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Violence erupts at Hong Kong airport. TRANSCRIPT: 8/13/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Sam Stein, Gary Locke, Katie Benner, Eliza Collins, Rick Wilson

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 13, 2019 Guest: Sam Stein, Gary Locke, Katie Benner, Eliza Collins, Rick Wilson

  JULIAN CASTRO, FORMER HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY:  And so I hope that United States will marshal the support of allies to put more pressure on China to do the right thing here.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Democratic presidential candidate, Secretary Julian Castro gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Mr. Secretary.

CASTRO:  Thank you.

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

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, Trump takes a walk back on tariffs on Chinese goods.  He says he`s just thinking about holiday shopping.  He also today estimated that being our President is costing him billions of dollars.

Also tonight, it`s now midday in Hong Kong where there is a feeling of foreboding in the air and where freedom and tyranny may depend on when and if troops cross the border.  We`ll speak to a former U.S. Ambassador to China.

And cut-down day may be approaching for the Democratic field.  One is being asked to go home to run for Senate, another is denying he`s going home to run for Senate, and a third sounds just like Donald Trump as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 936 of the Trump administration.  And as the headline writers put it tonight, the President blinked.  He has apparently yielded to the markets and just about all members of the business community and he`s backing off his threat on tariffs on imports from China.  They were to take effect in just three weeks, but would be delayed now until December 15th.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. Customers, which so far they`ve had virtually none.  The only impact has been that we`ve collected almost $60 billion from China, compliments of China.  But just in case they might have an impact on people, what we`ve done is we`ve delayed it so that they won`t be relevant to the Christmas shopping season.


WILLIAMS:  Trump`s own trade rep filled in the details.  The products affected include cell phones, laptop, computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, certain footwear and clothing.  Tariffs are passed on to consumers who pay the cost.  The President has been pushing the opposite notion that somehow China would pay for the tariffs.


TRUMP:  They`re pouring money into their system.  They pour it in.  And because they do that, you`re not paying for those tariffs, China`s paying for those tariffs.

Our people haven`t paid, so we`re taking in many billions of dollars.

We`re taking in billions and billions of dollars from China.

They`re paying us billions and billions of dollars of tariffs, which is fine with me.


WILLIAMS:  Here`s how our friends over at the Associated Press put it tonight, "By delaying higher tariffs on consumer goods, Trump is tacitly acknowledging that his import taxes stand to squeeze American households."

Trump`s ongoing trade war with China has had a consistent impact on the economy and the stock market which has dropped with each of his previous announcements of tariffs.  Today stocks rose after his announcement that he`s delaying some of the tariffs, but there remains uncertainty about our economy.

Politico reports there are concerns on Wall Street about growing recession warnings and that, "Over just the last few days, economists at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America all warned that Trump`s bitter trade war with China is taking a bitter -- a bigger bite of economic growth than expected."

Today Trump seemed to hope that some sort of trade deal with China could be reached, but Beijing is dealing with a bit of a distraction right now in Hong Kong.  More on this potentially monumental story ahead for us this hour.

In the meantime, Trump today went to Pennsylvania to talk to workers at a Shell chemical plant to reassure them about his handling of the economy, but the event came off a lot more like one of his rallies.


TRUMP:  And I put a little thing called a 25 percent tariff on all of the dump steel all over the country.  And now your business is thriving.  I don`t know who is going to win, but we`ll have to hit Pocahontas very hard again if she does win.  But she`s staging a little bit of a comeback.  What a group, Pocahontas and Sleepy Joe.

I don`t think they give a damn about Western Pennsylvania, do you?  This thing is costing me a fortunate being President.

It`s probably costing me from 3 to 5 billion for the privilege of being -- and I couldn`t careless, I don`t care.  You know, if you`re wealthy it doesn`t matter.  I just want to do a great job.


WILLIAMS:  On that note and here for our lead off discussion on a Tuesday night, Stephanie Ruhle, a veteran of the Investment Banking and Business World and host of the 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. hours here on MSNBC.  Sam Stein, Politics Editor for the Daily Beast which is as close as he has gotten to the business world thankfully.  And Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the Washington Post, moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Bob, I`d like to start with you.  What were the politics behind this decision to walk it back, or was it simple math?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Inside of the Trump administration, you have doves on China trade, like Secretary Mnuchin, Larry Kudlow, the top economic advisor inside the White House and you hawks like National Trade Advisor Peter Navarro.  As those who are more dovish on China are looking for a deal.  They saw the September 1st deadline for the tariffs to be implemented and they wanted to walk it back.  Part of it was addressing the consumer concerns.  But part of it was also politically and geopolitically about keeping the China deal on the table ahead of 2020.  And so the President seeking a win on trade, his signature issue, moved back the tariffs.

