BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Coming up tonight on the day we learn that the El Paso gunman admitted the targeting Mexicans, the President on route to vacation predicts Congress will pass what he calls "intelligent background checks for guns." He promises his party is on board.
Also tonight after various Democrats have publicly labeled the President a white supremacist, the new reporting tonight on why some Trump supporters may welcome the label.
And the echoes of what took place 45 years ago today when Americans watch a presidency come to an end under threat of impeachment. We`ll look at what the nation might be watching now as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Friday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 932 of the Trump administration finds our President on vacation in New Jersey while our politics remain a mess. Still torn up by sadness and anger over two mass shootings just last weekend and left the death toll of 31 souls.
On route to his golf resort, the President stopped in the Hamptons on Long Island for fundraisers accompanied by protesters along the way. The Trump White House is now directly confronted by the twin issues of unchecked gun violence in this country and full on domestic terrorism, which at its worst is echoing language used by the President.
And looks like we may have perhaps stopped the next one, late today the FBI announced the arrest in Las Vegas of a 23-year-old who authorities say was promoting white supremacist ideology. They say he had illegal firearms and bomb making materials and was planning to attack synagogues and a gay bar. Hours earlier, authorities revealed the suspect in the El Paso shooting had confessed to targeting Mexicans using an AK-47 assault rifle in the attack last Saturday.
It was just this past Monday, remember, when Trump delivered remarks from a teleprompter on this topic from the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are outraged and sickened by this monstrous evil, the cruelty, the hatred, the malice, the bloodshed and the terror. The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. The sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump then visited Dayton and El Paso where so many local officials and some public officials made it clear he was not welcome.
While leaving the White House for vacation this morning, the President told reporters he`s now focused on expanding background checks even though he has backed off supporting that in the past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think we could get something real good done. I think we could have some really meaningful background checks. We don`t want people that are mentally ill, people that are sick, we don`t want them having guns. Who does?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: National Rifle Association CEO, Wayne LaPierre is said to have already warned Trump about pushing for those reforms. But today the President insisted LaPierre and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell are ready to work with him. A spokesperson for McConnell tells NBC News he, "has not endorsed any specific gun legislation." And you`ll note the Majority Leader was sounding cautious in a Kentucky radio interview just yesterday.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We`re going to begin the discussions during the August break and when we get back, hopefully we`ll be in a position to agree on things. It`s always hard at the federal level because we have to synthesize views from a whole lot of different points of views, not just the two political parties but the different parts of the country, totally different views on an issue like this, you know. A totally different views on an issue like this.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Earlier on this network, former Republican, former Florida Congressman David Jolly once again summed up the challenges that lawmakers face when it comes to real gun reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID JOLLY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: This debate is 10 years in the making and arrived with pitfalls and nobody had used the political capital to actually get there. And of course, what we did not hear is any mention of banning weapons of war. So the President will play the showman in this debate and suggest he`s leading but there really is little leadership in terms of political capital.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: One more item from this week that is just getting talked about today, this is the photo from the first lady`s Twitter feed. That baby the Trumps are posing with is the infant that survived but lost both of his parents who were killed while shielding him at the Walmart. The baby`s uncle, apparently a supporter of the President and the family thus agreed to bring the child in for the photo.
Here for the lead off discussion on a Friday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House reporter for "The Washington Post," and Franco Ordonez, White House Correspondent for NPR. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Peter, tough question to start off with as the President starts his vacation, where in his presidency does this week rank among its challenges?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it`s interesting. We ask this question a lot because every week it almost seems like we are reaching new levels and new scales of challenges to use your word of crisis of, you know, unbelievable moments that have shocked the nation or otherwise challenged the political system. And yet-- then the next one comes along and we see another and another.
And I think what we`re seeing now of course is really we`re on the launch pad for the election next year and this gun debate is going to be part of it. This debate about the presidency and his words is going to be part of it. This debate about white supremacy race, all of this is part of the mix and it`s ingredients for a pretty toxic, you know, conversation that we`re about to have as a country.
WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, I know you were on the trip in question a lot of reporting emerging from the trip and the behind the scenes. This is some of what "The Times" has written tonight. "By the time President Trump arrived in El Paso on Wednesday, he was frustrated that his attacks on his political adversaries had resulted in more coverage than the cheery reception he received at a hospital in Dayton, Ohio, the first stop on his trip. So screamed at his aides to begin producing proof that in El Paso people were happy to see him." Ashley, we did indeed see the result of that rant apparently. What else can you fill in about the trip and what you`ve learned?
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, that`s exactly correct. That was our reporting and our understanding, as well. I was traveling with the President. The first stop in Dayton we expected to be allowed in to see some of that hospital visit and we weren`t. We were frustrated by that because of course we had access.
And as it turns out the President was frustrated as well because there was a carefully curated group there. The White House sort of put it out in propaganda photos and images that they carefully curated. And the President was frustrated that the media was not reporting on that.
And on Air Force One as we were flew from Dayton to El Paso, Fox News, of course, was playing and it was playing footage of a press conference that Senator Sherrod Brown and the Dayton mayor had and the President was unhappy that that was the focus and not him. And so by the time we got to El Paso, our understanding was he had yelled at aides.
He actually said to the media in El Paso, we are finally allowed to see something in the in the hospital but at the second event he did which was a sort of first responders command center. He said, "I wish you had been with us. I wish you could have seen basically the love and respect they had for the presidency." And that was our understanding, as well.
And it`s worth mentioning on our flight back home, he came back and spoke to the press on Air Force One for 45 minutes. It was off the record so obviously, we can`t discuss what he said. We sort of got the sense just in the mere fact that he came back, that he was eager to be in front of the media and get his message and his account of the day out.
WILLIAMS: Franco a lot of people saw on social media today a four-way split of still pictures showing presidents comforting the grieved, 43, Bill Clinton, Obama and then President Trump with the dual thumbs up. The kind of imagery that he will find maddening no doubt but I ask absent any attitude, what did people expect?
FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NPR": Yes, I mean, exactly. I mean, I think this visit really showed the challenge that Trump has had kind of playing this comforter and chief role. He`s kind of been very resistant to it for that. He`s got this kind of image. He plays this kind of role of a tough guy.
And it really, you know, that bravado really gives him a hard time try to kind of turn the page when he`s trying to be sympathetic. You showed the pictures of him, you know, with his thumbs up with the child. You know, just reminds me also in Puerto Rico during the hurricane victims, he`s throwing paper towels at the victims. In Charlottesville, a little different with involving the white supremacist rally. A woman dies and he`s saying there is good fine people on both sides. So he`s really kind of struggled in the role and I think this was another example of that.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker again from your paper, "Privately Mr. Trump has recently told advisors that he believes the NRA is going bankrupt after internal upheaval at the organization, and he thinks they won`t have the financial means to harm him during the re-election campaign." That may be the new definition of transactional, Peter.
BAKER: Well, look, you know, he`s not wrong that the NRA is in the middle of a pretty tough internal moment where they have been at each other`s throats over money, over leadership, over direction. And, you know, you don`t know whether that will impact their ability to influence elections next year, which is the key question of course. But it is interesting because it does suggest the President perhaps might be willing to take them on a way he had in the past.
But before we get too far in that, let`s remember he has been on this position before. He has taken, he used to be a Democrat, he used to be pro-gun control and then he would back off. He used to be -- and even just during his presidency after the Parkland smoothing in Florida, he said he would, you know, force tougher gun rules over the objections of the NRA and then he backed off.
And so now he`s saying he`s going to, you know, pursue some more background checks. We don`t know how extensive they would be. Would they be cosmetic or would it be real and would he follow through on it?
The fact that Congress is not coming back right way is a sign because what happens after these terrible tragedies is there is this, you know, outrage in society, there is this desire to do something, there is this political appetite for action. And then it tends to fade. It tends to fade within weeks pretty quickly in our mass media, you know, celebrated 24/7 culture. So if they wait until September to come back, will the political pressure be the same as it feels today on the President to take action even if it causes him discomfort with allies in the NRA.
