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Trump shows altered hurricane forecast map. TRANSCRIPT: 9/4/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Peter Baker, Tom Nichols, Kim Atkins, Michael Schmidt

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, and apparently with the stroke of a Sharpie an attempt by the Trump White House to rewrite to weather history as we all look on.

And as we say about so much of what we cover around here, we`ve never seen anything like this that also goes for the exhausted professionals at the National Weather Service.

Plus, after a summer off, House Democrats are demanding the administration turn over documents about the President dangling pardons to officials who break the law in the border crackdown.

And the House Republicans heading for the exits.  Two more today, including a 40-year veteran.  What do they think might be on the way in 2020?  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 958 of the Trump administration.  And in plain English, the first reaction a whole lot of people had to what we`re going to show you first tonight here was, do they think we`re stupid?  This involves the Hurricane Dorian, just this minute upgraded, now a major hurricane again at Category 3, grinding up the Atlantic seaboard tonight.  We`ll update its course later in this hour.

But the short history of our first item here is simple.  Before Dorian arrived the President said it could hit Alabama, among the other projected states.  He said it out loud, said it on Twitter.  Problem was it was never in the National Hurricane Center forecast.  Dorian has shown us it is capable of a bunch of things.  But striking Alabama on this go-round just wasn`t going to happen.

Indeed, it`s a beautiful night in Huntsville this evening.  Low 80s.  Sun all week.  First chance of rain next Tuesday.

Back to our story, the President got peeved over all of this.  He insisted Alabama was some of the early projections that he saw. And then we saw this.  His hurricane update from the Oval Office today.  The holder of the poster board is your Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan.  Trump displayed the so-called cone of uncertainty forecast, back from august 29th.  And there, apparently drawn in Sharpie on the far left, a cone annex of sorts.  A protuberance, an appendage added on to include Alabama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You see it was going to hit not only Florida but Georgia.  It could have -- was going toward the Gulf.  That was what we -- what was originally projected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  This is a photo of the Oval Office briefing back on the 29th.  With that same map.  But note, no cone annex, no inclusion of Alabama.

A reminder here of what the President tweeted on Sunday, "In addition to Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama will most likely be hit much harder than anticipated."  That brought this. 20 minutes later in our collective memory the first correction of a sitting president by our National Weather Service.  They wrote, "Alabama will not see any impacts from Dorian.  We repeat, no impacts from hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama."

Then not long after being corrected we got this from the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  It may get a little piece of a great place.  It`s called Alabama.  And Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The original cone map compared to today`s appendage shows somebody did something, and today the President was asked about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You showed us the map earlier of the initial forecast.

TRUMP:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And it appeared to have been edited or something to include Alabama.  Can you explain how that change was made?

TRUMP:  No, I just know -- yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did the forecast include Alabama?

TRUMP:  I know that Alabama was in the original forecast.  They thought it would get it as a piece of it.  But Alabama was hit very hard.  And it was going to be hit very hard along with Georgia.  But under the current -- they won`t be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And that map you showed us today, it looked like it was almost a Sharpie.

TRUMP:  I don`t know.  I don`t know.  I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  We`d love to report this is over.  It`s not.  Just tonight, the President sent out this map to bolster his case.   It shows a strand going there on up through Alabama.  He insisted it was the originally projected path of the hurricane in its early stages and that "almost all models predicted it to go through Florida, also hitting Georgia and Alabama."  Problem again, the map is from the South Florida water management district.  The map itself, in English, warns that it should complement, not replace, National Hurricane Center discussions.

In fact, here were the forecast strands on the day the President tweeted about the so far untouched State of Alabama.  In the scope of the American presidency, like so much of what we cover around here lately, it`s both a minor thing when compared to a declaration of war or even the separation of families.  But like so much else, it`s a first.  It`s a strange new reality for all of us that the President himself seemed to warn about last summer in Kansas City before an audience of veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Just stick with us.  Don`t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.

Just remember, what you`re seeing and what you`re reading is not what`s happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  It`s another reminder that his administration, from day one, has insisted on the President`s version of the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way in one particular tweet to minimize the enormous support that it gathered on the National Mall. Inaccurate numbers involving crowd size were also tweeted.  No one had numbers, because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out.