WILLIAMS:  Steph, do we have it about right that we pay for tariffs and was anyone in favor of these?

STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC CO-ANCHOR, "VELSHI & RUHLE":  Very few people.  Well, Peter Navarro was potentially.  But the President, you mentioned it earlier, outed himself today.  He very clearly says China paying us billions and billions. Well, that certainly doesn`t make sense if today he`s now postponing tariffs and citing the Christmas shopping season.  That being the case, he`s tacitly admitting it`s the American consumer because you mentioned it before, who pays for this.

So the President is pushing these tariffs, why?  Because being Mr. Market is more important to him than being the tariff man.  And we`ve already seen the equity markets pretty volatile.  You mentioned those banks earlier.  The CEO of Goldman Sachs two days ago said it`s the trade wars that could push us into recession.  So the President blinks.  He wasn`t countering China.  He bid against himself and said, "By the way, I`m going to postpone these tariffs."

And just think about this.  Look at the unrest going on in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is the financial hub of Asia.  It is the window between China and the rest of the world.  China should be in really bad nervous shape when it comes to trade.  Instead they`re sitting pretty today as the President says "No, I`m going to give it a bit more time."

WILLIAMS:  Sam Stein, the President some measure of how he views politically the value of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  We were reminded by "The New York Times" tonight today was visit number 13.


WILLIAMS:  It wasn`t so much a speech about one thing as it was a whole lot of things.  Here is a sampler.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


TRUMP:  I love trucks of all types.  Even when I was a little boy at 4 years old, my mother would say, you love trucks.  I do.  I always loved trucks.  I still do.  Nothing changes.

Sometimes, you know, you might become president, but nothing changes.

I`m going to take a tour of the site.  They said, "Sir, we were going to do it before the speech, but we`re waiting for it to stop raining."  I said, "Don`t worry about the rain.  Do we have umbrellas?  Don`t worry about the rain.  Umbrellas work very well."  Especially when they are made in America.

Shell, you know, they know how to do things.  They built this beautiful concrete platform for us.  We`ll be here for three minutes, and they built this beautiful concrete.  That`s the way it is.  That`s the way it should be.  Take a look at this, brand new, just poured so that I wouldn`t get my feet wet.  That`s very nice.


WILLIAMS:  So, Sam, what`s the take away for Pennsylvanians?

STEIN:  Well, first of all, the concrete platform was beautiful objectively.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, that`s pretty, you know, you can admire that.

STEIN:  Yes, I know.

RUHLE:  But concrete also gets wet.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  Yes.

STEIN:  Well, Stephanie, let`s not get too into the weeds here, OK.  It`s a beautiful concrete platform.

Pennsylvania obviously is the gateway to the reelect, right?  I mean, the entire game for Trump is an Electoral College victory that goes through the Midwest states.  And it`s the 2016 pattern all over again.  Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, but Pennsylvania is the biggest one of them all.  And his ability to hold onto that state, which among the three probably is the most likely to lean Democratic, really will presage everything else for him.  It will make sure that he is strong in Ohio, Iowa, even the potential to flip state like Minnesota.

He recognizes that there`s a path there.  It`s built a lot on, you know, sustaining this narrative that he`s been a boon for the middle class working Americans, but also grievance politics, which is sort of the secondary component of this.  And so that`s why I expect him to make more trips out there to tout American industry, but also to continue going back to the well of anti-immigration rhetoric which is really his bread and butter here.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, talk about the well worn theory of Trump blowing off steam.  Today whether it was casually passing off a conspiracy theory or attacking Chris Cuomo, or all the items, the grievances in his prepared and unprepared remarks today, the theory that Donald Trump needs this release even as he is on summer vacation.

