ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, in the course of just minutes today, the President calls the media fake news, then thanks the media for doing what the White House did not, vetting his nominee for director of National Intelligence, and tonight, that nomination has been pulled.
Plus, it is now over half the Democrats in the House favoring impeachment, but the speaker makes clear half is a long way from her impeachment threshold.
And as the President makes clear, that short-range missiles from North Korea just aren`t a trigger for him, a look tonight at how the Democratic Party`s circular firing squad debate night has affected the race. As THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this summer Friday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York, day 925 of the Trump administration, and the President`s choice for the important job of director of National Intelligence seemed unusual. He then became controversial, well tonight, he`s out. Just like that, nomination withdrawn.
The President will now make a new choice, apparently not having checked on the background of the last one. Texas Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe did not have intelligence experience other than sitting on that committee in the House.
On that committee where he openly seemed to be auditioning from the job Dan Coats is vacating as DNI. Indeed, he was offered the job before tossing it back today, after questions about his resume and qualifications.
Here`s how we learned about it, when the President said his nominee was "being treated very unfairly by the lame stream media, rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people."
And Ratcliffe followed up right away with "I do not wish for a national security and intelligence debate surrounding my confirmation, however untrue, to become a purely political and partisan issue."
The Washington Post reports, Republicans in the Senate weren`t behind Ratcliffe from the get-go, then quote, on Thursday, "Trump began polling advisers about whether Ratcliffe could be confirmed and commented to allies during a trip to Ohio that he was getting crushed by the media."
Well, late today, Trump tried to explain what is now his 35th nominee for high office who has been denied.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I felt that Congressman Ratcliffe was being treated very unfairly. I was reading the press, and I think I am a student of the press.
I asked him, I said, "Do you want to go through this for two or three months or would you want me to maybe do something else?" And he thought about it. I said it`s going to be rough. I could see exactly where the press is going. And fake news.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Republican lawmakers reach out to you to express concern about Ratcliffe?
TRUMP: No, I think he would have had support, but again, we were very early in the process.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does this say about the White House`s vetting process?
TRUMP: Well, you vet for me. I like when you vet. No, no, you vet. I think the White House has a great vetting process. You vet for me. When I give a name, I give it out to the press, and you vet for me. A lot of times you do a very good job. Not always.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So just to review there, while the media are fake news, they also do the vetting for major nominations for the White House.
The New York Times points out that this revives questions about the Trump administration`s vetting process, as you might imagine. Reporter Annie Karni who joins us in a moment, co-authors the piece that notes Ratcliffe`s withdrawal, "underscores the recurring dysfunction in the White House vetting process that has plagued the administration."
Congressman Ratcliffe has been a vocal supporter of the President. That support was on public display last week when he took former Special Counsel Robert Mueller to task at that live televised House Judiciary hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R), TEXAS: I agree with the chairman, this morning, when he said Donald Trump is not above the law. He`s not. But he damn sure shouldn`t be below the law which is where volume two of this report puts him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Turns out however part of Ratcliffe`s problem was a line on his resume, "As a US attorney I arrested over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day." Washington Post reports that claim refers to a roundup of immigrant workers at poultry plants back in `08, and that quote, "a closer look at the case shows that Ratcliffe`s claims conflict with the court record and the recollections of others who participated in the operation. Only 45 workers were charged by prosecutors in Ratcliffe`s office, court documents show. Two people involved in the planning or execution of the enforcement effort say they could not recall Ratcliffe playing a central role."
This means the US is facing the possibility of having no permanent National Security leader amid increasing tensions, as we cover here, every night, with Iran, North Korea, and the threat of future election interference, the ongoing attack from Russia.
