Trump announces new acting spy chief. TRANSCRIPT: 8/8/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Anita Kumar

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight with domestic terrorism top of mind as the nation mourns 31 dead, a further shake up at the top of our National Intelligence structure, the number two official is out, a new acting head has been named.  We`ll talk to a former director of the CIA.

Plus, Mitch McConnell says some gun control measures will be front and center after the summer break.  He says anything else would be premature.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are moving ahead with what they call formal impeachment proceedings.  And while in slow motion, it appears to be what`s happening in plain sight, just like the Iowa state fair, this weekend`s temporary headquarters of so many of the Democratic the presidential campaigns as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening, once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 931 now of the Trump administration.  It brings a new development tonight in the President`s attempts to overhaul the leadership of the nations 17 intelligence agencies.  It goes without saying this comes at a critical time this week when domestic terrorism is top of mind.  Tonight, Trump confirmed that Sue Gordon, the career professional deputy to the outgoing DNI, Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats is stepping down.  She was next in line to replace Coats.

Tonight and somewhat tellingly, she released a handwritten later on top of her official letter of resignation.  It was a letter to the President and it reads, "Mr. President, I offer this letter as an act of respect and patriotism, not preference.  You should have your team, God speed.  Sue."

Now, both Gordon and her boss are leaving August 15th, a week from today, and they take their institutional history with them, of course.  Trump also used social media tonight to announce that the new Acting DNI will be Admiral Joseph Maguire, he`s the current director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Outgoing DNI Dan Coats often clashed with Trump over Intelligence assessments.  His announced resignation came late last month.  And there had been reports that Trump wanted to block Gordon from taking over as acting director once Coats left.

Tonight, the chairman of the Senate Intel Committee, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr issued a statement calling Sue Gordon`s departure, "a significant loss from the Intelligence Community."

The statement from Burr`s vice chairman, a Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia was more pointed, "President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he is seemingly incapable of hearing facts that contradict his own views.  The mission of the Intelligence Community is to speak truth to power, yet in pushing out two dedicated public servants in as many weeks, once again, the President has shown that he has no problem prioritizing his political ego even if it comes at the expense of our national security."

Warner`s words speak to concern among some of his colleagues in Congress from both parties.  Two new lawsuits from former members of the Intelligence Community also echo those fears.  Ousted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was the one who authorized an investigation into the President over ties to Russia today revealed he is suing the Department of Justice.  The language suggests he was fired, "for his refusal to pledge partisan allegiance to Trump."  And Peter Strzok, the FBI senior Counterintelligence agent in the Hillary Clinton e-mail matter and the Russia investigations is also suing DOJ and the FBI for good measure.  He is citing political pressure from Trump and his allies in Congress and the media.

And there is this from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York.  He said tonight in more than one television appearance in so many words, this is happening.  His committee is already conducting formal impeachment proceedings.

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REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, JUDICIARY CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  This is probably one of the worst crises we faced in constitutional law since after the civil war, in terms of indictments (ph) of power to the executive, in terms of denial of congressional power, the separation of powers in terms of the President asserting powers that he doesn`t have and using them.  We have to have limited government.  We have to have constitutional government.  And only Congress can do this.

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WILLIAMS:  Nadler says the decision will be made by the end of the year whether actual articles of impeachment should be referred to the full House of Representatives.

So a lot to get through.  We initially want to start here with a telephone call with the former CIA Director, John Brennan, who happens to be our Senior National Security and Intelligence Analyst.

Director Brennan, I wanted to get your initial reaction, the departure of Sue Gordon, what is lost in this especially as it is paired with the departure of DNI Coats.

JOHN BRENNAN, MSNBC SR. NATL. SECURITY AND INTEL ANALYST (via telephone):  Well, good evening, Brian.  And as you mentioned Sue Gordon is exceptionally experienced intelligence professional over 30 years experience working at the CIA and Dan -- as Dan Coats Principle Deputy.  I was disappointed to hear that Sue would be leaving on the same day as dan coats.