WILLIAMS: Ashley, there is something that maybe new about this. And it`s fairly noticeable if you watch a lot of cable news. A lot of senior military commanders, people who retired with stars on their shoulders, generals with names like Hertling and McCaffrey are coming out on social media and on television saying, "No, this is madness. We used these weapons in wartime. These are guys who collectively have killed a lot of people because that`s the job we sent them overseas to do and these were not fit. These AR-15s, these Kalashnikovs, AK-47s, these are not fit for the streets of this country." Not everyone agrees with that view point but it`s interesting in terms of everyone is trying to guess are we in the midst of a moment here?
PARKER: It`s a good question that we don`t know the answer. The President we know is often swayed by that group of people decorated veterans, the people he likes to call "my generals" who look like they are out of central casting that is a compelling group for him. And there are also are some more Republicans even who are coming out and saying this is madness, this has to stop. So that is happening.
But I think the real issue is the President so far as Peter was saying has proven very reluctant to cross his base, which on the one hand is a little surprising because his base is intractable, it is going nowhere. It will follow him wherever he wants to go. So, if he wants to make this happen, he could provide the political cover for it to happen, but so far, we don`t know if he`s going to cave to that NRA pressure or he`s going to use some of his political capital. But what they were saying especially about assault rifles, one thing seems clear, what we`re talking about mainly and what we`re hearing about is under consideration is something far more moderate and tiny background checks. The President said himself there is no appetite to go after assault weapons, assault rifles and so that seems unlikely. I think the big question is if they get anything even on something as universally agreed on according to public polling is background checks.
WILLIAMS: Yes, it`s hard to find any issue Americans agree on to the tune of 94 percent, but that`s the latest polling I saw this week.
Franco, two words I haven`t heard this week, Hispanic outreach. We have a gunman in El Paso who according to police documents says, "Yes indeed I was out to target Mexicans." We have the ICE raids now and the iconography, the imagery we have seen from those on the first day of school, children going home in some cases to no parents. What can they possibly do, not that everything is reduced to politics? What can they possibly do to warm up relations with this sizable American community?
ORDONEZ: I mean, I think that`s the $64,000 question. I mean, this has been a really difficult week particularly for Latinos. The El Paso attack particularly was different for the Latino community.
You know I got colleagues who feel like not enough attention was placed on the Latino aspect of this. You know the suspect`s language, the words he used, how it compared to some of the decisive language of the President`s language against immigrants. You know, most of the 22 people that were killed were Latino. Many of them or some of them were Mexican citizens.
He traveled ten hours by car to get to El Paso, a city that`s 80 percent Latino. You know Peter is out, like "The New York Times" reporting today as you noted that he was targeting, you know, alleged to be targeting Mexicans. Then you add that to the -- add, you know, to the fact that there is the raids in Mississippi targeting more immigrants. It`s really, really tough time and it`s hard for many Latinos to not, you know, kind of bridge the two especially when President Trump this morning is talking about being proud, wanting people to see what`s happening there because he wants to very clearly send the message that if you come illegally you will go but the timing has really become a sensitive issue.
WILLIAMS: Three of the very best after a longer than average week around here starting us off tonight, Peter Baker, Ashley Parker, Franco Ordonez, our thanks to you, all of you very much for coming on and helping us out tonight.
Coming up, the politics of being labeled a white supremacist and this reporting as to why not all of Trump`s supporter haves come out against it.
And later, a deeper look at al -- and to document it all goes back to the U.S. constitution, specifically the second amendment. One former Supreme Court chief justice believed it was interpreted all wrong. We`ll ask a constitutional scholar as "The 11th Hour" is just getting started on this Friday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALI VITALI, NBC NEWS POLITCAL REPORTER: You call President Trump a white supremacist this week. What is that say about the millions of people who voted for him?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, this is about the President and his responsibility. We have a President of the United States who called white supremacist in Virginia fine people.
