What caused a panic in Times Square. TRANSCRIPT: 8/7/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Michael Crowley, Debra Haaland, Carol Leonnig, Tim O`Brien

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I`m very sorry for what`s been happening and what has happened in El Paso.  I wish we could be meeting you in some other circumstance.  But thank you very much for your guidance this week about El Paso, really appreciate it.

MARTINEZ:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Thank you.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight a White House aide says the President was a rock star during the hospital visits today perhaps forgetting for a moment he was there for the wounded and loved ones of the dead.  The White House puts out a video showing off the President as the President attacks Democrats as the politics around these mass shootings have become even more toxic.

Also tonight, the pressure increases on Congress to do something, the Democrats say they want the Republicans to come to the table.  And the attacks have lit up the campaign trail with Joe Biden out in front today with a full on attack of his own against Donald Trump, all of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 930 of the Trump administration as the President visited two American cities, both trying to recover from gun violence with a combined death toll of 31 souls.  Dayton Ohio, El Paso Texas both hosted the President in both places, people made it clear it was under protest.  While in both places and as he traveled to both cities, the President attacked his enemies, aired his grievances.  In one case went after one of his hosts.

It started in the early morning hours with broad signs aimed at Beto O`Rourke, the radical left Democrat, fake news, failing "New York Times," China, the Federal Reserve.  And he continued then prior to boarding the helicopter and leaving the South Lawn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What do you say to your critics that believe it`s your rhetoric that is emboldening white nationalists and inspiring this anger?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, my critics are political people that are trying to make points in many cases.  They are running for president and they`re very low in the polls.

I am concerned about the rise of any group of hate.  I don`t like it.  Any group of hate, I am -- whether it`s white supremacy, whether it`s any other kind of supremacy, whether it`s antifa, whether it`s any group of hate I am very concerned about it and I`ll do something about it.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you think your rhetoric has any impact?

TRUMP:  No, I don`t think my rhetoric has at all.  I think my rhetoric is a very -- it brings people together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The first stop was Dayton, Ohio and the Miami Valley hospital where the wounded remain.  These pictures were posted to the White House Twitter account, the traveling press core was not allowed to cover the President`s hospital visit.

Tonight, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tells NBC News that decision was to prevent reporters from covering the hospital visit.  It was made out of consideration for patients, their families and the staff.

Afterwards, the mayor of Dayton, Nan Whaley and Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown who both met with the President told reporters what they told Trump about gun legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHERROD BROWN, (D) OHIO:  If the President tells the Congress pass an assault weapon ban, if the President says, pass legislation for universal background checks, the Republican Congress and the Senate will move on it and the House will undoubtedly move on it.  We can do that.

He was comforting and he did the right things --

MAYOR NAN WHALEY, (D) DAYTON, OH:  It was very nice.

BROWN:  -- and Melania did the right things.  People at the hospital were terrific and people showed when the President of the United States came, they showed respect for the office and a number of them said to me they are not great admirers of him privately, but they clearly showed respect for the office.

WHALEY:  I think the victims and first responders were grateful that the President of the United States came to Dayton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Not long after that Senator Brown and Mayor Whaley were attacked by both Trump and a White House aide who were then on board Air Force One on the way to El Paso.  First there was this from White House aide, Dan Scavino, "Very sad to see Ohio Senator Brown and Dayton Mayor Whaley lying and completely mischaracterizing what took place with the President`s visit to Miami Valley hospital today.  They were disgraceful politicians doing nothing but politicizing a mass shooting at every turn they can.  The President was treated like a rock star inside the hospital."

A few minutes later, the President followed with his own, "I saw failed presidential candidate zero percent Sherrod Brown and Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital.  Their news conference after I left El Paso was a fraud.  It bore no resemblance to what took place."

