LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Ron Klain, Mieke Eoyang, Jill Wine-Banks and Ned Price, than you all very much for joining us on this important night. And that is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, a long day`s journey into something less than the Democrats had hoped for, for so long. Robert Mueller in his own words, reluctant, passive, halting, some stern warnings, few findings of fault, he did not have all the answers.
Tonight, we`ll look at what he did say. It`s not a witch hunt, it`s not a hoax. We are under attack by the Russians. He could not clear the President.
And the President, he declared victory. All the loyal Republicans behind him, but no answers or apparent anger tonight for the attack under way by the Russians as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 916 of this Trump administration. Robert Mueller was a reluctant witness, and it showed. It was a long day on Capitol Hill seven hours from start to finish, the 89th and 90th congressional hearings in his lifetime of public service and likely his last. By the end of the day he said everything the Democrats were trying to prove. It`s not a witch hunt. It was not a hoax. He could not clear the President. And the Russians are interfering in our election process right now.
But declarative sentences were hard to find. He fouled off close to 200 questions with either no answer or a deflection. And the issue everyone has been dancing around all day, he`s older now. Two weeks shy of 75. And while a presence still, not the commanding presence that so many remembered and had hoped for. There was a new and somewhat arresting frailty to him. At times words failed him. The tempo outpaced him. Page numbers and citations eluded him.
For his part the President immediately declared victory, called it all a witch hunt and a hoax.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff totaled it all up from today. Russia interfered in our election to help Trump. Russians made numerous contacts with the campaign. The campaign welcomed their help. No one reported these contacts or interference to the FBI. They lied to cover it up. That was the quote. That was the summation after a protracted presentation.
Mueller started the day in front of House Judiciary, where he was asked about Trump`s claims of exoneration and his possible legal exposure once he leaves office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN.: The President has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him. But that is not what your report said, is it?
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: Correct. It is not what the report said.
NADLER: So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice. Is that correct?
MUELLER: That is correct.
REP. KEN BUCK, (R) COLORADO, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Was there sufficient evidence to convict President Trump or anyone else with obstruction of justice?
MUELLER: We did not make that calculation.
BUCK: How could you not have made the calculation --
MUELLER: Because the OLC opinion, Office of Legal Counsel, indicates that we cannot indict a sitting president.
BUCK: Could you charge the President with a crime after he left office?
BUCK: You believe that he committed -- you could charge the President of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Mueller continued his testimony before the Intelligence Committee, where the focus was his findings about Russia`s efforts to meddle in our 2016 presidential election.
As that hearing got under way the chairman made a point of refuting Trump`s attacks on Mueller and his conclusions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADLER: When Donald Trump called your investigation a witch hunt, that was also false, was it not?
MUELLER: I`d like to think so. Yes.
NADLER: Well, your investigation is not a witch hunt, is it?
MUELLER: It is not a witch hunt.
NADLER: When the President said the Russian interference was a hoax, that was false, wasn`t it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: During his exchanges with lawmakers, Mueller repeated his warnings about Russia`s ongoing attempts to interfere with American democracy. He also suggested the FBI is still in the business of a counterintelligence investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. WILL HURD, (R) TEXAS, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Is this -- in your investigation did you think this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election or did you find evidence to suggest they`ll try to do this again?
MUELLER: It wasn`t a single attempt. They`re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI, (D) ILLINOIS, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation, your report did not address how Flynn`s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?
MUELLER: I cannot get into that mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You may recall Mueller never had a sit down interview with the President during his entire investigation. Instead he accepted written responses from the President. This afternoon Mueller was finally asked why that was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY,(D) NEW YORK, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Why didn`t you subpoena the President?
MUELLER: We were almost toward the end of our investigation, and we`d had little success in pushing to get the interview of the President. We decided that we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of the necessity of expediting the end of the investigation.
MALONEY: Did you have sufficient evidence of the President`s intent to obstruct justice, and is that why you didn`t do the interview?
MUELLER: The reason we didn`t do the interview is because of the length of time that it would take to resolve the issues attendant to that.