Now, within Congress, this is notable. There is widespread support for Sue Gordon, a career civil servant, who is Dan Coats` number two, to serve as at least acting DNI. The New York Times reported the White House had planned to block her from the top job but then late today the President seemed to say something else.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I like Sue Gordon. Sue Gordon is there now, and I like her very much. I`ve always liked Sue Gordon. She certainly, she will be considered for the acting, and that could happen. We`ll probably be talking about it either later today or next week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There you have. And here for our leadoff discussion, on a Friday night, Greg Miller, Pulitzer Prize winning National Security Correspondent for the Washington Post, also happens to be the author of "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy." The aforementioned Annie Karni, White House Reporter with the New York Times, and Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counter- intelligence. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Greg, I`d like to start with you. Fair to say that only one man would nominate this guy, also fair to say there were Republican senators who didn`t know his name?
GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Not only Republican senators who didn`t know his name, but this is somebody who has been on the intelligence committee for the better part of this year, and was virtually unknown at the agencies that he was being tapped to lead. As we reported this week, that the reaction we got, from talking to people at CIA, and other spy agencies, was who, who is Ratcliffe?
I mean this was -- and you can imagine what it must feel like, to be one of the 100,000 or so employees of US spy agencies to watch this sort of whiplash-inducing week from the White House, a selection of an utter unknown, to lead the entire intelligence community, in a time of a lot of global turmoil. And then to see that he has embellishments on his resume, in addition to fairly paltry qualifications for the job.
And then to see that just unravel in the span of a week, and it just shows you, I would think, not a lot of thought and attention and care is being given to selecting somebody for a pretty important job.
WILLIAMS: So, Annie Karni, if there is indeed no rigorous process of vetting on the front side, is there at least a sameness to the process by which these go down?
ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: A little bit. Trump`s nomination of Ratcliffe and then his withdrawal of Ratcliffe both can be seen as reactions as to how it was playing. Our reporting shows that after Coats` was leaving, and there were reports that there wasn`t a clear person ready to go to take his place, Trump quickly tweeted out that he was going to appoint Ratcliffe, in part because he doesn`t like this sense of uncertainty surrounding his process for top jobs.
I think that you can square the seemingly contradictory statements he made about the press today, by what he means by you do my vetting for me. I think in part, he means I see how it plays. And he saw that this was not playing well. That there wasn`t a lot of counter, a lot of people coming to Ratcliffe`s defense, people didn`t know who he was, there was concern among Republicans, too, not just Democrats, and so he saw which direction it was going and decided to drop it.
One thing that`s clear is that he doesn`t have a vetting process, and he doesn`t seem to think that all of these failed nominations actually hurt him. There haven`t been like this, this needs to stop, we need to do a different process, I need to not surprise my own team by announcing something on Twitter.
He just rolls on to the next one. We saw most recently Herman Cain, Stephen Moore, he liked them, he announced them, he floated them, it didn`t work. They suffered. He doesn`t think he does.
WILLIAMS: So. Frank, let`s talk about what didn`t happen today. All things perversely considered, was this in the end a good day for the intelligence business?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Yes, this was a rare win for the American public, and the intelligence community because we narrowly escaped someone who was entirely incompetent and unqualified for this job. So but for his own embellishments on his resume, this guy likely would have been the nominee, and we possibly would have been facing someone who is not only unqualified but also a partisan advocate for the President. And that is the DNI position is the last position that you want someone who is dedicated to a partisan agenda, and not dedicated to the truth.
This may be, in fact, I`ll go ahead and say, this is the most significant time since the creation of the DNI position, in terms of adversarial threats that we`re facing. The depth and complexity of them. The fact that even today, we heard reporting that bots are all over the place, trying to convince us who has won a debate, or racially divide us. It is still happening. We need a deeply experienced intelligence professional in this role and Ratcliffe was not that guy.
WILLIAMS: So, Frank, to your point further, the whole world is watching, the whole world can see us, whether we came up with a JV grade nominee for this critical position, or our president on the South Lawn saying you guys do the vetting.
FIGLIUZZI: Well, the world is watching, and our adversarial and allied intelligence services are watching this, this mess. And what they`re -- here`s the problem with that, there`s going to be a day where the President is going to have to rely on our intelligence and he`s going to have to confront an adversary with it, or he is going to have to support an ally with it.
