BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, as Democrats and Congress are no closer to impeachment, in fact, are leaving town for their summer break, the president calls into Fox to talk about the Mueller testimony, what he calls the phony crime and promising a new day coming, though he didn`t elaborate.
Plus, just tonight, the Senate Intelligence Committee has spoken, releasing its report on our act presidential election calling it a cascading intelligence failure saying the Russians targeted all of our 50 states. And it was just last night the Republicans blocked the latest bill to strengthen our elections.
And a check-in with how we are doing on tyranny with the author of the book of the same name as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway this Thursday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 917 of the Trump administration. And we have news tonight, the Senate Intelligence Committee is out with its report on our election security, how far the Russians exactly tried to reach into our system, how ill equipped we were and may still be to deal with it. It found all 50 states were targeted largely undetected by state and federal officials, much more on this just ahead.
Just today the Senate Republican leader blocked election security legislation one day after Robert Mueller`s warning that Russia, of course, is still meddling in our elections and will continue to in 2020. But his statements about the Russian threat have faded some what amid the palpable disappointment among Democrats at Mueller`s presence and the lack of impact from his halting testimony.
"New York Times" put it this way. "The absence of the electrifying Washington moment in Wednesday`s two-stage testimony by Mr. Mueller not only deprived Democrats of the crystallizing episode they needed to drive public opinion on impeachment but it also meant Republicans had no reason to budge from their anti-impeachment stance."
Late today, House members indeed left Washington for a six-week recess, beginning a day earlier than usual. That would be the opposite of impeachment proceedings getting underway. And Donald Trump knows it and he called on to his friend Sean Hannity on Fox tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): This was a coup attempt in my opinion. And this is the United States, and we wouldn`t stand for it and I wouldn`t stand for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has held her grounds. NBC News among others reporting that in a closed door meeting after the Mueller hearing, Pelosi told members of her party they would investigate -- continue to use investigations to build a case against Trump. Said, it`s up to them to make up their minds about impeachment.
Today the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts did come out and support of opening an impeachment inquiry. That`s another one. She`s the highest ranking House Democrat to do so, then 93rd to back an inquiry thus far.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is also looking further down the road.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, CHMN. HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CMTE.: 2020 is unquestionably the only way he gets removed from office. So, we can never lose sight of that. I have tried to put the political question out of my head that is, does an impeachment help us in 2020 or does it hurt us politically. Because I don`t think it`s the right question to ask. But we do need to be realistic and that is the only way he`s leaving office at least at this point is by being voted out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The New York Democrat House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says he plans to continue his effort to gather evidence against the President by calling more witnesses to testify.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, CHMN. HOUSE JUDICIARY CMTE.: We now have to lay out the evidence for the American people of all these crimes by the President and of the failure the President to protect us against the ongoing Russia attack in our elections. That`s our next step.
The American people have to hear directly, for example, from Don McGahn. We have to hear from other witnesses who testified to Mueller but we need to hear -- the American people need to hear their testimony directly. This has been blocked and we are going to court to unblock it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Nadler also indicated a court filing could come as early as tomorrow, a second source confirmed that for us tonight. All of this unfolds as the House Oversight Committee today voted to authorize a subpoena as part of its investigation into the Trump administration`s use of personal accounts for official communications. So there is another front.
The committee is demanding all work related texts and e-mails sent or received by White House officials on personal accounts, two of those officials targeted would include Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and so it goes.
And here for our lead-off discussion on a Thursday night, Matt Apuzzo, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for "The New York Times" based in Brussels this days, Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR Boston`s NPR New Station, Cynthia Alksne, former federal prosecutor, and Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times." Good evening to you all.
Peter, I`m going to ask you to put it into words even though I know you already have under the headline, the blockbuster that wasn`t just -- what does yesterday looked like in context? We learned again today, never get between a member of Congress and the door when they are leaving for a six- week summer break. But did hopes for impeachment walk out the door with them?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That`s a great question. Look, the chance for impeachment were always relatively long because for the very reasons that Nancy Pelosi has expressed, which is that there is a political cost to go in forward with a vote on something that isn`t going to produce a result that they want to see in the Senate. You need two third-thirds of vote in the Senate to convict and remove from office. Democrats don`t have that by themselves. It had to get 20 Republican senators to switch, that does not seem likely absent new information.