WILLIAMS: In both hearings today Democrats took pains to try to make Mueller`s report real for the public, employing visual quote displays to back up their questions.
Susan Glasser filed a rather devastating review of the day for the "New Yorker" tonight where she writes, "Those who bothered to read all 448 pages discovered a gripping document, painstakingly footnoted and verified. It is a portrait of a white house dysfunction and lies unlike any we`ve seen. None of this was mentioned at Wednesday`s hearing."
With that let`s bring in our lead-off guest for a Wednesday night, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and Pentagon, former Chief Counsel for the House Intel Committee, and Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs contributor for Politico.
Jeremy Bash, given your experience with this very committee, I`d like to begin with you. Last night here, we weren`t alone on this broadcast in billing this as perhaps the most consequential day of testimony in recent years. In your view what was today really?
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, there`s one unassailable truth, which is that Donald Trump engaged in a massive cover-up to hide the fact that his campaign knowingly received support from the Russian federation. Just that one sentence, Brian, as powerful, as alarming, as arresting as it was, never came out of the mouth of the key witness, Bob Mueller, today. Instead he gave one word, staccato, sometimes monosyllabic answers. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere on earth within that witness chair.
And look, I respect that. He doesn`t want to be a political prop. He doesn`t really like talking to politicians. He always hated going up to Capitol Hill to testify. But I think it was a huge missed opportunity to educate the public about the vast enormous stakes that he actually found in his report, and none of the powerful points in his report really came through today.
WILLIAMS: Joyce Vance, because these are human beings we`re talking about, I found myself thinking about his family and friends watching today and wondering what they made of it. This turns to what you made of it. Do you think he did his own work justice?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, this was a difficult day for a number of reasons, and Mueller was careful to state at the outset that he was there as a prosecutor. And I think by that he meant he had to operate under the ethical and practical constraints that prosecutors operate under. If there was a disconnect in today`s hearing, it was really the larger failure to explain to the public what that meant and why it was reasonable. So many people will feel like Mueller could have done much more today, perhaps should have done much more.
I think we would have all liked to have seen greater explanation. But at the end of the day Mueller finished where he started, with a, as you point out, well-written, well-documented, very specific report that`s available to the public. It did not come alive today. This was not razzle-dazzle. This was not the movie version of the book.
WILLIAMS: So, Frank Figliuzzi, it was probably known to you that rumors were circulating the last six months about some sort of perhaps age-related organic diminishment on the part of Mr. Mueller, and now begins the press coverage to kind of back fill that and explain what we saw or didn`t see today. I quote to you from the "New York Times" tonight. "Soon after the special counsel`s office opened in 2017, some aides noticed that Robert Mueller kept noticeably shorter hours than he had as FBI director when he showed up at the bureau daily at 6:00 a.m., often worked nights. He seemed to cede substantial responsibility to his top deputies, including Aaron Zebley, who managed date-day operations. As negotiations with President Trump`s lawyers about interviewing him dragged on, for example, Mr. Mueller took part less and less." Is that, Frank, what you think we saw today?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Well, we didn`t see the man that I served as FBI director. But we saw a man who is approaching age 75 in a couple of weeks.
The question we have to ask ourselves is so what? What is the impact of that age factor if any? And my response to that is this. We are living in a society that likes drama and noise and elevated voices, and seemingly over facts and findings. So, Mueller`s facts and findings would not be any different. The team`s findings would not be any different if he were 62 or 52 or 75. That`s the reality. But sadly, people who tune in to T.V. expect to see entertainment and drama and not facts and findings.
We saw a stark contrast today between a professional prosecutor and professional politicians. And now we have a choice to make. Are we going to choose the facts or are we going to choose the drama? And I don`t think any of that would have changed depending on the age of the prosecutor.
WILLIAMS: Josh, another way of putting some of this is the Mueller report came out not attuned to the age of the internet. Today`s televised hearing was not quite attuned to the age of television. Did Mueller`s refusal to declare that the President was exonerated, for example, get lost in the word salad over exoneration?
JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: A little bit. I mean, there, we also heard a monosyllabic answer to a question that was put to him and later he came around to it again and said something like the President was not exculpated which people like me who spend a lot of time in courtrooms are used to hearing that kind of language but that`s not the kind of clarion call clarity that I think people were hoping for from this hearing. And I`m struck, Brian, that this is really the third time Democrats have fallen into this trap of regarding Mueller as sort of a messiah figure who was going to provide some sort of unifying, overarching indictment of, you know, numerous people across the Trump campaign and the Trump White House for their actions in the 2016 campaign. That didn`t happen. Then the report came out and it didn`t really have the coup de grace against the President that would inexorably lead to impeachment. A lot of damaging information but no direct accusations of a crime.
And then this hearing was sort of ginned up by the House members, the Democratic House members, who thought, well, this will be it. We`ll be able to get Mueller on the record here and that will really cause, you know, many people in the American public to get the message and, again, a bit of a letdown today. So I think there has to be some disappointment in the Democratic ranks on the Hill tonight.
WILLIAMS: So Josh, that`s interesting. They might have put too many hopes and dreams in lieu of a work product into Robert Mueller. Any talk that Jerry Nadler perhaps isn`t up to the job?
GERSTEIN: I don`t think so. I mean, I don`t think it`s simply Nadler, although I think if you`re intimating, Brian, that the Intelligence hearing was more revealing and that it seemed that Mueller was more on his game there, the questions were I think more pointed and there were more direct response. You had the chairman there, Adam Schiff, engage in a direct sort of repartee with Mueller that I thought was pretty interesting and pretty damning of the President, even in the context of these one-word answers.
And we also learned today that the Hill committees were told in advance that Mueller would not read parts of his report as people had hoped earlier. So they really came into this knowing that they were likely to get pretty thin gruel from Mueller, and I think unfortunately for them that`s what was served up.
WILLIAMS: So Jeremy Bash, another case of expectations being too high, and it proved nothing against the outgoing energy of the President.
BASH: Yes. And I just want to go back to this point that Frank and others raised, which is you know, we live in an era of raised voices. Actually, I don`t think it would have required raised voices. I don`t think it would have required hyperbole, drama, razzle-dazzle. I actually think all Bob Mueller had to do was explain in his own kind of just the facts, ma`am presentation, hey, the President engaged in obstruction of justice by doing these things. The President engaged in this wrongful conduct, and here`s the evidence.
If he`d only just put, you know, subject, verb, object together, I think it would have been a very compelling argument. But basically, he said I don`t want to discuss this. And I think what came through was sort of a lack of confidence in the substance of his report, which is really a shame because unfortunately I think, well, the conclusion people will draw is that, well, there`s less of a case here to go forward with accountability for the President. And I talked to two members of Congress tonight who said already in the Democratic caucus up on Capitol Hill, there`s less momentum for impeachment tonight than there was before these hearings.
WILLIAMS: And Frank Figliuzzi, that`s a fair question. What else didn`t you hear today that perhaps you wanted to?
FIGLIUZZI: Oh, I think it would have been very compelling if Mueller had actually said, "Look, if Donald J. Trump was not the President of the United States I would be referring him for criminal charges."` I think that would have made quite a difference.
But I`ve got to say, look, we`re in a place right now where people see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear. You know, Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song called "The Boxer." It has lyrics and say, "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." So I wonder whether anything Mueller could have said today would have changed people who are solidly entrenched in their opinion right now.
WILLIAMS: Joyce Vance, I want to read you something from Tom Nichols of the Naval War College. We`ll put it on the screen. He`s been a frequent guest on this show. Let`s call him a lapsed Republican. "Schiff`s five minutes and Mueller`s answers would have been enough for Republicans to impeach and convict any other president before sundown today." And indeed 12 minutes prior to him tweeting that here is a bit of the Schiff-Mueller exchange. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE CMTE CHAIRMAN: During the course of this Russian interference in the election, the Russians made outreach to the Trump campaign, did they not?