When you lose the DNI and the Principal Deputy DNI at the same time, you`re basically decapitating the Intelligence Community.  And that DNI role is important given the size of the Intelligence Community, and a need for this orchestration to take place in an effective as well as a professional manner.  And the named Acting Director, Joe Maguire, I know him, I respect him.  He was the head of -- he is the head right now of the National Counterterrorism Center, but he certainly does not have the breadth of experience and the depth of experience that Sue Gordon has.  So I think it is very discouraging to a lot of individuals right now.  They told Intelligence Community that Sue Gordon will not be serving in the acting capacity at a very challenging time over national security.

WILLIAMS:  Speaking of the times we`re living in, I guess you have to live with the notion that a lot of people will always believe that it was a tweet from Don Trump, Jr., that alleged you were best friends with Sue Gordon that some will always believe was a major force in disqualifying her in the President`s eyes to take the top job.

BRENNAN:  Well, I don`t take anything that Don Jr. says seriously.  I knew Sue Gordon worked very closely with her.  He worked with thousands of intelligence professionals throughout the course of her career.  She has the utmost respect and admiration of those individuals that she worked for.

And if her time working with me at the CIA was disqualifying for this position, well, that`s probably disqualifying a thousands of dedicated women and men at the CIA and trap the Intelligence Community that I worked with over the years.  And so I think this just reflects an interest in the part of the Trump administration to have an individual that`s going to show personal loyalty to Donald Trump, as opposed to dedication to the mission, loyalty to the constitution and the country, and Sue Gordon was that type of person who speaks the proverbial truth to power.  And I am sad to see her go but I do believe that the women and men of the Intelligence Community will continue to do their level of best irrespective of the lack of attention that Donald Trump is giving to their work.  They know that what they do every day around the globe is critically important to their fellow citizens.  And I have every confidence that they will continue along those lines.

WILLIAMS:  Former CIA Director John Brennan thanks for being available to us by telephone tonight.  We appreciate it.

And with us to start off our discussion on a Thursday evening, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," Moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor for Politico, and Jeremy Bash is able to join us tonight, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon.

And Jeremy, I want to begin with you.  By dent of your knowledge of Sue Gordon, her work, and knowing her over so many years.

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Everybody in the Intelligence Community respects Sue, and they wanted her to lead the community.  She not only was a career CIA officer, she also was deputy director of one of the premier intelligence agencies, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and she is most recently been serving as the number two leader of all 17 Intelligence components.  She has energy, she has wisdom, she has judgment.

And I think fundamentally, Brian, to understand what happened to Sue is to understand what Donald Trump has done to the Intelligence Community writ large.  He started his presidency by standing in front of the CIA officer`s memorial wall and talking about how many times he had been on the cover of "Time" magazine.  He didn`t compare the Intelligence Community professionals to Nazis.  He then took the word of Vladimir Putin over the CIA in his assessment of what happened in 2016.  And so this was just the latest insult, the latest effort to undermine, the latest effort to ignore the judgment of Intelligence professionals.

WILLIAMS:  What is your knowledge of the new acting guy, the Admiral Maguire?

BASH:  He`s solid.  He had stellar career in the Navy, he commanded and then he levels.  I think John Brennan`s assessment is right, though.  I think what`s happened is that the President wants someone who is a care taker until he can nominate his own political ally as DNI.  Sue Gordon was not going to be anybody`s political ally.  And that`s fundamentally why she was asked to leave.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, what light can you shed on this decision process, how this went down.

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Inside the White House the President was looking for an ally weeks ago, that`s why he nominated John Ratcliffe the congressman to be his nominee for DNI, but after those resume problems, pulled the nomination.  And so you now have a President searching around but reluctant to engage with the Intelligence Community.  He`s being told by many of allies daily that he was burned in their eyes by the Mueller report and by the Intel Community.

You saw the President`s own son, Donald Trump Jr. tweet about Ms. Gordon and her association professionally with Mr. Brennan.  And so you have a group of people inside and outside this White House who were saying to the President "push for somebody on your side."  People close to the President tonight are saying maybe Pete Hoekstra, the former Intelligence Committee chairman, a Republican for Michigan, now an ambassador in the Trump administration could be the nominee.  Someone like what the President sought in John Ratcliffe.