And everybody is going to say, who is this DNI? Where are you getting this intelligence from? Is there any credibility to what you`re telling us? And as we watch this kind of amateurish approach to vetting, the world is watching and it undermines the credibility of our intelligence services.
WILLIAMS: Greg, tell us about Sue Gordon. Again, the number two to the DNI, the career professional. And as a subset of that, I would say has been around for a while. The fact that I can`t tell you anything about her including but not limited to whether she ever bought a bumper sticker in any political views she may have, that, our inability to say that is more in keeping with the career types at the intel jobs.
MILLER: She`s been spent three decades in US intelligence agency. She is very highly respected and regarded. She spent most of her career at the CIA where she was basically their head of personnel.
The time when I had the most direct access to her was after the deaths in Benghazi, where there was a meeting for small groups of reporters at the CIA, where they were explaining what had happened. And she was really emotional at that time, I remember, because she regarded these as her people. It was clear that she cared very deeply about the people who were hurt, and killed, overseas, under her charge.
And she`s -- now she`s sort of dangling, right? I mean this is just sort of where you end up when you work in the intelligence community, and this administration. She`s the number two, the law would stipulate that she should be the acting deputy, but Trump is considering at least, you know, even though today he semi-endorsed her for the job. He also said that she would be under consideration for a job that she essentially already occupies.
WLLIAMS: Annie, stranger things have happened. The President leaves for the weekend learning of her popularity especially from some of the Republicans who are saying from him, this last nomination was dead, I wanted to help you but I could not. He does like to be attached to popularity.
KARNI: He does. And he has listened in the past when a nominee falls through, I`m thinking of Heather Nauert who was his pick to be the UN ambassador, fell through, his follow-up pick Kelly Craft who actually ended up having some road blocks of her own, a lot of Republican senators said to him, she`ll have an easy process and that seemed to have resonated with him. So, he may look to something like that.
But I think his concern is, he clashed with Dan Coats who was widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike, because Dan Coats seemed to at times publicly contradict him on foreign policy issues. He seemed at one point to question Trump`s relationship with Putin and another time he undercut the administration`s line on their progress with North Korea, and what they were achieving with their relationship with Kim Jong-un, and he doesn`t like an independent contradictory voice in his, coming out from his administration, and part of this here might be -- part of what he liked about Ratcliffe was this guy seem like a loyal soldier and part of the apprehension here might be that he`ll get another person in the mold of Dan Coats.
WILLIAMS: We can`t find reporting to pass along to our viewers any fresher than that. To Greg Miller, to Annie Karni, to Frank Figliuzzi, thank you so much for joining us at the end of another long week to start off our conversation here tonight.
And coming up for us, House Democrats hit a critical threshold today on impeachment, but not if the speaker doesn`t think so. And later, if we`ve told you a week ago that Obama would be under attack at a Democratic debate, you`d probably have us hauled away. It happened. We`ll look at how the race has changed since if at all, as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Friday night.
WILLIAMS: A symbolic milestone today for the pro-impeachment movement, a majority of House Democrats, that means over half are now publicly in favor of a formal inquiry into the President, in all 118 Democrats and on Independent have voiced their support. Of course, that`s still a far cry from the majority of the full house.
That is not the overwhelming support the speaker said as her threshold and sure enough Speaker Pelosi released a statement today calling the assault on our elections and our constitution a grave national security issue and bowing following that no present or future president can dishonor the oath of office without being held accountable.
Well here with us to talk about it on a Friday night, Andrew Desiderio, Congressional Reporter for Politico, a rare night in New York and Jonathan Allen, in Washington, NBC News National Political Reporter. Gentleman, good evening and welcome to you both.
Andrew, in Pelosi`s figuring no on envies her, this role or her overall job by the way ask John Boehner. It is said she is also protecting some of her flock, why and who would they be.