There was some hope that Democrats have that Robert Mueller testimony yesterday might change that dynamic. That might transform the debate a little bit. Obviously that did not happen. It did not produce that crystalizing moment as you quoted the paper saying. That doesn`t mean that they`re getting up (ph).
What you hear pro-impeachment Democrats talking about these days is a way of opening impeachment inquiry through the Judiciary Committee but without having a vote on the House floor because the concern is they don`t want to put at risk these red district Democrats who flip district last fall by having to force them to vote on something they don`t want to vote on. So you couldn`t -- in theory the lawyers have research this. Open impeachment inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee without the full house authorizing it. But that doesn`t mean it would succeed. And so we don`t know whether they`re going to do that. We have six-week now and they`re going to go home and take the temperature in their districts and we`ll see where they are when they come back.
WILLIAMS: Some of those town hall meetings will no doubt be interesting.
Hey Kim, this is sobering. This was kind of "The Washington Post" companion piece to what Peter Baker wrote in the "Times". "Several centrist Democrats seized on the absence of a major revelation to argue it was time to end the House investigations into whether Trump tried obstruct the former special counsel`s probe and pivot to legislation. Among Democrats, perhaps the most disappointed in Mueller`s performance were members of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees. Many felt blindsided that no one warned them how much Mueller have aged and regretful that they had forced a decorated Vietnam veteran and longtime civil servant into testifying when he was so reluctant in the first place."
Kim, what are you hearing?
KIMBERLY ATKINS,WBUR SR. NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, let`s start from the fact that we should have known that Robert Mueller would have been a reluctant witness because he himself has said that he would be a reluctant witness. He didn`t want to go there and testify at all.
But when the members of the House, the Democrats are trying to come to the conclusion whether or not to back an impeachment inquiry, there are 235 Democrats in the House. That means that there are 235 different set of factors that go into it. There are some people who are hearing from their members, more progressive members, even not so progressive members. Moderates said are hearing from people in their district and that is swaying them. There are other folks who won narrow elections and much more conservative places. That feels a lot more weary about this.
But, one thing that I am hearing from folks who are in favor of impeachment hearings is that they believe when they do go home. When they do go home during this six-week period that they will hear from members of their -- from their constituents who, after a ground swell of more information, it wasn`t the Mueller hearing that provided it, but just more information, more re-enforcement that the President was not exonerated, particularly for these obstructive acts that there could be a ground swell.
There are almost to 100 if they get a little further, if they think that Nancy Pelosi might soften on the issue of an inquiry the fact that Katherine Clark, the first member of leadership to call for an inquiry definitely puts more pressure on Nancy Pelosi. But Peter is right, this is a long shot. I think the best outcome for the people who are pushing for this is an inquiry, but that still not -- that certainly not a slam dunk at this point.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Cynthia, what just happened and what should happen next in your view?
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, what happen was Bob Mueller had the under statement of the year which was he wasn`t going to go beyond the four corners of the document which he didn`t do.
What`s going to have to happen is that Don McGahn is going to have to testify. And I don`t say that because I think that`s, you know, the next great thing and it`s going to solve everyone`s problems. In fact, my hunch is that it`s not -- my hunch is that the case is not going to get better. It`s actually going to get worse. There is going to be a much longer battle about getting his testimony. And once he comes, he`s going to be their hostile witness. And why shouldn`t he be, because the House appears to be so feckless.
But I do think they need to actually push their prerogative to question witnesses. Whether they open an impeachment inquiry, I doubt it. I honestly say I wish they would just decide and get on with the business of the country, this business about being in the middle and we can`t decide, maybe one more thing one more thing, I don`t think that`s helpful for the country. I find it, you know, ready to pop a blood vessels if they don`t figure out what their path is.
But I do think they need to push for the testimony in McGahn, because otherwise, they`ll never get testimony from anybody again.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Matt, you got some distance on this now. But I am curious as to how you viewed a guy you`ve written a lot of words on over the years and that`s Robert Mueller.
