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Republican Dan Bishop wins house seat in NC. TRANSCRIPT: 9/10/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Michael Schmidt, Tim O`Brien, Bill Kristol

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, John Bolton is out after a rocky tenure as national security adviser.  It`s either a firing or resignation depending on which story you believe.  Now the White House looking to hire its fourth national security adviser in just three years.

This comes amid a conversation already spun up over the President`s changing the weather forecast, denying a business arrangement in plain sight, which may help to explain some big, bad, new polling numbers just out.

Plus, a former counter Intel chief of the FBI, is here with us for an update on that Russian asset who alerted America to Putin`s meddling in our 2016 election.

And Steve Kornacki at the big board with the North Carolina special election results tonight as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 964 of the Trump administration.  Real quickly here tonight, in political news, NBC News projected a short time ago that when all the votes are counted, Dan Bishop, the Republican, will hold the North Carolina 9th congressional district for the Republicans.  That special election in the district that Trump visited last night.

And as we get into the rest of today`s news, the headline tonight, yet another staff shakeup in the Trump White House, National Security Adviser John Bolton is out after 17 months on the job.  Bolton was Trump`s third national security adviser in less than three years.  That means tonight, put a different way, they are searching for their fourth national security adviser in three years` time.

Trump announced he`d fired Bolton this morning on Twitter writing, "I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House.  I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions as did others in the administration, and, therefore, I asked John for his resignation which was given to me this morning.  I thank John very much for his service.  I will be naming a new national security adviser next week."

Minutes later Bolton responded with a post of his own, "I offered to resign last night and President Trump said let`s talk about it tomorrow."  He also, in a text message to NBC News wrote, "I offered to resign last night.  He never asked for it directly or indirectly.  I slept on it and resigned this morning."

Bolton`s predecessors equal equally abrupt exits for their part.  Mike Flynn, you may recall, lasted all of 24 days.  He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia.  Ironically, Flynn was in Federal Court just today on related matters.  At the same time, Bolton`s departure was being announced.

Then there was H.R. McMaster, he was pushed out in March of last year after disagreeing with the President on several foreign policy issues.  In another twist, NBC News reports Trump has been reaching out to McMaster for advice on national security issues of late even while Bolton was still serving in the post.

Today White House spokesman Hogan Gidley echoed the President`s explanation for John Bolton`s departure.


HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY WHIT HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  John Bolton`s priorities and policies just don`t line up with the President`s.  And any sitting president has the right to put someone in that position that can carry out his agenda.  That became no longer tenable so the President made a change.


WILLIAMS:  Hogan Gidley in the driveway, a reminder they do have a briefing room there.  Some great and detailed reporting out tonight takes advantage of a deeply leaky White House to point out the tensions between Bolton and the President.  "Washington Post" is on the board with this, "Bolton did not like Trump`s repeated meetings with Kim Jong-un and had argued against directly meeting with Iranian officials.  He also did not like the President`s repeated insistence that Russia rejoin the group of Seven Nations."

It had been reported one of Bolton`s main adversaries in the administration is that man, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a smiling Pompeo talked about Bolton during a White House briefing held in the actual briefing room that the now-former national security adviser was supposed to attend, himself, less than an hour after Trump`s announcement.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE:  The President`s entitled to the staff that he wants at any moment.  He should have people that he trusts and values and whose efforts and judgments benefit him in delivering American foreign policy.  There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed, that`s to be sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Were you two blind sided by what occurred today?

POMPEO:  I`m never surprised.


WILLIAMS:  The "Times" writes that Pompeo, "has proved more adept at managing the President and subordinating his views to Mr. Trump`s while Mr. Bolton kept pushing his beliefs even after they were rejected.  Mr. Pompeo did not see Mr. Bolton as a team player but as someone who undermined the President`s policies."

And POLITICO is reporting, "For months, the Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson had been lobbying President Donald Trump to fire John Bolton and frequently told Trump that Bolton not only wasn`t on his team but was using the news media against him."  That would be something approaching full circle for John Bolton who came to Trump`s attention initially because of his frequent appearances on Fox News.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Ultimately, I think our objective should be to overthrow the regime in Tehran.