By the way, this applies to any attempts to try to count the number of protesters today in the same fashion.  This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Just tonight, as they tend to do, someone on Twitter had some fun with the burgeoning meme of the Sharpie as shaper of revisionist history.  In this case in the foreground there involving the Washington Mall inauguration crowd.

Similar questions regarding truth have been raised about Trump`s promises about the border wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Who`s going to pay for that wall?

CROWD:  Mexico.

TRUMP:  You better believe it.  And they`ll do it.

I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

TRUMP:  Mark my words.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

TRUMP:  The wall has started very, very substantially.  In fact, you saw the other day the wall stopped everybody and it was only the section that`s now under construction.

We`re going to have over 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year.  It`s moving rapidly.  Moving very rapidly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Fast forward to now.  We now know that the Pentagon, otherwise known as taxpayer dollars, are footing the bill for the wall.  And perhaps you remember Trump`s insistence on his own version of reality also extended to one of our nation`s best-known corporate leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  And you`ve really put a big investment in our country.  We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So there was that.  Tim Apple.  And a few days after that Trump wrote this, "At a recent roundtable meeting of business executives and long after formally introducing Tim Cook of Apple, I quickly referred to Tim plus Apple as Tim Apple as an easy way to save time and words.  The fake news was disparagingly all over this and it became yet another bad Trump story."

An "L.A. Times" report out just today may provide some insight into why Trump spends so much time defending his assertions about Dorian`s impact.  It notes that he seems to have plenty of downtime this summer.  The piece quotes a former guest on this broadcast, former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res, as saying "He`s working less.  He seems to care less about his job now than he did back when I was working for him."  This will go over well.  "He thinks he can say and do anything now or not do anything."

On that note and here for or lead-off discussion on a busy Wednesday night, Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR at Boston`s NPR News Station, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Tom Nichols, professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and John Heilemann, National Affairs Analyst, co- author of "Game Change" and "Double Down" and co-host of "The Circus" on Showtime.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Peter Baker, you`ve been covering White Houses the longest so you get to lead us off.  We have what is now back up in a major hurricane category, it`s grown from a two to three just with the 11:00 Eastern Time advisory.  We have a major storm clawing its way up the eastern seaboard.  But we must, in this new reality, counterbalance that against a major slight as perceived by the President, thus look at what we`re here talking about.

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that`s right.  And you know, I thought you were right to put the Tim Apple example up there.  That`s another good example.  When the President says something that is caught on tape, that is clearly, you know, in the record and then denies, you know, what you`ve seen and heard.  And it`s -- he lives within his own reality at times and he refuses to back down in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary.

There`s even reporting by my own paper at some point that he expressed to people that it wasn`t really him on that "Access Hollywood" tape before the election.  There have been other examples like when he called Meghan Markle, the Duchess in England, nasty and it was on tape.  And he said no, he didn`t and the tape had to be played and it showed that he did.

His record through business and politics is never back down, never apologize, never give in.  And if you simply continue to insist that you got it right, you know, a lot of people are going to believe you and a lot of people aren`t going to believe the media, which has, you know, he`s helped create a credibility problem.

WILLIAMS:  Tom, you spend your days in the most serious realm of all of us, really at the adult table at the War College.  What do you reckon our allies and/or adversaries make of what they`re seeing if they`re getting a feed of this broadcast or any other tonight?

TOM NICHOLS, U.S. NAVAR WAR COLLEGE NATL. SECURITY AFFAIRS PROFESSOR:  Well, important to point out I don`t speak for the War College.  I think win of the problems, as Peter said, is that the President creates his own reality and he starts to believe in it.  And that means several things.  First of all, I always pity the people who have to brief him and have to explain whether it`s anything from enemy troop movements to trade policy to climate negotiations.  Anybody who has to brief him clearly has a mountain to climb because he simply is not capable of processing information.

And I think it`s -- when you`re an ally it means you`re not going to get very far in negotiation, that it`s not really a discussion.  And if you`re an opponent then that really opens the possibility to you of trying to create the President`s reality for him and to work with that.  And try to get inside his mind about it and work with that rather than understand that you`re dealing with a group of people who are directing a particular policy toward a particular goal.  So as you understand the reality the President lives in you`ve got a leg up against the United States.

WILLIAMS:  So Kim, do you see this real or perceived correlation between the story that his schedule has gotten significantly lighter as his presidency has gone on?  And this world we`re living in and covering tonight?

