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Author Toni Morrison dies at 88. TRANSCRIPT: 8/6/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Katie Benner, Clint Watts, Rick Wilson

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Duke University Professor David Schanzer gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Professor.

SCHANZER:  Thanks you for having me.

O`DONNELL:  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight at a critical time in his presidency, Trump prepares to fly into some potentially hostile territory.  Two cities that are hurting and in some cases public officials are asking him, telling him to stay away.

Also why it is the feds say they`re struggling in the fight against domestic terrorism.  And a round up of headlines from overseas showing that indeed the whole world is watching.

And for good measure the U.S. and China are at a place in the trade and currency war where it`s starting to hurt.

And remembering a giant, a uniquely gorgeous American voice, a Nobel Prize winning author being remembered for her message as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 929 of the Trump administration on the eve of what could be a very difficult day.  And as much as all of this is uncharted territory, tomorrow we have this odd occurrence of the President of the United States flying into a place where a certain percentage of the population does not welcome him there.

In the morning he`s going to head to El Paso and Dayton, two cities with a combined death toll of 31, all from gun violence during, one, 13 hour period in our country this past weekend.  Dozens of people remained injured.

Late today the President said he plans to meet with "first responders, law enforcement, and some of the victims."  That was followed by a message from White House Secretary Stephanie Grisham who wrote, "Tomorrow will be about honoring victims, comforting communities, and thanking first responders and medical professionals."

As advanced teams work out the details of the day, some public officials, particularly in El Paso say the President is not welcome there.  Democratic Veronica Escobar who`s district includes nearly all of El Paso, proper is among them citing his rhetoric about immigration, she says the President has placed a target on their backs.  Escobar says she`s declined an invitation to meet with the President tomorrow saying this on this network a short time ago.


REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR, (D) TEXAS:  Words are powerful.  And words have consequences.  And the words that he`s used to dehumanize us, to dehumanize communities like mine, to dehumanize immigrants, they have a consequence and they provide fuel for people who already are bigoted.


WILLIAMS:  The mayor of Dayton has also raised objections to Trump`s visit.  Today she told reporters she plans to meet with him, but she made it clear she will be blunt.


MAYOR NAN WHALEY, (D) DAYTON, OHIO:  I know that, you know, he`s made this bed and he`s got to lie in it, you know.  He hasn`t -- you know, his rhetoric has been painful for many in our community, and I think the people should stand up and say they`re not happy if they`re not happy that he`s coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What are you going to tell him?

WHALEY:  Like how unhelpful he`s been on this.  I mean, yesterday his comments weren`t very helpful to the issue around guns.


WILLIAMS:  Trump is visiting the cities as his administration faces several critical challenges.  A volatile stock market, trade war with China, increasing threats from Iran, North Korea`s continuing missile tests, which we`ll get to later, and now new pressure for gun control legislation.

With all that beginning on and under fire for his divisive language, Trump lashed out today at yesterday`s statement by Barack Obama.  It never mentioned Trump by name, mind you.  It said in part, "We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist statements."

Well, Trump morning Trump quoted what he`d heard on Fox and Friends, "Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook.  President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign.  Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for president."  That was followed by "I am the least racist person."

The White House also came to Trump`s defense today.


HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY WHIRE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  And I`ve seen Democrats on air saying he is responsible for this.  And that his rhetoric is responsible for this shooting.  Is responsible for these deaths, this murder. And that is a dangerous place to take this country.

We would also never blame Barack Obama for the police shootings in Dallas.  We wouldn`t blame Bernie Sanders for the shooting of Steve Scalise or other Republicans.


WILLIAMS:  Today NBC News reported that several federal agencies charged with fighting domestic terrorism are now struggling to do so mostly because of cuts in funding and personnel.  Tonight a spokesperson for the House Judiciary Committee tells NBC News the committee members are mulling over an early return from their six week summer recess to address gun violence.

Given all that, here for our leadoff discussion on a Tuesday night, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press, Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for Boston`s NPR News Outlet WBUR, and Katie Benner, Justice Department reporter for "The New York Times".