I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea.

The question, how do you know that North Korean regime is lying?  Answer, their lips are moving.


WILLIAMS:  But then came this.  Once Bolton was on Trump`s team, signed up, Trump often referred to Bolton`s aggressive stance on national security issues.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  John Bolton is absolutely a hawk.  If it was up to him, he`d take on the whole world at one time.

I have John Bolton who I would definitely say is a hawk and I have other people that are on other side of the equation.

Yes, John is very good.  John is a -- he has strong views on things, but that`s OK.  I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing, isn`t it?  Nobody thought that was going to -- I`m the one that tempers him, but that`s OK.


WILLIAMS:  Bolton`s departure puts him at the end of a very long and growing roster of Trump officials who have either been ousted or resigned since the beginning of this still young presidency.  Deputy National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman is taking over Bolton`s job on an interim basis which brings us to our leadoff discussion on a Tuesday night, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post," Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon as well as former counsel to the House Intel Committee and Kimberly Atkins, senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR Boston`s NPR News Station.  Welcome to you all.

Phil, I`d like to begin with you.  Just tonight, Tucker Carlson, by the way, is quoted as calling this a great day for America and saying of Bolton, "he`s a man of the left."  What is your after-action report? Was this loyalty problems or leaks?  Was this outside voices or actual policy?

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF:  Brian, it`s basically all of the above, and by the time Bolton left the administration, the list of his detractors, of the people inside the administration, the list of detractors of the people inside the administration who did not admire him was quite long.  It included, by the way, the first lady and the Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney.

Trump and Bolton have disagreed from really the beginning of this relationship, especially on North Korea, but also on Afghanistan, on Iran, on other issues.  The problem for Trump in recent weeks, however, is that Bolton`s disagreements increasingly became publicly known through media reports.  Bolton, of course, denies that he has leaked those sorts of details, but it bothered the President that the disputes that these discussions they were having especially on Afghanistan and those peace talks with the Taliban were coming into full view.  And there was really a breakdown in the way that the national security apparatus of the administration was working.

Bolton in the final weeks, according to my colleagues` reporting at the "Post" was not even on speaking terms with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump saw that as a real problem and started to really resent Bolton.  I talked to a senior administration official, former official, earlier today, who said that Bolton really acted like a big shot in the White House.  He had a big entourage.  His aides were more loyal to him than to the President himself.  And the President ultimately just got sick of that.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy bash, two points here.  Number one, this is hardly the first time we have seen tension between two powerful jobs in the modern era, national security adviser and the White House, Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State.  Point number two is an example from Rand Paul of some of the reaction today.  Let`s listen together.


SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY:  John Bolton out of the White House, the threat of war around the world is greatly diminished.  The President really does want to end the war in Afghanistan.  I think he could, but he needs people around him who support the vision he`s putting forward.


WILLIAMS:  So, Jeremy, after all this, do you think this marks any change in direction on policy for this presidency?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, I think the President makes it up as he goes along.  You know, he improvises foreign policy.  There`s no doctrinal north star, no foreign policy goal he`s driving towards.  And so for that reason, John Bolton who very much came out of the doctrinal school of being a muscular internationalist, really favored military intervention in the context of Iran, did not like cozying up to Putin, did not like the bromance with Kim Jong-un, and obviously was very wary of doing a peace deal with the Taliban that would remove U.S. troops and intelligence professionals from Afghanistan during the 9/11 anniversary week.

And so this clash in some ways was inevitable.  And I think it shows you the extent of the chaos, the extent of the dysfunction.  And these are critically important jobs because Donald Trump is very lucky, we have not had a major national security crisis, a no-kidding full-blown crisis, an attack on the homeland or some significant military confrontation, and when that happens, you need professionals around you who can give you the honest facts and the best advice.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, Jeremy, I was thinking earlier tonight, we have a look at one of the testing sessions for what we`re going to see tomorrow evening.  This is, after all, the eve of the 9/11 anniversary.  Hard to believe it`s been 18 years.  And tomorrow evening over lower Manhattan, we will see those two shafts of blue light that still puts a lump in your throat.  To your point, God forbid, we have not witnessed a genuine crisis because that`s the day you realize the job of national security adviser in the White House is one of the most consequential in the free world.