KIMBERLY ATKINS,WBUR SR. NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  I don`t know because there`s plenty on his plate right now for him to be dealing with while he`s still insisting that Alabama is in the path -- is in a storm`s path.  I mean, one reason we`re seeing the National Weather Service repeatedly -- they did again today -- say that Alabama is not in danger is because it`s the job of the National Weather Service to alert the public about really dangerous situations.  This storm as it goes up the East Coast can be deadly.  They don`t want people in Alabama worrying about it.

They need to make sure that the people in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and up the coast are taking them seriously and can believe what they say.  So there are real consequences to what the President is saying and doing here.

And again, we have seen the President double down on statements that he`s made for no particular reason.  I mean, let`s remember, there is really no gain here for him to make by insisting that Alabama is in the path of the storm.  It`s just to save face.  We`ve seen since his book "The Art of the Deal" the ghostwriter, the co-writer of that book, someone who he doesn`t even like to -- the President doesn`t even like to acknowledge he had a ghostwriter, right, but he said he just refused to admit failure, refused to admit a mistake because he thought it was weak.  He sees that -- he would see it as weakness to accept a basic fact, that the hurricane is now on a path nowhere near Alabama than to think about the fact that there are people in the path of danger that the U.S. should be playing some sort of role in, for example, giving aid to the Bahamas, which was absolutely decimated by this storm.  Instead we`re talking about the Sharpie and this lie because that`s where we are.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I hope the U.S. Coast Guard, by the way, does the job in the Bahamas that they did after Katrina because it made every American proud and there are neighbors offshore just 50 miles.

John Heilemann, the words "meta" and "meme" it seems to me had gone into word retirement before the internet age, but they`re back with a vengeance.  While you never, trust me, want to be a meme, there`s nothing quite like the explosion of memes.  Our hat`s off to a woman named Jane on Twitter tonight who has given us an alternate version with Sharpie of the cone of uncertainty map of this hurricane.  John, what is it we are covering here this evening?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  I`m a big fan of the medics.  I`ve also never met a meta I didn`t love.  I want to say hearing you do Huntsville, Alabama the weather.  WAFF, the NBC affiliate in Tennessee Valley has first alert breaking news and weather center.  I hear they`re looking for weathermen.  You`re great.  I mean you bite natural for that.

WILLIAMS:  Thanks.  I`ll keep it in my back pocket.

HEILEMANN:  I`ll also want to talk about protuberances because it`s an awesome word and it leads me to the word of the night for me, which is another p word, which is pathological.  The President`s pathological.

Just -- I never thought I`d say that.  I`ve covered a lot of Presidents, as have you.  I never thought I would like go on television and say the President of the United States is pathological but this President is pathological.  He`s a pathological liar.  He cannot stop lying.  He lies about important things.  He lies about trivial things.  He lies in places where you can totally understand why he`s lying.

You know, he wants to prop up the stock market, so he lies about a call from Chinese officials on trade that never happened.  I understand why he does that.  It doesn`t make it OK.  But I get it.  This is a thing where when he first said the Alabama thing the first time, if someone had called him on it, he say, "I got confused, sorry, Alabama`s not in that, my mistake, my bad."  No one, even the worst Trump haters, would not have -- they`d cut him some slack.  People make mistakes, right?  But instead he`s not just lying about it over and over and over again, you know, with the projection of this new map, with the argument today on camera that 95 percent -- he`s laying statistics on the line.

Ninety-five percent likelihood that Alabama was going to be in the hurricane`s path when we know for a fact that there was a zero percent chance, or a less than statistically significant -- maybe a little above zero chance.  The only way to explain it is pathology, right? And there`s lots of other ways to go about it.  But it is the case here.  You can say he doesn`t like to back down.  You can say he never admits defeat.  All the pages pathological.  It`s a tick.  Lying for him is as -- it`s like you taking a breath.

WILLIAMS:  Peter Baker on that note I`m hoping to count on your wisdom as we look at the Marquette match-ups, having nothing to do with final four season and everything to do with the latest presidential poll match-ups.  And there are the numbers right there.  Biden in a head to head with Trump 51-42.  Bernie 48-44.  Warren and so down the line.

Our usual caveats, election`s 14 months way, we don`t have a national election, we have 50 state elections.  With that in mind, any correlation between, again, the world we`re watching tonight and the numbers we see from good pollsters like Marquette?

