BILL KARINS, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST: Today was fantastic for Miami and for Tampa Fort Myers, the Naples areas, but still anywhere from above North of Miami to West Palm Beach, Jupiter, all towards Palm Bay, the Melbourne area, the space coast all the way through Flagler County, Volusia County, we still have to closely watch those areas. The Hurricane Center does now have it at Category 2 up towards Georgia and South Carolina, Lawrence. So, we`re not down with this yet by far. It`s going to be a nervous weekend, we will still have mass evacuations. We have to prepare for the worst, but we still hope that this trend off shore continues.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: We will be watching. Bill Karins, thank you very much for joining us with that important news. Appreciate it.
That is "Tonight`s Last Word." "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, a new update posting this very minute on the path of Hurricane Dorian, as residents in the Bahamas and Florida go into emergency mode. Could Georgia and the Carolinas be next? We have everything you need to know about what`s happening now and what`s coming next as this Category 4 hurricane churns offshore.
Plus the President posts a classified satellite photo on Twitter to taunt Iran while a new round of tariffs on China is set to hit this weekend. One of the President`s vaunted generals gets ready to speak out. "The 11th Hour" on a Friday night starts right now.
Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams who has the night off. Day 953 of the Trump administration. And the President is at Camp David tonight as Hurricane Dorian takes aim at the Florida coast. The National Hurricane Center said today the now Category 4 hurricane poses a significant threat to the northwestern Bahamas and to Florida. Earlier today, before departing for Camp David, President Trump addressed the approaching storm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The hurricane is roaring in, it could be a big one. We`re hoping it maybe makes a right and goes up north. But that`s about a five percent chance. It`s not looking good. And it`s one of the biggest hurricanes we`ve seen in a long time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: We will bring you a full forecast on Hurricane Dorian in just a moment. But first, we are also following news out of the White House on a number of fronts this evening.
Earlier today the President tweeted about a failed rocket launch in Iran along with an image of the launch site, "The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One."
According to two outside experts, the photo would only be available to a government source, so it was clearly classified. Earlier today the President was asked about his tweet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you release classified information by tweeting that photo about Iran?
TRUMP: No. I just wish Iran well. They had a big problem. And we had a photo. And I released it which I have the absolute right to do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where did it come from?
TRUMP: And we`ll see what happens. You`ll have to figure that one out for yourself. But we`ll see what happens. They had a big mishap. It`s unfortunate. And so Iran, as you probably know, they were going to set off a big missile and it didn`t work out too well. It had nothing to do with us.
KORNACKI: We also have a new report from "The Washington Post" that says President Trump`s National Security Adviser John Bolton has been sidelined from Afghanistan policy. "His opposition to the diplomatic effort in Afghanistan has irritated President Trump and led aides to leave the National Security Council out of sensitive discussions about the agreement. This, as former Defense Secretary James Mattis who resigned in protest over Trumps policies will appear on CBS this weekend.
In an interview Mattis said, "I will not speak ill of a sitting president. I`m not going to do it. He`s an unusual president, our President is. And I think that especially with the -- just the rabid nature of politics today, we`ve got to be careful. We could tear this country apart.
Meanwhile, a senior administration official tells NBC News the White House is putting a $250 million aid package to Ukraine under review. This is money that`s meant to help Ukraine confront the threat of Russian aggression. The official confirms the President has been consulting with his national security team about the money and that President Trump has concerns about how much allies are contributing to the assistance fund.
As you might imagine, a number of lawmakers are not happy with this news. Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut, released a statement that said, "There have also been reports of Rudy Giuliani, acting as a representative of the President, personally asking the Ukrainians to investigate President Trump`s political opponents, namely Joe Biden. I would hope this possible suspension of military aid is not connected to the Ukrainians` unwillingness to do the bidding of President Trump`s campaign."
Earlier today our own Hallie Jackson spoke to Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey, about the news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): There is no good policy reason. This isn`t about money. We gave a record amount of money to the administration in this past deal. So either the President is somehow compromised, he is either spineless as it relates to standing up to Putin, or he`s infatuated with his authoritarian figure and Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: We are also following news on the trade war with China, the President has now delayed tariffs on some goods until December. But starting on Sunday the U.S. will start collecting a 15 percent tariff on $112 billion worth of Chinese imports.
Earlier today, the President said meetings are scheduled with China and that calls are being made. He also said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The tariffs have put us in an incredible negotiating position. And I say that to China directly. And it`s only going to get worse for China.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And we are going to talk about all of this in just a moment with top White House reporters who are standing by. But first, right now, just past 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast, that means a new update on Hurricane Dorian. And so for the very latest, we are joined by Ed Rappaport, Deputy Director of the National Hurricane Center.