MATT APUZZO, THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: Yes. I mean, I have covered Bob Mueller and I have watched him testifies since I got to Washington in 2005. I watched him testify. It was definitely as I expected which was he wasn`t going to take the bait. He wasn`t going to give an inch.
Obviously you`re looking at somebody who really is only reemerged in the public eye after many years away. And obviously he`s not the Bob Mueller of 10 years ago or 15 years ago when he really paired with Congress and kind of like that jousting.
But, I think that even Bob Mueller when he was FBI director, he wasn`t going to -- the bottom line wouldn`t have change, he wouldn`t have given an inch. He wouldn`t have gone beyond his report.
And I think what`s important to remember here is that if you had read the report going into the testimony then your mind was sort of probably made up. And if you hadn`t read the report, you probably didn`t understand what was happening because it was sow (ph) in the weeds. And so, I`m just not sure that it changed a lot of people`s minds.
WILLIAMS: And Matt, what do you see as the risks for Democrats going forward now?
APUZZO: Well, I mean the best analogy here is Benghazi, right? You don`t want to create a situation where the optics are you got an answer, you didn`t like the answer so you kept going, inform the committee, you kept investigating, you kept doing this stuff. It`s obviously not an apples to apples comparison here. But when you`re talking about going into election year, that`s the risk, because, you know look, the report laid it all out. The report basically said, here are all the things that the President did to try to kill the investigation. If the Democrats want to talk about that, that`s one thing. But if they want to key sort of end this investigation, that`s the risk.
WILLIAMS: Kim, let`s talk about Democratic efforts to do well in the next congressional election, third of the Senate, all of the House.
ATKINS: Yes. That`s a big factor. I mean, people are thinking about keeping the majority, hopefully trying to grow it. Most of the Democrats say that`s they -- that`s one of the biggest apparels here. People are trying to protect their districts and protect that majority.
And even the people who are pushing, a lot of members who I talked to, who want impeachment proceedings at the same time are saying, hey, look, they`re glad they don`t have Nancy Pelosi`s job because that`s her job, to think about keeping that majority, keeping the House in Democratic hands. It`s a big issue and they`re not perfectly aligned and that it`s a difficult job.
WILLIAMS: Cynthia, I don`t want to put your blood vessels at further risk but I have to ask you what -- what is the remaining or to come legal jeopardy for this President?
ALKSNE: Well, not much. I mean, think we ought to just to face that, not much. After -- assuming the Democrats can win, there is some legal jeopardy. But it`s hard to see that that would -- the case would ever be real. But quite frankly, I think he`s out of legal jeopardy. I hate to say it. And you are putting my blood vessel at risk.
ALKSNE: But I think -- my hunch is, he has gotten away with it.
WILLIAMS: OK, Peter Baker, let`s come of that answer to the question for you, does the West Wing believe, sounds like they have reasons to that an existential threat as of this time last night they`re abouts (ph) has passed.
BAKER: Yes, I think they definitely took yesterday as a relief. It wasn`t, you know, any kind of surprise in the sense that some new developments, some new piece of information and some new accused moments, you know, took them off guards. They knew what was going to be in the report. Their Republican allies, you know, tried to chip away at the credibility of the investigation. And I think that they feel pretty comfortable at this point.
You know they -- yes, a few more House Democrats came out for an impeachment inquiry today, but it`s still not even a majority of the Democrats much less the majority of the House. So, you know, this continue to be a useful political issue for the President in some ways. He has something to pin off of, he likes that. But as a matter real threat, I think Cynthia has a good point there.
I think that it`s hard to see whether the House is genuinely going to go forward after another six-week recess and push this pretty quickly where -- into the thick of the primaries and everybody is going to say, "Well, let`s just let the voters decide." Maybe I`m wrong, something will come up. Maybe McGahn`s testimony if he were to give it suddenly transforms things, maybe he becomes John Dean and points a finger at Donald Trump and says, "I was there, I was in the room, these things happen and you didn`t know about them." But given what we know now, the political environment on the Hill doesn`t suggest that there is enormous threat to the President right now.