Trump was still at it during a tour of El Paso`s emergency operation center, again going after the Dayton mayor and the Ohio senator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  President Trump, you said today was about healing and unity and you attacked a number of critics, Vice President Biden and Senator Brown and Mayor Whaley as well as various members of the media.  Can you explain --

TRUMP:  Well, they shouldn`t be politicking -- yes, they shouldn`t be politicking today.  I had it with Sherrod Brown, he and the Mayor, Nan Whaley.  They ask to go in, "could we possibly go in and make the tour with you?"  I said "Yes, let`s do it.

I took them in at their request.  We made the tour.  They couldn`t believe it.  She said it to people.  He said it to people.  I get on Air Force One where they do have a lot of televisions.  I turn on the television and there they are saying "Well, I don`t know if it was appropriate for the President" -- you know, et cetera, et cetera, you know, the same old line.  They`re very dishonest people and that`s probably why he got, I think, about zero percent that he failed as a presidential candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And as one -- more than one news outlet pointed out today, all of today was in contrast to the teleprompter version of the President that the nation got to see just this past Monday of this same week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside, so destructive.  And find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Here with our lead off discussion on a Wednesday night, Michael Crowley who remains in El Paso tonight and in Washington Annie Karni.  Both are White House Correspondents for "The New York Times."  Also with us from Washington, Maria Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino.  Good evening and welcome to all of you.

Michael, I`d like to begin with you as you are there and we are not, what`s been the response to the President`s visit that you`ve been able to gather?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Brian, you know, I would say even before the President was here today there was tension here at the site, the memorial site near the Walmart.  I witnessed an argument erupt when a woman showed up in a red Make America Great Again hat and she and some other Trump supporters got into an argument, really nasty argument, with Trump critics here.

It`s actually a peaceful scene now.  There was singing and music in the background behind us.  But I do think there is also a sense here of a certain bewilderment as I think there is in large parts of the country about the way President Trump handled this kind of classic almost ceremonial presidential role of coming to try to heal and comfort and console in theory but in reality lashing out at his critics.

On his way back home he posted several tweets attacking the news media and other Democrats.  It seems that President Trump just can`t stop attacking and can`t let go of his anger even after having promised to try to bring unity and peace and love in the wake of these tragedies.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I`ve covered too many of these and the cities where this mass gun violence takes place are for that moment in time the saddest places on earth.

Annie, you said something to our producers that struck me as so important.  I`m going to quote you, back to you, about the President you said "his lens for understanding what happened is whether people praised him or praised the presidency and we saw that with the readouts from his staff on the ground in realtime as well as his comments."  What do you think set him off specifically today?

ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, first of all, we saw him -- his take away of a good event was that, you know, as he said to the poor (ph) reporters on the trip was that people are very excited to celebrate the presidency in the office of the President.  It is always through looking at how he is received.

It actually reminded me a little bit of when he went to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and he most famously threw toilet -- throw paper towel rolls, but he also gave him self a grade on the administrations response saying, "We got an A-plus."  It was not about consoling or looking at other people, it was how the event reflected on him and that was evident again here today.

In terms of what set him off, I think nothing set him off.  This is where he lives.  And I think that what -- the trip was designed with aides understanding that this is where his head is at and that`s why he was in and out of both cities very quickly.  The events were private.  There was not a lot of opportunities for him to speak but he finds the cracks where he can on Twitter, on the plane rides, quick back and forth with reporters.  It`s impossible to keep him completely under seal, but I think that there was an awareness that if he spoke these tensions and these attacks were what was on his mind and that`s why the trip was high stakes for the White House.

WILLIAMS:  Maria Teresa, it is a weighty charge when a Democratic member of Congress from El Paso says that the President has put a target on the backs of people there.  So the President had a witty charge to fulfill today, in your view did he fulfill his office today?

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Sadly President Trump had failed to unite the country the moment he stepped into the Oval Office.  He has not stopped campaigning.  And he is drastically failed because not only was the moment, Brian, that he landed in El Paso there was one of the most largest ICE raids that we`ve seen in recent history where over 680 people were hauled out of a Mississippi food processing plant.  And he keeps the politics.