Ed, we`re thrilled to have you with us. Tell us the latest about what you know.
ED RAPPAPRORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I mean quite a few changes today with Dorian. In the last several hours, the intensification trend that we saw during much of the day has continued. And so now we have a Category 4 hurricane. Maximum winds have increased to 140 miles per hour from just about 100 miles per hour -- 24 hours ago. So, quite an intensification.
And we also know that the storm has changed a bit in direction, as forecast, from northwest to west-northwest. And now we expect it to move towards the west, take a run at the Florida East Coast over the next 24 to 36 hours and potentially bring a devastating landfall to the Florida peninsula later on Sunday or Monday.
KORNACKI: And do you have a sense that, Ed, what the odds right now currently are for landfalling in Florida versus somehow missing it and then staying off the coast there?
RAPPAPORT: Yes. Right now the forecast actually has the center coming up right along the coast. And even if it should turn away we were just thinking about this for South Florida. You can see the center turning just before it gets to the coast. If that were to occur, that would be better news. But we still have close to a 100 percent chance of tropical storm conditions over South Florida. And it`s still 50/50 for hurricane conditions there as well.
The problem, though, is we could be off just a little bit in the forecast. If the center comes a little bit farther to the west before it makes that turn to the north, that brings the landfall right into South Florida. And so everybody in the Florida peninsula we`re urging to prepare for the eventuality, at least the possibility of a landfalling major hurricane.
KORNACKI: All right, everyone, we`re watching this very closely as the storm slowly makes its way there. Ed Rappaport, thank you very much. We appreciate that.
And here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, and Tessa Berenson, White House Correspondent for Time Magazine. Thanks to all of you for being with us.
Tessa, let me begin with you. We`re just talking about the storm right there. You have the President at Camp David now. It seems the White House has a certain image, it is hoping the President can project here as the storm makes its way potentially to Florida. Is the President going to go along with that?
TESSA BERENSON, TIME MAGAZINE WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, I mean, the storm hasn`t made landfall yet in Florida and I think you`re already seeing this push and pull between the President Trump`s instincts and the administration wanting to avoid a response to a hurricane like his response to Hurricane Maria two years ago that was so heavily criticized. So, you have President Trump cancelling his trip to Poland. He brought an advisor to Camp David to give him updates on the storm. He tweeted White House video pledging support.
But in his more unscripted moments on Twitter for example you`ve also seen him go back to his political fight with leadership in Puerto Rico and sort of pickets some of those old political fights. So you`re already seeing the tension, the storm hasn`t even arrived in the mainland yet. And it remains to be seen whether President Trump will be a unifier in the case of a natural disaster or if it will be another moment of projecting empathy as such that he`s struggled with in the past.
KORNACKI: And so well the President Trump has holed up at Camp David now as we mention throughout the day. He was very active on Twitter, very active there talking to the press before heading to Camp David on a number of subjects. One of the subjects that came up, in fact, when he was talking to reporters was the tariffs. The tariffs he`s imposed as part of the trade war with China, increasingly complaints from corporate America from business leaders about the effect they say those tariffs are having. The President addressed that criticism. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: A lot of badly-run companies are trying to blame tariffs. In other words, if they`re running badly and they`re having a bad quarter or they`re just done unlucky in some way, they`re likely to blame the tariffs. It`s not the tariffs. It`s called bad management.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And Peter, you have a new piece up tonight looking at the President`s strategy on the trade war, on the economy. What do you make of what he just said there in that clip?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, what the President needs to do is find somebody to blame if the economy turns south. And you`ve heard him do this again and again in recent days, particularly about Jay Powell, Federal Reserve chairman, who he himself appointed.
Just last Friday he called Jay Powell an enemy. He attacked him again on Twitter today. He`s attacked Democrats. He`s attacked the news media for cheerleading for a recession. In effect, he`s trying to say if things go bad, it isn`t because of anything I did, it`s because these other people are out to get America or me or the economy or whatever.
And he`s added now American businesses to the list. These are the people of course who he`s courting the most when it comes to his deregulatory and lower tax agenda. But he`s saying basically when they complain about his tariffs, they`re off the reservation and they`re wrong in blaming him for their own mismanagement.