COSTA:  Based on my conversations with White House officials, it`s evident that the barriers around President Trump`s conduct, that former Chiefs of Staff Reince Priebus, former Chief of Staff General John Kelly tried to erect, are no longer there.  It`s the President free form day in and day out.  But the -- his advisors are at least trying to prod him to go to places like Pennsylvania, to go to a manufacturing center, because they know his anti-establishment style, his free wheeling speeches, his racist tweets, these have a whole anti-establishment persona that could help rouse his base in places like western Pennsylvania.

And they know it`s not going to play in places like the Philadelphia suburbs on the other side of the state.  But they`re not making an overt play for the suburbs at this time because they know the President`s conduct and his message beyond the economy, which they continue to tout, it`s really about getting the base out, and part of that is just continuing to get them energized and engaged with the President`s whole personality.

RUHLE:  But, Brian, --


RUHLE:  -- consider how much pressure that puts on Trump needing a strong economy.  You go to the suburbs of Pennsylvania, you go across the country and think about the midterms.  The President didn`t win in 2018 with the culture war.  Remember, it was days before the midterms he was talking all about the caravans, the caravans.  And then just after the election he did mention it again.

We know that the market is volatile.  We are coming to our ninth year of economic expansion and interest rates are already low.  Think about all of those people who say, "listen, I don`t like his rhetoric.  I maybe don`t like him as a person, but at least my 401K is safe."  And Trump says "we`re going to get a socialist on the other side."  What happens if you get Joe Biden and Iraqi stock market?  That`s a bad combination for President Trump.

WILLIAMS:  Sam, you were nodding when Robert was making the point about suburbs.

STEIN:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  If you`re the Trump campaign, can you do the math?  Can you make a path to reelection by lopping off what is increasingly the story of suburban kind of metropolitan America and the opinion polls we`re seeing?

STEIN:  It`s tight.  It`s very tight.  And it becomes tighter the more we get into the volatility.  The stock market -- but also if he pushes off things like gun control where you can see suburban voters are sort of pining for some sort of legislative action, but the path is really what Trump used in 2016, which is a combination of relatively insane turnout among, you know, post suburban, the rural Americans out in sort of -- the middle of Pennsylvania type people.  But also a very overt attempt to sort of depress the Democratic vote6, too, and that is, you know, an intense social media-driven, social media heavy advertising campaign that essentially tries to turn African-American and Hispanic voters against the Democratic nominees as sort of an under appreciated element of the 2016 election.  But this was the play book and it worked to some effect.

You know, the Michigan numbers and the Wisconsin numbers, everyone looks at them and says, well, Hillary didn`t reach working class white voters.  The flip side of the story was that minority voter`s numbers didn`t come out for Clinton in the numbers that she needed in the election.  So the Trump campaign wants to do both those things.

If they can pull it off it`s going to be as tight as it was in 2016.  And they`ll do it almost assuredly while losing the popular vote margin by even more because states like Texas and California are still trending in the aggregates toward the Democrats.

WILLIAMS:  Steph, you`re back on the air at 9:00 a.m., what`s the percentage of nights where your lead story in the morning was the lead story the night before?  And what percentages of your days are you handed something brand-new?

RUHLE:  It really depends how good of a show you have, Brian.  If you really nail it at 11:00 p.m., I pretty much to steal the whole thing.  And when you have an iffy show, then I have to get creative in the middle of the night.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, you just made our control room so happy.  The always kind and superbly accurate Stephanie Ruhle, Sam Stein ditto, Robert Costa, ditto, thank you all the three of you --

STEIN:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  -- for starting off our Tuesday night conversation.

And coming up, protesters and police as we mention clash in Hong Kong as the standoff between the two turns even more violent.  A former U.S. Ambassador to China is standing by to talk with us.

And later, what are Democrats to do when Bernie starts to sound like Donald?  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Tuesday night as Abe Lincoln looks on.



JUSTIN CHAN, PROTESTER:  If they send troops, then we burn.  We all burn.  If we burn, they burn with us.


WILLIAMS:  The city of Hong Kong is bracing for another day of violent protests.  Chaos erupted for a second straight day on Tuesday, crippling one of the world`s busiest and normally one of the world`s best-run airports.  Pro democracy, protesters and riot police violently clashed inside the airport shutting down air travel, dramatically increasing tension with the Chinese government.

Video from inside at one point shows a group of protesters beating down a police officer with a baton until he pulls a gun in response.  Hong Kong has been the scene of massive demonstrations since June.  "New York Times" reporting today the disruptions are a direct affront to the Chinese leadership.  They have evolved into a broader push to protect Hong Kong`s autonomy and civil liberties, including a call for free elections that would be a nonstarter for Beijing."