A president bears real responsibility for his leadership and Donald Trump doesn`t get to get off the hook on there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Elizabeth Warren today in Iowa. Well, if nothing else to following is thought provoking, new reporting from Axios today revealing that President Trump`s allies welcome Democrats calling the President a white supremacist in this way and we quote, "Trump campaign officials and sources close to the President tell Axios they believe Democrats` extraordinary charge that the President is a white supremacist will actually help him win in 2020. These Trump allies tell us that the claim by Democratic opponents is not only emboldening his base, but also alienating some mainstream Republicans who think Democrats have gone too far."
Earlier today the President addressed being labeled a white supremacist by some of the Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Democrats calling you and your supporters white nationalist, a white supremacist, help you?
TRUMP: I don`t think it helps. First of all I don`t like it when they do it because I am not any of those things. I think it`s a disgrace. And I it shows how desperate the Democrats are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, let`s talk about it tonight with two journalist in the thick of it starting with Jackie Alemany, Political Reporter for "The Washington Post" and author of the paper`s morning newsletter appropriately called "Power Up," and Eliza Collins, Politics Reporter covering the 2020 campaign for the "Wall Street Journal."
Jackie, what do you think is more unusual, the fact that Democrats are saying "the President is a white supremacist" or the fact that people in his orbit are saying "we`re fine with that, it gives us something to fight back on."
JACQUELINE ALEMANY, THE WASHINTON POST AUTHOR, "POWER UP": I think if we take a step back here, I`m not sure anyone would expected in 2015 for the entire field of, you know, 20 plus Democratic candidates to be calling the President of the United States a white supremacist. That is startling fact in and of itself.
And I would say the more predictable line here is that his campaign believes this is good for Trump just in the way that they believe that impeaching the President would be good for the President electorally as well because it helps further this partisan divide and helps the President with this message that he`s been fueling through either explicitly racist language or through more coded language which is that, you know, the subsidiary of Republicans versus Democrats being this is a racial batter, you know, whites versus minorities, invaders, all of this really damaging rhetoric that the President has been consistently using.
But you know, at the end of the day, I can`t quite see practically the means that -- what exactly the Democratic candidates hope to achieve by calling the President a white supremacist other than checking a box. I`m not sure necessarily there`s any other Republicans out there who are going to hear, you know, Elizabeth Warren call him a white supremacist and therefore change their minds.
WILLIAMS: Eliza, same question, though, I imagine neither option is great for our country.
ELIZA COLLINS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. Well, I think Jacqueline`s point about Republicans being swayed either way, I think the sort of mainstream Republicans that the Trump campaign is arguing it will help them with, I have my doubts. This President has done all sorts of things and if they are sticking with him or they have left him, they`re probably aren`t going to be swayed.
But, what Democrats do wrestle with the white supremacist comment and this might be what the campaign is sort of clinging on to is what happened in 2016 when Hillary Clinton called some of the President`s supporters deplorable and the Trump campaign really use that and said she thinks that you are deplorable and for voting for this person. And it really item emboldened his base. And I think Trump supporters are hoping that something like this will -- they can open it up to the base by saying, you know, by saying that this President that you support is white supremacist, they are saying you are white supremacist.
Now, I -- we saw Elizabeth Warren, she is not saying that. Democrats are not saying. They are being very careful to push this right at the President`s feet only but that is a risk and I think that is something that the President`s allies might be sort of hoping they can do with these comments.
WILLIAMS: Jackie, tell us about your reporting on Charlie Cook. I`m going to go ahead and assume that most folks watching this channel at this hour on a Friday night know the name Charlie Cook. If they aren`t subscribers, they know that the "Cook Political Report" has been one of the bibles of political reporting in this country over decades. What is he prepared to declare?
ALEMANY: Yes, well, and actually I think our conversation about the term white supremacy really segues perfectly into this conversation. So what Charlie Cook is arguing in the 2020 political almanac is that the President is actually more of an underdog than I think people are assuming despite, you know, a lot of the Democratic bedwetting, hand ringing and a lot of the columnist who have been saying, you know, this election is a done deal, Democrats have lurched too far left. And to the President`s incumbency advantages is too great to overcome. But actually a lot of the historical factors that works to the President`s advantage are unlikely to be repeated this time around.