KORNACKI: You know, and Jill, we saw earlier this week there was some reporting that made clear the President as he looks towards his reelection campaign in 2020 is mindful of that wall he promised in 2016, showing tangible progress towards some kind of completion there before Election Day 2020. But it`s interesting on this topic of the economy. You say you have been hearing from some folks around the White House that this behind the scenes, the state of the economy, is increasingly what worries them and the President.
JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, very much. I mean, look, both these things are at play, the President is looking here back to the last 2 1/2 years, looking at his accomplishments and the way he`s going to be able to package that and sell that when he really hits the road next year in earnest as the campaign heats up. One of those promises was obviously the wall. At this point no new miles of wall have been constructed. The administration is obviously hoping to be able to change that soon by the end of the year and going into next year.
But the number one issue right now on the President`s mind is the economy. Look, the argument that the White House has been making now, and the campaign has been making for several months, is the argument we can make to voters is even if you don`t likely the President`s tweets, even if you don`t like the way he comports himself, look at your pocketbook and look how the economy is doing. And as we see these worrying signs of potential recession or at least potential economic slowdown, the President is growing increasingly panicked. And we`ve heard a number of different options that he has thrown out publicly seemingly all over the map, saying one day he supports an idea, the next day he doesn`t like the idea. You see that kind of spilling out of the discussion that`s happening behind the scenes as they try to figure out mechanisms to try to help.
KORNACKI: Excuse me. And the President, again, with those comments about what he says are badly run companies, blaming tariffs, those obviously raised some eyebrows today. But so did that tweet we mentioned in the introduction there. That tweet of what apparently was classified material about Iran.
Tessa, two questions here. Number one, I say classified, if I understand this correctly, once the President does it, does something like this, he has in effect unilaterally declassified it. He`s, in other words, able to do this. If you can explain that just in terms of from a legal standpoint, can he do that, when we say classified material? But also the question of why?
BERENSON: Right. So the President today said he had, "the absolute right to release that photo," and that is essentially true. The President has the legal authority to declassify information related to national security concerns. There is a Supreme Court case in 1988 which said that that largely -- it`s a constitutional authority, it comes from the constitution and separation of powers. And it is also governed by executive orders. The latest of which was signed by President Trump Obama in 2009. So even if that image had been classified, President Trump could declassify it.
Now, that doesn`t mean that there wouldn`t be strategic concerns or whether it would be alarming if he didn`t consult the Intelligence Community before doing so. There could be plenty of questions about why he made that decision. There just likely wouldn`t be legal -- there are likely won`t be any legal questions or legal concerns about that.
KORNACKI: Yes. And Peter, from a strategic standpoint, what might -- is there any sense what might be accomplished in terms of the U.S. and Iran and that relationship by tweeting that out?
BAKER: Well, it`s a good question. In fact the nature of the tweet, not just the picture itself but the words he used, are a little ambiguous and they can be read in a couple of different ways. He seemed in one version to be basically taunting them, saying, not only we had nothing to do with it, sorry, I hope, you know, wish you good luck as you try to figure out what happened, is that a taunt, is that trying to basically, you know, jab them? Or is he in fact actually trying to say, "Look, we had nothing to do with it, don`t blame us," because he actually is interested in having some sort of talks in the coming weeks.
Remember just last week I was with him at the G7 where Emmanuel Macron, the French President, was trying to arrange for him to meet with President Rouhani of Iran sometime in the next few weeks, that could potentially be at the U.N. general assembly which is coming up in September. There -- you know, both sides are maneuvering and saying, "Well, maybe not, only these conditions will apply." But if the President is really interested in doing that, does this episode change that dynamic, is he trying to preserve the possibility with the tweet or is he doing the opposite, is he in fact trying to goad the Iranians and taunt them for another failure that in fact may or may not have had anything to do with the United States?
KORNACKI: All right. Peter, Tessa, and Jill are all staying with us.
And coming up, the ouster of a White House insider.
And later, Bill Karins is going to give us the very latest on the direction of Hurricane Dorian, another new update just coming just in. "The 11th Jour" just getting started on a Friday night.
KORNACKI: Last night "The New York Times" first reported that President Trump`s executive assistant abruptly resigned after coming under scrutiny for sharing intimate details about the President`s family with reporters. And tonight, we are getting some more details about what happened.
Katy Rogers, Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman from "The New York Times" report, "At an off the record dinner and several rounds of drinks with reporters two weeks ago during the President`s working vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey, Madeleine Westerhout shared personal details about the President and his family. Ms Westerhout attended the dinner with Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman. After he left, she began to tell reporters about Mr. Trump`s eating habits, his youngest son, Baron Trump, and the weight and appearance of his daughter Tiffany Trump, according to a group of current former administration officials who were told what happened."