WILLIAMS: Well, we got Peter Baker to speak French. So there is that upside. To Peter Baker, to Matt Apuzzo, to Kimberly Atkins, to Cynthia Alksne, thank you so much for being our front four on a Thursday night.
Coming up for us, the new report revealing how systematic the Russian hack of our election was. How ill prepared we were for it, all 50 states.
And later, a preview of the next Democratic debates, don`t forget about them less than a week away now. THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway on this Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?
TRUMP: Yes, of course I will. Don`t meddle in the election president, don`t meddle in the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Less than a month after that exchange between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. We heard this from Robert Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILL HURD, (R) TEXAS: In your investigation, did you think this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our elections, or did you find evidence to suggest they`ll try do this again?
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: It wasn`t a single attempt. They`re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during next campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Indeed a new document out that we mentioned at the top of the broadcast tonight from the U.S. Senate serves as a warning about the Russia interference or it should. "The New York Times" sums it up this way, "The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded Thursday that election systems in all 50 states," let`s repeat that, "in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016, largely undetected by the states and federal officials at the time, but at the demand of American intelligence agencies, the committee was forced to redact its findings so heavily that key lessons for the 2020 elections are blocked out."
Just this week, FBI Director Chris Wray told Congress Russia is absolutely intent on interfering in future elections.
Meanwhile and somewhat unbelievably, election security legislation has hit a roadblock in the U.S. Senate. The AP puts it this way, "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday blocked a House passed bill that would authorize 775 million to beef up state election systems. GOP leaders made the case that the Trump administration has already made great strides in protecting the vote and they say no more funding is needed." Thank you very much.
Here to talk about it with us tonight, Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, he`s recent book titles, "From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin`s Russia." And Clint Watts is back with us, a former FBI special agent, he`s also a Distinguish Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He happens to be author of "Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News." Gentlemen, good evening to you both.
Clint, I have one more quote here from "The New York Times." It concluded" -- this is about the Senate report, "It concluded that while there were no evidence that any votes were changed in actual voting machines, Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data in the Illinois voter database. The committee found no evidence that they did so."
Just talking with you for two-minutes, you found evidence in this report, Russia sent election monitors in some of our polling places?
CLINT WATTS, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes. That was one of the things I have not heard before. And most of this is redundant, right? We`ve seen in another reports are, you know, reporting that comes out in "New York Times." But just said, they were trying to send monitors or some sort of observers to polling station --
WILLIAMS: What do we do about this?
WATTS: Yes, it`s fascinating to me. Because what I was most worried about on election night, even going back to 2014, we have been watching this, when they came to 2016, what we were worried about was the outbreak of violence at polling places under the auspicious that there was election rigging or voter fraud. This was pushed very heavily by the Russians in terms of just information. It was supported by these maneuvers which is to just create hack, any sort of a hack.
So any sort of a chaos that it would so doubt in the minds of American votes had been change. And then you had President Trump, then candidate Trump, claiming electoral rig voter fraud. And what was remarkable in this report too, the second thing that I thought was interesting was, they were in Senator Wyden`s portion, it talks about the Russian -- this information system was ready to say, "Rest in peace democracy. Clinton wins. This -- it`s all a fraud, it`s all a sham." They were ready had Clinton won to actually keep this chaos going in our system. They were trying to put people out of polling place. They were trying to amplify the divides even before and after the vote on places.
WILLIAMS: This is a flip question intentionally. Did I miss a national decision to sell out to these guys? What`s going on?
WATTS: It`s baffling to me, because what`s clear and I think as you go through that report today is -- there is a disconnect between the federal state and local level about how to protect the elections. I know great gains have been made. DHS and CISA group, they are doing great things. But they only have so much they can do. And these election systems are very different -- many different places. They don`t all have a verifiable paper ballot, audible, you know, an audit way to go back and verify the vote.
