Missile tests raise concerns. TRANSCRIPT: 8/20/19, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams.

Guests: Michael McFaul, Christina Goldbaum, Jon Ralston, Ken Thomas

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, our President mounts a campaign to bring Russia into the G7 by again promoting Vladimir Putin.  The American president asking the world`s economic powers to readmit the nation that invaded Ukraine before it was tossed out of what was then the G8.  A huge reversal at the White House just in to our last broadcast on what they might try to hold off a recession.

Plus, Joe Biden puts out an add for the general election not the primaries.  He is running on electability.  While a party stalwart warns against getting too far ahead of the public.

And another day of punishing heat on the East Coast in a major city with lead in the drinking water can`t seem to get safe water to its citizens so they have to line up for it and carry it home, all of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.

And, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 943 of the Trump administration.  And in the midst of an economic slowdown that could threaten his re-election, a looming battle over gun control, growing fears about domestic terrorism and the like.  The President, eager to avoid all of those topics today chose Russia and chose today to signal new support for Russia and Vladimir Putin.  Trump renewed his call for Russia to be welcomed back into what`s known as the G7, the group of leading industrialized nations.  They`re due to meet this weekend in France.

The U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan are all members of the G7.  Russia was suspended from the group when it was known as the G8 after they invaded the Crimea portion of Ukraine.  Today, Trump said it`s time to let Russia back in while also taking a not so veiled swipe at his predecessor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  -- because I`ve gone to numerous G7 meetings and I guess President Obama, because Putin outsmarted him, President Obama thought it wasn`t a good thing to have Russia in so he wanted Russia out.  But I think it`s much more appropriate to have Russia in.  It should be the G8 because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia.  So I could certainly see it being the G8 again and if somebody would make that motion I would certainly be disposed to think about it very favorably.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  It was the member nations by the way of the G7 that forced Russia out.  This is not the first time Trump has criticized Barack Obama for his response to Putin`s invasion of Ukraine.  We take you back to 2014.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Putin has eaten Obama`s lunch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP:  Well, he`s done an amazing job of taking the mantle and he has taken it away from the president.  And you look at what he is doing, so smart when you see the riots in a country because they`re hurting the Russians.  OK, we`ll go and take it over.  He`s really going step by step by step.  And you have to give him a lot of credit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Late today former Vice President Biden responded to Trump`s suggestion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I understand he said we should invite Russia back into the G8.  Give me a break.  I mean, I`m serious.  Think about that.  They invaded another country.  They broke every agreement they had with the international community.  They`ve done nothing to change their behavior except interfere in our elections.  And this guy says let them back in the G8?  Come on, man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Trump`s comments today were the latest in a series of remarks over the past few years in which he seems to offer his steadfast support to Russia and its leader Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I don`t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC.  She is saying Russia, Russia, Russia.  But I don`t -- maybe it was.  I mean, it could be Russia but it could also be china.  Could also be lots of other people.  It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.

If Putin likes Donald Trump guess what, folks?  That`s called an asset not a liability.

As far as hacking I think it was Russia but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.

My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others they said they think it`s Russia.  I have President Putin.  He just said it`s not Russia.  I will say this.  I don`t see any reason why it would be.

Russia does have 90 percent of the nuclear weapons.  So I`ve always felt getting along is a positive thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President, will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?

TRUMP:  Yes, of course I will.  Don`t meddle in the elextion, please.  Don`t meddle in the election.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That`s about how that went.  There is also building concern tonight about the possibility of some sort of new arms race with Russia.  For the first time in decades the U.S. has tested an intermediate range cruise missile, it was the first such test since the administration withdrew from the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty.  The actual missile took off faster than this one.

Had the INF Treaty still been in effect Sunday`s test would have been considered a violation.  Russia`s state news agency today called the launch, "regrettable."  The test comes just days after an explosion at a Russian missile test site that we covered here and killed at least seven people, an event we are still struggling to gather information on.  U.S. officials suspect it was caused by nuclear missile testing.  The former commander of NATO says these mounting tensions have him concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER:  You see both nations, Russia and the United States, testing and pushing new variants.

