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Trump slams Democrat investigations. TRANSCRIPT: 7/26/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Jessica Roth, Melanie Zanona, Franco Ordonez, Madeleine Dean, JonMeacham

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST:  That`s Sunday at 9:00.  And be sure to watch my show, "A.M. JOY" weekend morning start at 10:00 a.m.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, the "I" word pops in court documents filed by the Democrats.  But with the Mueller hearing ending with a whimper and not a bang, with Congress running out of town for their six week summer break.  If it`s anything, it`s kind of impeachment lite, and the President calls it a disgrace.

And what would Congress do instead?  We`ll ask a Democrat in a tough seat in a swing state who happened to promise Mueller that Congress would not back down.

And the new poll that has the President annoyed with his favorite news network insisting he can`t lose to his leading opponent as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a summer Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Here we are, day 918 of the Trump administration.  And there it was in court papers filed today.  The "I" word, clear as day.  Even if the intention of Congress and Democrats in Congress could not be less clear.

To listen to the court filing, the House Judiciary Committee has already effectively begun an impeachment inquiry.  They`ve petitioned a federal judge to unseal what are supposed to be secret grand jury materials related to the Mueller investigation.  In the document, the Committee notes articles of impeachment are, "under consideration as part of the Committee`s investigation, although no final determination has been made because Department of Justice policies will not allow prosecution of a sitting President, the United States House of Representatives is the only institution of the federal government that can now hold President Trump accountable for these actions.  To do so," you thought we were done," "the House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article 1 powers, including constitutional power of the utmost gravity, approval of the articles of impeachment."

Well, this morning the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, New York Democrat Jerry Nadler, along with members of his committee behind him explained their latest legal move but with slightly differing perspectives.


REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, JUDICIARY CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  I think too much has been made of the phrase impeachment inquiry. We are doing what our court filing says we are doing, what I said we are doing, and that is to say we are using our full Article 1 powers to investigate the conduct of the President and to consider whether -- what remedies there are.  Among other things we will consider are obviously are whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN, (D) MARYLAND, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I would say we are at an impeachment investigation.  And as to the results of the investigation, it could lead to articles of impeachment or it could lead to something else.

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR, (D) TEXAS, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  We`re now crossing a threshold with the filing of this -- with this filing, and we are now officially entering into an examination of whether or not to recommend the articles of impeachment.


WILLIAMS:  Now, was that the same song or three separate pieces of sheet music?  We will hear from another member of the Judiciary Committee, Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania in just a bit.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been working to keep her caucus in line while she resists calls to launch impeachment proceedings.  According to "The New York Times," "She signed off on using the impeachment investigation language in the House Judiciary lawsuit, and it would appear to provide a middle course for Democrats, allowing them to continue to build a case without forcing members from moderate districts to vote on whether to formally declare impeachment proceedings to be underway."

Now, a few things here, this was immediately branded impeachment lite today.  It`s also important to note Congress has left town.  They`re off on a six-week summer break.  And to that end, today Speaker Pelosi was asked about concerns that she might be trying to run out the clock on impeachment.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER:  No, I`m not trying to run out the clock.  Let`s get sophisticated about this, OK?  Would that be?

MANU RAJU, CNN REPORTER:  But how long do this fight will take?

PELOSI:  We won`t proceed when we have what we need to proceed.  Not one day sooner.  And everybody has the liberty and the luxury to espouse their own position and to criticize me for trying to go down the path in the most determined, positive way.

Again, their advocacy for impeachment only gives me leverage.  I have no complaint with what they are doing.  I`m willing to take whatever heat there is there to say the decision will be made in a timely fashion.  This isn`t endless.  And when we have the best strongest possible case.


WILLIAMS:  Right now at least 97 Democrats are calling for an impeachment inquiry, seven of them came out in support after the Mueller testimony.  As for the public, a new morning consult political poll conducted after the Mueller hearing found 37 percent of voters say they support the idea of impeachment, 46 percent say they are against it.  The Democrats can read polls pretty well, so can the President.  And late today, Trump lashed out at House Democrats while getting in a swipe at his predecessor.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I watched Bob Mueller and they have nothing.  There`s no collusion, there`s no obstruction.  They have nothing.  It`s a disgrace.  We want to find out what happened with the last Democrat President.  Let`s look into Obama, the way they looked at me.