We are now seeing images of children with backpacks waving and crying to their parents.  And at the same time the President just can`t get it together.  He cannot put -- bring together a country that is grieving?  The Latino community is grieving.

Brian, this -- what happened in El Paso this past weekend, this is the Latino`s communities 9/11.  This was sadly the moment that the man -- this man can down the escalator.  This was sadly the trepidation that every single Latino feared would happen.  And now as a country we need a President that could help us heal, that we can -- how do we move forward and that was completely absent.

I don`t -- I mean, as Annie said, I don`t think he has that capacity.  It is -- he is not empathetic.  He does not have the ability to actually understand how much fear he is actually bringing upon the American people specifically to the Latino community and other communities of color.

WILLIAMS:  Michael Crowley, there is new reporting tonight thoroughly sourced by "The Washington Post" that says, "NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre spoke with Trump on Tuesday after the President express support for a background check bill and told him it would not be popular among Trump supporters, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal talks.  LaPierre also argued against the bill`s merits, the official said."

Michael, pick your opinion poll, most of them are around 94 percent of popular public support for this and I guess this nicely raises the curtain for the next legislative drama.

CROWLEY:  That`s right, Brian.  It will be interesting to see how the President proceeds.  Remember that after the Parkland shooting, he specifically made reference to the NRA influence suggested that Republican senators were to obeisant to the NRA and that that would have to change and then that rhetoric pretty quickly disappeared and we learned afterwards that the NRA had been in touch with the White House.  So if he changes course as a result, it wouldn`t be the first time he did so after consulting with the NRA.

I want to add one other thing, Brian.  You know, there`s been a lot of focus on the chronology of what happened during the trip.  I thought maybe the most significant thing today was before the President even departed when he was asked about white supremacy in America.  He again seemed to draw equivalence between radicalism on the right and his view on the left.  He actually didn`t really make a strong effort to condemn white supremacy as a serious and growing problem in the country as many current and former law enforcement officials think it is.  He suggested that there is extremism on all sides as he did after Charlottesville.  And, you know, I just thought that that was really striking and shows that on that score the President`s remarks on Monday, I think were more of an aberration than a sign of what he`s really thinking and how he`s going to proceed.

WILLIAMS:  Indeed a drama playing out on the air at Fox News with Tucker Carlson saying the "white supremacy story is mostly a hoax" and Shepard Smith today saying "it`s something that is very real."  The President attacking Shepard Smith today of Fox News on Twitter.

Annie Karni, a dual question for you.  Who in the West Wing believes today`s trip, both stops, were a success?  And why does Scavino`s Twitter account read so much like Trump`s down to the capitalization of a phrase like rock star?

KARNI:  Well, two reasons.  One is that Scavino manages the social media for the White House.  So a lot of the tweets we see from Trump`s Twitter feed are written by Scavino.  So sometimes what we see as a Trump feed is actually Dan Scavino.  And he knows the voice of the President and he echoes it on his own.  I think a lot of the aids -- Dan Scavino, he was a former golf caddy at Trump organization who has been with the President forever.

I think people who have been in his orbit for a long time have become part of this cult mentality as I`ve heard it put by others who want -- reflect to the President how he wants to be seen.  And I think that Dan Scavino`s tweets are again the trite phrase now of audience of one.  He -- Mr. Trump wanted to be seen as a rock star and Dan Scavino echoed that to the world.

WILLIAMS:  Wow.  Maria Teresa, the role falls to you to be the political sage and sum up where we are.  People are always wondering if we have arrived at a turning point.  Is this in your view a moment?