Jonathan, I`d like to begin with you because of something one of your colleagues and a frequent guest of our, Jill Colvin, has posted tonight.  It has to do with the overall empathy deficit let`s call it going into tomorrow about the President.  She says "the words he offers for a divided America will be complicated by his own incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric that mirrors language linked to one of the shooters.  It is a highly unusual predicament for an American president to at once try to console a community in a nation at the same time he`s being criticized as contributing to a combustible climate that can spawn violence."

In the real world of advanced teams and trips like this, there are ways you can reduce the President`s exposure to the public, to be quite honest about it.  He can go to just interiors of hospitals, just a tent with family and relatives and survivors, just a fire house and kind of limit his exposure that way.  Give us a preview of tomorrow.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Yes.  I anticipate that we`ll see something very similar tomorrow.  That is what the White House -- the attacks they`ve used in the past on -- when he`s made some of these visits after a disaster, after a tragedy, sometimes even when he`s on relatively friendly turf.

Two examples, I was with him last fall when there was a significant wildfires in California.  And we ended up in down in Malibu for the second portion of it.  And he met with victims, people who lost their homes or loved ones in the fires.  The press didn`t see him at all.  in fact we met him in an airport hangar at a local airport there in Southern California.  No eyes on that whatsoever.

Also a year or so ago when he went to Parkland, Florida after the terrible school shooting, the -- where a number of people, the number of students in the days afterwards had protested the President and really called for more gun action, more gun control, similar to what we`re seeing now, particularly in El Paso.  And the President visited a hospital where grievely met one or two of the victims but spent most of his time on the ground thanking first responders, thanking medical technicians.  Certainly people who deserve the thanks and credit for what happened there, but those were a friendlier audience for him than perhaps coming face to face with some family members of the deceased or wounded who were protesting him and pressuring him to be doing more for gun control.

And a Jill wrote and we`ve been writing all weekend, this is not a role that comes easily for this President.


LEMIRE:  Even on -- in if he was to visit a place where he was very popular, he`s never been able to show much in the way of empathy.  We all remember him going to Puerto Rico and tossing paper towels like they were basketballs to hurricane victims.  He has struggled just this past weekend.  I was with him in Bedminster, New Jersey where he was when the shootings happened.  We didn`t see him for two days until -- he remained in hiding only tweeting about what happened.  And the statements -- the fact (ph) statements about the tragedy were followed up with promote tweets promoting a UFC fight.  And when he did speak on the tarmac, he ignored the questions he didn`t want to answer.

And certainly his statement yesterday at the White House only raised more concerns about what this White House can actually try do for gun control, but also how much blame he shoulders?

WILLIAMS:  Also Kim, El Paso is a peaceful place certainly prior to this.  They can hear the President`s words.  Memories are long.  I want to play for you some of what he said during his last visit to El Paso.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Listen to these numbers. 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, 4,000 kidnappings and 4,000 murders.

Murders.  Murders.  Killings.  Murders.

But illegal immigration hurts all Americans.  Including millions of legal immigrants by driving down wages, draining public resources and claiming countless innocent lives.


WILLIAMS:  So Kim, about that reception in El Paso tomorrow, what`s your preview?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR SR. NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, I mean, I think the point that you bring up is important, that this is a peaceful community.  This attack that happened there, that was more homicides than El Paso usually sees in an entire year.  So this idea that is being painted by -- this picture being painted by the President as this lawless place is just simply factually untrue.

And then the case of El Paso, you have a community that is reeling from two simultaneous traumas.  It`s the scourge of gun violence that we have seen happen repeatedly in this country, but there is also this idea of weaponized white supremacy that is growing in this country, and this is just the latest example of that.  And you have people who are afraid, people who feel that they are under attack and that the messages like the ones you just played from the President is only fueling that environment.

It`s not just in El Paso.  My colleague at WBUR wrote a piece about how Latinos in Boston feel afraid.  It`s something that is a nationwide problem and usually a job of a president is try to be a healer at a time of division, and President Trump has shown that that is a demonstrable weak spot just as Jonathan pointed out, whether it`s a national -- natural disaster or some sort of attack on Americans.  President Trump has not been able to find the moment that President Bush did after 9/11 or that President Obama did after the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  That`s not something he has able to do whether it`s just not natural to him or because he thinks it`s not politically advantageous to him.