WILLIAMS:  Well that`s an interesting name in the hopper.  And Anita this gets us to your beat at the White House.  This is yet another acting position for this administration.

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Right.  It definitely is.  The President, as you know, there has been so many acting, there are currently so many acting.  And as we enter sort of this second part of his term, he is looking to keep a lot of these actings there.  One of the reasons is because he likes that he-- that these people are temporary.  He feels that he has more control over them.  They, you know, don`t know whether they`re going to be around long or not.

And so, he can kind of have more control over the agencies and the departments.  And so we`ve seen that over and over.  And it, you know, sometimes he quickly announces someone, and sometimes he doesn`t.

WILLIAMS:  And Robert Costa, back to the Republicans, will there be protests that they are losing again, the institutional memory of a multi decade career professional in Sue Gordon.  That`s regardless of how much support she could have had within the organization writ large to be the next DNI.

COSTA:  All eyes tonight on Chairman Burr and the Senate Intelligence Committee.  He and Chairman Schiff and the House Democrat were encouraging the White House to stick with Ms. Gordon.  She was a reliable set of hands to help guide this administration and this President.  Chairman Burr issued a statement tonight saying he`s supportive of Admiral Maguire, but he is keeping watch.

Will this be politicized, will Admiral Maguire or whomever the President chooses to be his nominee for DNI, will it be someone who is perceive as a political pick.  And at this charged moment, Senate Republicans including Mr. Burr, I`m told by people close to him, are very uneasy about these dynamics.  They think the President could move in a more political direction and put the entire Intelligence Community really isolate in an isolated position away from the executive.

WILLIAMS:  And Anita back to you for a second, do you think it`s fair to say that this has been a historically tough week for this White House?  And I include in that the fact that inside reports started coming out this morning that there was indeed dissatisfaction inside the West Wing with how bad yesterday looked, how badly it came off.

KUMAR:  Well, this would be a tough week no matter who`s president, right?

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

KUMAR:  There were two mass shootings over the weekend.  That`s tough for a White House.  It`s tough for the nation.  It scrambled the President`s schedule.  So he changed what he was doing this week.

He was supposed to take a trip that was canceled to Florida.  And like most presidents in the past, he quickly got on a plane and went to both of these communities, to both of these states.  That in itself is tough.  It`s tough to face the victims and their families, and to go into those communities.

You`re right, though, when he came back or even while he was flying on Air Force One, we saw that he was clearly-- the President was irritated by some of the coverage he was getting by some of the people he had visited with, Democratic lawmakers there, including Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio.  He criticized them while he was traveling.  So he clearly did not like what they were saying.  We had heard that when he got home he did not like that there was not a lot of publicity of the-- of pieces of that trip.

So, when he was visiting at hospital, when he was visiting family members, and that`s actually because the White House did not have the pool, the reporters that were traveling with him were not granted much access at all, which was surprising.  We didn`t realize that was going to happen before.  And so, it`s hard to get upset that you don`t have a lot of publicity when they weren`t allowed in.

So, it was a tough week.  The President, you know, is getting ready to leave on an extended vacation tomorrow to his resort in New Jersey.  And a lot of people are saying sort of why did this happen now, and it`s because next week is the date as you mentioned that Dan Coats is leaving and Sue Gordon chose to leave on that day, knowing she was not going to get the top job or not even get the acting top job.

WILLIAMS:  And Jeremy, given your experience at the CIA, at the Pentagon, talk for a moment about this phrase, I keep using institutional memory.  It`s true in government, it`s true in -- at television networks and private companies to quote the commercial.  It`s people who know a thing or two because they have seen a thing or two.  And in the Intel business, it seems to me that would be pretty important.

BASH:  Yes, the cone of the realm in the Intelligence Community is expertise, people who understand the target, people who understand our adversaries, people who can speak their language, understand their culture ultimately penetrate the plots of people who would do us harm and understand opportunities for the country to work with allies.  You can`t figure that out on the job.  There is no on-the-job training in these jobs, and you can`t actually wing it.  You need people who are experts, who are professionals and who are dedicated to this, and who are patriots.