It is really going to put us in a pattern of escalation.  We do need to draw a line under the fact that Russia created this situation by cheating on the INF Treaty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  In the meantime "The New York Times" reports Trump intends to name John Sullivan the Deputy Secretary of State, veteran Washington government lawyer, and someone "The Times" described as having limited diplomatic experience dealing with Moscow as our next U.S. ambassador to Russia.  Today the President was asked about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  He is somebody that is being put up and respected very much.  To Russia?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, sir.

TRUMP:  Yes.  Very respected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So he is your pick?

TRUMP:  Well, I know that Mike Pompeo likes him very much and he is very respected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Then tonight there is this.  The President was back on social media this evening to announce he is putting off his trip to Denmark because, he says, they won`t talk about selling Greenland, "Denmark is a very special country with incredible people but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen`s comments that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time.

The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct.  I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future."

One note, Trump was invited there by the queen.

Here for our lead-off discussion on a Tuesday night, Shannon Pettypiece, a veteran journalist senior White House reporter for NBC News Digital, Michael McFaul, our former U.S. ambassador to Russia and Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.  Welcome to you all.

Ambassador, I have to begin with you.  Who, aside from Donald Trump, is looking to talk up getting Russia back into the G7 making it the G8 again?

AMB. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  Maybe Vladimir Putin, but even he does not express much interest in joining the G8 again.  And Brian, I just -- these kind of comments are just not excusable anymore.  There is no American national security interest that is advanced by that flippant comment today.  Not a single one.

On the contrary, it makes President Trump look weak.  It makes President Trump look like, I don`t know what it is, but it makes it look like he owes President Putin some kind of favor.  It`s just -- especially on the eve of the G7 meeting Putin was kicked out for a reason as Vice President Biden just explained.  He annexed and invaded Crimea.  He went into an intervention into Eastern Ukraine and the G7 rightly said, "get out of Ukraine or you get out of the G8."  And until he changes his behavior, he shouldn`t be invited back.

But he also misses an opportunity to say something positive.  What he should have said is "we should all get together in the G7 and support the new democratically elected President of Ukraine."  That`s what he should have said instead of this incredibly inane remark that he made today.

WILLIAMS:  And Frank Figliuzzi back to your life`s work and your line of work, it`s become something of a cliche` in my line of work to talk about the President`s affinity for strong men.  When you repeat these things over and over enough, it becomes like the FAP on your key board but it`s true to hear the President use the word "strong" or "strongly" to describe the people he likes and admires, how does this play out while the rest of the G7 is looking at us this coming weekend?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  Yes, look, unconditional love is a beautiful thing unless of course you`re unconditionally loving a murdering tyrant who is a declared enemy of the United States and that`s exactly what Trump is doing.  So the fall out here, you know, I`m not going to pretend to know exactly what`s going on in the President`s head.  I don`t think anyone knows.  But I do know a little bit from my Counterintelligence experience about how Putin views the world and the way he will view this is basically a signal that says, you can do anything you want and you will still have a champion in the Oval Office.  That champion is Donald Trump.

So we`re left to ponder why.  Once again we`re asking ourselves the same question.  Why so aligned with Putin?  When Russia actually needs an intervention not an invitation to the G8 to join a G8 but rather some kind of admonishment, not encouragement.  So Putin will view this as I need to continue having that kid in the Oval Office.  What do I need to do to do that?  And what have we just come out of?

The special counsel report and hearings where we learned emphatically that Russia interfered with our election.  And what are we coming up on again, Brian, but yet another Presidential election.  Is this a quid pro quo playing out in the public arena?  You do this for me, I do this for you.

WILLIAMS:  Shannon, you are hardly new to this.  It`s so tempting hearing Michael and Frank talk about this to remind younger viewers especially how highly unusual all of this is.  Aside from burnishing the prestige of Putin, are White House aides -- are they out with any list of particulars or takeaways or deliverables they actually hope to achieve at this weekend`s meeting of what is still as of air time the G7?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC NEWS.COM SR. White House REPORTER:  Well, I mean, they do have a number of them.  They need help with China.  They need help with Iran.  The President needs some allies.  If he is going to take on China in a trade war which he doesn`t show signs of so far of letting up on, that could certainly change for tweet tomorrow morning, but wouldn`t it be easier if he had the G7 countries behind him?  If he wanted to pressure Iran wouldn`t that be easier if he had the G7 countries in that pressure campaign?