This evening the President was asked about the departure of his assistant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you fire Madeleine Westerhout?
TRUMP: I think it was automatic. I don`t say fire or not fire. And I really think she had a bad night. I think it was unfortunate. She said she was drinking. And the whole thing was very unfortunate. And I think the press is very dishonest because it was supposed to be off the record. But still, you don`t say things like she said which were just a little bit hurtful to some people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When she talked about you not wanting to be in pictures with Tiffany, is that true?
TRUMP: No, Tiffany is great, I love Tiffany. I love Tiffany.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Back with us, Peter Baker, Jill Colvin, and Tessa Berenson. Well, Peter, it was about 24 hours ago that this story was first breaking and it caused quite a bit of, I`d say confusion, a lot of questions were asked. And now some of the blanks are being filled in. But what more can you tell us about what was going on there and what led to this?
BAKER: Well, look, you know nobody in this White House or few people in this White House spent as much time or was close to the President physically every day as Madeleine Westerhout. She had an office just outside of the Oval Office. She was a gatekeeper for the President. If you wanted to be -- if you want to have a chance to talk to him, she was a good person to know in the West Wing.
And so for her to suddenly be on the outs was shocking, I think, to a lot of people. You know, she had been seen as one of the people wjo were, you know, in his inner circle.
To mind you, she had previously worked for other Republicans. She was not originally a Trump supporter in the primaries. But she had worked her way into his level of trust. So when he heard about these comments, apparently she had made at this dinner, obviously, you know, pushed over a line that he was willing to tolerate. Now, he says, you know, as he always does, he blames the media. Nobody in the media reported on these, that I saw. This got around the White House because they were pretty surprising things for somebody to say, even in a private setting.
KORNACKI: Yes. Jill, it was interesting too, some of the reporting that`s out there suggests that maybe the President was reluctant to see her go despite this, you heard in those comments there, he said, you know, she had a bad night I think was the comment we just played from in there. How close were they?
COLVIN: I mean, she was a key figure in the White House. You know, the President doesn`t have a lot of people around him who have been there since the beginning, and she was there from the first day of the administration. She was really -- I mean, she saw so much of what happened in the Oval Office. She saw who was coming going. She knew who he was speaking on the telephone. And those people who are very close to him, who knows all of these details, this potentially incriminating information about him and his life and his family`s life, he tends to keep pretty close, he doesn`t let that many people that kind of close into his inner circle.
And so the fact that he let her go so quickly, the White House line is that she resigned. And the President has -- had a pattern of even when he`s had, especially Cabinet secretaries, other aides who he has fought with mercilessly, I mean, sometimes the President can keep people around whom he has screaming matches with in the Oval Office, who embarrass him publicly, who break the law, who raise all of these ethical concerns, and sometimes it takes the President weeks, or even months, even years to actually let those people go. But here you saw how quickly the both parties moved to sever this relationship, in what seems to be quite a painful episode for the White House.
KORNACKI: Yes. And Tessa, this is interesting too, because when you think of all the folks who are in the White House or who have been in the White House, how so many of them have emerged is just major characters, either through what they say publicly or through what he has said about them and then, you know, spills out into the reporting. And yet with Westerhout, this is a figure who until, I say, about 24 hours ago was pretty much anonymous to all Americans.
BERENSON: Right. And I think the context is also interesting here because of what Jill just alluded to, which is that Madeleine had been in the White House since the very first days of the administration, in January 2017. And this is an administration and a White House that has been characterized by pretty remarkable turnover. And to the fact that she had been there since the very beginning and was so close to President Trump I think makes her departure all the more shocking and probably all the more poignant for President Trump, who seemed to allude to that himself today, when he said how unfortunate it was that she had to go. But she did really cross a red line, he seemed to say, talking about his family, when he said her departure had to be, "automatic."
KORNACKI: All right. Tessa Berenson, Jill Colvin, and Peter Baker, thank you for being with us, I appreciate it.
And coming up, people in Florida are getting ready for a pummeling. We are going to have the latest forecast when "The 11th Hour" continues.
KORNACKI: As we mentioned earlier in the broadcast, Hurricane Dorian has been upgraded to a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane. And tonight, the National Hurricane Center is warning of a possible life threatening storm surge and "devastating hurricane-force" winds along portions of Florida`s East Coast. But the questions tonight remain, where it`s going and when will it make landfall. Will it make landfall?
Back with us again tonight our meteorologist Bill Karins. Bill, that does seem to be a major question.