KUMAR:  I think it is a moment -- it`s a watershed moment for all Americans.  When we started warning that Trump was -- that he was racist, that he was a danger to the country.  I think people didn`t really take it so seriously.  But now we have a litany, not just with El Paso, we have a litany of individuals that have been inspired by this President to actually cause harm whether we`re talking about individuals that decided they wanted to go and shoot in a synagogue, shoot up people in a synagogue innocently or whether it was an individual that decided that it was a great idea to send our leaders and our folks in our media pipe bombs because they were inspired by this President.  But then they inspired this individual, the President inspired someone to jump in their car in Dallas and drive 10 hours to one of the safest cities in our country to shoot up a city that is 85 percent Latino blaming them for an invasion infestation, quoting the President in their manifesto.  They are not kidding around.

The dark web is not kidding around and they are getting specifically inspired by this President because he`s not denouncing the hatred that is being spewed against the community.  And I believe, deeply believe that the American people not only are afraid but they also don`t want to live under this idea that we are constantly under siege.  And my hope is that we come together as a country and recognize our strength.

Biden today the way he addressed the country is right on.  We are stronger when we`re together.  We have a brighter future.  And this President, the reason he cannot meet the moment as a man is because he created this moment where we are today.

WILLIAMS:  Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you for rising to that challenge.  Our thanks as well to two of the best of "The New York Times," Michael Crowley and Annie Karni, thank you-all for taking part tonight.

And coming up for us with people begging lawmakers to do something, Democrats focus on the one Republican leader they say is in their way.

And later, the issues of domestic terrorism, gun control have become dominating topics out on the 2020 campaign trail.  Today some candidates were intensifying their attacks against the incumbent as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Sherrod Brown of Ohio with the President earlier today.  Democrats trying to ramp up pressure on the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to vote on background check bills passed by the House already earlier this year.  Earlier today, 213 House Democrats sent McConnell a letter urging him to call the Senate back into session, cut the summer recess short, vote on the background check legislation.  Letter reads in part, "In February, the new Democratic House Majority took swift action to pass these bipartisan bills which not only save lives, but also has the support of more than 90 percent of the American people.  Since that time you have allowed more than 150 days to pass and countless lives have been lost including those most recently lost in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois and the many others who will never make the headlines."

Back with us on the broadcast again tonight is Congresswoman Deb Haaland Democrat of the State of New Mexico who signed that letter to Senator McConnell with her brother and sister Democrat.  She`s in El Paso tonight.

And Congresswoman, I have to ask you because it`s a neighboring state to you, how does that city feel tonight post Donald Trump`s visit?

REP. DEBRA HAALAND, (D) NEW MEXICO:  So, the city remains -- they are so vibrant.  Everybody is showing love to one another, supporting one another.  I don`t think Donald Trump could dampen the mood of the citizens of El Paso just supporting one another and knowing how much it means to be a community and be together tonight.

WILLIAMS:  Do you think there is a real chance that you as a House Democrat will be called back to Washington early for anything related to this?  Do you think there is a real chance the Senate gets called back early?

HAALAND:  You know, I feel like we have to try everything, Brian.  It`s our responsibility to legislate.  If you notice the House Democrats as soon as we got sworn in we started working on the bills because we know how important they are to the future of our country and to our country or the president of our country.  And it seems like Senator McConnell is not putting the American people first, he`s putting his own campaign first, the NRA first.  I hope that he convenes the Senate again.

It`s so important we get the bills passed.  And I think we should keep putting pressure on him.  People`s lives are at stake.  We need to do something about these tragedies in our country.  They will not let up.  And he needs do something about it.  And he can do something about it, he`s choosing not to.

WILLIAMS:  Your Democratic colleague, a House member who represents El Paso said this week that the President has placed a target on the backs of actual Americans.  Do you concur with that notion?

HAALAND:  I do, I do.  And if you, you know, it`s all there on tape.  You can rewind comment after comment after comment that the President has made disparaging people of color, you know, calling the poor immigrants, the moms and children coming across the border as, you know, they are infesting our country.  He has used so many horrible terms to describe people who are only coming here because they have no alternative.