BAKER:  Yes, look, I think the President is worried about numbers like that.  He`s in denial.  Publicly he`ll say that these numbers are fake, that it`s just the news media that`s out to get him, polls were wrong in 2016 and all of that.  But the truth is behind the scenes he`s concerned about this and he`s very nervous and worried about how next year`s election might play out particularly if the economy goes south.  That`s why you see him going after Jay Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, so frequently.  That`s why you see him lashing out.

You know, my wife, Susan Glasser, in "The New Yorker," she actually tabulated the number of tweets he did in August and discovered that he tweeted in August of 2019 three times as much as he did in August of 2017.  Many of them were much more insults directed at specific people than even it was two years ago.  We used to say "well, gosh, that`s pretty amazing what he`s done in August 2017.  But now he`s doubled down and tripled down in this case."

And it is I think a reflection of, you know, some anxiety, some concern about this election coming up.  Those poll numbers.  His own internal poll numbers according to my colleague, Annie Karni, have stayed in the approval range of around 43 percent to 44 percent, basically unmoved since April of 2018.  Those are not numbers that typically get you a second term.  So I think there is a correlation between some of the, you know, lashing out we see and those poll numbers or poll numbers like them.

WILLIAMS:  We indeed did a dramatic reading from that piece by the promising young journalist Susan Glasser on this broadcast and we were happy to do it.

Hey, Kim, I want to quote to you a guy we showed on the broadcast last night.  We`ll quote him tonight.  This is the former aide to John Boehner, Michael Steele, the other Michael Steele, for constant viewers of this broadcast, "The state of the economy is the single biggest factor in determining whether the President is re-elected.  And right now it feels like they are riding," you`ll forgive the language, "a rubber ducky into alligator-infested waters," said Michael Steele, former top aide to Republican House Speaker John Boehner."  Does this match up, Kim, with what people pull you aside and say?

ATKINS:  Yes.  It absolutely does.  I mean, the economy is something that this President should be very worried about, very concerned about.  We have seen from his poll numbers, especially from the folks who are his core supporters, his base, the folks he likes to play to and please, that just about everything else including Sharpie-gate, isn`t going to make much of a difference when it comes to their support of him.  The economy might.

We are already seeing farmers hurting from the trade war that is ongoing with China.  We are seeing a lot of uncertainty in the markets.  And that is causing, as Peter said, the President to lash out at folks like the Fed chair.  This is something that the President should be laser focused on as he tries to win re-election.  And any, you know, diversions that he`s trying might be fueled in part by his concern about it.

WILLIAMS:  Tom, take us to an area of policy we have talked about on this broadcast, something really important for the moms and dads watching tonight who have sent a son or daughter, families who have sent a mom or dad to Afghanistan.  What`s among the topics rolling in the background is a potential major U.S. policy change over there.  What should the people watching tonight know about it?

NICHOLS:  Really the question that they have to make up is whether they trust the President to trust the Taliban.  As is often the case with the President`s off-the-cuff pronouncements, the President says something and then the foreign policy and national security establishment has to reverse- engineer the whole decision to make it look like it was a good idea.  So the President said "I want to get out of Afghanistan," and so now there are people trying to figure out how to make that a viable idea.  And the way they`re going to do that is negotiate with the Taliban.

Now, if you think that`s a good idea and you think that we`re done in Afghanistan and the Taliban can be trusted and we`re not -- you know, there`s not going -- it`s not going to generate more threats against the United States, then you know, you wish them all the best.  But I think there`s a perfectly reasonable case for suspicion here that says we`re coming into an election year.  This is all tied together.  The poll numbers in places like Wisconsin.  The insistence on always being right and that the news is always wrong.  And this notion that, you know, I`m going to move the needle by just saying we`re getting out of Afghanistan.

When the President says something like that, people have to then create some kind of predicate, some kind of foundation for doing it.  I`m not sure that as is -- the case with so many of the President`s policies, I`m not sure anybody`s really thought this through.  So, I think it really comes down to a basic question of, you know, what exactly will Afghanistan look like and who are we going to negotiate so that we can leave and not have these continuing threats to our security?

WILLIAMS:  John Heilemann, Labor Day season reminds people of a certain age of the Jerry Lewis telethon tonight on CNN, a democrat-a-thon, an environment-a-thon.

HEILMANN:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  All of the Democrats over hours came before interviewers.  To Tom`s point, this is all happening in the background.  The Democrats are eventually going to choose a candidate here.