And one of those being that -- is that the President was, you know, it was a historically unfavorable candidate running against a historically unfavorable candidate. All-time lows. That`s not going to happen again. Hillary Clinton is not in the race. What, you know, Charlie Cook referred to as the Hillary factor.
There`s also the fact that it`s unlikely that the President would win the Electoral College again without winning the popular vote. That was the first time in 140 years that that it happened.
And then there`s also this idea that the President`s approval ratings are really fixed. And that`s where I think this white supremacy argument comes into play. There are a fixed amount of people, roughly 35 percent who worked solidly on the President side, no matter what he, no matter what`s called, they are Trump supporters. Then there is this 45 percent which are firmly opposed to the President. So that leaves about a 20 percent, you know, portion of the electorate that is the swing or consist of swing voters.
And it`s these people who I think that, you know, the President is going to have to go beyond speaking to his base in order to attract, he`s going to have to win about two thirds of those in order to beat Democrats. And Democrats as well have to, you know, potentially temper their rhetoric in order to attract that 20 percent.
WILLIAMS: And Eliza, what is the 32nd version of what`s going on with Bernie Sanders and his campaign?
COLLINS: Well Bernie Sanders is one of the candidates that Republicans are saying is too far left out of the mainstream. But what he has really done is he is kind of created that what he was talking about in 2016 has actually become a reality for much of the field. And so he`s not necessarily very unique. And while he is in second or third place in most polls, he`s not really rising but we are seeing people like Elizabeth Warren who has very similar policies, she is rising.
So Sanders is trying to kind of do something different here and one of those things is actually talking about himself. So, looking at all these candidates, a lot of politicians are able to tell their personal story. You know, I`ve been to a lot of these speeches. They talk about growing up lower class or, you know, their parents struggling to make ends meet. This is something Bernie Sanders does not talk about a lot but is starting to just sort of distinguish himself.
He is -- his father was an immigrant from Poland and so we saw him talk about it this week with this anti-immigrant manifesto coming out of the El Paso shooting. He was connecting that saying, you know, I know what it`s like to grow up in an immigrant family. And it`s something that is really rare for Bernie Sanders and so we may be seeing that more as he tries to stand out.
WILLIAMS: Two of the reporters on the front lines of all of this, political reporting doesn`t come any fresher. Jackie Alemany, Eliza Collins, thank you both so much on a Friday night for coming on and telling us what you know.
And coming up for us, as the debate over gun reform intensifies, a closer look at the rights and limitations of our Second Amendment. And why one former chief justice said if he had to do it over again, he`d leave it out of the bill of rights.
WILLIAMS: Given last weekends` death toll given the discussion of this week, we though tonight would be a good time to talk about the document that is the under pinning of gun rights in this country. And to start the conversation, we want to read you a rather shocking quote from the former Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger. I`d love to show this to you, but we can`t get the rights to it from our friends at the news hour.
He said this on PBS back in 1991 and here it is and we quote. "If I were writing the bill of rights now, there wouldn`t be any such thing as the Second Amendment that says a well-regulated militia being necessary for the defense of the state, the people`s right to bear arms. This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud." I repeat the word fraud, "on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."
Now just look at those words. There are only three lines to that amendment, a well-regulated militia, if the militia which was going to be the state army was going to be well regulated, why shouldn`t 16 and 17 and 18 or any other age persons be regulated in the use of arms the way an automobile is regulated. It`s got to be registered that you can`t just deal with it at will.
Joining us for our discussion, Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, the author of the upcoming book "Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love Liberty and Law". It will be available in November when we`ll have the author back on our broadcast. Jeffrey, you were the one guy I wanted to talk to on this and here is the setup, the framers could not have foreseen abortion, it`s nowhere in the constitution.
Harry Blackmun had an opinion to write in Roe vs. Wade, he goes to a medical hospital at the Mayo Clinic, comes back with the theory of trimesters. AR-15s are nowhere in the constitution. framers couldn`t have foreseen them. How has the Second Amendment grown up with us?