The Republicans were gentlemen and women.  When we had the majority in the House, they didn`t do subpoenas all day long.  They didn`t do what these people have done.  What they are doing is a disgrace.  So destructive to our country, and I think that`s why we`re going to take back the House.  That`s why we`re easily going to hold the presidency and we`re going to continue to hold the Senate.

These people are clowns.  The Democrats are clowns.


WILLIAMS:  Not long after that, news broke about Trump`s wall in a 5-4 decision down party lines.  The Supreme Court said the President can proceed with plans to shift about $2.5 billion in unspent military funds to build 100 miles of wall along the southern border.  That decision reverses a lower court ruling.  Trump, of course, quickly declared the decision, a "big victory" and a "big win for border security and the rule of law."  All of which brings us to our lead-off discussion to end this week on a Friday night.

Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter, Melanie Zanona, Congressional Reporter for Politico, Franco Ordonez, White House Correspondent for NPR, and with us here in New York, Jessica Roth, former Assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a professor at the Benjamin Cardozo School at Yeshiva University here in New York.  Welcome to you all.

Jonathan, your headline, what you wrote for us today reads, "Mueller left impeachment bread crumbs if Democrats choose to follow."  Tell our audience what you meant by that.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, look, the first thing about all this, Brian, is whether or not the President committed high crimes and misdemeanors that are impeachable.  The question remains as to whether the House has the votes to impeach him, and right now there`s no evidence of that.  Even if there is evidence of those high crimes and misdemeanors, I think what you saw Robert Mueller do the other way in front of the House, and I think this is important even though there was a lot of attention to optics, what he did was he detailed that case.  He detailed the case that he made in his report about the President soliciting, encouraging, and accepting help from a hostile foreign power.  He made the case about the President lying to the American public about it, and he made the case about obstruction of justice instance after instance of obstruction of justice.

Now, it`s up to the House of Representatives to decide whether those actions rise to the level of impeachment.  And the question is going to be answered, I think, when the House members go back to their districts for the next six weeks for this August recess.  They`re going to hear from constituents, they`re going to hear from donors.  And if those folks are fired up and angry and tell them they want to see President impeached, I think you`ll see a House that`s very motivated when they come back.  And if they don`t hear that from their constituents, so they hear the opposite from their constituents, I think you`ll see something going much slower.

WILLIAMS:  So, Jessica, you`re House counsel for the purposes of this discussion.  Tell us how the "I" word ended up in this court filing.  What was this about?

JESSICA ROTH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  So this filing was about getting the district court -- the district of Columbia to release grand jury material that had been redacted out of the Mueller report from the report itself and the underlying grand jury material.

WILLIAMS: It`s usually secret?

ROTH:  It`s kept secret and it`s protected by federal law, a particular rule of criminal procedure that limits the circumstances which our court can release grand jury material.  This filing was about getting within one of the exceptions in that rule.  The district of Columbia, the Court of Appeals, they are recently issued an opinion that limited the circumstances in which a court can release grand jury material.  And the court, the D.C. Circuit said in that opinion than in an impeachment inquiry would be a circumstance in which the district court could release the material.  So this filing was about getting within that exception.

And this was the first time that the House went on the record in an official filing saying, "We are, in fact, engaged in an impeachment inquiry."

WILLIAMS:  Any chance of federal judge comes back and says, "Are you, really?"

ROTH:  There is, of course, a chance that the court will, and we haven`t yet seen the opposition if there will be.  I assume that the Department of Justice is going to oppose that.  They haven`t said so yet, I understand it.  So we`ll need to see the response.

But I think that if the House is representing to the court that under the rules governing the House, that the House decides upon, it is in fact engaged in an impeachment inquiry, and that`s what they`ve said in this filing.  I think the court would give considerable deference to the House`s own interpretation of its rules.  And there are facts to back up the representation that they are engaged in an impeachment inquiry.

As set forth in this filing, there have been articles of impeachment introduced in the House and they`ve been referred to the Judiciary Committee and the House passed a resolution giving considerable authority to the Judiciary Committee to enforce subpoenas without going to the full House.  So there`s a lot to back up the assertion that they`re, in fact, engaged in an impeachment inquiry.

WILLIAMS:  This is why wave lawyer present.

So, Melanie, however giant a side show this is, does anything about this filing, anything you saw or heard today, put Nadler and Pelosi at odds more than they were Monday of this week?