It`s terrible that he disparages people who don`t apparently look like him.  It`s happened time and time again.  He can`t deny it.  And I do agree with my colleague Congresswoman Escobar and she seen it, the proof is right here for the shootings that happened this past weekend right here in El Paso.  He is influencing people, this domestic terrorism that has fueled so many people to grab guns and shoot them on innocent people.  It`s terrible.  It`s heart wrenching.  And I hope the President looks in the mirror to see that he needs to be a president for a change.

WILLIAMS:  Knowing that your work there in your neighboring state involves walking around, talking to people and comforting people, we wish you luck in that.  Congressman Deb Haaland of New Mexico, thank you so much for joining us from Texas tonight.

HAALAND:  Thank you.  Thank you, Brian.  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, calls for gun reform intensify as we mention, so does the push back from the NRA.  But the gun advocacy group is currently dealing with its own set of problems.  A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter covering the internal troubles of the NRA is with us to talk about it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  According to a new report from "The Washington Post," the CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, wanted the gun lobby to buy him a $6 million house in Texas in part over fears for safety after the Parkland school shooting last year.

Carol Leonnig and Beth Reinhard report LaPierre told associates he was worried about being targeted after the Parkland shooting.  They report, "LaPierre and his wife, Susan, were intensely involved in the selection of the property, rejecting an upscale high rise in Dallas with security features in favor of a 10,000 square foot estate with lake and golf course views in Westlake, Texas on the market for about 6 million according to emails and text messages described to the Washington Post.

The couple wanted to secure a social membership at exclusive golf club in the gated community the messages show.  They sought the purchase of two vehicles and to keep the current owners` golf cart if possible according to one email.

One aspect of the property that concerns Susan LaPierre was the lack of closet space and the men`s closet of the master bedroom the emails show.  The discussions about the estate which was not ultimately purchased are now under scrutiny by New York investigators.

Some members of the NRA`s board have defended LaPierre and pushed back on this report one said quote, they were just trying to find a safe house to put him in.  All of this comes after another report from "The Washington Post" that says all together, the NRA it`s affiliated charities as political committee finished 2018 $10.8 million in the red an unusual position for them.  Back with us tonight, the aforementioned Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize Winning Investigative Reporter for the Washington Post.

And Carol to with, if you could separate yourself from your work, what is contained in your work that I understand threatens their non-profit status?

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER:  It`s pretty serious, Brian, because if some of the things that we`re seeing we know the attempt to purchase this property is real.  We know about designer suits and $500,000 in private jet trips to the Bahamas and Italy, but if these things are being done that do not have a business purpose, the NRA`s non- profit status, which is critical to its continuation is in serious jeopardy.

And what`s worse is if Wayne LaPierre was trying to conceal this from the board, the Committee that has a fiduciary duty to review what he is doing, if this was concealed in someway, you could make the argument that it was a conspiracy to use the funds in this way and keep those that are responsible for reviewing him from doing so.

This is a really big problem for Wayne LaPierre and we will see in coming days what investigator find next, but the pattern is worrisome because of the way the expenses were made using a third party vendor this Ackerman McQueen ad firm as they try to do with this house.

WILLIAMS:  Given your depths inside this story, is this just a case of peculiar timing where we have trouble at the nation`s leading gun lobby at a time when public attitudes toward gun control are changing and perhaps rising.

LEONNIG:  I don`t know that the current situation.  The blood feud inside the NRA really relates to the changing nature of the body politic, people are getting fed up as your rightly mention with the mass shootings, the kids dead, high schools, elementary schools, Walmarts, people are starting to get weary.  We`ve always wondered in our newsroom what exactly is going to be the moment when people throw up their hands and say this is enough?  But the weariness of it is growing.

However, I don`t think that is related to what`s going on, Brian, at the NRA.  I think what`s going on there is some people got fed up with the way the spending decisions were being made and said no more.  Chief among them actually was Oliver North who this spring as president of the NRA tried to get the board to look into this and was essentially beheaded politically by Wayne LaPierre and escorted out the door.