And when you look at this, there is no way we have all the resources covered to help all these people. And at the same time we have Senator McConnell blocking legislation and also at times insinuating that you can`t trust the federal government to go down there and help state and local election officials do their job. This is just showing the seeds for what could be cast, not just from Russia, any foreign actor, any domestic actor, any activists is out there, they just wants to cause problems for us in 2020.
WILLIAMS: Mike McFaul, think about this and I know you do. The President jokes with Putin, Mueller warns about Putin, McConnell says hell no we don`t need anymore protection against Putin. They got their guy in the U.K., Bo Jo (ph), Boris Johnson is virulently pro-Brexit.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, Putin is feeling pretty good of all the facts, Brian, that`s the first thing I would say. I do think he`s feeling not so good of this report, however. I think the detail that is documented here will hopefully for some of those Republican senators that have not been supportive of a new legislation to think twice about it. The parts that are redacted are still frustrating to me. Why are they being redacted when these are facts about what the Russians did to us?
But, I do want to say I think it really does spell out that this was a bigger operation than just helping President Trump. I think that`s really important thing that people need to think about including the President of the United States. You`re not taking all these actions, and by the way as you rightly pointed out, not just in 21 states as we originally thought but all 50 states. You are not taking these actions just to help Trump win the election. You`re taking these actions on the idea that you might disrupt the elections.
And that I think it is something I hope finally the President and Senator McConnell will take seriously. This is not about helping Trump win. This is about undermining the American democracy.
WILLIAMS: So, ambassador, if I am watching this at home tonight, I feel as much as I do right now, I`m on a ledge. If people are yelling at their television, what can we do about this? What do you tell them? Their elected representatives are about to take six-week off.
MCFAUL: Call Senator McConnell. Put pressure on him. There are a lot of good pieces of legislation out there. I was just on Capitol Hill talking to senators yesterday about these things and lots of the recommendations in this report, lots of the recommendations that other experts has made including Clint and myself, they`re in the legislation. This is a no- brainer. There should be a paper trail for every vote that is cast in 2020.
How can any American be against that? That is the most American thing. If you care about sovereignty, this is what you do. You call Senator McConnell and you say, "Please take action on these non-partisan, very practical decisions that we can take before 2020 to secure our vote in a more -- and to secure our vote."
And I want to emphasize something Clint has said too. Not just against the Russians but against the Iranians, the Chinese, the high school hacker club here in Silicon Valley. Not all these actors may have President Trump`s interests in mind. We all should come together collectively to protect the vote in 2020.
WILLIAMS: Clint Watts, last word, 30 seconds.
WATTS: If we don`t fix this problem, this report today is not a warning or recommendations but it`s a blueprint for any adversary. You can go through it and see what Russia did. You can see what the response has been and you can see what the recommendations are. And if nothing is done, then this is the playbook that you run in 2020 if you really want to mess with the United States.
WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, I can`t thank you enough. It`s chilling stuff, but this is the most important job we`ll do on this broadcast tonight is broadcasting this. Ambassador Mike McFaul, Clint Watts, thank you both so much.
And coming up for us, new polling finds Joe Biden crushing his competitors in two key states. Then there is the next debate to worry about. We`ll have that coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have probably overly polite in the way I didn`t respond.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to be less polite then?
BIDEN: I`m going to be very -- I will smile a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you mean when you said you`re not going to be as polite in the next debate?
BIDEN: We`ll see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: With the second Democratic debate now less than a week away, Joe Biden vowing to bring the heat, that`s something his critic say he failed to do at the first debate when Kamala Harris confronted him over civil rights record and busing, and he struggled to defend it.
Two new polls, though, show Joe Biden`s front runner status thoroughly intact. Biden crushing his Democratic opponents in South Carolina according to this Monmouth University survey, staggering 27 point lead over his closest rival Kamala Harris on top of that.
A new QPAC poll finds Biden is the only Democratic presidential contender to beat Trump in a hypothetical match-up in the battleground state of Ohio, a critical state of Ohio. The rest of the Democratic pack locked with Trump in a dead heat.
With us to talk about it, our friend, Alexi McCammond, Politics Reporter for Axios.