HEILEMANN:  Well, we find -- as you know, we have -- this network has its own climate event coming up in a couple weeks.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

HEILEMANN:  We`ve got another debate coming up around the same time.  It was shorter time about a week away now.  The reality is that we are -- we also learned today, I think importantly, just how few days the House of Representatives is going to be in session over the course of this fall.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

HEILEMANN:  We are moving rapidly into all campaign all the time season.  And you know, I think it`s right that Trump is exhibiting various signs of anxiety and various signs of maybe other kinds of decline.  But if I`m Donald Trump and I`m looking at these numbers from Wisconsin, compared to some of the numbers we have seen recently, these numbers are not that bad.  By Donald Trump`s standards, he is looking at a lot of grim numbers where his approval -- where the numbers look more like his approval rating in the high 30s, low 40s.  A number here at 44, 45, he won the presidency at 44, 45.  That`s where he was in the popular vote.

And there`s a lot of smart people who are looking at this electoral map and saying -- starting to do the math on ways that Trump loses not by 2 million votes or by 3 million votes but could lose the popular vote by 5 million votes and still thread that needle to get to 270.  In Wisconsin, which he needs, if I`m Donald Trump I look at these numbers, I say "yes, they`re daunting."  And the front-runner`s Biden, he`s above 50, but the rest of these Democrats are all within the margin of error where Donald Trump is.  And so, I think, you know, there`s obviously the Presidential comes into this re-election campaign historically -- in a historically weak position.

But if you know -- if you won the last time by winning that -- by pulling it inside straight, you know that pulling another inside straight is less - - is even more unlikely.  But you can still pull the inside straight.  And then those numbers against the right opponent, you could, you know, you`re looking at Donald Trump, you`re going I see the way I could win here.

WILLIAMS:  Thanks --

HEILEMANN:  I see how to win against Elizabeth Warren in that race.

WILLIAMS:  Thanks for coming to our card game tonight.  With that our thanks to Kim Atkins, to Peter Baker, to Tom Nichols and John Heilemann.  Returning veterans all, we greatly appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the first acquittal in a case tied to the Mueller investigation.  We have a Pulitzer Prize recipient and a former U.S. attorney standing by to talk to us.

And later, last one out turn out the lights.  Two more Republicans announced just today they`re leaving the House.  What might they know?  What might they suspect about what might be coming as "The 11th Hour`s" just getting started on this Wednesday night.

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WILLIAMS:  We have a lot of material to get through tonight, including this.  It took fewer than five hours for a federal jury in Washington to come back with a not guilty verdict in a case spun off from the Mueller investigation.  Former Obama White House counsel, D.C. fixture, prominent Democratic lawyer Greg Craig acquitted of a charge that said he`d lied about work he did for the government of Ukraine.

"New York Times" reports, "The trial exposed in detail how a foreign government was able to harness Washington`s industry of lawyers, lobbyist and public relations experts, an unflattering portrait that included at least $4 million in secret offshore bank transfers from a Ukrainian oligarch to Mr. Craig`s law firm.  But Mr. Craig`s guilt or innocence turned on the question of whether he deliberately misled Justice Department officials who were investigating whether he should register as a foreign agent."

Our friends at the "Times" also point out today`s verdict was a blow to the DOJ`s effort to more aggressively crack down on foreign influence in Washington.  We`re lucky to have with us tonight for more Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official, and Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington correspondent for "The New York Times."

So chuck, let`s not mince words.  Mueller spins this off.  It`s clear he and his folks want to see this prosecuted.  Though isn`t this a tough one to prosecute?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR. SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL: These are tough cases to prosecute, Brian.  But I think there`s an important lesson here.  Number one, look, sometimes you bring a tough case and you lose.  The conviction rate for the Department of Justice at trial is over 90 percent, but it`s not 100 percent.

And so when you have cases where you have to prove intent, and that`s always the most difficult thing, occasionally prosecutors lose.  It doesn`t mean that the case was brought in bad faith or improperly brought.  It just means that the jury saw it a different way.  And that happens.

BRIAN:  Michael Schmidt, what have we learned from this case other than the fact that some people just go to the highest bidder and regard money as not being dirty as long as it`s green?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  I think what we`ve sort of lost perspective on here is that this case, along with the Podesta investigation of John Podesta`s brother, were things that the Republicans were banking on as sort of being the other side, this sort of you guys have a problem too between the Republicans and Democrats as the president was facing the Mueller investigation.  And it looks like certainly Podesta`s case hasn`t turned out to be that big a deal, and this case sort of fizzling here.

