS: "There has been growing concern among those close to the President that Mueller`s appearance could push undecided or reluctant Democrats toward impeachment even so there appears to be little evidence of an organized White House response plan to the hearings." Is it your testimony in the Associated Press, Mr. Lemire, that this President and his cellphone is the rapid reaction force on the White House?
LEMIRE: It predominantly is. First of all, let`s remember the North Carolina rally, which, of course, the headlines came from these big stem from the "send her back" chants, that rally was originally scheduled to be the President`s rebuttal game show.
WILLIAMS: Depose Robert Mueller, yes.
LEMIRE: Exactly right. That this testimony is supposed to take place a week ago and the President would have a few hours later take the stage and be able to issue his response. That`s not happening this time. There`s no rally scheduled for Wednesday night. The President will be in West Virginia for a fundraiser. But otherwise -- that evening, but otherwise has a relatively light schedule and he will be watching from the residence, from the White House, and if needed from Air Force One on his way to West Virginia.
Though this not according to our reporting, people I`ve talked to in the last day or so, there is not a broad planned response. There will be certainly some Republican strategists surrogates will be issued talking points. There will be, you know, some -- their hope there`s Republican lawmakers. First of all, they hope that they will give deliver some sharp questions to Robert Mueller, although that`s easier to do from the safety of Fox News or on Twitter than it is in the chambers as looking a war hero in the eyes which Mueller of course is. They hope that they will carry some of their defense.
And you`ll hear something from the White House, Kellyanne Conway spoke today, let`s also remember, Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham has not had an on-camera appearance in the nearly a month that she`s been on the job. There just simply aren`t many places. That`s how the Rudy Giuliani statement where this White House can hit back, so it`s largely going to fall to the President and his Twitter account.
WILLIAMS: Berit, Jonathan raises a good point. This is a guy who has been taken on by the professionals and has after all a bullet wound from the North Vietnamese. So at the end of this career of public service, I supposed the Republicans really have to watch angering Robert Mueller in a way that is sympathetic to that the audience would find sympathetic. Those close to him say he has a way of kind of flaring his jaw that gives you an indication this is not welcome terrain.
BERGER: Yes. I mean, I think to the extent that they are going after his credibility or trying to impugn sort of the nature and the integrity of the investigation or the members of his team, I think you are going to see Robert Mueller with his backbone, right. Look, you are going to see him defending the people that worked for him so hard, so intensely and so thoroughly putting together this 400-plus-page report. So I think that that is a quick way for them to anger him, and I think they have to be careful because he does come to the table with an immense amount of credibility, both from his past and I think the way he handled himself throughout this investigation. So I think they do have to be careful not to sort of go overboard on that.
WILLIAMS: Submitted for your approval, Berit Berger, Jonathan Lemire, our guest for this segment, our thanks to Berit and Jonathan.
And coming up for us, he says they are racist, inexperienced, not very smart, how the President`s continued attacks on four women in Congress are being heard along the campaign trail for starters when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Well, I think they`re very bad for our country. I really think they must hate our country. When the one mentioned that brown people should speak for brown people and Muslim people should speak for Muslim people, and you hear all this, it`s not what our country is all about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Today, the President`s attacks on four duly-elected US congresswomen of color entered its second week. This afternoon, he blasted the lawmakers to the press hours earlier while on route to the Supreme Court to pay his respects to the late Justice John Paul Stevens. Trump had this to say.
"The "Squad" is a very racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced and not very smart." Congressman Rashida Tlaib hit back at the President today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: I wish the President would stop tweeting and actually putting action, and do everything that he promised. You know, he said he`s going to bring steel mills back. He`s going to do all these things.
Even if I disagree with the policy, I rather work on specific kinds of actions that help uplift people out of poverty, supporting the working class. Instead, I mean, he attacks working people and tries to distract them from what matters and what`s important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: On that, let`s welcome our guest, here with us to talk about it, Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter for the New York Times, and Juana Summers, National Political Reporter from the Associated Press.
Juana, I want to read you this from multiple byline stories in the Washington Post to begin with. "Many in both parties, well-acquainted with Trump`s history of racially charged rhetoric were stunned at how far he had gone this time. Republicans were fearful of the potential damage but reluctant to confront or contradict Trump. The White House and the Trump campaign sought to contain the furor without alienating key supporters."
This is the work of very good journalist. We`ve heard this storyline before. Oh my god, everyone around the President is horrified. The President continues on his own. Yet I had some very smart people in the studio last week say this felt different. How is this instance different?
JUANA SUMMERS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think what`s different about this instance is that he`s doing this, first of all, at the beginning of what`s going to be an incredibly contentious presidential election in which there are 25-some-odd Democrats who are vying to challenge him in November of 2020. And I think what is frankly really different here is the fact that leaves an opening where there might actually be a political cost for him.
When the President Trump says these things so far, there hasn`t been a cost at least that I`ve seen to him when he makes these comments that are racist in nature. He hasn`t know exactly the penalty. In fact, he, I mean, as we all remember, he launched his presidential campaign coming down that escalator talking about Mexicans as rapist and yet he won, and people did not affect (ph) him.