BASH:  Absolutely.  The fundamental aspects of the job are to bring together the folks from the other agencies, the director of National Intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of Defense and state and the other Cabinet leads.  And to provide options to the President, to amass the facts, to consult with allies, partners around the world, and to give the President options to respond to a crisis.  John Bolton had basically become a cable T.V. commentator in the White House with no mandate other than to push his own views and his agenda.  And that`s what got him crossways but it also shows how dysfunctional the national security process has become under President Trump.

WILLIAMS:  Kim, at the start of our broadcast, we showed a piece of video that we didn`t explain, and that was while this was all going on, shortly before the announcement, the camera crews that are always camped out in the driveway and the briefing room saw John Bolton all by his lonesome on his cell phone come out of the northwest portico there in the West Wing, no Marine present, just standing there, still the national security adviser to the President, making a phone call.  Next time we heard his name, it was his departure.

So Kim, you`ve covered this crowd for a long time.  You`ve talked to a lot of people.  Is the lesson of this that if you manage up, your chances at longer tenure are better?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR SR. NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Essentially.  I mean, this is the White House that is run by President Trump.  When he was first elected, there was a lot of talk, particularly when it came to things like the national security apparatus, that President Trump might be sort of an empty vessel or a blank slate through which others could kind of govern and just use him as a means to get there.  We`re seeing increasingly that that just isn`t the case.  President Trump likes to surround himself with people, as Secretary Pompeo said, who he trusts, but the problem is finding people who can trust him and trust that they would listen to his advice and do the job that they -- allow them to do the job that they`re there to do.  President Trump is very interested in who contradicts him, particularly publicly.

I think this all came to a head, clearly, because of the reports that there was dissension within the White House, not just between Bolton and the President, but of dragging the Vice President into it, too, with news reports suggesting he was on Bolton`s side when it came to that meeting with the Taliban leaders that never happened.  That seemed to really anger this President.

One thing that I`m hearing from the Hill, of course, from a lot of lawmakers, you talked about some of the Republicans who were not sad to see Bolton go.  Certainly the Democrats were not fans of Bolton.  I think Tucker Carlson is wrong there.  But there is a lot of -- there`s still a lot of dismay because they`re saying at a time where there`s so many big issues in national security and in foreign relations, we have foreign -- we have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, just as all this was happening was claiming that the United States was going to assist him or be -- cooperate with him in annexing parts of the West Bank.  There`s a lot going on, and the national security apparatus is in complete disarray.

There`s no sense of who`s in charge. The President is firing people on Twitter.  And all that makes it very difficult for the United States to lead.  So it`s a lot of chaos and confusion.  It`s something that the President doesn`t seem to mind so much, but certainly folks on the Hill and elsewhere are very concerned about it.

WILLIAMS:  Terrific point, where Netanyahu is concerned.  One of the stories that did get by today.

Hey, Jeremy, newspaper reporters love the expression, "being mentioned for the job."  Who is being mentioned for the job?  I think I`ve read 10 to 12 names today.  Who wants this job, Phil?

BASH:  Well, it`s hard because this person will be the fourth national security adviser and I think they were worried that their tenure would end badly just as the three predecessors had to worry.  There are couple of people throughout the administration.  There are some ambassadors currently serving in posts and there are some others from the outside who I guess Trump likes their commentary.

So you know, none of these are sort of the most prominent senior national security professionals from the Republican establishment.  But someone will fill the job, although I think effectively Pompeo will be like Kissinger and will serve effectively as both secretary of state and national security adviser at the same time.