MELANIE ZANONA, POLITICO CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER:  Yes.  Well, they`re definitely trying to downplay the idea that there`s any gulf between them or that there`s any tensions.  But my colleagues at Politico actually reported that just this week after the Mueller hearing they had a private closed-door meeting and Nadler tried to press Pelosi to open an impeachment inquiry.  And she rebuffed him once again.  This is something he`s done repeatedly.

So, look, I think that there could be some room for tensions to grow between them, but right now they are trying to put on a united front heading into the August recess.  And it`s very significant that Pelosi signed off on the language in this court filing which said, for the first time, as Jessica laid out that the House Democrats are considering whether to launch an impeachment inquiry.  That`s a big deal.  I think that shows that Pelosi is trying to keep the base happy.  She is trying to throw a bone to these pro-impeachment wing Democrats, but at the same time, she is not comfortable with formally opening an inquiry.  She`s trying to protect her moderate members who don`t want to have to take that tough sort of vote, especially heading into 2020.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Franco, the President obviously could not be more bellicose on this subject.  How is the West Wing feeling really about the prospect of impeachment these days?

FRANCO ORDONEZ, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I mean, look, the West Wing does not want impeachment hearings.  They`re pushing back.  Kellyanne Conway today was. you know, pressing back, defending the White House, defending Trump saying this is not something that is good for the country.  President Trump is saying the same thing, saying like, "This is just a waste of time."

You played the clip of Trump saying that the Democrats are just trying to go on a fishing exercise, they just want to impede and impede.  But, you know, you also talked to many Republicans that in the end they feel like they could actually win out on this.  It wasn`t that, you know, wasn`t that that long ago, and I`m sure Pelosi knows the history of Newt Gingrich when he brought, you know, pushed the House to -- the House Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton.  It was he who left, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton was able to stay when the Senate backed him up.

WILLIAMS:  John Allen, let`s be real here.  Pelosi, it is said, is most worried about around 30 seats.  Chris Mathews had a conservative Democrat from Southern Jersey on tonight who said, "In effect, I don`t see no high crimes or misdemeanors in this."  She is worried about her majority.  She`s worried about all the seats they flipped to get where they are that made her the Speaker.  She doesn`t want to force all of them into really rough elections back home because they took a shot on this momentous decision.

ALLEN:  Well, the worst possible outcome for her, of course, Brian, would be to put a vote on the floor that a House impeachment inquiry or an actually impeachment and have it lose.  And so, you know, there is a lot of -- she`s the one who counts the votes, right?  She`s the Speaker of the House, of course, there are whips in the White House and the majority leader and they all count the votes together.  But Nancy Pelosi is the one who knows where the votes are.

You know, again, there`s no evidence that they have those votes there.  I put together a very sophisticated graphic here.  Right now we have about 100 Democrats who have said they`re for an impeachment inquiry.  About 135 who either said they`re against it or have not said that they are for an impeachment inquiry.  There`s a long way to go to get there for her.

And as Melanie was talking about, there is that set of Democrats for whom it is a bad vote just to take the vote.  They will alienate either the base voters they need to show up to win their reelection, or the swing voters they need to come their way who, you know, were Republicans in the past or who might even split their ticket and vote Trump and Democrat otherwise.  So, this is problematic for a significant part of her caucus and certainly for a lot of those who made the Democratic majority.

WILLIAMS:  Melanie, if you`ll help us get away as fast as we can from John`s elegant if not slightly obscene graphic, impeachment is maybe the easiest thing in the world to say from the cheap seats.  We do it all the time.  All the guests on this broadcast talk about it like its liquid.  It`s much tougher to do as John indicated in real practice.  Question to you is, as Congress left for six weeks, did the prospect, the real prospect of impeachment might have walked out the door with them?

ZANONA:  Brian, I do think it`s a little too early to tell.  As John was saying earlier, I think a lot of it will depend on what these constituents are saying back home.  But that being said, the pro-impeachment wing of the Democratic caucus was hoping to have reached a critical threshold heading into this long break, they wanted to get the majority of the caucus and they didn`t.  I mean, yes, seven Democrats have jumped on the impeachment bandwagon, including some key Democrats like a chairman, a member of Democratic leadership, and a centrist Democrat.  But there is a feeling on Capitol Hill right now that the window is closing quickly.