Now, do I think these comments will show you Republicans and mass exodus, moving away from this president? I don`t think that that is what we`ll see.
But I`ve out on the road talking to voters in some of these places that aren`t necessarily deep blue areas, and there is concern when he says that these young women of color or these members of Congress, they need to go back, some people hear something different there that they don`t particularly like.
WILLIAMS: OK. Jeremy, Here is Mr. Miller from this weekend. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISOR: I think the term racist, Chris, has become a label that is too often deployed by the left, Democrats in this country, simply to try to silence and punish, and suppress people they disagree with, speech that they don`t want to hear.
The reality is that this president has been a president for all Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Jeremy, as you well know, this has been the concurrent effort, this kind of dual I`m not a racist but you are, and the moving of the goalpost, the attempt to change the definition of racism.
JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That`s exactly right. And this is something you`ve heard not just from the White House but from conservative commentators up and down the board from Ann Coulter to Sean Hannity.
And it is very resonant with a number of Americans. I mean, I think that it is something that works for Trump because these people who make comments like they need to -- the New York Times over the weekend when we reported the story from Michigan, just trying to see how well these remarks were playing of the President`s.
And one person referred to these women as colored. And he didn`t see that as racist. And so regardless of, you know, just political incorrectness and the prejudice behind some of these views that many Americans still hold, they don`t see it that way. And they see the president when he is attacked and called a racist as themselves, because they don`t think they`re racist and they don`t think the President is either
So it has this certain reinforcing effect of all of the anger and the grievance that Trump has brought out in the American people.
WILLIAMS: Indeed. Juana, something about this story freed up a number of people in our business to go ahead and use the word racist without the usual polite qualifiers that we as classically trained journalists try to tag on.
Tonight, I saw Sean Hannity did a numeric count of the number of times the word "racist" was used to describe the President on this network and CNN as a way of coming back at us.
SUMMERS: Yes. There`s been a debate playing out in the news rooms across the country as to how to talk about these terms in a way that gives readers the best information we can. I think that`s really at the root of it.
And what we`ve done at the AP is, you know, we updated our stylebook guidance earlier this year so say that instead of using euphemisms like racially charged moment like this, when things are -- seemed to be racist, we should call them that.
And I think that the best thing we can do as journalists, at least in my view, is to be as straightforward with our audiences to reprint the things that we`re hearing especially when it comes from the occupant of the highest office in the land, and to be as accurate as possible in those descriptors.
And I know it`s something that news rooms across the country are trying to be really thoughtful about, and figure out how to best serve their audiences that way. And I don`t think that there are frankly any easy answers here.
WILLIAMS: Imagine predicting that the AP stylebook would need that kind of revision in 2018. Jeremy and Juana have agreed to stay with us. We`ll fit in a break.
And coming up, again, how it`s all playing in our actual country in places not named Washington and Los Angeles for starters.
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TRUMP: If they don`t like it, let them leave. Let them leave. They`re always telling us how to run it, how to do this, how to -- you know what? If they don`t love it, tell them to leave it. It`s their choice.
They can come back when they want. But, up, they don`t love our country. I think in some cases they hate our country.
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WILLIAMS: A little more now from Jeremy`s piece we just mentioned before the break. And we quote, "Michigan could be one of the purest laboratories to test a central paradox of the President`s reelection strategy, to win while he remains wildly unpopular. He is trying to ensure that happens by inflicting as much damage as he possibly can to the Democrats` brand.
With us still the aforementioned Jeremy Peters and Juana Summers. Jeremy, I want to take this in another direction, and that is the Republicans watching and listening. Let`s talk about some prominent senators who have been mostly silent, people with names like Portman and Blunt and Sasse. You cover Republican reaction or lack of it often for your newspaper. What`s going on there?
PETERS: It`s an absolute paralysis by fear. They are terrified of getting on the wrong side of Trump`s base, which has to be their base if they want to win reelection. They are also mindful that they would be seen as causing strife within their own party, and they don`t want the President`s wrath.
I mean, this is a guy who is known to attack opponents regardless of their partisan affiliation for the sin of speaking out against him. This is not a Republican Party that tolerates dissent.
I think what`s also going on here is this fear they have of being caricatured and attacked in the conservative media. The conservative media is also very unkind to anybody who is not seen as sufficiently pro-Trump.
So all of those senators, I think, until they see that they have no more political power drawn from standing with Donald Trump, they`re going to continue to stand with Donald Trump through moments like this, you know, with the exception of an isolated, oh, I disagree with what he said, I don`t like his tone, but I have yet to see anything that would change the course of that.
WILLIAMS: And Juana, beyond the abject hurtfulness of an old racist trope like "go back where you came from," to look at just the brass tacks politics of it, are these four women placeholders for this president, his time, energy and attention and barbs until there is an actual decided Democratic nominee?
SUMMERS: I think that`s exactly right, Brian. Look, it`s clear to me in looking at this that he intends to take these four progressive members of the Democratic Caucus and make them the placeholders for all Democrats writ large.