And there`s a reason he doesn`t have allies.  It`s because he`s broken all norms, because he`s, you know, thumbed his nose at our allies.  The last G7, if you remember, he got into an odd Twitter tiff with Justin Trudeau because he didn`t like a statement that Trudeau made after the G7 when Trump was flying to meet with Kim Jong-un.

So, he`s had a hard time and I`ve heard this about Trump personally that he has a hard time telling who his friends are and who his enemies are.  And I think early on there were certainly people in the White House who felt a strategy of keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer, with Putin, with Xi, with Kim Jung-un, that, you know, keep your enemies closer.  But now it seems like the President is still struggling to understand that these leaders aren`t his friends, that Putin isn`t his friend.  And certainly other world leaders have gone down the path thinking that they could make a friend or an ally out of Putin and it hasn`t worked out and they`ve given up and moved on.  But we`re over two and a half years in, 943 days I think you said, Brian, and President Trump is still struggling to realize that Putin is an adversary of the U.S.

WILLIAMS:  Ambassador, about your former job, do you know anything at all about this John Sullivan?  Apparently the new nominee, he is Pompeo`s choice, that almost means by definition he`s going to be Trump`s choice.  How do you think he`ll view his mission?  And is this just another case where we have to hope we are sending a very good person who will do the job in the best interests of our country?

MCFAUL:  So I don`t personally know Deputy Secretary Sullivan.  By all accounts he is very competent and well respected at the State Department.  But that`s not the issue.  The issue is he has to go and represent the Trump administration when the Trump administration doesn`t agree as to what its policy toward Russia is.

So let`s be clear about that.  I don`t know of a single person in the administration that supports what President Trump said today.  Most certainly Secretary of State Pompeo has never said something like that.  National Security Adviser Bolton has never said anything like that.  So what do you do when you`re the representative of the United States of America and President Trump and the administration and Moscow when you have one person, President Trump, who disagrees almost entirely with the rest of his administration?  That`s a very difficult job to take on right now.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, Susan Glasser in the current "New Yorker" has almost a book length article on our Secretary of State.  It -- through a lot of sources straight up, accuses the Secretary of State being a sycophant for and to the President including some salty language to describe the President`s southern exposure.  How can that affect morale and work product inside the government agencies that must function here in order for us to function overseas?

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, what happens is everybody has seen at the top, at Cabinet level positions, what happens to those who speak out, have their own opinions, and try to give honest advice to the President.  They don`t last long.  So you now have a Secretary of State that has seen that over and over again and he is not going to let that happen to him.  That trickles down through the State Department when people feel like they can`t bring the truth to the Secretary.  And they will get perhaps punished for bringing truth and intelligence and true diplomatic solutions to the Secretary.

And if it keeps falling on deaf ears eventually those career experts find something else to do with their lives.  That`s a disincentive to speak the truth and I think that`s what might be happening at the State Department right now.

WILLIAMS:  And Shannon Pettypiece, shiny object alert for the following.  Are we really being led to believe that Donald Trump was going to try to mow green the queen of Denmark and that maybe the entire trip invited by the queen to meet with their government leader was predicated on him making an offer for Greenland they couldn`t refuse?

PETTYPIECE:  You know, we honestly had no idea in the press corps I will say initially why he was taking this trip to Denmark.  He comes back from the G7 next Tuesday and then he leaves for Poland where there`s a World War II ceremony that he`s going to participate in and then goes to Denmark.  And a lot of us were scratching our heads trying to figure out why.