Democrats are not going to be interested in launching a tricky, difficult, ugly, bruising impeachment battle in an election year.  They don`t want to overplay their hands, especially if it looks like they can just beat the President at the ballot box.  So the sense on Capitol Hill right now is if they don`t get it done by this fall, it`s not going to get done at all.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Franco, underscoring the fact that the presidency, really, is about the Supreme Court in many ways, tell our viewers what they need to know about the court decision today before people turn in for the night.

ORDONEZ:  Yes, it was a really big decision, a big win for President Trump.  Supreme Court basically said that Trump can start to begin spending some of that $2.5 billion in defense funding on the wall.  You know, opposition had tried to stop him from doing it, saying he didn`t have the authority.  But now very -- more conservative Supreme Court said that he can start the process.

They haven`t ruled officially, but considering they had made this initial ruling, it does bode well for President Trump that he`ll be able to continue to keep that luck.  And that`s definitely a kick start for, you know, his re-election campaign.  The base will be happy.

WILLIAMS:  Jessica, I wanted to end here and with you on the subject of what we witnessed this week.  As a former fed, I know something about your reverence for Robert Mueller.  How do you process what we saw and how do you think he did?

ROTH:  I thought we saw a person of incredible dignity and professionalism and principle.  And that he comported himself, holding himself to a high internal standard of conduct that is so unusual in public life, that it was almost jarring.  And I thought that he gave the members of Congress and anyone who was watching a real lesson about what it means to be a prosecutor and the difference between prosecution and politics.

And when he told the members of Congress that he had never asked anyone about their political affiliation, whether it was in hiring for the special counsel`s office or in all his decades in law enforcement, I thought that first striking.  He said that`s just now how it`s done, and I hope people heard that.

WILLIAMS:  That`s exactly why I saved the question for last.  And thank you for that.

For all our guests for ending the week in style, to Franco Ordonez, to Melanie Zanona, to Jessica Roth, and before he starts nighttime art classes, to John Allen, thank you all very much for coming with us.

And coming up for us, the first-term member of Congress who promises that Congress will not shrink from its duties here, the House Judiciary Committee member who will join us live after this.

And later, the President again attacks the one Democratic opponent who apparently worries him the most after hearing some bad polling numbers from his normally supportive source.  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started as this week comes to an end.



REP. MADELEINE DEAN, (D) PENNSYLVANIA, JUDICIARY CMTE.:  Director Mueller, again, I thank you for being here.  I agree with your March 27th letter.  There was public confusion, and the President took full advantage of that confusion by falsely claiming your report found no obstruction.  Let us be clear, your report did not exonerate the President.  Instead, it provided substantial evidence of the obstruction of justice leaving Congress to do its duty.  We shall not shrink from that duty.  I yield back.


WILLIAMS:  That duty presumably being impeachment Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, one of nearly 100 Democrats now in favor of moving forward.  But that leaves almost 60 percent either opposed or weary of voicing their support.  Politico puts it this way, "The dual appearances by Nadler and Pelosi on Friday, which caused some confusion on Capitol Hill, underscored the challenge for the Democratic caucus about how, and whether to move ahead with high-stakes legal proceedings that could be seen as a backdoor to the start of the impeachment process."

But when asked at the end of a press conference today just what is going on, here`s how the chairman of the Judiciary Committee responded.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you believe President Trump will ultimately leave office being impeached by this House, regardless of timeline?

NADLER:  I don`t know.


WILLIAMS:  A little bit of a shrug and then he was gone.  And joining us now, the aforementioned Congresswoman Dean, Democrat of Pennsylvania, who represents the Montgomery County area the Philadelphia suburbs, and serves on the Judiciary Committee.

So, congresswoman, what is it and what is it not?  Is it as we termed it, however inexact kind of an impeachment lite?

DEAN:  I don`t think it`s an impeachment lite.  I think it was a very important day and an extremely important week.  I was proud to be a part of the Judiciary Committee`s presentation with Robert Mueller who came before us with such credibility and such dignity as your previous guest spoke so, a man with a biography matched by none, a man of extraordinary integrity who helped us lay out for the American people the extraordinary wrongdoing that he found as a result of his investigation, extraordinary wrongdoing by Russia, massive interference with our elections and it continues to this day and will continue into the next election cycle.