KARINS: Yes. Yes.
KORNACKI: What do you know right now?
KARINS: Excellent job throwing that in at the end, yes. We mentioned yesterday, it looked like it was going to head for Florida. Slight chance maybe it wouldn`t. Now that`s increased. I mean, now we`re 50-50, flip a coin, will this actually make landfall in Florida or not. The trend has been away from that scenario, which is fantastic. But we still have to prepare for the worst just in case. You know, people are still going to have to do evacuations this weekend. We still have to put up storm shutters and all the stuff because, you know, we could come back in 24 hours and tell you the trend has been more towards landfall instead of offshore.
So let me just give you the latest. This was the, you know, amazing imagery from our satellites. Every one minute we get these pictures in, we put them in a loop for you. And this is the zoomed-in close-up eye. And it shows the rapid intensification over the last six hours. We knew there was going to happen. We knew it was an excellent chance it would be a Category 4, and it is. It looks like a beast of a storm. But the key is, it`s 550 miles away from Florida right now.
We don`t mind if it`s a big huge storm over the open waters. We`d like it to weaken from here on out because it is eventually going to get very close. So the northern portions of the Bahamas here especially the Freeport area.
Looks like Nassau will be a little further to the south, and just kind of a glancing blow. But for the northern islands here, Sunday night through in to Monday morning and even Monday during the day, there`s a chance it could stall here for maybe 24 to 36 hours. You know, we`ve talked about a major hurricane stalling over the top of a small island, imagine what that`s going to be like in your, you know, in your shelters or in your bathrooms, trying to go through that. So our thoughts are with the people in northern Bahamas.
The cone has shifted about at least half of it is now offshore, but the other half is still over central Florida so we easily could still see direct impact. I mean, we still could possibly have a major hurricane landfall come Tuesday on the central Florida coast. And some of our computers do show that.
You know, one of our more reliable ones, this yellow one, still has it coming onshore. A couple of other ones do. Noticeable, other ones are offshore. That`s why I said it`s the flip of a coin right now, will we ever get the direct impact.
Now if we still get a Category 3 storm just off the coast, we`re still going to have incredible wave action, numerous high tied cycles with beach erosion, that sort of thing. But we wouldn`t get the catastrophic wind damage and storm surge that we would see from a land-falling storm.
So let me take you (INAUDIBLE) models. We`ll get a new update from this in about four hours. This is our European model. This is the one that first kind of stalled it off the coast, kind of paralleled the coast, and then even parallels the South Carolina coast. This is now Thursday morning, and then not exiting towards Cape Hatteras until during the day Friday. That`s seven days from now. So yes, a long ways to go with this.
And then our American computer model, this one came in this afternoon. This is now beginning to update. And this does bring it very close to areas right around Brevard County, the Malabar and the Palm Bay area. And then it was right up along the coastal areas, brushing Charleston, brushing Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, much weaker by the time it`s up here, maybe a Category 1, Category 2, and then exiting Thursday into Friday.
So Steve, you kind of get the picture here. Just because we may not have the possibility as high tonight as yesterday of a Category 4 slamming into Florida, there are still multiple facets of the storm that could cause a lot of problems, all the way up through the Carolinas. So, you know, what`s better for, say, Miami, and Tampa, Fort Myers, and Naples, you know, has not been as good news for our friends in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina coastal areas.
KORNACKI: So there are a lot of variables here. But let me ask you this, last night at this time you were here and it looked grim.
KORNACKI: And I was asking then, I said, you know, could this even get worse than you`re describing. Things have changed --
KORNACKI: -- for the positive in 24 hours. Could it get even better in the next 24?
KARINS: It easily could shift further off the coast and that would be great. And then maybe, you know, then maybe we could avoid evacuating as many people as we likely we`re going to have to do now. You know, I think I started last night saying -- the good news last night was that three days out, it was the worst possible case scenario. So it wasn`t going to get much worse than that. And then we`ve trended in a better direction.
This is another graphic that`s kind of a little fun here. So the European computer models are the most reliable long term model. And just to show you, the last four runs of it, and this is all for 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, coming up about three or four days from now. You know, Wednesday night it was here, Thursday morning it was central Florida, Thursday night it was down in southwest. This was last night when I was on air, they were like, whoa, this is going to be horrible. This is a highly density populated areas, Category 4, West Palm Beach, Jupiter.