"The Wall Street Journal" and my great press corps colleagues over there may have figured out the reason, but I think this kind of remains a mystery to all of us if that`s what this trip was really about or if it was just accepting a polite invitation and in the course of that this Greenland topic came up because of course the President had previously said that this wasn`t an issue on the front burner, it was just something he was mulling that was a few days ago or maybe even yesterday he said that and now it was an entire reason to cancel the trip.  I will say, though, the President has canceled a number of foreign trips.  We kind of, you know, are used to buying refundable air fare at this point on foreign trips.  So it`s not completely unexpected that this trip would fall off the itinerary somehow.

WILLIAMS:  Well, this is our life, our country, and our world on a mid summer`s night in 2019.  And our thanks to our big three for starting off our conversation.  To Shannon Pettypiece, to Ambassador Mike McFaul, and to Frank Figliuzzi, we greatly appreciate it.

Up next, an about face and a retreat by the President today on two critical issues facing our country.

And then later, who`s up and notably who has gone way down in the latest poll of Democrats for 2020?  Two top political reporters will brief us live from key battleground states as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Tuesday night beneath the Washington monument.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  -- payroll taxes, I`ve been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time.  Whether or not we do it now or not is -- it`s not being done because of recession because we are -- legitimately if we had a cut in interest rates by the Fed, if they would do their job properly, and if they would do a meaningful cut, because they raised too fast, you would see growth like you`ve not seen ever in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  He`s been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time nothing to do with the coming recession.  Those comments from the President today came hours after his White House spokesperson, Hogan Gidley, said "payroll tax not being considered at this time."  The Trump White House has downplayed, as you might understand, any talk of a recession in recent days.

Nancy Cook over at POLITICO reports tonight, "At a fundraising luncheon this week in Jackson, Wyoming, headlined by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged the risk to the GOP elite behind closed doors.  If the U.S. hypothetically were to face a recession it would be moderate and short Mulvaney told roughly 50 donors, according to an attendee."

Back with us tonight Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS and Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press.  Gentlemen, good evening to you both.

Robert, I`d like to start with you.  Any concern being shared with you on the part of Republicans in Congress that we may be coming to a turn in the road?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  There is concern within the Republican Party tonight talking to White House officials and Congressional aides and some lawmakers.  They say that the discussions within the White House make sense.  They understand the President trying to navigate a possible economic downturn on the horizon.  But they do worry that the discussion of a payroll tax cut could send the wrong signal to the market, that it shows an administration on edge about the economy.  And so that`s why they`re sometimes urging this administration and the President himself to pull back from some of these more dramatic measures.

WILLIAMS:  Jonathan, I have something to show you.  The Reuters news agency is reporting lay offensive by U.S. Steel and the State of Michigan.  This President as you know loves talking about U.S. steel.  We`ll take a look.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  United States Steel is opening up six plants.

The head of United States Steel called me the other day.  We`re opening up seven of them.

U.S. Steel called me up.  They`re expanding or opening six plants.

They`re opening up seven other plants.

U.S. Steel just announced that they`re building six new steel mills.

U.S. Steel is opening up seven plants.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was all within the space of the summer of 2018.  What is the truth, Jonathan Lemire?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  The truth is that the math is not the President`s strong point it would appear.  Those are not happening.  In fact U.S. steel has had to close plants in Michigan and other places in the Midwest. There has not been an expansion of plants.  We see here hundreds of workers in Michigan, but that`s just the latest of a series of sort of restrictions.

This is an industry despite the President`s promises, this disagreed (ph) manufacturing and so as others.  It`s not a dazzling market right now.  These are places where towns are suffering, workers are not getting the growth that they want.

And in terms of the politics of it, there`s a worry around the White House that the President has over promised.  Not just about this issue here, but in terms of growth time and time again.  And people I was talking to this week suggest that even if we don`t the country doesn`t hit a full blown recession and that`s still up for debate, whether it does or not.  But if there is enough of a slowdown and the growth tops out at one percent, two percent rather than four percent, that`s just less than the President has said.  There`s far -- and then his credibility on the issue is it comes into question.  And those workers in the Midwest, particularly in those three states that we keep talking about time and time again that he needs to win again, if not all but at least a portion of them to win re-election, Pennsylvania, Ohio -- Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Ohio too perhaps, if he can`t deliver those he can`t win again.  And if those the places that are not seeing the economy, if they feel like he has let them down, he has to fulfill his promises, he is in trouble.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa how is it we heard today the President is now against background checks?