ANDREW DESIDERIO, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Exactly so the main benefit here of opening up a formal impeachment inquiry, is that it would unlock budgetary measures to hire a new lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee as well as the House General Counsel`s Office, which would obviously need more staffing for an impeachment inquiry.
The problem with putting that to a floor vote is, you know, Pelosi`s biggest job here is maintaining her majority, right? And most of those districts that flipped from red to blue in this past mid-term election were -- are some of the most moderate Democrats in Congress. That would be a very politically perilous vote for them to take.
Pelosi does not want to put them in that position right now. And she probably doesn`t want to put them in that position at all, especially as we get closer to 2020. But, though, the issue here again is that the majority of that 2018 number, they come from districts that Hillary Clinton won by ten-plus points, right, so not exactly politically perilous decision to make.
BALDWIN: They are feeling safe.
DESIDERIO: Exactly, right? So Pelosi has a very different job right now. She`s upping her rhetoric against the President. She`s backing this core petition that the house judiciary committee filed in which they explicitly state that they are considering whether impeachment articles are warranted. But that`s the tough bind she`s in right now. She`s trying to maintain the majority. That is the biggest job of the speaker.
WILLIAMS: Jon, what do you think is the judgment here? Will this go down as a colossal waste of time during a critical time? Or are we going to have members go home, 535 people, go home, presumably, let`s say half or most will have town hall gatherings with their constituents? Is this going to loom large? Or as we expect will health care be the number one issue back home?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: That`s really going to be up to Democratic voters and I think it`s mostly going to be up to Democratic voters in those districts that Andrew was just talking about. It`s not so much in those heavily Democratic districts but in those swing district, the ones where those politically vulnerable member are.
If the Democratic voters there make it so politically uncomfortable for their lawmakers, for their representatives to not come out for impeachment or at least an impeachment inquiry, maybe they`ll come back to Washington and decide that they are in fact will get on board with that.
If they do not do that, if they`re focused on health care, if they`re focused on other kitchen table issues, then I think you come back to Washington and you have a situation much like you have right now, where there is a majority of the Democratic caucus in favor of it, but Nancy Pelosi doesn`t want to put a vote on the floor that will either, A, fail, or B, put their members in a position where they are alienating their base or alienating the swing voters.
WILLIAMS: I`m going to ask our control room to put on to the screen what the President tweeted today about a veteran member of Congress from Maryland. "Really bad news. The Baltimore House of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad."
Jon Allen, that our President talks that way publicly, as people in our jobs like to say, has been baked into the cake. But someone theorized to me tonight that you can draw a bright clear line, from comments like that, including that, to these defections and retirements we are watching before our very eyes.
ALLEN: I think that is absolutely true, Brian. I think some of these Republican lawmakers are frankly tired of defending the president, and some cases they know that it is going to be difficult for them to win re- election.
Will Hurd, the Congressman from Texas who just retired and won his last race basically by a handful of votes, and was going to be in a difficult spot to win re-election this time. Certainly, he was called upon every time he came on television to defend the things the President was saying.
I talked to a bunch of Republicans in various walks of life around Washington today. They were aghast at what the President had tweeted. It is very unusual to see schadenfreude about someone else`s home being invaded, certainly not something that conservatives would not normally look at as a good thing.
You know, there is usually a pretty strong belief among conservatives that homes should be defended and they shouldn`t be intruded. And I would say also among liberals and pretty much every American.
So it was unusual tweet to see but I think your point is well taken, Brian, as a broader matter. I think a lot of Republicans are tired of being in this position where they feel like they have to defend what they see as the indefensible, and the other alternative is to come out and condemn the president and alienate his base which again is a lot of their base.
WILLIAMS: And, Andrew, your colleagues at Politico outdid themselves today. They came up with a stat that there are more men named Jim in the House of Representatives than Republican women running for re-election. Cris Collinsworth would love a stat like that.
DESIDERIO: I think so.