The Chinese government has called the protests terrorism, and look at this.  They have released very meticulously this propaganda video, seeming to show a military mobilization.

President Trump weighed in on Twitter this afternoon, "Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese government is moving troops to the border with Hong Kong.  Everyone should be calm and safe."

Well, with us to talk about it is Gary Locke.  His resume includes former U.S. Ambassador to China, former U.S. Commerce Secretary and former governor of the great state of Washington, the very first Chinese-American governor in our nation`s history.

Ambassador, thank you very much for coming on.  And I hate -- I do hate to begin with a negative, but let our viewers know how bad could this get?

GARY LOCKE, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA:  Well, first of all, it`s an honor to be on your show.  But this is really a time of great peril, of really fraught times for Hong Kong, the future of Hong Kong, its residents, the pro democracy movement as well as Beijing and the communist government.  A miscalculation over stepping on either side could really lead to absolute disaster, bloodshed, and would really setback the image of China if they were to intervene with, I`m sure, sanctions coming down from all around the world.  It could even hurt the world economy.  But it`s really a very fraught time, and both sides need to recalculate and make sure they`re not overreaching.

WILLIAMS:  The brief snippet of an interview prior to this segment just coming out of the commercial break, I`m not sure you could hear it.  The student was saying to our reporter, if they come in, we all burn.  We burn together.  This is a determined band of protesters.

LOCKE:  Certainly if the Chinese were to cross the border and intervene, you`re really looking at the prospect of another Tiananmen Square, blood shed.  I mean, many of those demonstrators will martyr themselves.  And it will not be a pretty sight.  And it would really set back the course of democracy in Hong Kong, and the possibility of even a reunification between Taiwan and the mainland.

Certainly the pro-independent forces will say, "See, we cannot trust Beijing to give us autonomy.  That`s why we need to have independence."  And, of course, you know, the Chinese, if they were really smart, they really would find a way to save face, to perhaps pressure the executive of Hong Kong to step down and call for reforms of their election process, but just really stand down.  And, of course, the chief executive has really maintained a very hard line position with her proposal for an extradition treaty, which would enable dissidents to basically be sent off to the mainland, to Beijing into China.  And that`s what really started the whole thing.  She has not disavowed that.  She has tabled that proposal, but never -- has not reversed course.  The easy way to solve this, face-saving for all sides would be for her to step down.

WILLIAMS:  I want to play for you what our President had to say on this front today.


TRUMP:  Well, the Hong Kong thing is very tough situation, very tough.  We`ll see what happens, but I`m sure it will workout.  I hope it works out for everybody including China, by the way.  I hope it works out for everybody.

I think it will workout and I hope it works out for liberty.  I hope it works out for everybody, including China.


WILLIAMS:  Ambassador, what should, in your view, an American President say?

LOCKE:  Well, if the President has a direct line with the President of China, he should pick up that phone and really talk to the Chinese President, President Xi Jinping, and let him know that all eyes of the world are on China and what they will do over the next few hours or days, and that there will be nothing but huge world condemnation against China, and perhaps even sanctions against China, which is not what China needs at this point with the precarious economy in the entire world and with the trade war going on.  But it will really damage China`s prestige and image around the world.  It will be another Tiananmen Square.  There will be bloodshed and that`s not what the people of Hong Kong need, the people of China need, and certainly those who care about peace and stability for the people of Hong Kong.

WILLIAMS:  Boy, just takes your breath away.  Gary Locke, thank you so much for joining us from Seattle tonight.  Mr. Secretary, governor, ambassador, Gary Locke, we appreciate it very much.

LOCKE:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up for us on our broadcast tonight, the attorney general who oversees the bureau of prisons after all, orders a shake up at the jail where Jeffrey Epstein died while a noted attorney says this A.G. shouldn`t be anywhere near this case.  We`ll have that story right after this.


WILLIAMS:  The warden at the federal lockup here in New York where a celebrity prisoner and sex offender mysteriously died has been reassigned.  The two corrections officers whose job it was to watch Jeffrey Epstein have been placed on leave.