MUELLER: That occurred over the course of -- yes. That occurred.
SCHIFF: In fact, the campaign welcomed the Russian help, did they not?
MUELLER: I think we have in the report indications that that occurred. Yes.
SCHIFF: The President himself called on the Russians to hack Hillary`s e- mails?
MUELLER: There was a statement by the President in those general lines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So Joyce, that gets us closer to complete sentences to Jeremy`s point. Does Tom Nichols have a point?
VANCE: If you`d inserted the name Barack Obama for Donald Trump in that questioning, there`s no doubt that the impeachment proceedings would have commenced immediately at the conclusion of those answers. It remains an incomprehensible feature of this presidency that there is nothing that Trump can do that will seemingly dissuade his followers from going there. The notion that the Republican Party is willing to turn a blind eye to complicity if not conspiracy in Russian activity designed to attack our election is really I think one of the mysteries that historians and political scientists will look back on for this couple of years. And just wonder and parse how it could have ever happened so quickly.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Jeremy Bash, just one more thing before we have to hit a break. If anyone wants drama or a bold stroke, you know, the speaker can cancel the entire summer recess and declare, we`re going to go all in here and we`re going to draw up articles of impeachment and start an inquiry. That`s one way to go, I suppose.
BASH: I suppose. Although there`s also another avenue. And tonight, you know, the House took a vote in which they allowed committee subpoenas to become actual subpoenas of the full house, which gives them more force in the courts of law because the Trump administration had been pushing back saying these are merely committee subpoenas. So I think the Democrats are going to get more aggressive on oversight. I just don`t know that I see them getting more aggressive on impeachment.
WILLIAMS: All right. With that, our thanks tonight after a long day to Frank Figliuzzi, to Joyce Vance, Jeremy Bash, Josh Gerstein. Really appreciate it, gang, very much.
Coming up for us, we will talk with a Democrat from California who got Mueller to deny one of the President`s regular complaints about the Russia investigation.
And later, Republicans were claiming vindication before the hearings ended. Democrats argue they`ve yet to make their strongest case. When it comes to impeachment, we`ll try to sort it out as THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JACKIE SPEIER, (D) CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE CMTE.: Would you agree that it was not a hoax that the Russians were engaged in trying to impact our election?
MUELLER: Absolutely. That was not a hoax. The indictments we returned against the Russians, two different ones, were substantial in their scope, using the scope word again. And I think one of the -- we have underplayed to a certain extent in that aspect of our investigation that has and would have long-term damage to the United States, that we need to move quickly to address.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Robert Mueller was deemed to be at his strongest today when the subject went right there, Russian election interference. He stressed the need to protect future elections. "The New York Times" pointed out, "Mr. Mueller has made little secret of his belief that the public has not fully grasped the elaborate and targeted nature of Russia`s attacks on the 2016 elections that were detailed in his report, nor has the government taken sufficient steps to address it or prevent such an assault from occurring again."
With us for more tonight, one of the Democrats in the room today, we just saw her at the hearing, Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congresswoman, let me begin with an attempt at truth here. Be as honest as you can. Was there disappointment in your caucus at the gulf between reputation and delivery today?
SPEIER: You know, for some weeks now we have been trying to lower expectations because in negotiating with the special counsel and his team, it was very clear that he did not want to engage in a lengthy discussion that he wanted to be restricted to the four corners of the report. So we were anticipating, I think, a more taciturn response from the special counsel.
WILLIAMS: What do you think was his best moment today, Congresswoman?
SPEIER: Well, he had a couple of really good moments when he underscored the fact that the President lied when he was responding to Val Deming`s question, that even in his responses, his written responses to questions, he was not truthful. And of course he`d never responded to any of the questions regarding the obstruction of justice, and it went on for over a year to try and negotiate an actual interview which never took place.
So I think for the special counsel, he was tired of the wait and he never said it but I wondered to what extent there was concern that the actual investigation might be shut down by the President.
WILLIAMS: The graphic over Sean Hannity`s shoulder tonight when he came on the air on Fox News was "The day impeachment died." Do you think that`s right?