WILLIAMS:  And Katie in the days since we have heard terms like white supremacy and domestic terrorism.  Both terms it seems to me are perfectly good descriptors of what we`ve seen.  But along comes Rod Rosenstein over the weekend kind of in this new cycle, a blast from our recent past who called what happened white terrorism.  What else did he share with your reporting team at "The Times," especially if he talked about any potential solutions?

KATIE BENNER, THE NEW YORK TIMES JUSTICE DEPT. REPORTER:  Sure, the former deputy attorney general said that we need to start treating domestic terrorism in the same way we treat foreign terrorism.  So that would mean surveillance.  That would mean listening to chatter on the internet.  That would also mean intervening and trying to stop crimes before they happen.  That`s extremely tricky here in the U.S.

We have a definition for domestic terrorism.  It`s the use of violence in order to course a population.  This violence are going to try to get a message across or to change the political landscape.  But we don`t have a criminal statute and we also have First Amendment rights here in the United States.  So, if you`re an American citizen, you can be a member of a hate group and you can say hateful things on the internet, but until you commit a crime, it`s very difficult to step in.

So Rosenstein`s point was that we can have a successful prosecution of the shooter in El Paso, we can have a successful prosecution of something like Dylann Roof, but real success is to stop them before they begin in the same way that we have radicalized folks, you know, who have started -- who have joined groups like Isis and al-Qaeda.  And that`s a very difficult position.

WILLIAMS:  Hey Kim, I hate to put you in the role of analyst, but handicap for us, for the folks watching tonight, what`s the real world chance a single piece of legislation on this topic will make it out of this Congress to the President`s signature?

ATKINS:  If past is prologue, little if any.  I mean, we saw how the nation reacted after the Parkland shootings.  We saw how the nation reacted after Sandy Hook.  If there was not legislation that was moved after that, it`s really hard to see this being the same motivation.

It seems after a mass shooting the standard approach particularly by Republicans on the Hill is to wait it out and let this controversy pass and then the push for reform will pass.  It`s really up to Mitch McConnell.  There have been some gun control measures passed by the Democratic- controlled House.  It`s up to Mitch McConnell to see if he moves them in the Senate.

WILLIAMS:  Katie, where`s the attorney general these days?

BENNER:  So the attorney general has been speaking to the President about this issue.  Both he -- both Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray have been in touch with President Trump on the shootings.

It was interesting the speech that he gave yesterday in many ways echoed the talking points of FBI Director Wray and A. G. Barr.  He embraced some of the things that they have said that they needed including greater surveillance power and including more cooperation from tech companies which hold a lot of data, a lot of the chatter.  And a lot of the white supremacist rhetoric is happening online.  So it was interesting to see how much the speech really mirrored the talking points and the desires of the Justice Department.

WILLIAMS:  Finally, Jonathan, a story that takes us from the American heartland halfway around the world.  I am guessing that somewhere in the Midwest tonight there`s a soy bean farmer wondering if he or she can continue the family business in business.  Bring us -- bring our audience up to speed on U.S. versus China regarding tariffs, trade policy currency.

LEMIRE:  It`s not getting any better is the short answer.  What we he have seen in the last few days is a real escalation of tensions between the economic superpowers.  We -- of course the President and China they were working on a new trade deal.  There were tariffs back and forth a few months ago.  There seemed like there have been some progress in negotiations.  They stalled.  There was then a suggestion of things ramping up again.

Last month -- just about a month ago, the G20 in Osaka, President Xi of China and President Trump were to sit down and ideally hash out a new agreement.  That didn`t quite happen.  But they agreed to start talks again.  And there was some optimism that this trade war, which is really -- you had nail (ph) on the head, it`s punishing American consumers, farmers and others.  And as much as the President likes to say that the China is bearing the brunt of this, that`s simply not the case.


LEMIRE:  Study after study shows that everyday Americans wjho are -- whether they`re soybean farmers or just consumers at a Walmart who are paying more for goods because of the retaliatory tariffs that China has slapped on goods, you know, they`re the ones paying the price.  Those negotiations stalled again in recent days.  That there was some talks in Shanghai.  They broke down.