WILLIAMS:  These kinds of problems especially to non-profits often anger the folks who have to scrape to send in a check for $20 as their contribution, but someone at the NRA thought it important enough to leak the fact that Wayne LaPierre was on the phone with the president and traditionally their strength has been the get out the vote of like-minded follow effort.  So I imagine in their power perhaps they have been undiminished or near undiminished.

LEONNIG:  You know, we`ve been covering the NRA at the Washington Post for decades and I can`t claim to be in the group but I`ve been covering for a good long while.  I`ve never seen anything like this, the fishers in the group.  There had always been a very solid lock step defiance among members of the NRA that the people questioning any access to assault weapons or bump stocks or private unregistered gun sales were unfairly trying to infringe on that constitutional right.

I hear so much now in recent days members of this organization saying, you know, we`d be open to compromise.  Whether or not that plays to help the president or not and his reelection is to me a very big open question.  Whether or not the group gathers as a defiant lock step collective for him is an open question to me now.

WILLIAMS:  The latest reporting from Carol Leonnig in the Washington Post barely 24 hours old.  One of the bylines we urge our viewers always to look for.  Carol, thank you as always for coming on.

LEONNIG:  Of course, glad to be here, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us this evening, Democrats call out the president directly and he returns it during his visits to the city suffering in the wake of gun violence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have a president with toxic tongue publically and unapologetically embraced the political strategy of hate, racism and division.

Our president has more in common with George Wallace than he does with George Washington.  Both clear language and in code.  This president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation.  His incompetence.  His immorality, his carnage stops with us right here, right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So there was that today 2020 Democratic candidates using stark language as you just heard to describe the president`s racist rhetoric that sentiment there echoed today by El Paso native Beto O`Rourke.  He`s running for president, also happened to be the target of a Donald Trump tweet mocking his name and telling him to be quiet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You`ve been very clear that you believe the president is racist.  Is the president a white supremacist?

BETO O`ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He is. He`s also made that very clear.  He dehumanized or sought to dehumanize those who do not look like or pray like the majority here in this country.  He said I wish we had more immigrants from Nordic countries because those from Haiti bring AIDS, those from Africa come from shit-hole nations.  He`s been very clear about who he prefers to be in this country and who he literally wants to keep out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Couple side bars there, I guess we`re saying that now and secondly a whole lot of Democrats want Mr. O`Rourke to stay where he is and run for Senate in Texas instead.  Back to the president, he had this response today before leaving the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  So my critics are political people that are trying to make points in many cases they are running for president and they are very low in the polls.  Couple of them in particular, very low in the polls.  If you look at Dayton, that was a person that supported I guess you would say Bernie Sanders I understood, Antifa I understood, Elizabeth Warren, I understand.  Had nothing to do with President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Back with us again tonight, Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter and Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor over at Bloomberg Opinion, also happens to be the author of "Trump Nation, The Art of Being the Donald".

Gentleman, welcome to you both.  Tim, as Trump whisperer, I have a tweet to read you.  There is always a tweet.  This is about racism just tonight.  The Democrats new weapon is their old weapon, one which they never seize to use when they are down or run out of facts, racism, they are truly disgusting.  They even used it on Nancy Pelosi.  I will be putting out a list of people who have been so ridiculously accused.  What is that?

TIM O`BRIEN, BLOOMBERG OPINION EXECUTIVE EDITOR:  This is also the man who two days ago was saying it was time for unity and for bipartisan unity (ph) addressing all the problems facing the country.  This is Donald Trump reverting to form.  I think this is Donald Trump gaslighting.  It`s classic.

WILLIAMS:  Define what that term means.

O`BRIEN:  I think is when you accuse someone of something you`ve been doing yourself in ordinary to manipulate them or put them back on their heels.  And Trump -- he`s not an expert at many things but he`s an expert at trying to make people spin in the wind.  It also -- you need no demonstration in this, that he`s feeling this criticism of being called a racist.  Some people would say, well, it might have been bouncing off of him.  But the fact is in numerous occasions last month, he`s, you know, I don`t have racist bone in body.  I`m the least racist person in the world.  He`s now saying no Democrats, you are racist.  I`m not a racist.  All of this started to reside with him and I think that tweet is evidence of that.