And now the latest was delayed offshore to the northern Bahamas. So the consistency is not here. We`d like to take it a little more consistent. If we can continue this trend off the coast, you know, hopefully tomorrow night at this time and during the day tomorrow when I`m here, we`ll have more good news. But as I said, it doesn`t matter, we can`t take the risk of not preparing in case we do get that Category 4. I mean, we`re talking 50 to 100 miles, which is really nothing over a three-day forecast, you know, so that`s why we`re going to have to get those evacuations.
Brevard County is already planning them starting Sunday morning, telling people to get out of the way just in case. You know, that upsets people, it makes people angry. Some people will refuse to evacuate. That gets into the whole psychology issue of evacuations. But you know, preparing for the worst is always the best idea.
KORNACKI: Well, there is at least hope tonight, at least more than last night, so we`ll take that for now.
KORNACKI: Bill Karins, thank you for the update there, we really appreciate that.
And coming up, almost two decades after the attacks of September 11th, a critical date in the investigation is finally set. "The 11th Hour" back after this.
KORNACKI: For the first time, the man believed to have led the planning of the 9/11 attacks has a trial day. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others are scheduled to go on trial January 11, 2021. Mohammed was captured in Pakistan back in 2003 and he`s being held at Guantanamo Bay. Among other charges he and his alleged co-conspirators are facing 2,976 counts of murder, one for each person killed on September 11th, and the possibility of the death penalty. They were officially charged in 2008, but the trial has faced more than a decade of delays.
Here for more, Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor for POLITICO. Josh, to say this one has been a long time coming, is an understatement. First just take us through why it did take so long to get to the point where only now is a trial being scheduled.
JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR, POLITICO: Well, it kind of lingered through a couple of administrations. The Bush administration was initially not really interested in having trials for these individuals. It was more interested in interrogation and trying to get intelligence out of them. We obviously know about the so-called torture programs and so forth that were used to try to extract information from these al-Qaeda operatives. There was then a move towards military commissions.
And then when the Obama administration came in, I remember going to a meeting at the White House with 9/11 families where they were told there was going to be a shift to another form of military commissions in order to bring swift and certain justice. That was in 2009. So that is fully 10 years ago, and we`re talking about maybe having a trial in another year and a half, two years from now.
Under the Obama administration it also kind of languished. They considered bringing these people to the United States for trials in civilian courts, then pushed back from Capitol Hill, and so that never happened. And the whole military commission process really became kind of a stepchild or a zombie, whatever metaphor you want to use here, it just kind of marched on with a lot of problems and no real accountability to keep it moving.
KORNACKI: And I hear you say maybe having a trial a year and a half from now. Given that history you`re describing here, what are the odds that there actually is a trial?
GERSTEIN: Well, you know, there have been several efforts to try to reach essentially a plea bargain in this case. Because of what I mentioned at the outset about the aggressive interrogation techniques that were used on these five defendants, there are real questions about whether the death penalty really can be imposed after those sorts of techniques have been used, what role that will play in the trial, what is the CIA and what are other agencies willing to discuss about those interrogations, what might come out in a trial. And the system really hasn`t grappled with those yet, either in terms of what penalties will be available or how that will be dealt with at the trial. And I just think there are a lot of incentives here that really come together to suggest that the notion of having a trial 20 years after the fact for the 9/11 attacks, it may just be a little bit fanciful at this point.
KORNACKI: Any idea, if they did go forward with it, what it would even look like?
GERSTEIN: Well, it would be done. We`ve had these military commissions, not many of them, but a few down there. It would be at Guantanamo Bay, we believe. It would be a military jury, a jury of military personnel and a military judge. There wouldn`t be TV coverage, although people that wanted to see it in the U.S. could go see a closed circuit feed I think at Fort Meade in Maryland. And there would be viewings sites to other places in the U.S. for victims of the 9/11 attacks and also families of the deceased. And then some of them do go down regularly for hearings at Guantanamo, so that would become the focal point of a trial. But it could go on for months and months and months.
KORNACKI: And quickly, I want to turn to one other legal issue you`ve been following. I know our audience is interested in this as well, and that is the pending sentencing for Michael Flynn, developments there today, prosecutors indicating they`re ready to move forward to sentencing and Flynn`s legal team putting up one whale of a fight. What`s happened there?
GERSTEIN: So Flynn shifted lawyers a couple of months ago. He had sort of a white collar defense attorney in Washington, very well-respected, well- known, who negotiated this pretty good plea deal for him to plead guilty to a single false statement felony charge in the Mueller investigation. He dropped that lawyer and shifted to a new sort of more combative attorney by the name of Sidney Powell, a long time critic not just of the Mueller operation but of the entire sort of federal prosecutorial system, and she is now putting up a real fight, not just trying to withdraw Flynn`s guilty plea but asking for lots and lots of information that the prosecution never turned over, making all kinds of very broad requests sort of about any criticism anyone might have ever had about the way the Mueller investigation was done.