The President against the advice of his advisers angrily upped more tariffs, increased another hundreds of millions of dollars on a new set of goods.  China has now of course retaliated.  They`re adding flooding the market with currency.  And it set the President off to a rage.  And this goes back to our earlier conversation coming after the shootings.  His sole job right now should be to comfort a nation.  He`s not doing that.

On Twitter he`s preoccupied with what`s happening in China.  He even took some shots at Google today.  And people around him suggest that this as much his focus as everything else impart because he knows this trade war was his creation.  It`s not going well.  And if it does really sink the American economy, that is -- there goes what would be his number one argument for reelection.  This whole thing, another four years of Donald Trump, they believe that even if you don`t like the noise that comes with this presidency, including the rhetoric that we`ve been so closely scrutinizing in recent days about immigration, there would be enough voters out there who would give him another term if the economy stays good.  And if it falters and this trade war with China may contribute to that, he`s in a lot of trouble.

WILLIAMS:  Three great reporters.  Three great bylines, we`re much obliged to our big three on a Tuesday evening.  Jonathan Lemire, Kimberly Atkins, and Katie Benner, our thanks for being here with us.

And coming up, if it`s domestic terrorists we`re going after, just how do we do that coming out of the topics we just discussed?  What more does law enforcement need?

And later, the world is watching as a politically divided America searches for a solution to a big problem.  THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Tuesday night.


WILLIAMS:  As we`ve been saying the Feds in Texas are treating Saturday`s mass shooting in El Paso as an act of domestic terrorism.  Today the FBI said that July 28th shooting at the Gilroy, California outdoor festival that left three people dead, that`s also being investigated as domestic terrorism.


JOHN BENNETT, FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  The shooter appeared to have an interest in varying competing violent ideologies.

Due to the discovery of the target list as well as other information we have encountered in this investigation, the FBI has opened a full domestic terrorism investigation into this mass shooting.


WILLIAMS:  Investigators said there`s no clear motive there in Gilroy, California.  Same with the mass murder early Sunday morning in Dayton, Ohio.

And about our country`s readiness to fight domestic terrorism specifically "The New York Times" reports, "The U.S. spent nearly 20 years intensely focussed on threats from Islamic extremists.  The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, rerouted the machinery of government to fight against threats of violence from the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  But those attacks have waned in recent years replaced by violence from white supremacists an increasingly internet driven phenomenon from lone wolves, not groups, that will prove immensely difficult to combat."

We`re happy to say that back with us tonight are Mimi Rocah, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who was these days a Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law, and Clint Watts, former FBI Special Agent, he`s also a distinguished research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, author of "Messing with the Enemy, Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News".

Clint, I`d like to begin with you on the law enforcement side.  It strikes me that on this floor of the building where we are right now we had anthrax in the days following 9/11.  Short of what happened after 9/11, what tools does law enforcement have to go after what is -- it`s not anything new, it`s just a new focus on domestic terrorism.

CLINT WATTS, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  That`s right.  The structure of domestic investigations is reactive.  Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein put it quite simply.  We cannot stop this if we`re always prosecuting after the violence has occurred.

And when you look at the tools are for domestic terrorism, we treat it completely different rather than going through the national security guidelines like with al-Qaeda or the Islamic state, we are focussed on the criminal code.  We can`t approach it in the same way.  If we were looking at an Isis inspired attack three years ago I might have been on this network here talking about a terrorist attack of the Islamic state, we would been hunting them down online, we would then pushing them off social media platforms, we`d be working with community groups trying to do interventions to preempt this.

Today, we can`t do any of it.  Director Wray is, you know, raised the alarm.  He said he has equal or more of the domestic attacks.  Most of them from the white supremacist variety and yet at the same point he can`t really mobilize on the internet on the same way.  He doesn`t have the resources and he doesn`t have the authority.  And it`s very difficult for him when we don`t call it by what it is.  It`s white supremacy.  So you have to look for indicators of white supremacy and movement to violence online.  It`s very difficult to do if you treat every case as just a one off phenomenon as if they aren`t networked.

And another part that we have completely not really, you know, completely overlooked in recent days, this is a global phenomenon.  Christ Church, Europe, the United States, across North America, they are networking online in a global fashion.  Very similar to the international terrorists we worried about over the last decade.  So if we want to get on top of this, we need intelligence partners.  Many of the individuals that are getting radicalized recruited, organizing, helping plot and plan, sharing than manifestos with each other which then inspire further attacks, they are a global network.  They may not even know where they live.  So to do this, we need human intelligence, we need a lot more resources and we need more authorities for the FBI to go after this.