SPEIER: I don`t think it`s right at all. No.
WILLIAMS: Do you think the opposite is true?
SPEIER: I do. I do. You know, all you have to do is paint a really powerful picture for the public. If you take the Grand Havana Club interaction between the campaign chairman of Donald Trump, Mr. Manafort, and Rick Gates, his deputy campaign manager, meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian operative with the GRU, and handing over elaborate polling data to be used by the internet research agency in all likelihood, and that didn`t happen once or twice, it happened over the entire summer. I think that becomes very compelling. That is an intent to conspire. And intention to conspire just like intention to obstruct, both of those are still crimes.
WILLIAMS: So let me close by asking you, when will we know what the direction of the House is going to be? I didn`t mean to strike fear in your heart when I mentioned before the break that of course the speaker can with one phone call cancel the entire summer recess, keep you all in town or try to, and start this thing in earnest, all evidence to the contrary.
SPEIER: I think that the speaker is softening to the idea of an impeachment inquiry to begin. Certainly, I got that impression in listening to her this afternoon. I don`t know that the numbers of members are at a critical mass yet, but I do think it`s growing. And I think that the more this is -- this information about the Mueller report kind of is saturated in the public`s eye, that we`ll see a greater willingness to have this inquiry begin and more members coming forward in support of it.
WILLIAMS: Interesting stuff. Congresswoman, I know it`s been a long day for you because all we did here was sit back and watch all of you at work. We really appreciate you coming on the air with us. California Democratic Congressman Jackie Speier, thank you so much.
SPEIER: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, we`ll dig deeper into the issue. Mueller called one of the most serious challenges to our entire democracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER WELCH, (D) VERMONT, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Have we established a new normal from this past campaign that is going to apply to future campaigns so that if any one of us running for the U.S. House, any candidate for the U.S. Senate, any candidate for the presidency of the United States aware that if a hostile foreign power is trying to influence an election has no duty to report that to the FBI or other authorities?
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: I hope --
WELCH: Go ahead.
MUELLER: I hope this is not the new normal. But I fear it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Just one of many notable moments from this afternoon`s session on the topic of Russian election interference. Robert Mueller was also asked about President Trump`s repeated praise for Wikileaks during the presidential campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY, (D) ILLINOIS: Boy, I love reading those Wikileaks. Donald Trump November 4th, 2016. Do any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?
MUELLER: I`m not certain I would say --
QUIGLEY: How do you react to those?
MUELLER: Well, it`s problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some, I don`t know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And an understatement from Mr. Mueller by way of calling it problematic is an understatement. For all of this we have asked both Frank Figliuzzi and Jeremy Bash to return for a final word.
Frank, I have to say, a lot of people were surprised today at how seemingly mystified the former director was at the numerous mentions of things like Fusion GPS. If you have walked by a television over the past two years and Fox has been on, if you`ve been in a best buy, you have heard this storyline. It was aired out voluminously today. Is that staff work? Is that a kind of Victorian existence in 2019? Why would he be in wonder at that storyline?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Well, we talked in the first block, Brian, about the age factor, and I think that that is a factor. But we also have to understand, this is a massively complex investigation with a large team and likely what Mueller did was delegate leadership to various parts of this case to various deputies and had them own it. He picked a very talented team. He had them own it. He got briefed accordingly. And made decisions and executed his vision.
The fact that he wasn`t down in the weeds or that he was seemingly struggling with certain facts, I think I attribute to the age factor and the stress factor. But it doesn`t mean he wasn`t in command of the team and the investigation.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, I feel compelled always at this point to point out that Robert Mueller has a bullet wound from the North Vietnamese and entered public service because he felt thankful for having survived Vietnam after choosing to go to Vietnam as a marine because he lost one of his good friends from school. That said, Jeremy Bash, back to the discussion in the hearing room. Why didn`t they try harder to sit down across from the president of the United States?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: And this is one substantive area where I just fundamentally don`t see the logic of the way Mueller pursued this. And he was asked about it. And basically, Mueller`s answer was we didn`t want to push the President or subpoena him because we were going to run out of time and he could litigate. So what? Keep the investigation open.