WILLIAMS:  Because everything goes back to Henry Kissinger.  Phil Rucker, your paper among those out with new polling and the number is rather shocking.  "Washington Post" poll, 38 approve, 56 disapprove.  CNN poll, 39 approve, 55 disapprove.  Either way, that`s a long way underwater for a sitting president.  He`s shown he has a ceiling that`s under 50, but Phil Rucker, a lot of people are drawing a clear red line from what we`ve been covering to numbers like that.

RUCKER:  Yes, Brian, those numbers are clearly alarming for the President and his campaign advisers as they look ahead to the re-election campaign.  That is not a good place for any incumbent to be.  He, of course, has time to make up ground, but he had an opportunity this summer to try to, you know, build a stronger political foundation and did not do so.  It turned out to be in his own advisers` telling a summer of self-sabotage and missed opportunities and that in turn has been enraging the President in recent weeks.  It`s the reason you`ve seen him ramp up the attacks on Twitter and at his rallies against the media, against polling, specifically.

He went after that "Washington Post"/ABC news poll this morning as somehow inaccurate even though it`s obviously a scientific study of public opinion.  And it`s just a sign, I think, for the Trump team that there are some real dangers here as they look ahead to the re-election and they try to, you know, focus on an agenda that can broaden his support.

WILLIAMS:  To Kimberly Atkins, to Jeremy Bash, to Philip Rucker, our thanks for starting off our conversation so nicely on this Tuesday evening.

And coming up for us, the fallout from extracting a CIA asset from deep within the Kremlin, apparently.

And later, despite a revolving door of departures, the President repeatedly denies any chaos in his administration.  All of it as our allies and adversaries look on with great interest, as you might imagine.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Tuesday night in view of the Executive Office building.


WILLIAMS:  A former Russian asset who had been living in the Washington area has been moved to a secret location after his role as an informant to our country came to light this week.  "New York Times" reported the man who was one of the CIA`s most important assets was a key to their conclusion, in fact, that Putin, himself, ordered the 2016 meddling into our election.  The source was extracted from the Kremlin in 2017.

The "Times" puts it in perspective, and we quote, "The move brought to an end the career of one of the CIA`s most important sources.  It also effectively blinded American intelligence officials to the view from inside Russia as they sought clues about Kremlin interference in the 2018 midterm elections and next year`s Presidential contest."

Russian state media today identified this potential source, said he did work for the Russian government but downplayed the role he had.

Here for more, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director notably for Counterintelligence and Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times."

Frank, in order to have practiced Counterintelligence for as many years as you did, it means knowing a lot about intelligence.  How valuable would someone like this have been to us?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  Brian, this is the kind of human source that you can go an entire career and never be exposed to.  To have someone that`s called a recruitment in place at this level reportedly with access to Vladimir Putin`s office is exceptionally rare, and Americans through this unfortunate leak are getting a very rare glimpse of the human stakes involved.

This human being risked his life, risked his family, to work for our team, for the United States, and reportedly among the information he provided was information detailing Putin`s direct involvement in Russian interference with our 2016 presidential election, Putin`s personal desire to see Trump win.  That`s the kind of thing that Americans need to understand.  People who`ve never read -- people in the Senate, in the House, who`ve never read the Mueller report who write it off, laugh it off, as something insignificant, need to understand the human toll and the human side and this story depicts that in great detail.

WILLIAMS:  Michael Schmidt, does this -- first of all, the warning from Robert Mueller at the hearing about their current meddling in our political process was one of the few things that came through from that day.  That sound bite may be the most repeated in our media.  Second, the loss of this asset, has it added to the view, the government types you talk to, that our preparation for their interference in 2020 is either flatfooted or straight-up hampered?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, whatever information the government had in 2016 that got them to that conclusion that Putin had played a role in trying to tip the scales for Trump will not be there coming into the next election.  And that just means that the Intelligence Community will be at a huge disadvantage as they try and figure out what is actually going on around the election. And that means that they`ll have to rely more on intercepts.  That means they`ll have to go out and find sources.