She wants to make that all part of the sentencing. It`s not clear whether that`s entirely aimed at the judge that will handle the sentencing or perhaps creating sort of a public stir that President Trump might pay attention to, and might advance Flynn`s case for a pardon. That would of course, you know, mean that he would escape any punishment at all.
KORNACKI: All right, Josh Gerstein, terrific information. Appreciate you taking a few minutes tonight. Thanks.
GERSTEIN: OK, Steve, happy to do it.
KORNACKI: All right. And coming up, more on hurricanes and how political leaders handle them, when "The 11th Hour" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: I did speak with the President on Wednesday night, and the administration has been great, and they`ve assured us they`re going to provide all the resources we need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sounding confident about the federal government`s storm readiness. Just this week the Trump administration diverted $271 million from FEMA in disaster recovery to border enforcement. Hurricane Dorian is also poised to strike as two key Trump administration positions remain without permanent leaders, the FEMA administrator and Homeland Security secretary are both acting. Both departments are critical in managing natural disasters. The President was asked about this on the south lawn this evening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you concerned that there is no permanent FEMA administrator or a confirmed Homeland Security Director?
TRUMP: No, I like the word "acting." I think "acting" is great. As far as I`m concerned, "acting" to me is good. And if I like the people, I make them permanent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Here tonight, Jonathan Allen, NBC News national political reporter, and David Jolly, a former Republican member of Congress from Florida who has since left the Republican Party. Thanks to both of you for being with us.
John Allen, we played that clip there of the President saying he likes this idea of acting administrators, acting cabinet secretaries. We`ve heard him talk this way before. When it comes specifically to this storm though and the potential for a disaster there in Florida, having an acting FEMA administrator, having an acting Homeland Security secretary, how significant is that?
JONATHAN ALLEN, POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS: I think we`re going to have to judge that afterwards, Steve. I mean, the truth is, generally speaking, the people at the heads of those agencies are confirmed by the Senate for a reason. There is a standard that we`ve used in this country for a long time in terms of having people in leadership roles that are permanent or relatively permanent in an administration in part because they are a liaison to the White House, they are somebody who has been appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate that advise and consent role. But they are also at some level public figures there, people go out and talk to the public. What you`ve got -- and we`ll going to have in Florida and running the show in Washington in a lot of ways are career professionals, people who have dealt with a lot of disasters before. I think the real question from the federal perspective for FEMA and other agencies that are assisting here is going to be this huge drop-off in personnel that they`ve had. There`s a couple of thousand personnel missing from FEMA essentially as of -- just a couple of months ago. They`ve had difficulty, sort of restocking the agency as the administrator has testified on the whole reason.
And I think that`s the potential problem. They`re definitely operating in thin numbers. And of course one of the issues with any disaster, and I think the politics often gets separated from the reality, is they are responding to a disaster, and disasters are by their very nature unpredictable. You know, we`re looking at a state, maybe multiple states that could get pummeled by essentially an act of God, and we hope and pray that it does as little damage as possible. But they are responding to that, and as a result of that, it`s just a matter of the best job that they can do to do that.
KORNACKI: David Jolly, you have been through this before as an elected official, hurricane season in Florida. Give us a sense --
DAVID JOLLY, FMR. REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: Sure.
KORNACKI: -- over the next few days, again we will see the trajectory of this storm and obviously some encouraging signs tonight, but still potential for some grave damage here over the next few days. What is the role of an elected official in Florida when some like this is happening?
JOLLY: You know, to recognize the personal story, the human story, the danger that is coming on shore and we do hope that this continues to track east, but we know that lives will be in danger. And so, the first job of an elected official is to ensure that a whole of government response is available and ready when needed. And this goes to the leadership question. It doesn`t seem like a big deal to simply have an acting administrator and deputy or associate director. But the reality what -- what that does is continues to isolate leadership narratives and decision making into the White House. And Donald Trump is not a subject matter expert on disaster response. He got it wrong on California wildfires saying if we swept the floor, it would work. He got it wrong suggesting they should dump water on Notre Dame and officials said absolutely not. He was surprised by the amount of water around the island of Puerto Rico.
And so when the voices from Washington or those uninformed like Donald Trump, it has an impact on the confidence that people in Florida have on their elected officials. This could be a very dangerous storm. State officials are prepared for it. State officials will rely on Washington for coordination and ultimately for reimbursement of disaster response activities that state officials coordinate.