The reason Hillary Clinton ultimately gave testimony to Jim Comey in the e- mail case because she wanted that case closed. And I think an investigation hanging over Donald Trump`s head would not have been good for him and I`m very -- I`m sorry that Bob Mueller essentially waved the white flag.
You know, when Ken Starr interviewed Bill Clinton in 1998 and got testimony before the grand jury, he drew blood from the President. I don`t mean that figuratively. I mean he literally rolled up his sleeve and took a vile of blood to conduct biologic testing. And so the President -- there is precedent for a president giving testimony in front of a grand jury in a case like this and I`m very sorry that Bob Mueller`s team gave up on that.
WILLIAMS: Frank, last question. Do you share Jeremy`s passion on this and were they outplayed by Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani?
FIGLIUZZI: I`m struggling with the time constraint factor. I don`t -- I see it as artificial. And I think there`s more to the story than we know. I`m not saying that somebody pressured Mueller to close the thing, but I think he may have taken the weight of the world on and told his team we can`t have America continue to suffer like this, we`ve got end this thing and we`re not going to get much out of it because remember, we can`t ultimately prosecute this president.
I share Jeremy`s concern and I wish the subpoena had been issued. But understand, we`d still be in this for a long, long haul.
WILLIAMS: Hey, gentlemen, thank you to both you guys. I appreciate you sticking around for one extra round because we had more to discuss. Frank Figliuzzi, Jeremy Bash, our thanks.
And coming up, as Mueller day comes to a close, a look at where we go from here. And the next witness on the Democrats` wish list. What are the chances of that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP, JERRY NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The very next step either tomorrow or Friday is we`re going into court to enforce -- to ask for the grand jury material and to enforce the subpoena against Mr. McGahn. And that`s particularly important because the excuses, and I won`t call them reasons, the excuses that the White House gives for McGahn not testifying and the nonsense about absolute immunity, et cetera, are the same excuses for all the other fact witnesses. And if we break that, we`ll break the logjam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It`s not clear whether Mueller`s testimony today moved the needle either way on impeachment. It was interesting to hear Jackie Speier, fellow member of the California delegation, saying about the speaker tonight she may be softening toward impeachment. Investigations sparked by the Mueller report are far from over. That much we know.
Don McGahn, he of former White House counsel fame, remains at the top of the Democrats` witness list. McGahn sat with Mueller, you`ll remember, 30- plus hours. His name is mentioned 500-plus times in the report. Most notably in this detail, volume 2, June of 2017, "The President called McGahn, directed him to have the special counsel removed." So there`s that.
Democrats say that`s proof of attempt obstruction of justice. White House instructed McCann -- McGahn, rather. I sound like that member of Congress today who could not get his name right. McGahn to defy a Judiciary Committee subpoena, an issue the courts will ultimately decide, perhaps months from now.
With us for our conversation tonight, two returning veterans, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House bureau chief for the "Washington Post," and John Heilemann, veteran journalist, MSNBC national affairs analyst, co-author of "Game Change," co-host of "The Circus" on Showtime.
Phil, you`ll excuse me. It was Congresswoman Bass who kept calling him McCann today to the point of great frustration here in the studio. A very basic question for you, Phil, in your judgment did it just get harder for the Democrats to get McGahn in front of that committee?
PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, that`s a good question, Brian. As you lay it out, that`s the next step for Democrats. And what they`re trying to do here is build some momentum. They have the facts that are laid out in the report. They have the facts that Mueller testified to. What they`re missing is the political momentum to move towards impeachment. And having an open televised public hearing with Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, could potentially provide that. That`s a big if.
The White House has been blocking that testimony, although there have been some negotiations between the staffs. But this court proceeding could be the next step. I`m not sure where it lands. It seems like McGahn may be willing to testify in a limited scope to talk about the facts that are in the report. But there are a lot of questions surrounding the optics. For example, would it be a closed testimony behind closed doors or would it be something that played out the way the Mueller testimony did today as a nationally televised event?
WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, they could use the President`s DVR to power a small city. There`s every indication today his calendar was clear, he watched every moment of it and later critiqued network by network all of the post-game coverage. Sean Hannity came on the air tonight. I mentioned this earlier. Graphic over his shoulder was "The day impeachment died." What`s the chance he`s right?
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know I come on the show somewhat frequently and you bait me with references to Sean Hannity and sometimes it provokes fights and fisticuffs and dueling episodes and attacks.
I`m afraid to say I think he`s probably right tonight about this. And I think I say it on the basis of gut and on the basis of some reporting. I don`t see, contrary to Congressman Speier earlier here, I don`t see any momentum toward impeachment. I think that thing Jeremy Bash said earlier today is probably closer to true. I think the momentum is the other direction.
And I think really when the history of this is written, and I want to say something about something you said, which is really important. You said this thing about how Nancy Pelosi could call and say summer recess is over, this is a national emergency, worse we`re holding everything.
WILLIAMS: We forget that`s in her toolbox.
HEILEMANN: It is in her toolbox. And you have her standing up at the end of the day saying these very bold things. And then moving on to try to get Don McGahn over some period of time indeterminate, unknown, through what tactics we`re not sure.
I just feel like from the moment that the Mueller report dropped, when Bill Barr took control of the situation and an exercise of incredibly raw naked political power, seized that report, mischaracterized it, turned it into propaganda, kept it from Democrats, that we will look back on this in history and say at that moment Democrats needed to step forward and take control as a -- and fight. Then three months ago, four months ago, April, whatever it was, and that everything that`s happened since then has -- the attenuation of this, the stalling, the lag time that the energy has just dissipated despite the fact the report is damning.
In fact, made all the more galling because it is so damning. But I feel as though that Democrats have consistently missed the moment to act with the kind of alacrity and the kind of force and ruthlessness in some ways that Republicans often act with, and that was necessary if you were going to counter the kind of display of power that Bill Barr and Donald Trump put on in fighting this thing off.
WILLIAMS: And Phil Rucker, it is true, the bold stroke is available to them. We sometimes forget. It is true, Congress loves them some time off, especially in the summer. And such a thing would screw up a lot of travel and vacation plans. It`s probably also true only a tiny percentage of members of Congress are really looking forward to the kind of town hall meetings they`re going to have back in their districts this time around.
RUCKER: If they have them at all, Brian. But look, I think John is right when he says that the momentum is stalled out here. In talking to some Democrats tonight there`s a feeling that this Mueller testimony did not really move the needle and that there`s a possibility of course that if McGahn comes forward and they get through these court battles and Democrats sort of build a consensus within that House caucus to try to move toward impeachment something might happen. But it seems much more that Democrats if they want to remove President Trump from office they`re going to have to do it in November of 2020 in the election.
WILLIAMS: Great stuff tonight, gentlemen. To the extent that we are asking both of our guests to stay with us over a break, we`ll be back with some reaction to this day right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if you`re watching this show right now, you almost certainly know more about the Russia investigation than the man who led the Russia investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing in his purview was framing President Trump. That was it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The witch hunt is dead, gone, it is buried.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It clearly wasn`t the Mueller report, it`s just a name. I had more to do with the Mueller report than probably he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Sample reaction to Robert Mueller`s testimony from the President`s favorite news network.
Still with us, Phil Rucker, John Heilemann.
John, let`s go to the first item, you saw them talking about tonight Tucker Carlson, Fusion GPS. I asked one of our previous guests, why do you think it was that Mueller was so mystified at the frequent mentions of not only Fusion GPS, but the entire kind of parallel universe line of argument?
HEILEMANN: I will now speak maybe some more heresy that I think is now in order at this moment. You raised the question earlier about whether we saw a diminished Bob Mueller tonight and raised the question of how --
WILLIAMS: There`s no joy in talking about this.