COSTA:  The President spoke for about 45 minutes to the head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre.  Based on my reporting that Wayne LaPierre continues to hold the line for his organization against background checks, against red flag laws.  And this is a president who is looking ahead to 2020, his confidantes tell me, and knows he needs Evangelicals at his side, his core voters who are NRA supporters at his side.

And so he`s being told in firm language by Wayne LaPierre in a private phone call, "Do not break with us on this if at all possible."  He knows that President Trump is getting pressure from Ivanka Trump, from some congressional Republicans to take action.  The President also knows like when he went to that NRA convention during the early months of his presidency that`s a roaring base for him and he doesn`t want it to wane.

WILLIAMS:  Jonathan, to take the other side of the argument the President`s problem is not Ivanka Trump, it`s the poll numbers.  I`ve seen them as high as 94 percent for background checks.  Our current number is 89 percent.  Try getting 89 percent of Americans to agree on anything.  That`s an electoral problem potentially.

LEMIRE:  It is.  The poll numbers are overwhelming, NRA members, Republicans.  The President has long as we know been anxious about alienating his base here.  But it seems like this is the perfect moment where he could mobilize his base, energize his base.  At the very least not pay a price from his base and be able to give cover to Republicans in the Senate who might be nervous.

If the President were to come out and if it were just background checks, not even something more substantial he`d probably be able to move the party with him.  He (INAUDIBLE) where you could defy the NRA, the organization that is under duress right now financially.  Wayne LaPierre, the chairman, is under incredible scrutiny, you know, for his own -- for some financial misdeeds, alleged financial misdeeds.

This is the moment where if he wanted to he could push them.  But instead of using his capital on this, on background checks NRA, we`re talking about Greenland, we`re talking about other issues, we`re talking about his comments today about questioning the loyalty of American Jews and that is something that people around him grow very anxious about.  That they feel like he is not staying on task first on the economy and now on an issue like this which could be a political winner even for Republicans.

WILLIAMS:  Gentlemen can`t thank you enough.  The reporting doesn`t come much fresher than this.  Robert Costa, Jonathan Lemire, our great thanks for coming on tonight.

And coming up, a desperate plea from a Newark, New Jersey pastor, "We don`t need money," he said, "We need water."  A look at what families are facing there on a hot summer night when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Tonight thousands of people in Newark, New Jersey are relying on bottled water to do what so many of us take for granted.  The water coming into their homes is contaminated with lead at levels that exceed federal standards.  While the city tests the water supply, it`s giving out free cases of bottled water.

But as we`ve reported, only two cases at a time every two weeks for all of life`s needs and if you want it, you got to come and get it.  With no system to get water to its people, now the churches in Newark are stepping up as churches so often do.

We want to show you the local news coverage we get to see here in the New York area as recently as tonight.  Here is tonight`s report from our NBC TV station WNBC and Veteran New Jersey Reporter Brian Thompson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BISHOP JETHRO JAMES, PARADISE BAPTIST CHURCH:  Bring us the water.

BRIAN THOMPSON, WNBC REPORTER (voice-over):  An appeal from a Newark pulpit for help.  Newark`s water crisis now into its second week the city`s free water distribution plan showing leaks as people struggle with their two allotted cases something the mayor warns could go on for at least another month.  Now ministers today agreeing to mount their own water collection and distribution plan.  One family with five children wilting under the strain.

ALTARIK MORTON, NEWARK RESIDENT:  Right now when we leave here I have to go to the supermarket and buy water out of my pocket, cash.

THOMPSON (voice-over):  Altarik Morton`s 2-year-old son Elijah just tested for elevated lead levels.  From the pulpit, this appeal to the nation.

JAMES:  Send your brother some water.  We don`t need money.  We need water.

THOMPSON (voice-over):  For the Morton family, this church distribution plan may be the answer they`ve been praying for.