And again, I think the President is viewing the Intelligence Community through the wrong prism.  He`s thinking about whether it hurts or helps some politically.  He should be thinking about how it hurts or helps America protect against North Korea, against the rise of China, against Russian interference, against Isis and against Iran.  That`s the wrong approach that the President has brought to this particular job and the entire community.

WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to again, former CIA Director John Brennan for joining us tonight and to our big three, to Robert Costa, Anita Kumar, Jeremy Bash for starting off our discussion.

And coming up for us after the past few difficult days for this country, there may be more of an appetite among Republicans for some form of gun reform.  But this moment is tempered by the fact that the NRA is also speaking up.

And later, it may have been the biggest one-day immigration crack down ever, sweeping up Mississippi parents on the first day of school for their children as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on this Thursday night.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I`m looking to do background checks.  I think background checks are important.  I don`t want to put guns into the hands of mentally, unstable people or people with rage or hate, sick people.  I don`t want to -- I`m well in favor of it.

There`s a great appetite and I mean a very strong appetite for background checks, and I think we can bring up background checks like we`ve never had before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Background checks, by the way, poll at around 94 percent approval.  Outrage over the weekend`s mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso is indeed putting new pressure on Congress to cut short its recess and pass some sort of gun legislation.

Today during a radio interview in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said he`s not planning to call lawmakers back but he said failure to pass anything will not be acceptable.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You`re not calling people back in early for -- to address this gun legislation?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  Well, if we did that, we`d just have people scoring points and nothing would happen.  There has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on.  Background checks and red flags would probably lead the discussion, but a lot of other things will come up as well.  But what we can`t do is fail to pass something, you know?  By just looking up, and failing to pass, that`s unacceptable.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Then we got this from the NRA today after they reportedly told Trump earlier this week that expanding background checks would not be popular with the President`s base, "The NRA opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.  The inconvenient truth is this, the proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton.  The NRA will work in good faith to pursue real solutions to the epidemic of violence in America."

And for good measure, McConnell had a message for the protesters this week, some of whom showed up at his house yesterday in Kentucky, "Not a single thing you do is going to alter how I operate on behalf of my constituents and the country."

We have asked our friend Robert Costa to stick around for this part of our conversation.  And Bob, we`ll try not to keep you too long, but we`ve heard people say tipping point to use the famous Malcolm Gladwell phrase, we`ve heard people say we`re living in a moment, this could be it.  Several major national magazines have some form of the word enough on their covers.  Do you think this really will result in anything substantial?

COSTA:  Here`s the legislative reality here in Washington on Capitol Hill.  House Democrats want the Congress to come back this summer.  That`s unlikely to happen as Leader McConnell said.

The question is, if the House passes its background check bill, again, whether this summer or sometime early this fall and it goes to the Senate and fails, as expected, the House Democrat version of a background check bill.  Could you then see a reemergence of what`s called Toomey Manchin, the bipartisan background check bill that failed a few years ago?

Talking to people close to Senator Manchin and Senator Toomey tonight, they think that ends up as the legislation, if any, on background checks.  And the other piece that could be coupled with it is this red flag law which essentially gives federal authorities, local authorities` protective measures to seize guns if someone steamed to threat.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s talk about Mitch McConnell, he is home nursing a recently broken shoulder.  He`s home nursing what appear to be actual wound from Joe Scarborough`s birth of the phrase, "Moscow Mitch" about Russia, something that was a new feeling for the Senate Majority Leader.  Could it be that this man who also must get reelected in Kentucky to continue to be Majority Leader feels pressure?