HEILEMANN: No, there`s not, but the question it does raise and you raised to this, now people are going to go back and say, was he diminished throughout his time that he was running this operation?
I think the one thing that`s clear, and is reflected in that kind of bafflement with the Fusion GPS references is that he`s not a modern figure.
HEILEMANN: And this debate, this -- the ferocity of it, the polarization, the bitterness, the way in which this war has been fought out in the modern media, how our politics are now conducted is foreign to him. He`s not -- somebody said to today, if you turn on Fox News for five minute, you would have heard Fusion GPS. Bob Mueller is not turning on Fox News or MSNBC. People told us that over and over again. And I`m not sure that`s a strength. To understand, if you want justice to be done, if you want --
WILLIAMS: See what you`re saying about you.
HEILEMANN: If you want the world to understand the truth that you spent two years uncovering, and that`s what you want, you want people to want justice to be done, you want the world to understand, you got to understand what the modern media environment is in which that truth, that truths can be conveyed and the justice can be sought. And I think he may turn out to have been his pre-modernness, I think, worked against him in some sense, in the larger sense.
WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, the President tonight tweeted out video clips, like a video clipping service, there was Congressman McCarthy in the House saying, on cue, there was no collusion, President was tweeting out clips of Rudy, of various office holders on Fox News tonight. What we didn`t see tonight, Phil, was -- and there`s just some of the evening the President has had on Twitter, some of it while traveling to and from a fund-raiser in West Virginia tonight. We saw no anger about the sustained attack that our country is under, our election system is under from Russia.
RUCKER: No, we didn`t, Brian. And I`m not surprised that we didn`t. I mean, look, he President was obsessed with one thing today and it was who won. Did Trump win or did Mueller win? And it was all about that, and it was that way for his lawyers, too. I got a text message tonight from Rudy Giuliani with emojis in it, where he said what you saw from Mueller was a grade B horror film that turned into a satirical comedy. I mean they are celebrating the outcome of what happened today and without much concern for the really grave warning that Mueller delivered and that Chairman Schiff underscored about the current ongoing threat of Russian election interference.
Remember, this is the same president who has denied repeatedly election interference, who has said that he takes Putin at his word. We remember that moment in Helsinki. And he`s really not invested much interest, as president, in overseeing steps that this government should be doing or could be doing to try to prevent it in the future, not only from Russia, but from China and other countries, as well.
WILLIAMS: Heilemann, I can yield you 15 seconds.
HEILEMANN: it`s much worse than that. He`s inviting the help of Russia again in the next election. We saw him with George Stephanopoulos. He wants the help of foreign actors, again, in 2020. He`s going to seek it. It`s not that he`s just not alarmed by what he heard today, he wants more.
WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thank you. Phil Rucker, John Heilemann, always a pleasure. Back with more, including some breaking news tonight right after this.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. And with two minutes before we get off the air, turns out we have two breaking news stories right quick here tonight. First of all, Jeffrey Epstein, the gentleman involved in the sex abuse story that has so far encompassed a lot of bold-faced names in this country, has been found tonight in his New York prison cell injured. We don`t know if it`s at the hands of other people, we don`t know if it is at his own hands or if it was a perhaps failed suicide attempt. All we know is he has been found injured in jail.
Story number, two, the governor of Puerto Rico, Roberto Rossello has announced tonight he is stepping down. Here is video of his announcement. We translated in real-time from Spanish, he, indeed is going to stay on the job until August 2nd for reasons known but to him. The reasons behind his departure, these are live pictures right now in old San Juan, Puerto Rico, the reasons behind his departure, as you know, if you followed any part of this, an online chat he thought was private, among a group of friends of his no longer private.
The contents were seen to be so egregious, the economic standing of so many Puerto Ricans was seen to be so egregious and the troubles faced by that island among its inhabitants, American citizens all, were seen so egregious that the popular uprising was formed. Again, the sketchy but live pictures coming in from San Juan tonight where the governor has resigned.
That is pretty much how Wednesday ended, and so with it becomes the end of our broadcast. That is our broadcast for this Wednesday 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