JEFFREY ROSEN, CEO, NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER: The framers were not thinking about AK 4700s. What they were thinking about liberals and conservatives scholars agree was allowing a people to defend themselves against federal (INAUDIBLE). They`re really scared about the federal standing army and they thought people organizing themselves in state militia is could take up arms and protect their liberties.
Now they didn`t much think about whether it was an individual or collective right. Only two states, Pennsylvania and Vermont talked about our right to bear arms for self-defense. The rest of the states were thinking about state militia defending themselves. Fast forward to 2008, when the Supreme Court for the first time in the Heller case says that the Second Amendment is an individual right.
It`s really significant that Justice Scalia in that opinion said reasonable regulations are perfectly OK, stopping felons from buying arms for example, which is why most states have -- courts have upheld background checks. He also said that commercial regulations of guns are permissible, which is why if the red flag laws that 17 states who propose would have passed, those would be upheld, too. So basically, if we have a gun control problem, so far it hasn`t been the fault of the Supreme Court, which has upheld most of the regulations that have been passed. It`s the failure of Congress and the state who actually pass the regulations.
WILLIAMS: And folks who tend to be on the left side of this argument get stuck on the word militia, they want to know where is the militia? And isn`t it disqualifying that the militia was never formed in modern times?
ROSEN: Absolutely. And you can make a good historical argument they really -- they were thinking more about militias than about the individual rights. But the real debate right now is not as an individual or collective right, but is the Second Amendment a second class right. Justice Clarence Thomas and a whole bunch of descents and said hey, the courts should receive all of this these decisions to uphold, conceal and carry laws. Or other forms of reasonable regulations. And it looks like there might be three or four votes on the Supreme Court to start striking down some of the regulations that so far the court is upheld. So, that`s why this -- the court next year is going to consider its biggest gun control case since 2008 or 2010. And it`s going to be hugely significant to see where Chief Justice Roberts is on this question.
WILLIAMS: Also, Jeffrey, your line of work and your life study is a messy business. There are people properly horrified at El Paso who also could not imagine a country in which they are not allowed to have a firearm in their home to protect their families, and those two believes have long- lived together side by side.
ROSEN: It`s so true, Brian. And it so important to stress that for a lot of people, the Second Amendment is just as important as the First Amendment it`s a way of protecting liberty and yet at the same time they absolutely are horrified by this violence. And -- but the unifying message of all this is, this is a policy debate. It`s great that people are now thinking about background checks and both sides are endorsing that, but it`s ultimately not a constitutional barrier. And the national review has even said, if states and the Congress were to pass the background checks, the Supreme Court would and should uphold them.
So it`s important to read the constitution, it`s great that you read the text. I want all listeners to go to the interactive constitution of the National Constitution Center and see what liberal and conservative scholars have to say about the Second Amendment. And see how they derived it from a -- Virginia bill of rights in those early state constitutions, so you can make up your own mind about what it means. But the truth is, you can respect the Second Amendment and still think that reasonable regulations are perfectly constitutional.
WILLIAMS: Do you promise to come back on and talk about Justice Ginsburg when your book comes out?
ROSEN: I can`t wait. Thank you so much Brian, it will be so much fun.
WILLIAMS: Counselor, thank you. Jeffrey Rosen who happens to run the terrific National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Coming up, we note a significant anniversary as our nation once again wrestles with a similar kind of question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we see the President leaving a bit sooner than expected accompanied by Vice President Gerald Ford who will become the 38th President of the United States at noon today.
And the final wave, a wave we`ve seen hundreds of times on the campaign trail, arms up, fingers stretched in a V sign. And so, Richard M. Nixon, 37th President of the United States and a warm, emotional farewell to members of his cabinet, members of his staff has left the White House for the last time as president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Off he went, Doug Kiker with the call exactly 45 years ago the nation watched Richard Nixon leave the White House leaving office to avoid what was an accelerating impeachment inquiry. Donald Trump is now facing a somewhat similar situation though to call the Democrats approach to impeachment low key might be an understatement. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said as much last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER, HOUSE JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: This is formal impeachment proceedings. We are investigating all the evidence. We are gathering evidence and we will at the conclusion of this hopefully by the end of the year vote to vote articles of impeachment to the House floor or we won`t. That`s a decision that we`ll have to make. But that`s exactly the process we`re in now.