WILLIAMS: (Inaudible). It`s esoteric, yes, but it speaks to something that is aggressively becoming not a good look for the Republican Party.
DESIDERIO: One of those female Republicans who is not running for re- election. Susan Brooks, she is the head of recruiting for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Imagine if you`re a respective candidate in some of these battleground districts, and you see that even the person who is in charge of recruiting you for -- at least trying to take back the House majority. She is even leaving, right?
These are people that are very frustrated with the President obviously. But I keep thinking back to the day after the midterm elections in 2018 when the President ridiculed Mia Love, who is now a CNN commentator, Carlos Curbelo, who is now a commentator for this network, who were Republicans of color serving in the House. They were very critical of the President, moderate Republicans.
The president was essentially stomping on their political grave by saying things like, "They weren`t supporting me enough, that`s why they lost." No, the reason why they lost is because of the blue wave impacting their districts, their districts that were trending more blue was the opposite of what the President was saying.
But the President is trying to, again, stomp on the graves of people who are going against him within the Republican Party. It`s becoming more of the Trump, the Trump Party, and within the House Republican Caucus right now, there is no longer much room for moderate Republicans.
WILLIAMS: Two of the byline for our viewers to look for on a regular basis, Andrew Desiderio and Jonathan Allen, our thanks to you both, gentlemen, for joining us this Friday night.
And coming up, front-runners can expect to get hit. Joe Biden certainly got hit this week. But did his numbers take a hit? That after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I represent the party. I think my views are where the vast majority of the Democratic Party are. There`s a lot of really, really good people that got elected who are really pushing the envelope. And it`s good. It`s healthy to do that. But the idea that they represent what the party is today does not comport with who gets elected, does not comport how we won last in `18.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That man, Joe Biden, was forced to fend off waves of attacks at that debate the other night, in Detroit, some of them because he was Obama`s partner for eight years in the White House.
Susan Page of USA Today summed it all up this way writing "He was forced to defend his record on health care, criminal justice, immigration, working mothers, the war in Iraq and even his service in the Obama White House, a badge he has brandished as his biggest asset. The common and critical thread was the portrayal of the Democratic frontrunner as a candidate from another era, beloved but outdated, and with a decidedly mixed record that gave him both experience and baggage."
Yet today, a new poll from the folks at Morning Consult conducted the day after the debate notably finds Biden`s front-runner status unabated at 32%, Bernie Sanders at 18, Elizabeth Warren at 15, and so on.
Back with us tonight, two of our favorites, and returning veterans, the aforementioned Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, her latest book, "The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty." And the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian John Meacham, his latest work, co-authored with Tim McGraw is "Songs of America". Jon`s next album "The Way You Look Tonight", will be available in eight-track and cassette tapes merely for the asking. Good evening and welcome to you both.
Susan, I`m going to blessedly begin with you and the question, what do you make of the week we have just seen in the Democratic Party?
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, you know, Joe Biden did definitely better in this second debate than he did in the first debate. In Miami, where he seemed a little bit unsettled by the idea that other candidates would attack him. He was better prepared this time. But he wasn`t so commanding as to settle every question there is about his campaign and his respective nomination.
Nobody else did so great though that they surged. And that`s why I think when you look at that Morning Consult poll, what strikes you is how steady it is, how almost no one has gained -- the bottom hasn`t fallen out for Joe Biden or anybody else. Nobody has really surged, the candidate who shows the greatest growth of the past week is Elizabeth Warren who had a good debate both times and both adding three so far. But this is a contest that`s going to go on for a while, and the test for Joe Biden, did OK this time, he is going to face some more.
WILLIAMS: And, Susan, we were saying earlier this week, the debates were in part proof of the fact that party bosses are dead. Has the party boss would say OK, you guys all get that you`re going to go out and attack Trump and by the way the following names that I`m going to read, go home and run for Senate.