Look, this huge Democratic field has quite a bit of diversity. You have far left progressives, you have moderates and centrists. But he`s essentially saying this is what Democrats stand for. They are people who don`t love our country. They are people who should go elsewhere. They are others. They are not like you and me. I`m taking some liberties here, but that`s essentially what he`s saying.
And so I think you`re going to hear him for as long as this story continues to be out there to continue to point back at this group of women who are highly visible members on Capitol Hill and continue to tie them to the fate of the larger Democratic Party, and I think this will start to get tricky for Democrats running for president, because they`re going to have to figure out a way to message around that and to speak to voters as the President continues to paint the party with broad brushes in an area where there actually are some really significant policy distinctions.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, I can give you 30 seconds to talk about the following, the power of the Mueller hearing to knock the President`s attacks on these four women off the top of broadcasts like this one. The President knows full well that that`s a danger.
PETERS: Absolutely. And he`s also very skilled, as we`ve seen, at diversion. In moments like this when Donald Trump faces an unfavorable news cycle, he loves to change the subject.
Now, I think depending on what Mueller`s testimony is, that becomes a harder to do if there are some pretty damning stuff there, Brian. But-- he`s going to try certainly.
I do think, though, you know, one thing I learned from the reporting we did on this piece is that while Trump has a lot of weaknesses, he is still stronger than you might think in some of these swing counties, these counties where you went for Obama, Obama and then Trump. It`s not -- he hasn`t broken yet. And I think that that`s going to remain constant as we go through the next 16 months. Something will have to give.
WILLIAMS: As we always try to remind our viewers, two of the bylines to look for out there, Jeremy Peters, Juana Summers, our thanks for helping us with our conversation here tonight.
And coming up, the American citizens who hit the streets, shut down a major highway today despite the rain, despite the heat, demanding that their head of government step down immediately, when we continue.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re here united as a country. We are denouncing the ongoing corruption that has been going in Puerto Rico.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This s more than the chat. There has been rampant corruption and we need a change. And we need the governor to resign.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you still have respect for the island, resign, please.
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WILLIAMS: Hundreds of thousands of protesters, American citizens all flooding the streets of Puerto Rico demanding the governor step down.
Look at these pictures from above. The protests have been building for 10 days since the once-private messages between the governor and his friends and allies went public. They reached a fever pitch today after the governor agreed this weekend not to run for reelection but refused to resign.
According to an NBC News review of the documents, the chats revealed profanity-laced, misogynistic and homophobic comments as well as barbed and cynical remarks about different topics including jokes about deaths following Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The messages appear to be a tipping point for an island long frustrated with corruption and economic turmoil especially since the storm. Even as the governor was methodically filleted by Shepard Smith on Fox News this afternoon, he remained defiant.
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SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS HOST: So attacks on women, attacks on gays, attacks on the dead relatives of your own residents across your own island and after all that who is left to support you? Is it even safe for you to continue to attempt to govern?
GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: Well, again, I have apologized for that. I`m making amends for those efforts on talking to people. This was --
SMITH: You apologized for what, specifically, governor?
ROSSELLO: For all of the comments that I made on the chat. That is one thing. There is another effort that needs to move forward which is the battling of corruption.
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WILLIAMS: President Trump has hopped on the governor must go train while also painting himself as something of a heroic figure in Puerto Rico.
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TRUMP: He is a terrible governor. The Congress of the United States handed him $92 billion. And that $92 billion is in the hands of incompetent people and very corrupt people, but the governor has done a terrible job and the mayor of San Juan -- she`s horrible. I think she`s just terrible. She is so bad for her people. And I think the government of the United States, I have to be careful. I`m the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.
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WILLIAMS: $92 billion figure is incorrect. Puerto Rico`s House of Representatives has now taken steps to begin impeachment proceedings. It is not clear who would take over as the number two to the governor as the number two is already out as a result of this freakus (ph).
Coming up, he was all about control and he shaped our nation`s identity as a result.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is another sign that an era has come to an end. Just this weekend we marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. And just today, we learned the man who did so much to make that possible has died.
Viewers of what we like to call a certain age remember the name Chris Kraft, the man and not the vessel, because during the space race with the old Soviet Union, Chris Kraft the man had the awesome title of flight director. That meant everything. It meant no flight happened without him, not the first chimpanzee, not Alan Shepard, not John Glenn, nothing.
There is a reason Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center bears his name. Christopher Columbus Kraft was born in Virginia where at the age of four he watched Charles Lindbergh, land his plane "The Sprit of St. Louis," that probably set the aviation hook in the young man.
He designed Mission Control before there was a mission, before there were computers. He was competitive and it broke his heart that our guys thought the rocket wasn`t ready and the Russians beat us in the space. But in truth, he also thought JFK was crazy to try to reach the moon in under a decade.
Chris Kraft lived long enough to see the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong`s famous first step. And it was Neil Armstrong who famously said of his fellow engineer that the control in Mission Control was Christopher Kraft. He was 95 years old at the time of his death.
That`s our broadcast for this Monday night. Thank you so much 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