A campaign -- Trump campaign that enjoyed it, welcomed it, wallowed in it, knowing it was to their benefit, more than 100 contacts and never bothered to call law enforcement.  And then, of course, a President who once he realized he was under investigation did everything in his power to try to thwart that investigation, including lying. So what today, I think, was a pivotal point, I think Mueller was the end of chapter one off our oversight, and today we say with clarity that Judiciary is using its full constitutional power under Article 1, and thus begins an impeachment investigation.

WILLIAMS:  Respectfully, I would push back by saying perhaps this is a bad look if this is indeed impeachment because the world learned about it in a document that seeks to unmask some grand jury information.  And you and your colleagues are gone, left town for six weeks.

DEAN:  Well, I think what you might know about us on the Judiciary Committee that I and everybody else around the table raised their hands and said we`re not gone for six weeks.  We`re willing to be in during the district work period.  So don`t believe that we won`t be doing our work.

The other thing that happened as a result of the court filing today and the very language that Jerry Nadler read in public, which was coordinated with in a great strategy, legal strategy and otherwise with the Speaker`s office, was to give an extra sense of urgency to the courts so that with the grand jury material filing today and next week, if we have to, and we`re prepared to do that, enforced the subpoenas by way of lawsuit in court against Mr. McGahn.  It gives that extra sense of urgency so the courts can deliberately much more quickly.  And so I don`t see this as a six-week break, and I don`t see this as a slowdown.  This is an important inflection point where we`re trying to say to the American people Robert Mueller`s report has spoken, even tough  we have an attorney general that did everything in his power to obstruct the information in it to cause public confusion, which Robert Mueller told him and warned him that he was creating.  And so I don`t take the argument that this is either impeachment lite or unimportant.

WILLIAMS:  On the other hand, you have colleagues like Congressman Van Drew on the conservative side of the Democratic ledger from South Jersey, the old LoBiondo seat saying on this network tonight he just doesn`t see it, he`s not there.  There are a ton of vulnerable Democrats and the Speaker after all is figuring on your behalf that it`s better to be in the majority than not.

DEAN:  Well, I have such respect for Nancy Pelosi, for the Speaker of the House.  Imagine what she is managing.  I feel that I am a worker bee on the Judiciary Committee and it`s my job to make sure we push our oversight as well as our substantive legislation.  You`ve seen us pass a tremendous number of substantive bills.  But we have our job to do.

I`ve actually had people come up to me on the floor of the House, members who are not on this committee, to say where are you and why did you push for impeachment inquiry, and that helped them decide.  Nancy Pelosi has a much bigger burden, and she wisely wants to protect this majority so that we continue to pass the substantive bills that we`re passing, whether it`s on immigration reform or background checks for gun violence as the senate sits on their hands or protection of our election system as the senate sits on their hands.  So I -- I so admire what she is doing and how she is actually obviously wanting to protect this majority because it`s a very powerful majority and some people have districts that would be very difficult.  So she is shepherding a whole caucus, she has to lead a whole Congress.

And what she has said is we have to put the facts before the American people.  With public sentiment, almost anything is possible, as she quotes Lincoln, and without it, almost nothing is.  It`s our job to get the facts before the American people.

WILLIAMS:  Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, Democrat of Pennsylvania, thanks for coming on, on this Friday night, we appreciate it.

And coming up --

DEAN:  Thanks for having me.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you.  Why President Trump slammed his favorite news source today.  That story when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  We mentioned this before the break.  Fox News released a new poll showing the former vice president with a 10-point lead over Donald Trump.  It also reveals a tight race between the President and a bunch of challengers, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris.

After seeing the poll, the President laced into his favorite news and we quote, "Fox news is at it again, so different from what they used to be during the 2016 primaries and before.  Proud Warriors.  Now, new Fox polls, which have always been terrible to me, they had me losing big to Crooked Hillary, have me down to Sleepy Joe.  They`re can be no way with the greatest economy in U.S. history that I can be losing to that Sleepy One."

With us tonight to talk about all things politics, our national political correspondent Steve Kornacki.  Steven, what`s happening here?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  The Fox News poll is a good poll, you know.  We always say the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll is the best in the business.  Fox is tied with a bunch for number two, I`d say.  And what they`re finding in that poll is no different than what we`re finding and no different than what a lot of other folks are finding, and that is Donald Trump`s approval rating is in about the mid-40% range right now, not surprisingly.  That puts him in trouble against the perspective Democratic opponent.