WILLIAMS:  Jon Allen, to quote you back to you, the president had one job today.  What was it?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  The president`s job today was very simple.  Go today Dayton, Ohio, go to El Paso, Texas, meet with victims of the horrific shootings, meet with law enforcement, meet with the people who treated the victims and console the nation, and he did a little bit of that and then he spent the rest of the day insulting other people on Twitter, insulting other people in comments to reporters.

He had that one job and it was the one thing he could do to end the day with what surely the White House wanted when it had photo ops in Dayton, photo ops in El Paso to be called presidential.  This is day 930 I believe you said at the top of the Trump administration and it is just like every other day of the Trump administration where he had an opportunity to end the day being seen as presidential and did not end the day having done that job.

WILLIAMS:  Tim, Joe Biden was strong today. Corey Booker was strong today.  As someone with better than working knowledge how Donald Trump works, how - - and you`re not advising the Democrats but how would you advice candidates to come at them, to handle things being called racist by Donald Trump?

O`BRIEN:  Well, this is a warmup to what they`re going to experience now up until next November.  A year from this November.  I think what they need to do is stand strong and come back at Trump as much as he`s coming at them.

I mean the advantage the Democrats around this issue is this is a good one for Democrats.  They`re speaking, you know, to the people that care about them.  They`re speaking about the issues they care about.  Most of the stuff is not in the president`s wheelhouse.  He`s not authentically empathetic.  He doesn`t really care about race relations and I think he`s a profound racist.

And so he can`t really escape himself in these situations.  He`s not someone who`s going to heal the nation in a moment like this, and I think that`s why you see the Democrats sort of surging in this moment but these moments can pass quickly, too.

WILLIAMS:  Jon, think about the kind of wave wash of all of this.  Tonight, Equinox and SoulCycle are getting membership cancellations because the head of their parent company is having a fundraiser for Donald Trump in the Hampton Friday night.  Tonight Fox News is having a little bit of tamolt after Tucker Carlson denies white supremacy.  Shepard Smith confirms and denounces white supremacy.  All of this in the orbit of this president.

ALLEN:  I mean, I think we`re going through and I think Eddie Glaude talked about this recently on this network.

WILLIAMS:  And dramatic.

ALLEN:  Very dramatically and very profoundly about how we go through this generationally and there is this continuing fight that goes on and we keep seeing it again and again and again.  And we`re seeing it again and Donald Trump has brought it to the floor and we are confronting this deep division over race once again.

And what I think is -- what I think is so difficult about this is this president is something we have not seen in certainly in generations, which is a president of the United States who has seen racial division in this country and decided not to paper it over, not to try to heal it, but try to exploit it for his own political gain, for his own personal gain and at the risk of violence in the country.

And that is something that is so different than what we have seen not only in my lifetime but before that we heard Joe Biden before talk about President Trump being closer to George Wallace than to George Washington and I think for a lot of Americans, I mean I`m 43.  I was born in 1975.  I know who George Wallace is but I didn`t watch him in action.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

ALLEN:  So even that`s an old reference.  But, George Wallace was never president of the United States.  He didn`t get close to the presidency --

O`BRIEN:  He didn`t command national state.

ALLEN:  Didn`t get anywhere close to it.  The person who was president in the George Wallace era was Lyndon Johnson who was signing civil rights laws.  Even before Lyndon Johnson, you had John F. Kennedy who was working on a civil rights platform.  You had Dwight Eisenhower who sent federal troops to Little Rock to integrate Little Rock Central High School.

I mean, so we have had generations of the president acting in a way to try to heal racial division certainly from the presidency even if the campaigns weren`t always like that and now you have a president that is seeking to exploit it for political gain to exploit racial tension to speak in racist terms and that is so, so different.