COSTA:  He doesn`t feel pressure from his reelection campaign.  He feels he`s well positioned in a state President Trump handily won.  At the same time, when you interpret his language and his position right now, you see a Majority Leader who knows so many of his law makers in the Republican conference, like Cory Gardner in Colorado and Susan Collins in Maine, up in 2020, face tough reelection fights and they can`t go back in the summer recess and talk about inaction.  So he`s been open in his public words to some kind of legislation if there is bipartisan support.  But actions speak in Washington.  And remember, as he said, he`s not bringing the Senate back to a session, and until he leans in and gives some of his political capital.  Until some of -- the President gives his own political capital to any kind of effort whether it`s red flags or background checks.  You`re going -- it`s going to be difficult as a reporter to see much happen.

WILLIAMS:  Not at all disagreeing with your answer, but can you see how people, constituents, actual Americans are cynical about Washington when they hear that part of the motivation of the Majority Leader is to give air cover to someone like Susan Collins up in Maine who`s facing a tough fight.

COSTA:  When you look at a Kentucky Republican like Mitch McConnell in lock step with the NRA throughout much of his career, so are many Republicans from conservative states.  They don`t want to necessarily move on background check bills.  So the McConnell world, his willingness to even talk about this is seen as a step forward.  But for many American frustrated, especially those suburban voters who were crucial for the Democrats in 2018 will be crucial again for both parties in 2020, that kind of openness to discussion is not enough.  And that`s why we have elections.  Voters can decide if their lawmakers are doing enough.

WILLIAMS:  Quick final question, tough times at the NRA entered in a scene warfare, a new kind of weakness for them, though have you seen any indication that their influence, their ability to get the President of the United States on the phone and turn out the vote and the pressure is at all diminished?

COSTA:  Talking to top Republicans and Democrats, they do see a little bit of change here because you have an NRA in tumult with Wayne LaPierre`s spending, that whole -- you can go find the reporting online.  But in brief, they believe the mere discussion of background checks here and not having Republicans focused only on red flags shows the NRA is not controlling the debate, and they see that as a bit of a gap, not a huge gap but some gap for major legislation to move forward in the coming weeks.  Of course they`re dim about that possibility but hopeful.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, our thanks for sticking around for some further questions on this topic.  We appreciate it as always.

Coming up for us, if it`s possible to stay too long at the fair, some Democrats may test those limits over the next few days at Iowa, we will go live to the state fair where there happens to be news tonight to report right after this.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Everybody knows who Donald Trump is.  Even his supporters know who he is.  We got to let him know who we are.  We choose unity over division, we choose science over fiction, we choose truth over facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP

WILLIAMS:  The Iowa State Fair is underway, it is a great American event.  Make not mistake.  The problem is you may want to walk around with the family, grab a double bacon wrapped corndog and funnel cake on a stick maybe but you also have to be ready to run into one or two presidential candidates.

In fact, as many as 24 of them, if you`re not careful.  Warren, Harris, Bullock, and Biden were among those in Iowa today.  Biden was asked at the fair today what many candidates have been asked in recent days, whether or not he thinks President Trump is a white supremacist.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you believe that the president is a white supremacist?

BIDEN:  I believe everything the president says done encourages white supremacists, and I`m not sure there`s much of a distinction.  As a matter of fact, it may be even worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Meanwhile a new Monmouth poll out of Iowa shows Biden leading the field at 28 percent.  Warren is in second with 19.  That`s up 12 points notably since April, Harris in third with 11 and so on.

Back with us tonight is Mike Memoli, our NBC News national political reporter who spent the day at the State Fair covering Joe Biden.  And Mike, as you know, there is news tonight, and before we play it, we should probably make a couple of things clear.

News media love a theme.  So for years, the key on every political reporter`s keyboard has been gaffe prone Joe Biden, and indeed some of the coverage in the last few hours have been he`s done it again.  This year the Dems are pushing back a little bit warning against gaffe normalization saying don`t somehow what Biden says in a spare moment to the president`s day yesterday for example.  With that in mind, Mike, I`m going to this.  This is from an event tonight.  We`ll discuss it on the other side.

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BIDEN:  We have this notion that somehow if you`re poor, you cannot do it, poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids, wealthy kids, white kids, Asian kids, no, I really mean it.  But think how we think about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  There it was, Mike Memoli, over to you, what to make of it.