The interesting thing in that poll and again we saw in ours as well is that Biden continues to perform better than the other Democrats in the head-to- head with Trump.  And that`s of course the message that Biden is trying to send to Democrats.

WILLIAMS:  Now, these are national polls and people like us always tell the folks watching at home we don`t have a national election.  We have 50 state elections.  And while a lot of polls had Hillary winning the popular vote, she did, that wasn`t the one that counted.

KORNACKI:  Right.  And so that`s another -- I think part of the argument that Biden is trying to make in the Biden campaign is trying to make when people look at these polls is if he`s up high-single-digits, if he`s up double digits in these polls like you`re seeing in this Fox News one, the Biden campaign wants people thinking let`s not take any chances.  We don`t just need to win the popular vote, we need to win the popular vote by a large margin to avoid the kind of situation that came up.

So I think these polls -- it`s questionable how much they actually serve in terms of predictive purposes, but in terms of showing Democrats right now the argument that Biden wants to be showing them, they`re valuable to them that way.

WILLIAMS:  Now, folks are allowed to breathe over the weekend, but this is a political week coming up because we have the next debate, a preview, if you would.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  What we saw Joe Biden`s numbers fall off among Democrats after the first debate.  He was down a few points from where he was a month ago.  We saw Kamala Harris go up a few points because of that performance she had.  And also in between you`ve seen an Elizabeth Warren steadily rise.  A few more points, but it`s been a months long trajectory for her right now.

All eyes obviously are going to be on Biden in this thing.  Was the performance we saw in the first debate a one off?  Was it a rusty politician who had not been in a national debate in seven years, just having an off night?  Or is it the new normal for Joe Biden?  And if it`s the new normal for Joe Biden and you get a repeat in Detroit of what you had happened in Miami, then the fallout for him potentially could be more than a few points, it could be more significant than that and it could really open up the Democratic race.  Conversely, if it turns out it was a one off in Miami, it can stabilize for him that lead he has.

WILLIAMS:  And can I mention a sensitive elephant in the room, and that is a guy in his mid-70s had a rough outing in front of Congress.  He`s a guy who a lot of Democrats had put their hopes in.  And that may just play itself out in weird ways that that don`t always reflect themselves in the hard numbers we get.

KORNACKI:  And I think that`s the -- the thing that every Democratic voter I think is looking at with all these candidates is that mental picture of what would this candidate look like and sound like on stage with Donald Trump in a debate in 2020.  These are auditions.  These Democratic debates in a way I think are auditions, and I think Biden causes concern among Democratic voters with that first performance.  He can put it to ease with a strong performance here, but, yeah, if it looks like what Democrats maybe saw at the hearing on Wednesday, that`s not a good comparison.

WILLIAMS:  Something tells me you and I will be back in the studio Thursday night.

KORNACKI:  Here we go, yes.

WILLIAMS:  Steve Kornacki with us on a Friday night, our thanks.  Thank you so much.

Coming up, the moment from this week that may influence how Democrats perceive.  We`ll talk about that when we come back.



REP. VAL DEMINGS, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Director Mueller, isn`t it fair to say the President`s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn`t answer many of your questions, but where he did, he showed that he wasn`t always being truthful?



WILLIAMS:  Charlie Savage of "The New York Times" pointed out how that moment from Robert Mueller`s testimony might impact the impeachment discussions among Democrats.  "Looming over their debate has been a recognition of a political reality, while they could impeach Mr. Trump, leaving a historical black mark on his record, it`s very unlikely a Republican-controlled Senate would remove him against backdrop.  Mr. Mueller answered Congresswoman Demings a rare moment in which he went beyond his report, has added to other potential episodes.  Democracies are weighing as potential issues to focus on in such an inquiry."

We are joined tonight by two of our nation`s finest historians, the presidential historian and author Michael Beschloss, his latest work is called "Presidents of War."  And Pulitzer-winning author and historian John Meacham, his newest work co-authored with Tim McGraw is "Songs of America".  And lucky for all of us, he leaves the singing to a professional.