WILLIAMS:  Mimi Rocah, while it`s hard to believe you were already a fed on 9/11, and I need you to tell and I need you to tell us what changes you saw the federal government go through including the fact that we all kind of knew that our government may be in our phones and in our lives and yet, you had to be there because in that period, we were all like look, we`re okay with this if it means finding the people that did this.

MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Right. I mean, if you think back to those days right after 9/11, particularly here in New York, it was such a drastic shift, first of all, just in how people felt about their own security.  I mean, there was this feeling of am I ever going to feel safe in a subway again?  Am I ever going to feel safe in Rockefeller Center and public places?  Are there going to be planes flying every day, you know, trying to kill us.

And understandably, part of why people were able to get back most of us to a normal life and not feel that way every day is because of the government`s response.  We saw the government change and take charge and take control of the situation.  Law enforcement did the things that Clint is talking about with respect to international terrorism.  We need both for security reasons and frankly for psychological reasons, for public safety.  People right now particularly minorities and targeted groups but I think everyone is feeling the same -- not quite the same scale, but the sense of insecurity that we felt in those days as well.

And we need to know to our government, our law enforcement is addressing it ahead of time.  Proactively.  Not just waiting for the next white supremacist, white terrorist, domestic terrorist attack to happen.  And to do that, we need all sorts of resources, a realignment of resources and focus.

WILLIAMS:  Hey Clint, a question I asked during last night`s coverage, God forbid, but how would it be different if we were covering the same number killed only it had been someone had pulled the rip cord on a suicide vest in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and outside of bar in Dayton, Ohio?  How would the coverage, the conversation be different?

WATTS:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  Should it be?

WATTS:  Yes.  It should be consistent, and it`s quite different.  Think back to all of the al-Qaeda inspired plots that were recovered in the news over the last decade.  It was always splashed across the screen, what that individual look like, where they came from.  They didn`t have to execute the attack and we were talking about it.

Think about these attacks this week.  I think we`ve actually handled it much better, right?  We`re not blowing up an amplifying the profile of the shooters which encourages more shooters.  We`re not actually talking about their manifestos or showing them, we`re not reprinting them.  All great things.  That`s not how we did it from the public and from the media over the last decade.

One of the most striking examples was in 2011.  The most sophisticated IED that has been seen from a terrorist attack happened in January of 2011.  And the assumption for years was, this was be al-Qaeda or Isis or some international terrorist bringing that back to the United States, it was not, it was a former U.S. military soldier.  It was a Martin Luther King parade in Spokane, Washington.  And most of the coverage during that time period was about a thwarted plot that was in Texas that was al-Qaeda inspired.

So when you look at how we have treated this over the last decade, all the procedures, everything we push, whether it`s -- even during the Obama administration, it was disproportionately focussed on al-Qaeda and the Islamic state.  We kind of let this go and we didn`t want to talk about, hey maybe this is a growing ideology of white hate that`s spreading around the world that is connected, that is inspiring each other.  And while it has lots of similarities, it`s also different, and we`ve got to get our hands around it about how we want to tackle it.

WILLIAMS:  Mimi, if you had law writing power, if you were Senator Rocah, what would you do for your former fellow feds who are now in this fight?

ROCAH:  I mean, look, the first thing I would do is get them more resources.  And one day to do that is to create a domestic terrorist statute.  We do not have that right now.  So we can prosecute, you know, someone for murder, but we`re not prosecuting them for the crime that it is which is seeking to kill people because of their ideology, because of who they are, seeking to intimidate people.

There is a definition of domestic terrorism in the federal code.  We can turn that into a criminal statute, and lots of people, Mary McCord (ph) is the one who has written about this, and how to do it in a way that wouldn`t run afoul of the First Amendment because we do have to be very careful when we`re talking about law enforcement, you know, investigating domestic groups.

And so there are ways to do it, though, but giving it a criminal statute, a domestic terrorist statute would first of all make prosecutions easier, would give all the things that Clint and I are talking about, give us more resources because the FBI, the federal prosecutors would all have the responsibility to enforce the statute.  You would have to obviously have oversight from Congress of how the statute is being enforced.  But that is the main tool that would be the way to get the resources that we need.