Our Justice Correspondent, Pete Williams, cites an administration source in his reporting, "FBI and Justice Department investigators probing Epstein`s death are being stymied by some federal employees who are lawyering up."  This as Katie Benner and Danielle Ivory of "The New York Times" report tonight, "The two staff members in the housing unit where Mr. Epstein was held -- 9 south -- falsely recorded they had checked in on him every half hour as required according to a law enforcement official and a prison official.  The prison official said the guards were sleeping."

Well, here with us to talk about it tonight, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor and we are so happy to have here in our New York studios, Katie Benner, Justice Department reporter for "The New York Times."

So, Katie, first of all, I assume they have optics, at least a camera of the area near the cell, if not inside these cells that will be of use to them.  But you came across two more investigations.  Tell us about your reporting.

KATIE BENNER, THE NEW YORK TIMES JUSTICE DEPT. REPORTER:  Yes.  So, we have the investigation the FBI is conducting, an investigation the Justice Department inspector general is conducting, and then two more investigations, one that began today.  A team of Bureau of Prisons psychiatrists entered the prison today to sort of walk through all the steps taken to take Jeffrey Epstein off of suicide watch.  What were the psychiatrists at this prison thinking when they did that?  And that`s what they`re recreating today.

Tomorrow we will have a team of Bureau of Prisons experts coming in sort of do a peer review to say, were all the protocols followed?

WILLIAMS:  The decision to take him off suicide watch, a man of this repute -- ill repute, but this repute and a man who had the, the evidence tells us had attempted it before.  I just don`t know how they can undo that decision process.  It`s got to come down to a single administrator, I guess, somebody`s call.

BENNER: Yes.  And I think that one of the reasons why Bill Barr is being so, so attentive to this situation, he`s being briefed multiple times a day on it is because he understands it -- it doesn`t only speak to the credibility of the Bureau of Prisons, it speaks to the credibility of the Justice Department at large at a time when the credibility of the Justice Department has been destroyed systematically not only allegations the right and the left over whether or not Jim Comey can proved himself correctly or whether or not the Justice Department under, you know, Donald Trump has done a good job with investigating the Russia situation, but destroyed by the President himself who has summarily attacked law enforcement and the FBI.

So now we`re in a situation where we`re depending on the FBI to give us a definitive answer on what happened.  And I think it`s going to be difficult for people to believe what they say.

WILLIAMS:  Let me read you what one Joyce Vance has just written about the Department of Justice in "Time Magazine", went up tonight.  "It is often said that DOJ`s integrity is like a reservoir, slow to fill, but easily emptied by a small leak.  The reservoir is leaking.  The day after news of Epstein`s apparent suicide broke, a tweet from the partisan podcast Mueller, She Wrote, articulated the worse case -- worst case, forgive me, whether you believe there are nefarious forces within the DOJ that assisted with or turned a blind eye to the Epstein death, the bigger point is no one trusts the Department of Justice.  No one.  We are in a dangerous place if people no longer trust that the Justice Department is doing justice.

Joyce, however unlikely an outcome, the outcome you are calling for is that the attorney general take himself out of this case.  Tell us why.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  You know, in DOJ you`re recused from a case whether you`re a line prosecutor or the attorney general if you have a conflict of interest.  And Barr has stated publicly that he consulted with ethics advisors and didn`t believe he had to recuse.  But beyond an actual conflict of interest, prosecutors will also recuse if there`s the appearance of impropriety.

If some personal connection you had or other circumstances meant that if you were to conductor to oversee an investigation, the public wouldn`t be able to have confidence in it.  And that, I think, is the risk that Barr runs here.  Even if he conducts this investigation with integrity, there will be people from all sides coming at him and he will simply continue to diminish DOJ`s opinion, which has been really unfairly tarnished.  The career people continue to do their jobs every day.  They`re reliable and they`re trustworthy.  But the institution has to begin to reclaim its good opinion in the public eye.

WILLIAMS:  Joyce, because we need to keep the victims foremost in all our conversations, even with the principal in this case now dead, what is the chance that there won`t be any more arrests, that Jeffrey Epstein will be the last arrest in the case of Jeffrey Epstein versus all of these once young women?

VANCE:  Jeffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, was very quick to remind people that there was a conspiracy count indicted in the Epstein indictment.  You can`t conspire with yourself.  That means there has to be other conspirators.  In the case where you indict a single individual like Epstein, the indictment usually recites that those coconspirators or both known and unknown to the grand jury, that I think is shorthand in this situation for the fact that the U.S. attorney in Manhattan will make a vigorous effort to go after other coconspirators to see that justice is done for the victims.