MIKE MEMOLI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Brian, I was actually at that event tonight where the vice president made those remarks and you did some good job putting this larger conversation into context.  Let me talk about that specific event tonight as well.

That was part of a 40-minute stump speech that the former vice president gave to a grown tonight before then launching into a Q&A session that itself lasted longer than 40 minutes, followed by what you know well would be another 20 to 30 minutes of handshakes and photos and selfies.

And I`m willing to bet that if you asked all of those who were in attendance after the event about that moment you just played it may not have even registered to many in the room.  I`m willing to bet even for some of the reporters who were with me today after a long day at the State Fair, it barely registered.

But, in the political moment that we`re in and the scrutiny that its on Joe Biden and his performance specifically throughout this campaign, it`s not a moment that`s going to be lost to his opponents,both Republican and Democrat, and very quickly, of course, the Trump campaign, the Trump War Room at its put, circulated even more abbreviated version of the clip, leaving out that split second where you can sense that the vice president caught his words that may have been a bit of a poor choice of words or -- maybe not put it in the full context as well.

So, this I think speaks to the fact that especially after yesterday when in Burlington, the vice president delivered a stinging rebuke of Trump`s presidency, his lack of moral leadership, they`re very eager to turn the focus back on to Joe Biden.

WILLIAMS:  Mike, as you know, it`s a very interesting event.  It is a great American event, the State Fair in Iowa.  And yes, when you talk to a Mike Memoli and a camera, you`re talking to a national audience, but you`re still walking around Iowa.  I remember the late Fred Thompson was roundly criticized.  I think he wore Gucci loafers to the Iowa State Fair, look like he chose Iowa and toss up with Nantucket.  How you act, what you wear, how you carry yourself really matters as it should to an Iowa audience?

MEMOLI:  Absolutely.  There`s one reason that we`re going to see two dozen presidential candidates, including one Republican by the way, in William Weld, attend the State Fair, speak at that soap box.  This is an excellent opportunity for the hand-to-hand retail campaigning that certainly we know Joe Biden loves well.

Iowa, of course, the early caucus, first in the nation caucus is all about organizing and it takes a lot of effort to get yourself all over the state, the two different communities to begin to build that support well, there are going to be 1.1 million people who go through the turnstiles that I did today over the next 11 days, many from every corner of the Iowa.  So this is really fish in a barrel kind of moment for these candidates and an important one.

We saw, I think, if Joe Biden could run for president every day like he did yesterday in delivering what he felt was the sort of presidential moment type speech focused on the president, but also a moment like today where he went, walked in through those turnstiles, went straight to an ice cream stand, was doing a lot of handshakes and selfies, and so that is the kind of campaign that Joe Biden wants to wage day in and day out, but of course he`s got to do an awful lot more than that, including those debate performances that have been so scrutinized as well.

WILLIAMS:  And important to point out, no one should leave the Iowa State Fair hungry, there are food groups in there that were not on the food pyramid that we saw growing up but should be.  Mike Memoli, our thanks as always for reporting in from the trail.

MEMOLI:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us, new video shows what was really on the president`s mind perhaps as he visited shooting victims and first responders in El Paso.  We`ll show you the tape when we come back.

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WILLIAMS:  You probably noticed more Democratic candidates are coming out and saying they believe the president is a white nationalist.  Our next guest Eugene Robinson writes just today, it is not just his stoking of white supremacist sentiment that makes Donald Trump such a dangerously unfit president, it`s also the corruption, the weakness, the ignorance, the incompetence, and the stunning lack of empathy -- all of which we saw this week on grotesque display.

With us to talk about it, two Pulitzer Prize winning journalists both form the same newspaper, the aforementioned, Eugene Robinson, columnist for the "Washington Post", and Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief also of the "Washington Post".  Gentlemen, good evening to you both.

Eugene, talk more about what it was we all witnessed from top to bottom yesterday?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMIST:  Well, we saw a president go on a typical presidential duty, which is in the case of these two horrific shootings in Dayton, and El Paso.  He went to the cities to visit those communities and to offer comfort to the survivors.  And the families of the victims.  That`s what presidents do.