WILLIAMS:  Two journalists staying with us over the break.  Our conversation continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. COREY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We are not called to tolerate each other, we are called to love one another.  So we must acknowledge as a country that as much as white supremacy manifests itself in dangerous and deadly acts of terror, it is perpetrated by what is too often a willful ignorance or dangerous tolerance of its presence in our society.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The last time most of us saw a speech from that AME church was Barack Obama singing "Amazing Grace" on an emotional day.  Jonathan Allen, Tim O`Brien remain with us.

Gentleman, the lightning round.  Here our closing seconds with you both starting with you, Tim.  Is this the next natural step for the Democratic campaign?  We got, what, 24 people looking for that nomination.

O`BRIEN:  I think it`s a good issue for the Democrats.  I don`t know how long this will stay an issue.  There is a long campaign ahead of them but I don`t think that Donald Trump ever thought when he endeavored to make race this torch that he was putting in front of the American public that it would, one, possibly unwind his own campaign and limit his appeal to swing voters.  But he`s also finally put an issue in front of Democrats that has them all speaking with one voice, which they hadn`t been as recently as a week ago.  So I do think this has become glue for the Democrats.  I don`t know how long it`s going to stay that way though.

WILLIAMS:  And Jon, let`s be honest, again, I`m taking your time and don`t mean to.  But a lot of Democrats want half of this field go home and run for Senate.  You`re not going to be president.

ALLEN:  Yes.  The Democrats want to win the Senate and they feel like they have a much better opportunity of some of these guys going to their states.  And even if they don`t win those states, pin the Republicans down and making spent some money.  John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Beto O`Rourke in Texas, the Democratic Party would love to see those guys running for Senate at the same time.  They`re not ready to give up the ghost.

WILLIAMS:  And 15 more seconds, you concur on Tim`s view of this issue going forward.

ALLEN:  I`m not sure that I entirely know how it`s going to play out.  I do know that the Democrats had a lot of trouble activating Hispanic voters and people who aren`t registered who are Hispanic and I think that that`s not going to be as much of a problem for them in this next election and that could be really a wakening giant for the Democratic Party for a long time to come.

WILLIAMS:  Well put.  It`s always a pleasure having you gentlemen --

O`BRIEN:  Thanks Brian.

WILLIAMS:  -- on together or separately.

ALLEN:  Thanks Brian.

WILLIAMS:  We appreciate you appearing together tonight.

Coming up for us, in a country on edge with people already a bit uneasy at some public gathering, what happened last night and what may have caused it in the first place.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, something that happened just a few blocks from our studios here in New York before we went on the air last night.  It happened suddenly in the middle of a hot summer night in Times Square, here is how social media recorded it.

It was a full on stampede there for a moment.  Very scary stuff and lots of calls to 911 and report in social media.  It was by their reckoning merely a motorcycle backfiring, a sound that mimicked gunfire but a lot of folks also suspected it might have been something else, not a backfire per se but instead there was speculation that it might have been this.

That`s intentional.  It`s a high performance exhaust add on that mimics gunfire.  That`s what it`s designed to do.  Sometimes it`s generic recalled straight pipe exhaust.  Sometimes it also ejects unignited fuel that ends up burning off at the tail pipe or so the owners hope.  No matter where you live but especially if you live in urban areas, just be aware of these.

Our NBC station here in New York WNBC has been trying to bring them to the public`s attention through their investigative unit.  These are supposed to be illegal.  Installers claim they are for track use and not street use, problem is they`re on the streets and with nerves on edge after mass shootings by semiautomatic gunfire, they can cause panic, they can trigger the gunshot detection devices that a lot of big city police departments have now installed in high crime areas that listen for that sound.  These exhaust systems can trigger a police response say nothing of what can happen if you`re caught using them on the road.

On that note, that is our broadcast on a Wednesday night.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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