WILLIAMS:  We`re in the debt of these two great experts in their field.  To Mimi Rocah, to Clint Watts, thank you, both of you, for returning to our broadcast.

And coming up for us, proof that as we say, the whole world is watching.  We`ll ask two other experts what this is all saying about the U.S. and the U.S. president.


WILLIAMS:  As we said the world is reacting to America`s most recent mass shootings and the role the president plays.  Here is a sample of this week`s headlines.  From Australia, U.S. in the midst of a white nationalism terrorist crisis.  In China, gun violence epidemic racial tensions turn America into nation of hate.  One of Spain`s most widely read paper calling the El Paso shooting the greatest racism crime against Hispanics in modern U.S. history.

In an op-ed today, former national security adviser Susan Rice has this warning and we quote, the consequences of Mr. Trump`s raw racism are not contained within America`s shores.  They ricochet around the world as far as New Zealand, poison the international climate, undermine America`s ability to secure our global interests.

With us tonight Rick Wilson, veteran Florida man, veteran Republican strategist whose views about our 45th president best expressed by his book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies".  And John Heilemann, MSNBC National Affairs Analyst.  He`s also the co-author of Game Change and Double Down.  His view of politics is best expressed by the title of his show on Show Time, The Circus.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

John Heilemann, what is the world learning about us and our president this week?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  Well, I think there are two things, right, Brian.  One is that the United States of America is not what it was for most of our lifetime.  You know, it is not the exemplar.  It`s not the shining city on a hill.  It`s whatever the metaphors you want to roll out anymore.  And, you know, this country has a terrible history of racism.  This country has terrible history of racist to violence, white supremacist, not new to America.  Its some ways the foundation of how much country --

WILLIAMS:  The original sins.

HEILEMANN:  And people around the world have seen that for -- since there`s been an America, right?  Since the slaughter of the Indians, the Native Americans.  So, it`s not like we`re in totally unchartered territory.  But what I think a lot of people around the world see is that somehow America is aspiring, at least the leadership of the country have stop, aspiring to build a more perfect union.

And the second thing is we`re a soft target.  And I know we`ll talk about this a little more.  But if you`re Vladimir Putin and what you tried to do in 2016 in a variety of ways that we now a lot about thanks Bob Mueller and others is to sew division and dissent in America, and you did it really well in 2016.

You now look over across and you say we have an active ally in the White House in Donald Trump.  And this country is more divided and has more dissent and more division than before as we`re heading into 2020, it`s a softer target now than it was then.

WILLIAMS:  Rick Wilson, your original Republican Party paid you handsomely to get Republicans elected.  And it was ideologically from most of your life, you`re North Star, until the Trump era started.  I`m going to read to you from an op-ed piece in the Times by David Leonhardt.  You see the title, Conservatism Has a Violence Problem.  He writes in part, Conservative America is mostly filled with honorable people who deplore violence and bear no responsibility for right wing hate killings.  Some mass shootings have had no evident political motive like the one in Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday.

And liberal America also has violent and deranged people, like the man who shot at Republican members of Congress playing softball, 2017.  Some Democratic politicians also have occasionally lapsed into ugly violent rhetoric and suggested they want to punch their political opponents.  But it`s folly to pretend that the problem is symmetrical.

Mainstream conservative politicians use the rhetoric of physical violence much more often, starting with the current president of the United States and right wing extremists have a culture of violence unlike anything on the left.  Its consequences are fatal again and again.

Rick, let`s reduce this to absolute pure politics which is your line of work.  What if you`re running a Republican candidate, maybe in a district that is trending a little more moderate down ticket from one Donald Trump in 2020?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, Brian, first thing you do is what a lot of Republicans have done in the last 24 to 48 hours.  And they`re actually using the words white supremacist violence or white supremacist terror, because they recognize that Donald Trump has helped to catalyze this in this country and no, as I`ve said a million times, not every Trump supporter is a violent racist scum bag.  But all the violent racist scum bags are Donald Trump supporters and all the guys writing manifestos it sounds like they come from Tucker Carlson teleprompter are Donald Trump supporters.