Alexi, let me gently deal with the elephant in the room. Biden has probably less in sight, that part of the national conversations surrounds a lesser than stellar performance by a guy in his mid-70s on national television yesterday, Joe Biden in addition to all of these leads continues to be a giant target.
ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS: He does continue to be a giant target. You`re right about that, Brian. And my conversations with various Democratic campaigns and strategist, and even the Biden campaign themselves.
One thing is clear that if the first debate in Miami were a simple introduction for a lot of these folks, the second debate is going to be an all out brawl where everyone is going to try to take shots against Biden when they`re on that stage with him on night two. And he`s fully prepared to fight back.
Joe Biden is someone who is not afraid to speak his mind or to go toe to toe with folks. We did see a more reserved version of himself on that debate stage last time around in June, in Miami. And I think he quickly realized that that`s not a winning strategy for himself.
But despite what his critics say and despite the ways in which Kamala Harris really went after him in a successful way, I would say, you`re right that this poll shows that people across the country really love Joe Biden.
And what`s interesting to me is when we look at the Fox New polls that came out this week, Joe Biden is beating President Trump in a head to head match. But they said polling Joe Biden against President Trump since 2015, and Joe has consistently beaten Trump in the Fox News polls since 2015.
And I think that`s really telling not just for someone like Joe Biden and the rest of the 2020 field but especially for someone like Donald Trump who attacks Joe Biden more than any other Democrat. And you know what they say, which is that you attack things that you`re afraid of.
WILLIAMS: I`m glad you raised that because I am going to play audio from Donald Trump`s call-in to Hannity tonight. We`ll talk about this on the other side.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: So sleepy Joe is OK but he is fading. I think he`s fading fast. The only good thing about Mueller is it made Joe Biden looked like a dynamo.
You have Elizabeth Warren formerly known as Pocahontas and I`m sure that will come out because that`s a tough thing for her to withstand, I believe, because her whole life was a fake.
Bernie looks like he`s fading. To me Bernie looks like he missed his time.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Alexi, A, our President now talks like this, that just been baked into the national cake. And, B, a lot of Democrats hear that and those stinging yet drive by attacks, and they get very frustrated that their party some day resembles a circular firing squad.
The President zeros in on the so-called Squad on Capitol Hill. They keep engaging giving them new materials.
MCCAMMOND: I agree that on Capitol Hill in the last two weeks alone, we have seen the ways which is Democrats are going after Democrats in a way that certainly gives the President more ammunition.
I don`t know if that`s necessarily the case with the folks running for president in the 2020 primary field, there are certain attacks that feel more personal, certainly when Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are go at it over something like race and racial history in this country. That feels personal than disagreeing on your plans, or the way you see Medicare for all unfolding in the future or universal healthcare unfolding in the future.
So while it seems like a circular firing squad at times, the debate stage is the perfect place to have these differentiations, and contrasts, and visions, and plans, and ideas come to fruition and unfold because that`s what voters really need to know.
And if they keep it in a civil manner and do it in a way that is respectful and does stoop down to these personal attacks, I don`t know that President Trump will have anything more to say than Pocahontas or sleepy Joe, or that these folks are fading fast which he doesn`t provide any evidence for. I think it`s just something he says to make himself feel better.
But I don`t know that they`ll give him more ammunition. They`ll simply give Democratic primary voters a chance to see not only where they stand on the issues and how they are different, but also their ability to take on someone that like Donald Trump who needs someone tough to stand against him, and know how to fight against him in a way that is successful.
WILLIAMS: Alexi, then I read you have a piece coming out this coming weekend that you`re working on. And for all our viewers who can`t be political reporters, do any of the camps ever come to you and say, "Yes, our guy or woman is going to come out swinging?"
MCCAMMOND: They certainly do. They never want to be fully on the record because they don`t want to have a bad look on their campaign. But they also don`t want to give away their debate strategy.
But this is clear. We see Cory booker and Joe Biden going after each other in public statements and e-mails this week alone. It is no secrets that they are going to after each other harder on the debate stage.
But what I would watch is how Julian Castro and Joe Biden interact on that debate stage. Because Julian Castro showed that he is not afraid to jump in and make a moment for himself by going after someone like Beto O`Rourke in the first round, to everyone viewed as more of a frontrunner than Julian Castro.