PAGE: Yes. Well, if the party bosses -- if there were party bosses they would do that because several of those candidates especially the one percenters, Democrats would much prefer them running for Senate in the places like Colorado, for instance. But that`s not the system we have anymore and a lot of people would like to be president. Democrats think this is a good nomination to have, that President Trump could be elected but that he could also be beaten, and so nobody is going home quite yet.
WILLIAMS: Jon Meacham, nobody needs to tell you, it is tough to run, as a sitting or former vice president, and the longer your legislative paper trail, the tougher it can be, especially in a brand new era where everyone`s comments is invited on social media.
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENT HISTORIAN: Yes, George H.W. Bush used to call it the Van Buren thing. It went from 1836 to 1988, before a sitting vice president was actually elected president. Somebody like Nixon had to wait eight years after he lost in 1960. And functionally, Biden even though he`s not an incumbent vice president, is kind of is, for all of the reasons we`ve talked about.
And I think that is a blessing and a burden. The burden, obviously, is, as Susan was saying, he feels that people could portray him as a man out of time. The benefit is this is a world where Donald Trump is president. So do any of these rules really matter anymore?
And so far, at least, the polling seems to suggest that the head of the Democratic Party, the head part, is with Biden. I suspect the heart is with Warren and Sanders and with the much bigger liberal ideas, progressive ideas, but that`s not the way, at least, we think, broadly put, to carry states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, these states that Trump went through, the blue wall of 2016.
So my money right now would be on Biden going through and getting the nomination, and then, you know, maybe it`s Jurassic Park with these two septuagenarians runs against each other next year, but I suspect, suspect that`s where we end up.
WILLIAMS: Both of our guests have agreed to stay with us. As we go to break, I want to read something from our friend Susan Glasser, writes, such a superb letter from Washington each week in the New Yorker, "Confession, I don`t actually think policy wonk wars are the best way to approach the challenge of defeating Donald Trump, for whom the details of policy have no meaning."
As everyone thinks about that, we`ll tell you that coming up, the congressional Republicans are opting to spend more time with their families. What this wave may say about what the GOP may know when we continue.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) \ (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t know Congressman Hurd, but I`ve heard he`s done a good job. We differ on certain subjects but I`ve heard he`s actually done a good job. It`s too bad he is leaving but really don`t know him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We first reported it here last night, Texas Congressman Will Hurd, who happens to be the only black Republican in the House, is saying he will not be running for re-election next year. Emily Cochran of "The New York Times" points out, "Mr. Hurd who is also the only Republican to represent a district along the southwestern border, is the sixth House Republican and the third Texan in the past 10 days to announce retirement. After the 2020 election, Senator Tim Scott, Republican of North Carolina, will be the only black Republican incumbent in Congress." Again, that would be both Houses of Congress, all 535 members of Congress.
Still with us tonight, our friend Susan Page and Jon Meacham.
Susan, explain to our viewers why, here`s a guy, Will Hurd, one of 535, we last saw him during the Mueller hearing, the news kind of went by everybody else. Why was this seismic where you live and work in the Washington area?
PAGE: Well, for one thing, there`s the fact that it reduces the limited diversity of the Republican caucus, in more than one way. In race, but also in a willingness to stand up to President Trump, because there are only a handful of House Republicans who have been willing to do that, and Will Hurd has been one of them.
The other reason, he`s been highly respected figure. He`s a serious legislator, respected on both sides of the aisle. The fact that he is stepping in, he`s like 41 years old, it`s not like he`s ready to retire. The fact that he`s stepping down says to Washington he doesn`t think Republicans are going to regain control of the House next year. And that he is probably tired of being in a party defined by President Trump, which the person to whom all of these Republican members of Congress have to either keep their mouth shut, defend, or occasionally criticize at some risk to their futures. And I think that you see members of the Republican members of Congress saying this is not worth it.