FAITH MORTON, NEWARK RESIDENT:  We got to eat, wash, brush your teeth, that`s a lot of water to be buying when you don`t have money like that.

JAMES:  She is not going to leave here in the same condition she came.  Her car will be full of water.

THOMPSON (voice-over):  Hearing their story, Bishop James swung into action.  Minutes later, the Morton family was on its way with a starter case of water and the promise of more to come.

JAMES:  We can handle it.  We can house it.  We can distribute it if we have to turn our sanctuary into a warehouse for water for all people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

THOMPSON:  The logistics of this plan do sound daunting but Bishop James says that it`s been done before during sandy and, quote, we`ll get it done.

WILLIAMS:  Now, the work of Brian Thompson for our local station, the "New York Times" has also been covering this crisis.  The reporter for the latest piece in the paper is Christina Goldbaum, she`s been kind enough to join us in our studios tonight.

Your story talks about the sign you see on some new construction that says, city of Newark, lead safe house.  Which leads me to believe that lead has been a thing in Newark for a good many years.  How long have they known about this?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  So the lead safe houses were first constructed back around 2009-2010 when kids started showing that they had elevated levels of lead in their blood.  Then our reporting shows that in 2015 is when there was a chemistry change in how they were treating water in one of the two water treatment plants in the city.  They were dealing with a different contaminant.

And because of what they ended up putting in the water, the water became more acidic.  And what happens with acidic water is that as it travels through lead pipes, the lead begins to leech into the water supply itself.  It grabs the lead as it goes.

And so a year later in 2016 is when the city began giving out bottled water to schools because the school water had also shown that there were elevated levels of lead.  The next year they decided to test every six months to see if the water going into people`s homes also showed these elevated levels of lead.  And three consecutive tests showed that indeed, they were twice the federal standard for lead.  And then it wasn`t until really last summer in 2018 when an organization sued the city, saying that they had violated the safe water laws that the city finally responded last fall by giving out 38,000 filters to people to use in their homes.

WILLIAMS:  What was the problem with those filters?

GOLDBAUM:  Well, as the EPA letter from August 9th shows, the filters were not doing enough to protect residents.  And that is why the city has begun giving out bottled water essentially saying that the filters we gave you aren`t necessarily keeping you and your family safe.

WILLIAMS:  What am I missing?  As I look at this story, why has no one stepped up?  Why is everyone seemingly OK with these pictures?  This was a hot day today.  We had lines as you chronicled around the block at some of these water distribution centers.  And there are only four.

It strikes me this could become a kind of slow motion Katrina (ph) in 16- ounce increments.  We`ve got a Democratic governor and mayor.  We have Senators Menendez and Booker, both Democrats.  I`m reminded that Senator Booker lives in Newark and is running for president.  What`s going on here?

GOLDBAUM:  That is the question that a lot of Newark residents are asking right now as well.  Especially because I think a lot of people now are wondering why Mayor Baraka has not done more even though for about a year and a half, there have been high levels of lead in the water.  And now I think people -- not everyone, first of all, had access to the bottled water.

Some people were told that their water was coming from the other water treatment facility so they would be fine or they`re living in newer houses that don`t necessarily have lead piping.  And now even those people are wondering, a, why am I not getting water?  And, b, why should I trust what the city is telling me, that my water is safe because consistently they have -- city officials have not stepped up to the plate in residents` views to protect people even though they knew that there was lead in this water.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you for coming to our studios.  Thank you for your reporting on this.  To our viewers, another byline to look for in the "New York Times" on this story.  Our thanks to Christina Goldbaum for coming in.

Coming up for us, there are 167 days until the Iowa caucuses.  But from the looks of what we`re seeing on television Joe Biden seems to be running in the general election.  THE 11TH HOUR continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  To presidential politics now, new polling out today shows Joe Biden maintaining his lead among Democrats.  CNN poll has Biden sitting at 29 percent up seven points since June.  Sanders and Warren in a virtual tie for second place.