But now that Julian Castro is going to be on the stage with Joe Biden, he`s certainly going to point out the differences in their plans and visions for the way forward, but also taking the task I would imagine on things like race relations and where Joe Biden has stood and things like criminal justice in the past.
WILLIAMS: Alexi McCammond, to our viewers, you heard it from her, you heard it her first. Thank you, Alexi, always a pleasure having you on the broadcast.
MCCAMMOND: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: And coming up for us tonight, how we`re doing on tyranny from the man who wrote the book called "On Tyranny", a tale of two opposite narratives when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It is a witch hunt, a total witch hunt.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, your investigation is not a witch hunt, is it?
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: It is not a witch hunt.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The President has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him.
TRUMP: He didn`t have the right to exonerate.
NADLER: What about that total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the President?
TRUMP: There was no defense for this ridiculous hoax.
NADLER: When the President said the Russian interference was a hoax, that was false, wasn`t it?
TRUMP: And everybody knew it was a hoax, especially the Democrats.
MUELLER: Absolutely, it was not a hoax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Robert Mueller`s testimony brought a day of opposites to Washington just hours after the former special counsel departed Capitol Hill. President came out the back door before getting on the helicopter and contradicted everything Mueller had just sworn to.
With us to talk about it, Timothy Snyder, a Yale University Professor. Professor Snyder was a marshal scholar, Ivy League educated, also at Oxford specializing in Europe and the holocaust originally. He happens to be in the Author of two books of note in this area, "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" and "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America."
Professor, we left out the fact that the President came out pointing to the press core, called them all more than once fake news. And I`m left to ask you again, you`ve been kind enough to come back on our broadcast, what is it we`re watching on live television in front of our faces?
TIMOTHY SNYDER, PROFESSOR, YALE UNIVERSITY: If we begin the President denying everything, I think it sometimes can help Americans to step back and realize that, first of all, Democracy from the very beginning has always had foreign enemies, and if we have foreign enemies now, that`s normal.
Second, the United States is not uniquely targeted by Russia. Russia has for about five years has been trying to undermine democracy throughout the west. We like to think that we`re at the center of everything but in fact, we`re just one story among others which helps us understand where Mr. Trump is.
Of course, he didn`t organize all of this. He just benefited from it. He`s a bit like the friend of the bank robbers who rob the bank, and then give them the friend their money. He wasn`t at the center of it but clearly he did something that was very wrong.
So historically, I would say the situation is normal. Democracy is always under threat. The question is whether we as individual citizens, our elected representatives take democracy as such seriously independent.
WILLIAMS: What must it be like to be you, from Vienna, sitting where you`re sitting? A few minutes ago, I had a West Point graduate and former FBI agent sitting across from me reading through the Senate report from tonight. And he gets to the portion where the Russians sent election monitors to polling stations in our country.
That is normally what Jimmy Carter does in South Africa and Haiti. Can you imagine the notion of Russian election monitors in our country?
SNYDER: Well, not as election monitors. I mean, again, this has a background. The way Russia tries to undo c is not by providing an alternative. The way that Russia tries to undo democracy is not by providing an alternative.
The way that Russia tries to undo Democracy is to present democracy as a joke. So, all of the attributes of democracy whether it`s voting or whether it`s observing elections, they make parodies of. They make their own reproductions of these things and then they say, "Look, the whole thing is a joke. That`s the program."
So, of course, they could send people, but the purpose of sending people would be the opposite of observing democracy. The purpose of sending people would be to cause trouble for democracy.
So, again, I think the fundamental point is to recognize if you want democracy, you have to fight for it. You have to say, "I`m a citizen. I want to vote. I want a paper ballot. I want to leave a trail." Democracy means rule by me. It doesn`t mean rule by whatever special interests foreign countries can sent our way.
WILLIAMS: The professor has been kind enough to join us at 5:46 am in Vienna. He has agreed to stay with us over this break.
And coming up, our guest has written this, "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom." We`ll talk about the newest challenges to truth and democracy right after this.