We must protect the constitution. This is probably one of the worst crisis we face in constitutional laws since after the Civil War.
We have to have limited government. We have to have constitutional government. And only Congress can do this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So the tally right now is 119 House Democrats, one independent say they support an impeachment inquiry or moving to a vote on impeachment. Back with us tonight Maya Wiley, former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York with a new school here in New York, and Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning author and presidential historian. His latest work co-authored with Tim McGraw is "Songs of America." Good evening and welcome to you both.
Maya, did we miss an announcement or was that the announcement because this appears to be impeachment by wimper and not bang.
MAYA WILEY, FMR ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes.
WILLIAMS: Is that what this is?
WILLIAMS: All right. Anything that you add?
WILEY: Sometimes it`s that simple. All right, let`s add.
WILEY: The short answer is of course it was always an impeachment inquiry. By definition of the House committee`s were calling witnesses to understand the Mueller, to understand even before the Mueller report was released what kind of evidence existed around the President and his campaign and his associates actions that it was an inquiry, by definition that`s what a hearing is. And the reticence, the silence of the inability of Democrats to just say that went to the political strategy of vote counting, right?
What changed really wasn`t that whether or not they were always in an inquiry and felt that was political dynamite to say also because Nancy Pelosi was making clear that I won`t let this come to the floor for a vote unless we either have bipartisanship or the will of the American public is she -- is the legal action, right?
So when the House Judiciary Committee goes to court and says we need that full report, we need the parts of that report that the Justice Department won`t share with us --
WILEY: From a legal standpoint they have to make it clear that it`s about an impeachment inquiry to strengthen the legal argument before the court. Otherwise, you know, there is the potential for the court to say work it out. Work it out.
WILLIAMS: Just seemed like a bigger deal than something you drop on two cable shows on a Thursday night.
WILEY: Maybe not the way I would handle it. Maybe we need a little bit more fast and furious.
WILLIAMS: So we`re on the same page with that. Hey, Jon Meacham, our mutual friend Michael Beschloss whose Twitter feed is a treasure has sprinkled out some still photos these past 24 hours.
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes.
WILLIAMS: Richard Nixon`s last lunch for those with strong stomachs, I`ll describe it. Pineapple slices, a dollop of cottage cheese and a glass of milk. And Gerald Ford, nine days into the presidency in his nutty pine paneled kitchen in Alexandria reminding us that our two real citizen presidents of the modern era were book ended, and Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
And with all that as background, Jon, if I asked you to come up with any echoes of this day 45 years ago, fast forward to today are there any?
MEACHAM: Well, you have an embattled president and a time in which people believe that we are engaged in triablely driven politically warfare. There is a lot of nostalgia, an odd word but a bit of nostalgia about Watergate, the great drama that Hue Scott and Berry Goldwater and John Rhodes went to the White House and told Nixon he had to go.
Well, that was August 6th, I think. August 5th. It was very late in the game. Just four or five days ago leading into the last act here. And we have to remember Republicans supported Nixon at a pretty high proportion, very late in the game.
And so let`s not sentimentalize the past. It was a tough time and I think we were very lucky frankly in having President Ford be the person who came in to kind of restore order.
Seems to me that to go to the impeachment question right now, you know, I can`t think of many examples where congressional courage has risen the closer we get to an election. So I`m not sure as the days pass that that`s going to weeks and months pass, that`s going to force people into -- to being more strongly for impeachment than they were say when the Mueller report first came out, so I think that`s sort of an interesting -- I don`t mean this literally but almost as though the judiciary committee has decided that they are going to really be a grand jury and have secret proceedings in a way before it goes to trial in the Senate.