Here is the story.  Kamala Harris has dropped 12 points since her numbers spiked after the first debate in June.  She`s now tied with Buttigieg at 5 percent.  Biden is campaigning in Iowa today.  As we mentioned, his campaign is out with a new ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We know in our bones this election is different.  The stakes are higher.  The threat more serious.  We have to beat Donald Trump.  And all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job.  No one is more qualified.

For eight years President Obama and Vice President Biden were an administration America could be proud of.  Our allies could trust and our kids could look up to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So the decidedly general election feeling ad goes on to say Joe Biden will restore the soul of America.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump getting a lot of attention for these remarks he made today while continuing his feud with the four congresswomen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Where is the Democratic Party gone?  Where have they gone where they`re defending these two people over the state of Israel?  And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  A lot to talk about.  With us to do it tonight, Jon Ralston back with us, Veteran Journalist, Editor at Nevada Independent and Ken Thomas, Political Reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" covering the Democrats running for the White House.  That`s a lot of people he has to cover.  He joins us from Iowa where he`s been covering the Biden campaign of late.

So Jon, couple stats here.  Among those Americans who identify as Jewish 8 of 10 went for the democrat`s last presidential election up from 7 out of 10 in the previous election.  Calling people out for divided loyalties has long been an anti-Semitic trope, calling people out lacking intelligence has long been considered political suicide.  What do you think the thinking is here, Jon?

JON RALSTON, EDITOR, THE NEVADA INDEPENDENT:  I can`t believe you think there is thinking behind this, Brian.  Listen, Trump just says what Trump says.  And what`s amazing about this he`s been accusing the squad of anti- semitism.  He calls people dumb all the time.

But the point is that is an obvious anti-Semitic trope that he came up with today, the dual loyalty attack on Democrats who -- or on Jews who are voting for Democrats.  I mean, Brian, that`s completely outrageous.  And you know what?  In the world that we live in now when you know this all too well being on television every night, you probably will be talking about something completely different tomorrow night.  It would have been forgotten, into the vapors.  That`s what the most amazing thing is about the Trump era, isn`t it.

Brian, he says one outrageous thing after another and this is outrageous enough that conservative writers have gone out to accuse him of anti- semitism of not understanding what anti-semitism is.  But this stuff seems to be forgotten within hours.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  Jon, summing up these times it`s like we live several weeks in the course of one day and sometimes we wistfully think back to what used to pass as a lead story on our broadcast.

Hey Ken, on the Biden campaign, the most interesting development so far this week in addition to this very gauzy, good look and good sounding general election ad, let`s not bring G.E. into this, it was Dr. Jill Biden talking yesterday about the campaign kind of -- her message was don`t let the great be the enemy of the good -- trying to indicate they get it and talking about electability.  Let`s air that.  We`ll talk with you coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN:  So yes.  You know, I -- you know, your candidate might be better on, I don`t know, healthcare than Joe is but you`ve got to look at who is going to win this election.  And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say OK, I personally like so and so better but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Ken, your response to that and how people have taken those comments.

KEN THOMAS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Yes.  The sub text is almost like maybe he`s not the candidate of your dreams but these are unique times and we have to look at what`s most important which is in the Biden campaign view is electability.  I mean, I thought what was interesting in the ad that they put out today, the tag line has this idea of steady leadership and I think that is really the Biden campaign response to the comments the President made, you know, about Jewish voters.  And the way that they are trying to make the argument that he is someone you wouldn`t have to feel concerned about.  You could, you know, trust that he would be able to have a steady hand for the country, you know, after fairly tumultuous times that we live in.

WILLIAMS: Both gentlemen have agreed to stick with us.  We`re just going to get in a break here.  And coming up, we`re learning who is on next month`s debate stage.  And some of what they`ll be arguing about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Some news from today, we learned that former House Secretary Julian Castro has qualified for the second Democratic debate in September.  So far there are 10 in all.

Here is the news from today, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Searchlight, Nevada told "Vice News," "Of course Medicare for all would be problematic for the Democrats in the 2020 general election".  He`s also isn`t happy with some candidates calling for decriminalizing border crossings.