And so, I think we`re in a situation right now where if you`re a candidate out there and you`re in a district that isn`t Lily White, you`d better looking at your rear-view mirror, you better be thinking about whether or not you are clear and decisive and you called out the rhetoric and you asked the president to stop saying things like s-hole countries and vermin and infested and stop using these things that are so -- they`re not even racial dog whistles.  They`re racial air raid sirens.

And, you know, if you`re a Republican looking at reelection at a reelection campaign in 2020, you better be thinking about those things unless your district is, you know, whiter than David Duke`s robe closet.

WILLIAMS:  Rick, there`s also another option which I thought you`re going to mention which we`ve seen in the last three weeks.  That`s retiring.

WILSOIN:  Lot of them are retiring.  I think you`re going to get -- I think we`re closing in on nine or 10 just in the last two weeks.  And I think you`re going to end up in a situation where in addition to the giant gout of the folks that retired in the 18th cycle, you`re going to see a comparable number this time, which will probably mean that the House is meaningfully out of reach for Republican Party for the next six to eight years given the way that the retirements concatenate out and have political consequences.

WILLIAMS:  A lot to take in.  Both gentlemen thankfully have agreed to stay with us.  And coming up, it`s an important time right now to check back in on the Democratic race.  We`re also going to show you where there is very bad news tonight for just under half of the Democratic field.


WILLIAMS:  The Democratic presidential candidates are universally condemning President Trump, obviously and the rhetoric that preceding the most recent mass shootings.  A new post debate, POLITICO/Morning Consult poll out today shows most Democrats, 44 percent of them still think Joe Biden is their best guy to unseat this president.  Bernie Sanders is polling at 17.  Warren and Harris third and fourth, 13 and 6.  Pete Buttigieg rounds out the top tier at 2 percent.

And if you want brutal, respondents said the following Democrats have a zero percent chance, a zero percent chance of defeating Trump, and they are Klobuchar, Hickenlooper, Ryan, Williamson, Yang, Bennett, de Blasio, Gillibrand, Inslee.  That`s just under half of the field.

Still with us, Wilson, Heilemann, Heilemann, the question to you is, I guess the spirit of de Blasio governance is not catching fire across the country.  I should have asked the two rodents I stepped over on my way home last night in midtown Manhattan? .

HEILEMANN:  You`ve been tough on the mayor.  You`ve been tough on the mayor.  You live in Jersey, right?  You live in Jersey.


HEILEMANN:  That`s why you live -- that`s the thing.  Look, there`s, you know, this -- there`s now I think this just is unequivocally true.  We have a top tier of this race and then there`s literally everyone else.  And I think, you know, as we head toward the debates in September and October, whether you like what the DNC is doing or not, for the first time ever having an artificial arbitrary set of criteria that`s going to limit a bunch of people from the debate stage, it`s clearly the case that a lot of voters out there having been exposed to this large field are dismissive of most of them at this hour.

WILLIAMS:  How are they paying for jet fuel at minimum?  How is it they have not shaken out yet?

HEILEMANN:  I don`t know.  I think a lot of them are living on TV and running pretty cheap campaigns.  Most of those people in the zero percent category do not have campaigns.  They do not have field staff in Iowa.  They do not have field staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

There are couple of exceptions people like Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker who were trying to -- who low down the polls and building real staff in the early states.  But most of them are really running TV campaigns right now and trying -- basically running with an economy airline ticket, and a few hits on your local friendly cable provider.

WILLIAMS:  Sounds glamorous, Rick Wilson.  Rick, you`ve been tough on the Dems.  And when you look at this field, especially in light of the zero percent numbers tonight, do you still see a party playing circular firing squad, eating its young and running against themselves?

WILSON:  Well, look, I think that there was a moment that catalyze some grownup thinking at some point somewhere in the Democratic Party after the last debate when it turned to an attack on Barack Obama and Obamacare, I think at some point there was a realization inside the Democratic field even that maybe running out to the very, very, very farthest left edge of the cliff might not be the single political strategy that works.

And I think there`s sort of a cautionary note in the air after that.  And do I think the natural gravity of this thing is going to shake out.