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TRUMP: I`m unhappy with the fact that a congresswoman can hate our country, that`s what I`m unhappy with. Those people in North Carolina, that stadium was packed, it was a record crowd. And I could have filled it 10 times, as you know. Those are incredible people. Those are incredible patriots.
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WILLIAMS: Those incredible patriots the President was referring to are those supporters who chanted send her back at the recent campaign rally. They are echoing Trump`s own comments about those four freshmen congresswomen.
In the past, using what an earlier guest of ours calls the call-back language of the Soviet Union, our President has praised "our great patriot farmers."
On the meaning of patriotism, our guest tonight writes in his book called "On Tyranny," "A patriot wants a nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well and wishing it would do better."
So back with us, author and Yale University Professor Timothy Snyder. Professor, please judge Donald Trump against his self-applied patriot label.
SNYDER: Being a patriot involves having ideals. In the United States, those ideals are usually things like the constitution, the rule of law, freedom, and inclusivity. To be a free country you have to have free people and free people have to be able to understand that other free people are going to look different, act different, have different ideas. We begin from a contract which says all of us have the right to be free.
As soon as you move into the politics of us and them, the politics of skin color, the politics of some people belong and some people do not, you`re throwing out that entire American tradition. So, I would say that`s an F if you`re asking for a grade.
WILLIAMS: There is a kind of modern hyperbole where you`ll hear from time to time people in this country with a sense of history say, "I hope we`re not living in Europe in the 1930s."
There you are in Austria, of all places, more hyper aware of world history than most people on the streets. What does it look like, looking back home to the US from your temporary base in Europe?
SNYDER: Behind me is the Heldenplatz, which is where Hitler spoke after the Austrian state was destroyed in 1938. History doesn`t repeat itself, but it does showed general patterns. And one of those patterns is that democracy does not win all by its own.
Democracy is not some kind of super power. It`s not an attribute of this people or that people. Democracy is something that you have to care about and you have to fight for.
One thing that history shows is a democracy is either advancing or it`s retreating. Right now it`s retreating. And if we take together the Mueller testimony, the Mueller report, the recent report of the Senate, what we see in the world all around us, we see we have a big problem.
The question is not right now whether Americans can show the world what democracy looks like. The question now is whether Americans can show Americans what democracy looks like. If we can get that taken care of, then maybe at one point we`ll resume our role as some kind of model for the rest of the world.
WILLIAMS: What a sobering thought, our great thanks for coming on our broadcast, again, Professor Timothy Snyder. His books are "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" and "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America." His message as you`ve heard tonight is quite urgent. Professor, thanks.
Coming up, if this year`s hurricane season in this country is less violent, we may have a distant neighbor to thank. We`ll explain this one when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, politics aside for just a moment, strange times in Europe this week where these are not just the dog days of summer, the heat they are experiencing is, indeed, historic.
Daytime highs in Paris, for example, have just reached 108 degrees. The five hottest days in 500 years have been recorded this summer.
Now, something else is happening. Europeans have been told to expect spectacular sunsets and it`s because of an unusual reason. Dust from the Sahara Desert, a larger than usual plume this season is headed north from the desert. And just wait, there`s more, we`re getting some of that, too.
The dust that comes off the Sahara can form into an air mass the size of the continental United States. There is evidence that this drying effect suppresses weather systems from becoming tropical storms and thus hurricanes in the Atlantic.
The dust which can often show up as a visible brown layer on satellite imagery comes off the African continent, hitches a ride on the trade winds to the west, and gets deposited and dissipates on our doorstep along the US Gulf Coast and in the Caribbean.
It`s an amazing 5,000-mile journey at 20,000 feet give or take. And it happens several times a year every year. And even here in places along the Florida coast, it can make for spectacular sunsets in this country.
While these days in the Great Lakes and the northeast, it is smoke from Canadian wildfires that`s been making our sunsets more vivid.
So, the lesson of all this, there`s only so much air up there. And what`s in our air has nowhere else to go. And while we`re at it, what goes around comes around, in this case, from east to west.
That is our broadcast for a Thursday night. Thank you so very 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