Back with us, Jon Ralston and Ken Thomas.  Sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed where Jon joins us from.  Jon, I know you`re a licensed radiologist (ph) and have been interpreting the thoughts and musings of Harry Reid for years.  Actually a whole lot of Democrats are going to be really happy.  He said this, no one knows how we would pay for Medicare for all and no one really loves the thought of just opening the borders and putting up a sign.  So tell me the thought process and is anyone going to listen among national Democrats.

RALSTON:  Well, whether anyone listens or not, I`m not sure Brian, you`re right that I think a lot of Democrats were happy to hear them say that.  On the other hand, I think a lot of them were very upset especially supporters of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders that Harry Reid would do what Harry Reid is always done which is to forget to put on his self-editing mechanism before he talks to the media.

In fact I`m not sure he owns one.  But this is classic Harry Reid, Brian.  He clearly is worried about how Medicare for all or decriminalizing the border will play in the general election.  He talked about Joe Biden in that same interview and talked about Biden having a good operation here in Nevada.  Biden really is not here in Nevada at all.

But Harry Reid is the prototypical Democratic voter who cares about one thing and that is electability and beating Donald Trump.  And he is signaling to the Democrats, be careful where you are going.  You go too far left.  It`s going to help reelect Trump.

Whether anyone will listen to him, it`s probably too late for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  They have staked out their ground.  But this to me is Harry Reid saying we need to beat Trump at all costs.  Don`t talk about these things that majority of Americans may not like.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  Ken, Jon is right.  It`s fine to like Medicare for all as an idea and work to out, it is fine to believe our border should be decriminalized.  The Majority Leader saying if you want to get elected, here is a possible pass.  What are you hearing in Iowa?

THOMAS:  These are two things that just don`t pull that well.  It just raises concerns from more of the moderate, middle of the road Democrats who are probably more in the Biden camp right now.  And what`s interesting is we`ve seen some of the Democrats sort of walk back specially Medicare for all.

You know, Kamala Harris has talked more recently about, you know, allowing private insurance systems to be in compliance Medicare rules as a way to offer a choice but not necessarily get rid of the whole entire private insurance system.  You know, at this point, there`s a concern that you might be exceeding an advantage of healthcare that the Democrats had in the midterm elections to President Trump even though he hasn`t offered any real alternative or any way to ensure that`s a preexisting conditions would be protected.

WILLIAMS:  Two of the professionals in their field that we enjoy turning to.  And we hope they`ll always come back on our broadcast.  Jon Ralston, Ken Thomas, gentlemen, thank you both.

And coming up, one of those topics Jon was talking about that just might get by because there are so much other news going on.  We`ll try to give it our time and attention after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight.  You would be for given for finding at least the hit, the under current of cruelty in some of the news we have covered tonight and this week and go ahead and throw this on the pile with all of that.  The Department of Homeland Security announcing a new rule to hold immigrant families in detention for the duration of their immigration proceedings that would greatly increase the time they are held.  It`s expected to be instantly challenged in court.

On a related front, three children have died in detention centers in recent months after being brought here illegally.  Doctors believe the flu killed the three children.  What we learned today the government has no plans to vaccinate arriving migrant families as this next flu season approaches.

As you know the flu travels fast in tight corners.  It attacks the most vulnerable.  Concerned doctors have been begging Congress to investigate how we care for the people we round up.

And finally there is this, a sweeping lawsuit just filed against the Trump administration by immigration advocates to improve medical and physical health treatments at these 160 federal locations.  Quoting now from Politico, "Detainees with medical and mental health conditions and those with disabilities face settings so brutal, including delays and denials of Medical care, overuse of solitary confinement and lack of disability accommodations that they have led to permanent harm and 24 deaths in the last two years".

According to what`s been shared with Politico further.  "According to the lawsuit, one plaintiff with a brain parasite has received no treatments for over a year.  Another has not received surgery for a torn rotator cuff during three years in detention.  And one lost vision in his left eye due to lack of timely care in custody."

While all too often our court system is where urgent matters go to die.  Everything we just reported is an urgent matter to someone.  We will report on the progress of all of them.

That is our broadcast for this 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