But developing a source like this takes a very, very long time.  It`s not just something they can just go out and get.  So my sense is that coming into 2020, they will be flying blind in a way that they weren`t in 2016 because if you remember back to that period of time after Trump got elected and the Intelligence Community came out with this document, it was such specific information, it does really put it`s full weight behind this document and you sort of understand why they did that if they had such a good source.

WILLIAMS:  So, Frank, for our viewers who have not read into the depths of this story, it`s reported this asset was close enough to Putin, physically, and in his political orbit, to have taken photos of the papers on Putin`s desk.  Having established that, might just use the expression, flying blind.  That`s scary enough.  If we`re flying bind is the worst-case scenario that Russia also changes its playbook a bit in how they come at us.

FIGLIUZZI:  Yes, every time you have one of these leakages, and every time you have to exfiltrate a source at this level, you have to understand the damage assessment and the adversary will change their methodology in order to try to avoid this kind of detection again.  But Michael, you know, touched on some of the short-term ramifications.

The broader ramifications are not just with Russia but imagine now trying to recruit high-level source from China, North Korea, Iran, and they look you in the eye and say, "Am I going to get exposed on the news?  Am I going to be -- my name provided to the president and might that president leak this information?"  Isn`t this the same President Trump who said he doesn`t like human sources?  Isn`t this the same President Trump who said he would never have allowed the CIA to recruit Kim Jong-un`s half-brother as a source, so it`s a difficult time for the intelligence world.  We`re headed into the 2020 election and we may be facing an intelligence desert.

WILLIAMS:  And Mike Schmidt, one of the guys you`ve written a lot about, Mr. Flynn, back in Federal Court today looking for all the world kind of cool and rested.  Still a free man able to breathe free air.  And it had us thinking about asking that question all over again, why all the lies about Russia?  And is it possible, Mike, we`re getting further from knowing that answer?

SCHMIDT:  It`s been three years almost since Mike Flynn made his false statements to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.  We still, as a public, do not have a great clarity on why he made those statements.  We still don`t really understand that.

And now there`s more questions about what`s going on.  His lawyer saying that he doesn`t want to pull out of his plea agreement but trying to cast doubt on this case.  It`s just another curious development here. It was only a few months ago that Mike Flynn had a deal from the government which would recommend no prison time and now that has sort of been all thrown up in the air and they`re trying to throw mud at the government on their case here and it just doesn`t make sense.

So as we see with the story today about the source, issues on Russia, counterintelligence, spying, these things take a very long time for any of us to get clarity.

WILLIAMS:  Two of our returning veterans, our thanks.  Frank Figliuzzi, Michael Schmidt, gentlemen, thank you both for coming on tonight.

And coming up for us, the question one of Trump`s top advisers called, "the most ridiculous question he ever heard," happened today.  We`ll play it for you when we come back.



JIM ACOSTA, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Is the national security team a mess?

STEVEN MNUCHIN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY:  Absolutely not.  That`s the most ridiculous question I`ve ever heard of.


WILLIAMS:  Mnuchin there today in the briefing room as Trump officials appear to be taking great pains to downplay the optics of a White House in any kind of chaos like the search for a fourth national security adviser in three years time.  The President, himself, taking to social media just yesterday to declare, "Dishonest media likes to create the look of turmoil in the White House of which there is none."  Yet a majority of Americans may no longer be buying what the President is trying to sell.

This was a consequential number that came across our desks today.  Here it is.  According to a new CNN poll, 71 percent of people surveyed, more than two-thirds of our fellow citizens say they don`t trust either some or any of the official communications coming out of this White House.  Again, a consequential number.

Here to talk about it, Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor of "Bloomberg Opinion."  He also happens to be the author of "Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald."  And Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee in its former makeup.  Mr. Chairman, thank you for coming on.  And Tim, I`m going to start with --

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN:  Good to see you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  -- with one of your colleagues at "Bloomberg Opinion", a column on the ousting of Bolton.  "Agree with Bolton or not, he was at least arguably qualified for his job.  Given that every other day of the Trump administration is a Red Wedding reenactment, recruiting qualified grown-ups to fill jobs keeps getting more difficult.  And the chance of a terrible error keeps rising."