Gentleman, welcome to you both.  Michael, I`d like to begin with you.  It occurs to me that Democrats attached all of their hopes and dreams to Robert Mueller like something of a Christmas tree.  Democrats were hoping for the movie companion to the book, and it certainly wasn`t a Marvel movie.  I fear it was closer to "Golden Pond."  And the question to you is how has his legacy do you think been affected?  How will we look back on him and how might have changed he had not simply not appeared?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, I think his legacy aside from the great service he`s performed for his country during his entire life depends most recently on the report he wrote.  I don`t think it`s going to depend on that performance and that hearing.  But, you know, he was never going to be someone who had the performance skills to, you know, go into that room and deliver Perry Mason moments and convert American opinion from being at least on the fence about impeachment to being strongly for it.

You know, compare it, Brian, to let`s say with Richard Nixon in the wake of the Saturday night massacre, October of 1973, there was just a thunderous move among Americans toward feeling that Richard Nixon should at least should be considered then he should be impeached, same thing in this country after the Starr report with Bill Clinton.  We haven`t seen something like that.  So if there`s going to be a movement toward impeachment, it`s going to be something that`s different from what we had seen.  It`s going to be dependent on Democrats making the case, and that`s going to be hard to do the next few weeks when they`re not there.

WILLIAMS:  Jon Meacham, question to you, what just happened?  What did we witness this week?

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENT HISTORIAN:  I think we saw yet another important chapter in the reflexive tribalism of the age.  It is different even from, as Michael was saying with Nixon where, you know, it took a tape, it took the Supreme Court saying that the smoking gun tape had to come out to finally force the last act of the Nixon presidency.  And even there, you know, you had -- into the summer of `74 you had a lot of partisan support for Nixon, at least among Republicans.

We`re now living in an era where that seems quaint, and there is an extraordinary number of folks who are simply impervious to contrary data.  They don`t -- they`re not -- they don`t care what Director Mueller has to say or what he and his team have written.  And therefore, you end up back in this place where it`s the political nature of impeachment becomes the determinative narrative.

One of the big things to me at this point, it`s also yet another example of politicians are far more often mirrors of who we are rather than molders.  And that`s a pretty tough thing to think about, because if you are unhappy with the way things are going in the country, you really have to look at the public itself.  We have to look at ourselves and we can`t simply blame Congress.  If there was a ground swell for impeachment, I promise you there would be a lot more action on it.  But for some reason we have a higher tolerance for things that in the past we have not wanted at the highest levels of government.

WILLIAMS:  Michael Beschloss, what should people in our roles do?  No more than an hour or two after Mueller was done, the President was proclaiming no obstruction, no collusion, total vindication.  He did it again today.  And that message is out there.  Should it be out there unfeathered?

BESCHLOSS:  No.  And that`s what the job of Brian Williams and other people who are, you know, supreme journalists trying to fact check what a president and other leaders say.  That`s always been the role, but it`s more important than ever before.

WILLIAMS:  Both history boys have agreed to stay with us through at least one break.

And when we come back, more on what the Congress could do next and the echoes of prior presidents we have known and loved when we continue.


WILLIAMS:  Our guest Michael Beschloss reminded us of this important anniversary on Tuesday.  And we quote, "Supreme Court 8-0 with William Rehnquist recusing himself, ordered Richard Nixon to surrender Watergate tapes 45 years ago tomorrow."  "New York Times" headline from July 25th of 1974 read, "Nixon Must Surrender Tapes, Supreme Court Rules 8-0, He Pledging Full Compliance.

Back again for our double jeopardy round, Michael Beschloss and Jon Meacham.  Michael, remind us Nixon`s reaction to that.

BESCHLOSS:  Well, Nixon had been swimming off San Clemente.  And he got out of the water, he was wearing a Ban-Lon shirt, he later said, wind breaker with the presidential seal.  He was barefoot and he took a call.  And this -- and we got the news from the Supreme Court, he was told by one of his aides.  And Nixon said, what is it?  And they said it`s 8-0, unanimous.  William Rehnquist who worked on the Nixon Justice Department have recused himself, and Nixon`s reply was really interesting.  Before he was told it was 8-0, he said is there any error in it?  And what he meant by that so, was said by some of his aides later on was, if it was let`s say 5-4 or something like that, maybe he might think of challenging it.

And the other is that he was astounded to have this unanimous verdict against him, because he had appointed four of those justices, and you know in Nixon`s idea of the way that you repay political favors he thought that at least a few of them might have voted with the person who put them on the court.