The Republican hopes that they would be able to point to similar prosecutions to what Mueller had done to the Trump campaign have not come to fruition.  I was looking at the President.  The President had tweeted about the Podesta investigation.  He had tweeted about Greg Craig when he was indicted.  These were things they were really hoping would really move the needle.  And they did not.

WILLIAMS:  So Chuck Rosenberg, Congress comes back and especially the Democrats in Congress, hoping no one noticed that they took the summer off.  And here we put together a graphic of their laundry list of plans for post- break.  As Heilemann was saying, a short session.

The legal fight over the McGahn testimony, public hush money hearings, that story they`re going to have to tell from word one all over again.  Subpoena to the Department of Homeland Security over reports of Trump dangling pardons for wrongdoing, impeachment discussion.  We left that minor point for last.  Chuck, of all those stories, the notion of floating pardons allegedly, how tough a case is that to take on?

ROSENBERG:  Well, it`s tough.  And here`s why, Brian.  Again, as with the McGahn testimony, the President will undoubtedly assert either absolute immunity, meaning folks can`t even go and testify, or executive privilege, meaning they can go and testify, they just can`t talk about private confidential conversations within the executive branch.  That stuff has to be litigated.  We`ve been saying this for a while now.

It has to be resolved by a federal district court.  And it has to be resolved quickly.  Otherwise, the clock runs out on this.  And so, Congress may hear from people who weren`t in the executive branch.  Perhaps the folks involved in the hush money payments.  But if it comes to pardons or McGahn or things within the executive branch`s ambit, you have to get over those legal hurdles and that means you have to go to court and that means you have to do it quickly.  Time is running.

WILLIAMS:  And Michael Schmidt, the idea, the notion, just the idea of floating a pardon has been a large part of your body of reporting during the Trump years.  Am I correct in saying that the Trump defense on this DHS pardons story is that he was joking and am I correct in remembering that it was Rosenstein who said he was joking about wearing a wire and is, I was joking, a defense?

SCHMIDT:  Yes, certainly a lot of joking in the Trump administration about some of the most extreme law enforcement and presidential power measures that could be taken.  I`m not really sure what to make of the President`s explanation there besides the fact that it does resonate with what Rosenstein had said.  But we know from the Mueller report and from our own reporting that pardons are something that the President`s folks and, you know, himself had discussed and pushed as the investigation got closer and closer to the White House.

And there`s nothing really new here to it.  And, you know, what`s sort of hard to see and hard to parse out is that, what is Congress trying to do here.  They have the Mueller report.  In that document they have even more stark examples of what happened with the acting Department of Homeland Security secretary.  And what are they moving in?  What direction are they moving?  What are they trying to get?  They still have not been able to get many witnesses up there to testify.  And as Chuck was pointing out, are they running out of time here, you know, as we get closer to the election?

WILLIAMS:  We`re in your debt, gentlemen, to have you both on the broadcast and be able to ask you about these topics tonight.  To Chuck Rosenberg, to Michael Schmidt, our thanks.  We`re back with more right after this.

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WILLIAMS:  Quick word about our next segment coming up, why one of the luckiest Members of Congress, and we say because he was born to wealth and then literally won the lotto three times in his life, is making House Republicans feel rather unlucky tonight.  That story when we come right back.

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WILLIAMS:  Veteran Wisconsin Republican Member of Congress Jim Sensenbrenner became the 13th Republican today to announce he`s not running for re-election.  Sensenbrenner and his undiminished Wisconsin accent have been around for 21 terms.  First elected in 1978, when dinosaurs roamed the land, the earth was still cooling, Tip O`Neill was speaker, and Jimmy Carter was President.

The Sensenbrenner announcement came hours after Texas Republican Bill Flores announced his retirement.  Flores is the fifth Republican from just the state of Texas to leave the House in what Democrats have dubbed a Republican Texodus.  Get it?