WILLIAMS:  Katie Benner, I`ll give you the last word and I`ll give you all of 15 seconds to do it after I say this.  I once knew an attorney in the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department whose specialty was just cases of the appearance of conflict of interest, but that was the kind of institutional rigor that Joyce is talking about.  On your beat on daily basis, do you see decay in that and do you hear a lack of morale because of it?

BENNER:  I don`t see decay in the professionalism of the men and women in the Justice Department who are career professionals, but morale has only gotten worse and worse and worse under this administration.  I`m not really sure what`s going to turn that around.  It`s going to be really difficult.

WILLIAMS:  To our guests, our great thanks tonight.  To Joyce Vance, to Katie Benner of "The New York Times", thank you both for coming on and being part of our discussion.

Coming up for us, the time may have arrived for what they call the thinning of the herd on those nature specials among the two dozen democrats running for president.  But one candidate sounds like he`s not going anywhere.  That story when we come back.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Anybody here know how much Amazon paid in taxes last year?


SANDERS:  See, I talk about that all of the time, and then I wonder why "The Washington Post", which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, doesn`t write particularly good articles about it.  I don`t know why.  But I guess maybe there`s a connection.  Maybe we help raise the minimum wage at Amazon to 15 bucks an hour as well, all right.  Maybe that`s why "Washington Post" is not endeared with me, I don`t know.


WILLIAMS:  So that was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday.  It quickly caught the attention of "The Washington Post".  The executive editor Marty Baron issued a statement that read, in part, "Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest."

Well, today Sanders scaled back his criticism a bit during interview at CNN saying, "My criticism of the corporate media is not that they are anti- Bernie, that they wake up, you know, in the morning and say, what could we do to hurt Bernie Sanders?  That`s not the case, that Jeff Bezos gets on the phone to "The Washington Post".  There`s a framework of what we can discuss, what we cannot discuss, and that`s a serious problem.

Joining our conversation to talk about this, Eliza Collins, politics reporter covering the 2020 campaign for "The Wall Street Journal," and because it`s "Washington Post" germane, we`ve asked Robert Costa to stick around for the conversation as well.

Eliza, the tweet from last night that caught my attention from the political Twitter site called The Hoarse Whisperer, "OK, since this is trending, here`s my Bernie story.  The year was 2016 and Bernie was already long eliminated from contention.  An actual Democrat would have stop torpedoing the nominee and work to defeat Trump, but Bernie had books to sell.  The end."

That kind of nicely sums up how some Democrats feel about Bernie when they hear him using a Trump talking point.  What is the state of the Sanders campaign as you know it?

ELIZA COLLINS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL POLITICS REPORTER:  Well, the Sanders campaign is very frustrated right now with coverage, and they`re not alone.  Democrats, Republicans, politicians generally, start to blame the media when they don`t like coverage.  What is new and what is sort of a Trump-like attack line is tying "The Washington Post" to Amazon with no -- you know, he has no evidence here.  And we saw him tone this down a little bit, but we saw Marty Baron come back and say this is a conspiracy theory.

But the Bernie Sanders campaign right now, he is pulling in second or third.  He`s doing a lot better than 21, 22 people in that field.  But he`s not moving up.  He`s been sort of stagnant.  And so he needs to expand his support and he is frustrated about coverage.  That points out that he is not, you know, he`s number two, Joe Biden is still certainly in the lead, and he is competing with people like Elizabeth Warren who has a lot of very similar ideas, but her polling is going upward.

So while Sanders is stagnant, his campaign is frustrated by coverage that they view is not talking about all of the great things he`s doing and all of the support he has, which he certainly does have support.  He`s got lots of donors, he`s got grassroots support.  But political campaigns want to talk about the good and not any of the bad.

WILLIAMS:  So, Robert Costa, when General Electric owned this building and this network, I was -- it coincided with the birth of the interwebs.  And a lot of conspiracy theorists had us all on a conference call every morning with Jack Welch so we`d have the talking points from the electric power division, the nuclear division, electric trains, all of that.  Of course, it was never true, and I ask you just to show our homework, when was the last time you met or heard from Jeff Bezos about your coverage?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTERS:  I`ve never heard from Mr. Bezos about my coverage.  Marty Baron`s statement says it all.  "The Washington Post" is a news organization, a reporting organization.  It`s also a news organization, a newspaper that recently had an event with Senator Sanders.  I sat down with the Vermont senator for an hour to talk policy, a productive conversation.