This president, in doing that task, could not keep the focus on the communities and on the tragedies and on the victims.  He kept putting the focus back on himself.  It was about me, me, me, and about how he was covered on cable news shows during the trip, how other officials who accompanied him who happened to be Democrats in Ohio spoke about him, and spoke about the trip.

And of course the media was not allowed to actually see him in the hospitals talking to survivors so we had no footage of that, but he produced what amounts to a campaign video, the White House or Trump campaign did that was released almost immediately, this sort of glossy video of him inside.  It was a bizarre performance on what is really a set piece task, by a president.  I have never seen a president who couldn`t do it.  Now we have one.

WILLIAMS:  And Phil Rucker, to my memory, I have never read anything like this, also from your newspaper, none of the eight patients still being treated at University Medical Center in El Paso agreed to meet with Trump when he visited the hospital.  UMC spokesman, Ryan Mielke said, two victims who had been discharged return to the hospital with family members to meet with the president.  And at some level, Phil Rucker, that has to be -- reading that, perhaps even knowing that that`s coming has to be a triggering event.

PHIL RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF:  Yes, that`s certainly the case, Brian, the White House said staff was trying to arrange for the president to visit the victims who were being treated in that hospital who are still suffering from their wounds from the shooting, and all eight of the victims in the hospital said thanks but no thanks, they did not want to see the president.  So he was not welcome to visit with them.

As you just read, they brought two patients who had been discharged back to the hospital.  That`s according to our colleague, Bob Moore down in El Paso, and it`s really remarkable that they would not want to see the president because they had been seeing or accepting visits from other local leaders, from Congresswoman Escobar, the Democrat who represents the El Paso area as well as city and county officials, and so it`s something about Trump, perhaps because he was declared so unwelcome in that community generally by the local leadership but also by hundreds of citizens who waved signs and demonstrated his appearance in the city.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene, Phil just mentioned Congresswoman Escobar, and it made me want to go back and relive the fact that she said this week, this is a standing member of Congress who represents El Paso, that the president has put targets on the on the backs of the people there.  Speaking of first in our memory and in the history of our modern day United States, there`s another one.

ROBINSON:  Yes, there`s another one, Brian, and never seen or heard anything like that.  I mean, but look at the situation.  You know, the president has used El Paso and Ciudad Juarez right across the border as his sort of ground zero for what he considered the illegal immigration crisis.

The rapists and murderers and all bad people were coming across the border and allegedly committing all of this crime.  El Paso is actually one of the safest big cities in the country, if not the safest with an average of something like 18 homicides per year, a city of 700,000 which is outrageously low.

The people in the hospital who didn`t want to -- the president might have been thinking of the fact that they had just been shot --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  -- by a gunman who had left a manifesto that echoed almost verbatim language that had been used by the president, about an invasion of Mexican immigrants, so that would be one reason, perhaps, they didn`t look kindly on a visit.

WILLIAMS:  And just for context, it was my failure not to show this initially.  We will right before we go to this break.  Here is the video that came out today that kind of engendered all this discussion.  The president at the hospital.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I was here three months ago, we made a speech, we had a -- what was the name of the arena -- that place was packed, right?  That was some crowd.  And we had twice the number outside.  And then you had this crazy Beto -- Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot.  They said his crowd was wonderful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Again the president relitigating the crowd size of his event, versus Beto O`Rourke who had a rally across the street from the venue.  Good place to take a break.  Both gentlemen have agreed to stay with us.

Coming up, an action by the Trump administration just yesterday that left dozens of children once again separated from their parents.  More on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  To our next topic, and here`s how this lines up.  On the same day the president was meeting with those victims of a mass shooting motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments, immigration and customs enforcement was rounding up undocumented workers in the state of Mississippi.  ICE agents raided food processing plants in six different localities, taking almost 700 people into custody.  It`s believed to be the biggest one-day immigration sweep in our nation`s history.  Also happened to be the first day of school in Mississippi.