WILLIAMS: Jon Meacham, the point Susan raised is exactly the one I want you to take on after I read you this. Another guest on our broadcast, Sahil Kapur from Bloomberg, tweeted this last night, "Called the future of the GOP, Will Hurd, retiring, Marco Rubio, lost presidential bid, Paul Ryan lost VP bid, became speaker, quit. Scott Walker lost election, Ted Cruz lost the presidential bid, Eric Cantor lost House primary, Nikki Haley writing book. Susana Martinez out of politics."
So Jon, back to Susan`s theory that departures harden the concrete at the center, harden the notion of those who stick around become inextricably Trump Republicans.
MEACHAM: Well, parties fundamentally change in American history when there are -- moments when there`s not consensus about the greatest issue before the country. We most recently saw that because the Democratic Party fell apart over the Republican Party changed coalitions, because of a disagreement over civil rights. We saw the rise of the Republican Party in the death of the wigs, in the 19th century, because there couldn`t be -- the parties didn`t -- the single party didn`t agree on slavery.
Donald Trump is quickly becoming that kind of defining question for this party. And we`ve joked before, but as Freud told us, all jokes have a certain element of truth, Donald Trump`s one of the few recorded cases of a hijacker boarding a plane and the passengers side with the hijacker. And the question is, will the Republican base become so devout unto itself, so bound up, that centrist part of the puzzle is simply gone?
And I think these retirements suggest that that is certainly the reality of 2020 politically. And culturally, politically, is one of the most fascinating questions facing us, is what happens to the Republican Party after Trump? Does Trumpism survive despite Donald Trump having to some point leave the scene? And that`s something that it would take, if one were a Republican, thinking about the future of the party, the people you just listed off, would be the kind of folks you would want in the room, in the arena, pick your metaphor, trying to pick up these pieces, and push forward. And those folks are not. Now maybe they`re going to hibernate and come back, but you know, I suspect they`re looking at this, as Susan was just saying, they`re looking at this and thinking it`s just not worth it.
WILLIAMS: Lot for our audience to consider and think about on a Friday night, with our thanks to the journalists and author Susan Page, the journalist, presidential historian and recording artist, Jon Meacham, our thanks, gang, for joining us at the end of another week.
Coming up for us, the President sets a deadline for pulling all American troops out of Afghanistan. By the way, he also floats a number of days it would take the military at his command to destroy Afghanistan and kill millions. We will lay it all before a man who retired with four stars atop each shoulder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: With respect to Afghanistan, we`ve made a lot of progress. We`re talking. But we`ve also made a lot of progress. We`re reducing it. We`ve been there for 19 years. We`re really serving as policemen. We could win Afghanistan in two days or three days or four days if we wanted, but I`m not looking to kill 10 million people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: New reporting by NBC News tonight indicates President Trump wants to indeed pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the 2020 election. According to five current and former administration and military officials, "The President`s advisers are now scrambling to meet his election-year deadline, which has exacerbated tensions between officials at the Pentagon and the State Department over the timing of withdrawal and whether it should be completed."
With us, again, to talk about it tonight, General Barry McCaffrey, retired U.S. army four-star general, heavily decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, U.S. ground, commander in the Gulf War, former U.S. drug czar, among his other roles.
General, I know you have been in the countryside in Afghanistan and counted the number of turrets that make up former Russian tanks dotting the landscape. What is it like to hear the President say, we could win it there in two days, four days at the outside?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET)": Well, you know, there`s two ways of looking at it. In one sense, it was just blather, political blather. It didn`t have any meaning at all. On the other hand, it`s one of the most horrific illegal statements ever made in the Oval Office. It implies that the U.S. Armed Forces actually considered and gave the President a plan to use nuclear weapons against a civil war whose government we`re supporting. There could not possibly have been a JCS analysis to that option. It would have been illegal. It would have resulted in impeachment of the President immediately. So you`re a hard press to understand what he`s up to.