Back with us tonight, Veteran Political Journalist and Author Jonathan Allen, who happens to be our NBC News National Political Reporter.  Jonathan, I am hoping you can tell us what`s going on in the House of Representatives.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS:  Well, you`re getting a flight here from Republicans, and there are two basic reasons.  For someone like Sensenbrenner who`s been around for a long time, he`s safe in his district, probably best known for yelling at rookie reporters, that he doesn`t do interviews in the speaker`s lobby, the area right outside the House chamber, in that thick Wisconsin accent that you mentioned would have fit in on one of the "Saturday Night Live" --

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I was just going to say my greatest regret is that Chris Farley didn`t live long enough to play Sensenbrenner in the movie.

ALLEN:  That is a great regret to have, Brian.  I would put it up there on mine as well.  I`ll steal it from you.  So one of the reasons is if you`re a safe Republican like Sensenbrenner, you realize that the Republicans are unlikely to win the House back.  You`re going to be in the minority again.  And you`re either going to be serving with a Democratic president or with Trump again.  And if you don`t look at Trump the way that Mike Pence looks at Trump, that might not be a good outcome for you.  So that`s one reason they`re leaving.

The other reason they`re leaving is that they`re going to have trouble winning their own re-elections.  And that`s true of several of the House members from Texas.  Will Hurd being one of them who just saw today the President took money from a military construction project in his district at the joint base in San Antonio to put it toward a border wall that the constituents in Will Hurd`s district don`t want along the Texas border.  Or even perhaps you might see yourself losing re-election in a primary.

Congresswoman Martha Roby, who`s Alabama`s 2nd district, would have been in the path of Hurricane Dorian`s sharpie down in southeast Alabama.  She decided earlier this year that she wasn`t going to seek re-election, might have been vulnerable to a primary.  She had difficulty with that in 2018.  But either from a personal loss reason, you might not return yourself, or just looks like you`re not going to have any power anytime soon, a lot of House Republicans are heading for the exits.

WILLIAMS:  And I need 30 seconds of brilliant political analysis on the Democratic side.  I keep reading reports, complaints mostly, by Democrats as if they`re going to limp into primary season with this front-runner who still maintains a good number.

ALLEN:  Yes, Joe Biden`s not hyper woke.  So there are a lot of Democrats that are listening to him and not hearing what they want to hear whether it`s on climate change, on health care, on sort of modern Democratic speak.  And at the same time there are a lot of Democrats who look at him and say that might be the guy to put up against Donald Trump in an election where they`re hoping to just sort of revert to some kind of normalcy.

So we`ll have to see how that plays out.  He continues to have a fairly strong lead.  And yet at the same time if you`re him you`re looking at two- thirds of Democrats preferring someone else and probably a little worried about how you get up to that 50% mark.

WILLIAMS:  You are welcome here anytime.  Our thanks to our friend Jonathan Allen.  Appreciate it greatly.

ALLEN:  Thank you Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up here tonight, a no go for BoJo in the U.K. today.  As our closest friends in the world are going through nothing short of a constitutional crisis for all the world to see.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN:  We have made ample, ample, ample preparations.  Ample preparations for coming out of the EU.  What is -- what his party is recommending is yet --

JOHN BERCOW, SPEAKER, HOUSE OF COMMONS:  Order.  It`s order.  Order.  It`s very difficult to hear the responses from the Prime Minister.  Members must calm themselves.  There is a long way to go.  The Prime Minister.

JOHNSON:  Mr. Speaker, what he is recommending is yet more -- yet more dither, yet more dither, yet more delay, yet more uncertainty for business.  What we in this government want to do is deliver on the mandate of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Well, at least everybody`s getting along.  Another drama-filled day in Britain`s parliament as Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered still more setbacks on his plans for Brexit.  The reason he is prime minister.  Earlier today the House of Commons advanced a bill that would block a crash out exit from the EU.  If no agreement is worked out.  The bill is now before the House of Lords where members worked late into the night voting on amendments.

After failing to stop that first bill when it didn`t go his way, Boris Johnson then called for a snap general election in a matter of weeks.  But the House of Commons refused to go along with that in yet another defeat for the Prime Minister.  Hear now a sampling of what people in Great Britain watched on live television today.

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JOHNSON:  There is only one chlorinated chicken that I can see in this House and he`s on that bench.  Will he confirm ago?  Will he confirm -- will he confirm that he will let the people decide?  Let the people decide on what he is doing to this country`s negotiating position, by having a general election on October the 15th.

BERCOW:  Jeremy Corbyn.