What we do in those moments, Steve, it is frankly, you prepare for the worst, you hope for the best and to all Floridians don`t do anything stupid this is very dangerous. Lives could be in danger in the next few days.
KORNACKI: All right. David and Jonathan are staying with us.
And coming up, quick political updates when "The 11th Hour" continues.
KORNACKI: People in North Carolina are voting right now to fill an open House seat. The special election is a do over from last November, that`s when the results were tossed out over a voter fraud. Republican Mark Harris led by fewer than 1,000 votes but that win was never certified and he`s not running this time. Instead, it`s Republican Dan Bishop versus Democrat Dan McCready. And today the President tweeted an endorsement of Bishop and he`s got a rally in North Carolina scheduled for the night before the election. That`s going to be on September 10th.
Still with us, Jonathan Allen and David Jolly. So Jonathan, yes, we thought the 2018 midterms were over in 2018, but this is actually the last election from that cycle. We can put this up on the screen, actually this is a new poll from this race we`re talking about that came out today. Check this out. This is a bipartisan Democrat and Republican pollster teamed up together. The result they produced raised some eyebrows, Dan McCready, the Democrat leading in this poll by four points.
Talk about the stakes for this Jon, the special elections are often closely watched although this one comes a bit in the shadow of a presidential campaign.
ALLEN: Absolutely, Steven. Look, the stakes are on one level, one congressional district, which won`t tip the valance of the House and certainly won`t deprive Democrats of the ability to run the House or pass bills in the House and also will not give them the power to run rough shot over President Trump given that he has the Senate and the presidency. That said, you look at that poll talking to Democrats and Republicans and knowing both sides think this is a very close race. What this tells us is, you know, regardless of which candidate wins it unless it`s a big win for the Republicans, we`re not seeing in the polling. You know, you`ve seen a district shift very strongly away from Republicans and President Trump.
This is a district he won by 11 points, it`s not one that should be competitive by any stretch of the imagination for Democrats and here they have got a candidate who is in a position to potentially win it. It runs from Charlotte to Fayetteville and then sweeps down to the South Carolina border. This is a district built for Republicans to win and not one -- it has some -- certainly got some areas in those cities. It`s got suburban areas but a big rural chunk as well and definitely the kind of area that Donald Trump needs to win a lot of the types of areas that this district covers across the country if he wants to win reelection.
KORNACKI: And David Jolly, the other piece of news today when it comes down to the House, again on the Republican side another retirement was announced today, John Shimkus from Illinois, he represents a district, I think he probably call it pretty safe Republican district. So this is not one where necessarily talking about they`re being a change of balance of power here.
KORNACKI: But does this say something? We`ve seen a number of these. Does this say something about how Republicans like Shimkus are looking at the next election?
JOLLY: It does. It says the Republicans aren`t even pretending to have a shot at taking back the House of Representatives. For a lot of Republicans, particular those like Shimkus who have been there for a while, it is no fun serving in the minority. In the Senate, if you`re in the minority, you do have some power as a single senator. In the House that`s simply not true, the majority sets the agenda and basically runs the entire table.
There`s not a lot you can do in the minority. I think that`s why Shimkus is retiring. And look, there are a few seats held now by Democrats that are in Trump leaning district, simply as a result of the blue wave, but largely what happened and as the NRCC is going around the country, recruiting candidates to run against Democrats that they know can`t win. They`re going to raise a lot of money and spend a lot of money. But the odds are very high Democrats hold the House high in 2020. Shimkus and other GOP just know that, that`s why they`re leaving.
KORNACKI: All right, yes, that is going to be -- we talk about the essential elections we`ve had over the last couple years. We had that Pennsylvania one back in March of 2018. There is Ohio 12 in the run-up to the 2018, midterms and certainly this North Carolina. Well, I can tell you from my standpoint, we`re going to have the big board fired up for that and we`re going to be watching that one closely. See if it gives us any early clues about how 2020 is going to look.
But David Jolly, Jonathan Allen, we thank you both for joining us tonight.
JOLLY: Thank you Steve.
KORNACKI: Appreciate that and be sure to stay with MSNBC this Labor Day weekend. We`re going to have complete coverage of Hurricane Dorian as it continues to make its way potentially towards Florida, hopefully away from it. We`ll be monitoring that closely, tell you all the latest.
And that is our broadcast for tonight. Brian will be back next week. Thank you for being with us and goodnight from NBC News headquarters in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END