Look, we`ve been there 19 years. We`ve been 70-plus years in Germany, 70- plus years in Japan, what serves U.S. national interests? That`s a tough question when you`re dealing about Afghanistan. There clearly is not a coherent Afghan central government. The Taliban are increasingly taking over the countryside. But the question is, what do we do? And I think Trump has decided, get us out as a political deal.
WILLIAMS: With some trepidation, I turn us both to North Korea. Here were the President`s tweets today. This is after these short-range missile launches we have witnessed this week. "There may be a United Nations violation, but Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust. Chairman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country and only the United States, with me as president, can make that vision come true. He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not too to and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump."
General, your reaction?
MCCAFFREY: Well, Kim Jong-un is one of the most corrupt, malevolent, murderous thugs on the face of the earth to his own people primarily and is a huge threat to South Korea, Japan and U.S. Armed Forces in the region. He`s got maybe 60 nuclear weapons and he`s still producing weapons-grade material. He`s still manufacturing intermediate range ballistic missiles. He`s testing in violation of the United Nations sanctions, the so-called short range, they don`t matter to the President, are probably a variant of a Soviet era is condor nuclear device. They go over 400 miles. They can threaten U.S. military forces, Japanese and South Korea.
So the President has got nothing out of this so far. And at some point, he`s going to give Kim what he wants, relief from sanctions. He`s already starting to unravel sanctions from the Chinese and the Russians.
WILLIAMS: I don`t want to be flip but I was going to say, General, and you just touched on it, short-range is all the range you need when you are the city size population of Americans we have in South Korea, when you are our friends in Japan, for starters.
MCCAFFREY: Oh yes. When -- by the way, these are a tremendous threat because it`s a very short launch to target timeframe and their low level can be fired difficult to pick up for PAC-3 Patriot, et cetera. So these are dangerous devices. But he`s also continuing to work on a prototype of an ICBM that can strike the United States and he just unveiled version one of a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability. So he`s preceding a pace. He`s a declared legitimized nuclear power by the president of the United States.
WILLIAMS: General Barry McCaffrey, who I note is on the Pacific Coast tonight, we thank you as always, General, for joining us on our broadcast tonight.
And coming up, when we come back, a guy fairly considered to be on the President`s home team deciding to step in and correct the President when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, and we won`t keep you long, we know you`re anxious to start the weekend, but these tariffs, you`re going to be hearing a lot more about tariffs as the next round of them approaches at the end of this month. We`ve all heard commercials for various companies who say they pass along the savings to the consumer. Well, tariffs are the opposite of that. Companies pass along the cost of tariffs and this theme played out on Fox News today.
We`re going to pick up this clip with the President`s comments prior to departure from the South Lawn where he mixed China and American farmers and tariffs all into one word salad followed by kneel by Neil Cavuto of Fox who apparently had enough of this talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Any amount the China sucks out we`re making up out of the billions of dollars that were taken in. Remember this, our country is taking in billions and billions of dollars from China. We never took in 10 cents from China. And out of that many billions of dollars, we`re taking a part of it and we`re giving it to the farmers because they`ve been targeted by China. The farmers, they come out totally whole. So you interviewed the wrong farmer.
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS HOST: All right. I don`t know where to begin here. But just to be clarifying here. China isn`t paying these tariffs. You are, you know, indirectly and sometimes directly. It`s passed along to you through American distributors and their counterparts in the United States who buy the stuff from the Chinese and then have to pay these charges. Not the Chinese government or China in particular.
I didn`t quite understand what he was saying about the devaluation of that it`s costing China. Be that as it may, this latest round of tariffs that kick in on September 1 on $300 billion worth of goods at 10%, that will most directly be felt by consumers directly because that happens on almost entirely consumer items rather than industrial-related items. But just wanted to clarify that. Governments don`t pay these things, you do one way or another.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So Neil Cavuto on tariffs to end an eventful week for us and bring on the first of five precious August weekends. And after that, of course, it`s basically Thanksgiving.
That is our broadcast for this Friday night and indeed for this week. Thank you so much for being here with us and good night from our NBC headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END