I was one of the first reporters to report on his presidential ambitions in 2014, long before he even announced.  Took him seriously as a candidate, someone who was changing the Democratic Party with his proposals for Medicare for all, eliminating college debt.  I`ve always seen him as a serious person and a serious candidate.  But these recent comments were not serious.  He knows "The Washington Post" reporters.  He knows how we operate.  And we operate as reporters.

WILLIAMS:  Eliza, let`s just get on the record the latest Democratic polling.  It continues to show Joe Biden having a good outing, 33%, Sanders 20, Warren 14, and after Harris at 9, it kind of falls off a cliff, which was one of the motivating factors behind the "Houston Chronicle" saying today, in effect, Beto, stop running for president, get off the campaign trail, come home, Texas needs you.  And, Eliza, Beto is not alone among the 24 Democrats who have potential Senate races back home in their home states.

COLLINS:  Absolutely.  So 2020 is a year that there is this competitive Senate map, that Senate Democrats are having a really hard time recruiting for some of these seats.  In states where they think they really could have a chance, states like Texas, Colorado, Montana, because some of their top choices are running for president.  But some of these people are polling in the low single digits.

You know, Beto is one of the highest out of that group and he is still in the low single digits.  So really, we`re going to see a moment coming up on the third debate in September where the requirements are much harder for candidates to get on stage.  Beto will be on stage.  Mr. O`Rourke will be on stage.  But a lot of these other folks, John Hickenlooper who is a former governor of Colorado is getting a similar pushback home.

They -- it`s not clear yet if he will be on stage.  And so I think the field will start to winnow and pressure is going to heat up on some of these people to get in the race back home where they may have more of a chance, like that "Houston Chronicle" saying, you know, it`s said basically your chances in the race you`re currently in are low.  Come back and try in Texas.

WILLIAMS:  And, Robert Costa, indeed campaigns run on oxygen and jet fuel.  The oxygen you get when you`re close to a debate or a media appearance.  Jet fuel gets expensive so we should see a thinning of the herd here shortly.

COSTA:  It`s going to be very critical for some of these candidates hovering in the 1 to 2% range to make a decision by early September.  If they don`t have the money, if they don`t have the momentum, there`s that two-week period between September 1st and September 12, 13 when you have the debate in Houston where they`re going to have to make a decision.  If they`re not on that stage, how can they really carry on?  And some people will choose to run for Senate, but so often in presidential politics.  It`s not so much about other races that are opening.  It`s about money.  If you don`t have the money for that fuel, for those staffers, you have to get out.

WILLIAMS:  To Eliza Collins, to Robert Costa, two of our returning veterans, thank you both for joining us yet again tonight.

And coming up for us, just what it is that we`re watching this week that`s perhaps unique to the Trump years thus far.  Fresh from having given the President a new nickname just tonight, Rick Wilson joins us after this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you really think the Clintons are involved in Jeffrey Epstein`s death?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have no idea.  I know he was on his plane 27 times and he said he was on the plane four times.  Then the question you have to ask is did Bill Clinton go to the island because Epstein had an island.  That was not a good place, as I understand it, and I was never there.  So you have to ask, did Bill Clinton go to the island?


WILLIAMS:  The President defended his decision to spread a conspiracy theory that the Clintons are somehow involved in Jeffrey Epstein`s death while incarcerated.

On the President`s penchant for promoting baseless accusations and what it all may be doing to us, our next guest writes, "We`ve become a nation that`s moved past the famous paranoid style into outright paranoia, a weird sick merger of wishful thinking and wild conspiracy incentivized by a news media ecosystem particularly on the right that loves the idea of dark Satanic forces standing behind their political opposition."

With us now, the aforementioned Rick Wilson, veteran -- Florida man, veteran Republican strategist whose views about our 45th president are perhaps best expressed by the book title, "Everything Trump Touches Dies."

Rick, thank you for coming back and dual question to start you off.


WILLIAMS:  I watched in real-time as both Twitter and periscope lost their collective minds tonight.  So tell us about the new nickname you coined on live television this evening and the question in the main is this.  Is it a measure of our numbness that the President today can toss off a conspiracy theory about a former president who by the way I was reminded tonight was at his wedding.