JEREMY CORBYN, BRITISH POLITICIAN:  Well, maybe the Prime Minister can tell us what the negotiating position actually is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  "The Washington Post" summed things up for Britain`s new prime minister this way and we quote, "After just six weeks on the job, Johnson has lost his governing majority, exiled most of his party`s most honored members including Winston Churchill`s grandson and been slapped down by lawmakers three times in 24 hours.  It`s the shortest honeymoon in British political history, said Jon Tonge, a political professor at the University of Liverpool who said Johnson is essentially in government but not in power.  Boris Johnson is in a terrible mess."

Axios puts it this way.  No prime minister has lost their first vote in office since 1783 -- let alone their first three.

At the White House today, President Trump said he`s been following the developments in London.  He predicted his friend Boris will be just fine.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  Boris is a friend of mine and he`s, he`s -- he`s going at it.  There`s no question about it.  He`s in there.  I watched him this morning.  He`s, he`s in there fighting.  And he knows how to win.  Boris knows how to win.  Don`t worry about him.  He`s going to be OK.

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WILLIAMS:  Nicolle Wallace said today that`s as much praise as we`ve heard from the President for a non dictator friend of his, since he`s been in office.  Vice-President Mike Pence will soon find himself in the middle of this Brexit drama, having already stepped in it in Ireland where there are fears there the troubles could soon start up again.  He is scheduled to have a meeting with none other than Boris Johnson tomorrow in London.

Coming up for us here tonight, a special and beautiful place just 50 miles away from our border, it needs help from its American brothers and sisters.  We`ll look at what Dorian has done, where it`s been, and where it`s headed as yet again a major hurricane tonight.

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WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight, as of the 11:00 Eastern Time update this evening, Dorian is back up to major hurricane status, having grown from a category 2 today to a 3 just tonight.  That means maximum sustained winds at the core, 115 miles an hour.  It intensified tonight.  It`s going well along its way.  Its long drive up and along the coast.  Currently lashing the big bend there between Florida, Georgia, South Carolina.

Tonight Savannah and Charleston are girding for a big nasty high tide, just after 1:00 a.m. eastern time.  There`s already been a gust of 60 miles an hour south of Charleston this evening.  We will see the definition of the term storm surge along the coast.  They`re expecting their second-highest water levels ever in that city.  As this storm churns around that coastal bend, the rain bands then start the inland expansion.  They cross over I- 95, they push the wind and rain inland for miles.

Tomorrow afternoon eastern time, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, North Carolina, the outer banks will be getting all they care to handle from this storm.  Hatteras is going to be busy at this time tomorrow night.  And a reminder of where this storm has been and the damage it has done.  In plain English, the Bahamas will never be the same.  There is great fear in places like Abaco that the death toll could increase exponentially.  A lot of people have yet to be heard from.  Many yet to be found.  Many waiting for help, and some places that has to get there by helicopter.

Thousands of homes are just gone.  And there`s no phones, no power, no leaves on the trees in some places, no schools for Bahamian children to start at the start of the school year.  The stories of survival among the rescued are striking.

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LENA CHANDLER, FREEPORT, BAHAMAS:  No one has ever seen anything like this, nobody.  I mean, this island flooded almost from the north shore to the south shore in areas that have never seen flood water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  During the storm, my roof went off.  My husband had to put my son and some other persons in the roof and we slept -- they slept in the rafters.  He slept on a washer.  A guy slept on the fridge.  It wasn`t good conditions at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A house landed on top of me.  I laid on the floor for about two hours and the debris kept closing in on me.  Finally I got one arm out, crawled out, crawled into a shed over there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you think you`d be here after this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, I thought I was going to die.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The roof literally caved in on us and we had to make a run for it in the midst of the hurricane with all of the debris flying around.  We had to run.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is the most devastating thing you can imagine.  I can`t even believe it.  It`s just unbearable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One of the doctors that came in on the flight, she said that sharks are in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The sharks are in the water, on the land, in Abaco.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  As we were running, we were pushing bodies on the side to get through.  So --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Bodies, pushing people, deceased people?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, that were floating in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It`s deteriorating really fast.  Mentally, emotionally, physically.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We need help.  We need help.  That`s all I can say.  That`s it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Please spare a thought tonight for our Bahamian neighbors, 50 miles from America`s shores.  And to our fellow citizens along the Atlantic coast of our country tonight.  And with that, that is our broadcast for this Wednesday night.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Goodnight 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