Look, big fields have existed in many races in the past.  In 1988 there were a scat of people running for president.  There are a lot of histories of large fields, but what Democrats need to resolve is one simple thing.  Which person is the best person to make this a referendum on Donald Trump?  It`s not about policy.  It`s about somebody who`s going to post up against Trump and play the game of this reality TV show campaign that is going to be able to create most effectively.

And I think that a lot of those folks have shown they`ve got novelty to them, but they`re just not big enough.  Their personalities aren`t big enough.  Their record isn`t big enough.  Their name ID isn`t big enough, and it`s going to shake out.  But John is exactly right.  These guys are living off the land.  They`re going a day at a time.  You know, it`s social media, media, calling to talk radio.

WILLIAMS:  Gentlemen, I can`t thank you enough.  We could go an entire hour with ease, without even breaking a sweat with these two. Rick Wilson, John Heilemann.  Rick, congrats to your son on graduating.  He sounds like a nice young man on social media.

WILSON:  He`s a good kid.  Thank you so much Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, as we approach another break, a major loss for those who love the written word.



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Toni Morrison, she is used to a little distraction.  As a single mother working at a publishing company by day, she would carve out a little time in the evening to write, often with her two sons pulling on her hair and tugging at her earrings.  Once a baby spit up on her tablet, so she wrote around it.

Circumstances may not have been ideal, but the words that came out were magical.  Toni Morrison`s prose brings us that kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt.  From "Song of Solomon" to "Beloved," Toni reaches us deeply, using a tone that is lyrical, precise, distinct, and inclusive.  She believes that language arcs toward the place where meaning might lie, and the rest of us are lucky to be following along for the ride.


WILLIAMS:  So you see there, even the greats were humbled in her presence and when confronted with her words.  The great singer songwriter Rosanne Cash said today Toni Morrison is a goddess and said, quote, I wish I had written one sentence as good as any of hers.  Toni Morrison died here in New York last night at the age of 88, and tonight our own Rehema Ellis has a look back at her extraordinary life and her life`s work.


REHEMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  From the start, Toni Morrison was exceptional.  She remembers being the only black child in the first grade and the only one who could read.  She went on to write classics illuminating the black experience, including "Song of Solomon".

TONI MORRISON, AUTHOR:  We not only survived, we produced something so valuable, so irreplaceable, and that`s what`s worth celebrating.

ELLIS:  Born Chloe Wofford in 1931 in Ohio, she studied English at Howard University where she picked up the nickname Toni.  A divorced single mother, she wrote her first novel in 1970 after work when her two sons were in bed.  Eighteen years later, her novel "Beloved" won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie.  The story of a black woman who kills her own child to safe her from slavery.

OPRAH WINFREY, ACTRESS:  Thin love ain`t no love at all.

ELLIS:  Oprah Winfrey whose book club made Morrison a household name today said she was empress supreme among writers.  Long may her words reign.

MORRISON:  It`s not fast.  It`s a meal that you should relish.

ELLIS:  In 1993 she became the first African American awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.  Later honored with the nation`s highest civilian award.

MORRISON:  I could never be happy if I thought there was going to be another void, another huge historical silence about the experience of black people.

ELLIS:  Toni Morrison, a descendant of share croppers who changed the face of American literature. Rehema Ellis, NBC News.


WILLIAMS:  And we`re back with more right after this.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, with all that`s going on, a simple remind that the wider world out there is often a dangerous place, and the presidency, the stewardship of our nation and the responsibility for the safety of all of us travels along with the president.

That was top of mind today when we heard that North Korea has yet again fired off a volley of missiles.  Again to express their displeasure over the upcoming military exercises as between U.S. and South Korea. Those get under way August 11th.  So perhaps we`re going to see more of this kind of thing.

The North has now shown the world its ability to fire these short range missiles in daylight and at night from a number of different locations.  The missiles have climbed to altitudes over 20 miles high.  Some have traveled over 200 miles out into the Sea of Japan.

Speaking of Japan, our allies feel threatened by these launches.  Our president, however, has dismissed these launches.  Additionally, numerous reports have indicated the North Korean Nuclear Program continues on.  But for now, for tonight, the headline from the other side of the world is North Korea has launched missiles for a third time in just over one week.

And that for us is our broadcast on this Tuesday night.  Thank you ever so much for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END