My own sense is that every week that goes by in this era is one which feels like an inflection point. The fact that we`re just now beginning to make some sense of El Paso and Dayton and the president`s reaction is something that I think is affecting, unfolding politics of the era and I think that the interest in the election is going to be such that that`s where the energy will be as opposed to impeachment.
WILLIAMS: To our viewers, please stay with us. Both of our guests are coming up right after this break.
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KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why wasn`t there a better plan in place to deal with the migrant children in Mississippi? Why was there family separation?
TRUMP: The reason is because you have to go in, you can`t let anybody know otherwise when you get there, nobody will be there.
I want people to know if they come into the United States illegally, they`re getting out. They`re going to be brought out and this serves as a very good deterrent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Maya Wiley and Jon Meacham are our guests for this segment. Maya, the President is talking about the raids on the first day of school in Mississippi. Children in some cases came home to no family or were kind of rerouted to the arms of volunteers or school personnel or friends or family. He calls that a deterrent. How would you term it?
WILEY: I would call it an incredible waste of limited resources deployed in the absolutely most inhumane way that may actually be putting children in more harm`s way. These are workers. These were people who had settled. We don`t know whether any of them had criminal background or whether or not they posed any risk.
And one of the things that this ignores is many immigrants who were here without papers, first of the all, that`s not a felony in and of itself. Secondly, they -- if they have enough roots, they`re often trying to get legal status. They`re often playing -- paying taxes and it doesn`t allow any process for us to figure out whether or not they are a risk and it endangers their own children.
Those children may be citizens and we forget that. And even if they`re not, they`re children. So this is not either good policy nor is it a rational deterrent because it ignores that many of these plants recruit undocumented immigrants to come and work for them knowingly. We haven`t even heard whether there`s going to be any prosecution against those plants.
WILLIAMS: Jon, anything you witnessed this week make you want to amend the answer you give to people, people like me, people who stop you and say is this going to end OK? Are we going to be all right?
MEACHAM: I think it is going to end OK. I think it`s going to be rough getting there. If you`d asked me that in 1944 when we -- if we had pictures of what was going on in the American West because of Franklin Roosevelt, a man that I think I can safely say you and I both had a very high opinion of had signed executive order 9066 partly at the recommendation of the attorney general of California, a guy named Earl Warren, you know, that was a dark chapter and I think this is too.
I think the way we ultimately come through this is we have to think about and what I would implore the President to think about is how do you want history to view you? Do you want to be the person who put children in cages and who made children go home to empty houses because their hard -- self-evidently hard-working parents were arrested in a raid like this, or do you want to get a solution to the immigration question?
You`re the one guy, Mr. President, who has the political capital with the right to actually possibly, possibly get some kind of grand bargain on immigration. Go to China, you know. We started this with Nixon and his pineapple. What`s the one thing that even the most harsh anti-Nixon person will say? He opened China. Presidents who surprise us go down well in history. So surprise us, sir.
WILLIAMS: I know a weighty comment to end on. And with that, our thanks to Maya Wiley, to Jon Meacham for joining us on a Friday night.
Coming up, why the world has reason to ask if we`re witnessing infatuation in the face of facts to the contrary.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, it`s readily observable that since the invitation of electronic era, e-mails, text messages, old school letters on paper have more of an impact because they`re permanent, because they take more effort, gives you something to have and to hold. And it is very clear that few people appreciate beautiful letters more than our current president. Well, guess who has written our President another beautiful letter? We`ll let him tell you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I got a very beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un yesterday. It was delivered. It was hand delivered.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did it say?
TRUMP: It was a very positive letter. He really wrote a beautiful three- page I mean right from top to bottom, a really beautiful letter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So we`ve established the guy writes a beautiful letter while it`s also true that just hours after the President said that, we got word that North Korea today fired two more missiles into the Sea of Japan. Like the last several launches, these were short-range like all the rest fired off to protest next week`s joint military exercises. This also appears to be a test of a new type of apparently portable short-range missile they`ve been launched day and night from multiple locations.
And that is our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week. Thank you 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