"Washington Post" reported it this way.  Many children didn`t have a loved one or family friend to go home to.  Some walked home from school but were locked out because their parents were detained in the raid.  Some of the children were taken, many of them crying, scared, confused by volunteers to a community center where they waited to be picked up by neighbors, friends, or other family members.

Former democratic senator Claire McCaskill said this today.  When 600 agents were making a show of arresting 680 undocumented immigrants working at Mississippi processing plants, did anyone bother to arrest the employers, or did they leave them undisturbed in the back room, counting their money?

Well, back with us are Eugene Robinson and Philip Rucker.  Phil, let`s take on that second question.  And addition to the timing of the raids, what about bosses?  Are they blameless in such things?

RUCKER:  Well, that`s a good question, and it`s one for the law, frankly.  But the targeting, the ICE agents were going after the undocumented immigrants themselves, and with very little coordination.  This was all done in secret.  They did not even notify the White House, in part because the last couple of times ICE planned some raids, President Trump leaked it publicly on Twitter and in comments to the press which spoiled the plans.

You know, local -- state and local officials who are responsible for helping care for families and children with parents in these conditions were not notified.  So therefore could not do any sort of emergency response to help those children, and Democrats are crying foul.  Kamala Harris, the senator running for president says this was a human rights abuse in Mississippi.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene, can it be fairly said that the image of a child crying like the ones we`ve just been seeing are going to be part of the iconography of this period we`re living through?

ROBINSON:  Absolutely, it will be.  I mean, this is out of control.  ICE has limited resources, and it ought to be going after, you know, MS-13 gang members and people who are dangerous and really should be deported, you know, taken into custody and deported as soon as possible.

You don`t find those people punching a time clock at a chicken plant in Mississippi.  What you find is hardworking people who are trying to put food on the table for their families.  This is another day in this sort of reality show administration with people`s lives in the balance, and it just feels like it was a big show rather than actual enforcement of policy.

WILLIAMS:  To Eugene Robinson and Phil Rucker of "The Washington Post," gentlemen, thank you, as always for coming on our show with us.

Coming up for us, a special report on the real-life stuff that Russia is doing to us with the goal of heightening racial tensions here in our country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  The last thing before we go tonight is this.  We have a report to show you from NBC News tonight that is a stark example of what Robert Mueller meant when he said Russia is attacking us in real-time and will continue to.  Tonight our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, reports on how the Russians are behind the rapid spread of certain videos that a lot of us have seen with the goal of increasing racial tensions in our country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The videos go viral fast.  At least 18 million views for this one showing a white woman calling the police in Brooklyn, claiming a 9-year-old African American boy groped her.

UNIDETIFIED FEMALE:  I just was sexually assaulted by a child.

ENGEL:  CCTV footage shows the boy innocently brushed past the woman who was dubbed Cornerstore Caroline.  She later apologized.  And more than 16 million views for this video from Texas showing a woman upset a taco truck was outside her house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Vamanos.  I`ll call ICE.

ENGEL:  Turns out these videos and dozens of others all inflaming racial tensions in America did not go viral by accident.  They were pushed and promoted by Russian operatives, according to new research by cyber experts at Clemson University.

DARREN LINVILL, CLEMSON UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS PROFESSOR:  Some of these stories would have never gone viral without the influence of Russian disinformation.  Their ultimate goal is to divide this country.

ENGEL:  It was a Russian account researchers found that came up with the nickname Taco Truck Tammy for the Texas woman.  And more than just stirring the pot in a practice known as "doxing," the Russian trolls circulated the names, phone numbers and addresses and menacingly told users "you know what to do."

PHIL HOWARD, OXFORD INTERNET INSTITUTE DIRECTOR:  The real goal is to get the conflict off Twitter, to get into it the streets.

ENGEL (on camera):  So they want to get people killed?

HOWARD:  They want to get people out in the streets, angry and fighting.

ENGEL:  Twitter suspended the accounts flagged by the Clemson researchers, but expert says Russia is stepping up its activities in the run-up to the 2020 elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Well, there you have it.  Richard Engel with that report for us tonight.  And that will do it for our Thursday night broadcast.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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