WILSON:  Yes, first off, on another network tonight I coined the phrase soft-handed man baby when someone asked about whether Donald Trump had ever been in a fight.  And I seriously doubt that he`s ever, as I said, delivered or taken a punch in his life.

But on the more serious note, you know, he`s accusing Bill Clinton of being involved in a pedophile ring.  You know what?  And Bill Clinton was a skirt-chasing hound dog for his -- for the majority of his life and, you know, often would work any female within a five-block radius.  But suggesting that he was part of a murder plan to kill off someone who knew - - who had some dirt on him is -- it`s reached this point where there`s 40% of Americans who honestly believe that either that`s true or that it`s worthwhile to fake that it`s true just for the political fun of it.

WILLIAMS:  What do those 40% of Americans make of the President`s walk back on tariffs in the name of the Christmas shopping season?

WILSON:  Well, I think that a lot of them who are not in the Midwest, in the agriculture industry or in the industrial sectors in the Midwest are wondering why the greatest negotiator in the world couldn`t cut the deal.  They`re wondering why this man who claimed he was playing 47-dimensional quantum chess with the Chinese once again caved, once again was unable to cut the deal.  But the folks in the Midwest, the folks -- the farmers out there who are losing their farms, there are record bankruptcies in the farm sector right now, you`ve got these guys where the John Deeres are being hauled off the property now because they can`t pay for them, exactly because of Donald Trump`s trade war.

And you know, we`ve lost our international markets.  We`re not going to get them back anytime in the immediate future.  So the Christmas that those folks are going to have who are the victims of this trade war is not a pretty picture and the fact that he thinks that Americans are going to be placated by cheap laptops and cheap cellphones at Christmas time is not going to paper over the fact that this trade war was not easy to win and in fact was not won.

WILLIAMS:  Rick Wilson has agreed to stay with us for just a moment longer.  When we come back, we will ask him if Emma Lazarus might need a rewrite right about now.  We`re back with that, with that torch right after this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus`s words etched on the statue of liberty "give me your tired, your poor" are also part of the American ethos?

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR OF UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES:  They certainly are.  Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.


WILLIAMS:  That man oversees American immigration prior to being appointed to this job he appeared as a pro-Trump defender on CNN discussion panels.  His rewrite of the Emma Lazarus poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty made a lot of news today.  Then tonight he offered this explanation on CNN.


CUCCINELLI:  That poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren`t in the right class.


WILLIAMS:  Still with us tonight is Rick Wilson.  Rick, you`re familiar with the words and work of Ken Cuccinelli, no doubt.  And here`s the response it engendered today.  And that is that it`s some kind of changing the rules while the game is under way.  And across our country people said things like "I don`t know about the Wilsons, but the Williamses came here without any 401(k)s, no Kemp-Roth IRAs, no health care plan that we know of, probably came here with the clothing they wore."

WILSON:  You know, this is the American story writ large.  Generation after generation after generation who came here not because we were race, not because we were a single tribe but because we were a propositional nation, an idea that if you came here you could become an American.  The one unique nation on earth where there`s zero racial or cultural universality.  There`s a universality of the idea of America.

And what Ken is saying, and I think this is incredibly disappointing for a man who used to be a principled conservative, is that he has adopted the Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump mode of thinking that immigration should be based on -- I mean, look, let`s be honest about this.  This isn`t a code for whether they come here with a 401(k) or not.  It`s a code for whether they come here if they`re white or not.  And this administration is explicitly racial in its desire to have its immigration system look a certain way.

The President said it himself about s-hole countries and why aren`t they coming from Norway instead of Guatemala.  And so I think that this is a very disappointing moment.  And this is one of the things where it shows the delta between traditional conservatism, which deeply believed in the power of America to create Americans, and now the belief that being American is somehow a racial or genetic component that certain people can never have.

WILLIAMS:  How about we go out on a little Emma Lazarus?  Here it is in context.  "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me.  I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Rick Wilson, thank you for your time tonight.  Bringing your "A" game to Bill Maher Friday night because the President accidentally watched last week`s show as you may know.  So you never know.  Rick Wilson, our thanks.

WILSON:  He`ll watch.

WILLIAMS:  That is our broadcast on a Tuesday 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