WILLIAMS:  Jon Meacham I am not -- having known you for quite sometime I`m not hearing urgency in your voice.  Is it fatigue?  Do you -- do you see the remedy for what you`ve been discussing, what we`ve been discussing, defeat at the ballot box in 2020?

MEACHAM:  I think it`s not lack of urgency.  It`s an acceptance, I think of a basic political reality right now.  Which I think is where Speaker Pelosi is and others.  I think that historically this is -- they -- I`m gladly that historically speaking impeachment should move forward.  Because I think if you raise the bar on impeachment you lower the bar on presidential behavior that`s going to be acceptable in the future.

But that`s easy for me to say.  I don`t have to face voters.  But -- and I totally understand about the Senate.  But my own view is that just what`s in the Mueller report itself constitutes I think what the founders would have easily acceded to be high crimes and misdemeanors.  I just think it`s obstruction of justice.  It`s there.

But we have a system where the removal of a president is attached to the public will.  And that the public will is not there.  My hope going forward is that if we can find a way to understand that contrary data -- an opinion with which you disagree but which might have a bit of a point -- you know, a fact that you find inconvenient, but which happens to be factual.  If that can`t begin once again to move us in our political deliberations as opposed to this reflexive tribalism, this, you know, what I`ve put on my red hat and the President can do no wrong or I`m going to set my hair on fire three times today because he is going to do something that makes me want to set my hair on fire three times today.

If we don`t find some way to actually move forward in the way that popular government has been able to at its best, then -- then we`re in even more of a genuine crisis.  But right now I think that the idea that director Mueller was going to come down like Fortinbras in act 5 of Hamlet and put the entire country back in order was always unreasonable.  And I think holds him to a standard that isn`t possible to meet.  It`s not going to be one person who saves us.  It`s going to be all of us deciding, this is not the kind of behavior we want at the highest levels of government.

WILLIAMS:  Another break for us, an important question for these guys when we come back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I watched Bob Mueller and they have nothing.  There`s no collusion.  There`s no obstruction.  They have nothing.  It`s a disgrace.  We want to find out what happened with the last Democrat president.  Let`s look into Obama, the way they`ve looked at me.  From day one, they`ve looked into everything that we`ve done.  They could look into the book deal that President Obama made.  Let`s subpoena all of his records.


WILLIAMS:  So the President calls for the investigation of his predecessor in office as we call it Friday.

Still with us Michael Beschloss and Jon Meacham.  Michael, closing question.  We love to label our eras from the industrial revolution, the roaring 20s, the gilded age.  Why would we be wrong in calling this the regression, Nazis are back.  Measles are back.  We`re back to telling people to go back where they came from.

BESCHLOSS: Pretty good.  I think you might also add.  It might be the era of bad feeling.  And, you know, compare what the President said to a scene like 1961 when Eisenhower gave way to Kennedy at Kennedy`s inauguration.  Both men did not respect one another.  Kennedy thought that Eisenhower had mismanaged the country.  Eisenhower was smocked that someone with his little legislative accomplishment with a lot of money like Kennedy could become president.  But if you looked at the scene, you`d never know that.  You`d never know that from what they said about one another, you know, during the next three years of the Kennedy presidency.  That`s a time that I wouldn`t mind getting back to.

WILLIAMS:  Jon Meacham, same question, 60 seconds of brilliance required.

MEACHAM:  It`s an age of anxiety and fear.  It`s an age in which the information age, skill is more important than manufacturing age brawn.  Its people are worried about broadening conceptions of identity.  They`re worrying about changing demography.

And the story we have to tell is not a partisan one but historically based one.  We have always grown stronger the more generously we`ve applied what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the declaration of independence that we`re all created equal.  And that doesn`t mean we all end up in the same place but it does mean that the eras to which we build monuments, the eras that we want to commemorate, the eras that we -- the stories we tell are stories in which people have opened doors and not closed them.  And people have looked ahead and not picked fights reflexively in this churlish way at the highest levels.

WILLIAMS:  Well done, gentleman.  This is why if you want a good conversation, invite really smart people over on a Friday night.  Michael Beschloss, Jon Meacham, gentlemen, thank you both.  We really appreciate it.

BESCHLOSS:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  That is our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Have a good weekend and 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