Earlier I referenced the blue lights that we will see tomorrow night over lower Manhattan.  That remind us of the worst day in our modern history, and there they are, 18 years ago tomorrow.  Eighteen years ago tonight, we knew nothing.  And a good many people were getting ready to go to work tomorrow morning in current time.  God forbid, what happens with this President, this White House staff, if we have a national emergency?

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION:  Well, and that`s where I think the buffoonery, the chaos, the lack of process, the lack of interest in policy details, Trump`s inability to recruit and retain mature, experienced, leaders, all comes home to roost because at some point we`re going to have another national security event that will require teamwork.  It won`t require Donald Trump acting on his own and he`s not going to have the people around him that he needs to make effective decisions.

I thought this press conference today that Steve Mnuchin did with Mike Pompeo was quasi farcical because they came out, I think, in a demonstration of force to say we have a national security apparatus here and we stand up for that.  Here`s the reality.  The top two slots at the Department of Homeland Security are vacant.  The national security advisory is vacant.  DNI is vacant.  There`s not a White House appointee atop the army.  There`s not a White House appointee atop the air force.

WILLIAMS:  As they start an investigation into Scotland, right?

O`BRIEN:  As they start an investigation into Scotland.  It`s rudderless.  And Donald Trump like all presidents needs advice.  But Donald Trump especially needs advice because he`s ill informed and undisciplined.

WILLIAMS:  Michael Steele, should we stay up late waiting for a lot of reaction to the departure of Bolton and fellow Republicans calling for rigor in the selection process of the fourth national security adviser if three years time?

STEELE:  No, I don`t think we should so we can all just kind of turn in after this show and get a good night`s rest because that`s exactly how Donald Trump wants this to play out.  Keep in mind as Tim has just laid out, there are several very key important vacancies still inexistence in the national security space, alone.  Before you get into other aspects of the government writ large that have an acting in charge or in some cases no one.  So that`s how Trump likes it.

It`s laughable when you hear him tweet out or see him tweet out that he doesn`t like, you know, that there`s no chaos here.  Everything is under control.  Well, this is the man who told us that he thrives in that space.

And to Tim`s point about being informed and educated and Republicans should be concerned about this, particularly given, you know, the question you raised at the beginning about what happens if we have a national security emergency, is the fact that Donald Trump does not want to be instructed.  He does not want to be informed because he knows it all already.  And so we should take comfort from that and I think Americans will have to weigh that going into the next election cycle whether or not what they hear and see from this President does, in fact, give them comfort, that should another 9/11 happen, God forbid, that this administration would be able to handle it because right now, it is the -- the bet would be it would not be.

WILLIAMS:  Tim, a good number of people, a lot of them admittedly in newsrooms, heard the Bolton news this morning and thought, what else is going on that we`re going to miss while covering this?  Susan Glasser of "The New Yorker" tweeted tonight, does anybody remember sharpie-gate?  We do.  Just days ago, the President tried to change the weather forecast.  And that got us to thinking about his first full day in office when this President, indeed, tried to change the weather.  Let`s remember together.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It was almost raining.  The rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and we said we`re not going to let it rain on your speech.  In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no.  First line, I got hit by a couple of drops.  And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we`ll go right through it.

But the truth is that it stopped immediately.  It was amazing and then it became really sunny.  Then I walked off and it poured right after I left.  It poured.


WILLIAMS:  Tim O`Brien, you`ve written the guy`s life story.  What have we learned?

O`BRIEN:  What we have learned is that Donald Trump is so counterfactual and in his own sort of reality bubble that he`s willing and constantly denying the very thing that`s right in front of him.  And the reason he does it is in part because I think he`s remorseless and he doesn`t really have a conscience about telling lies.  Or misrepresenting what`s going on and he does it routinely.  I think what`s catching up to him now, however, are facts and data.

The difference between inauguration day and people throwing ponchos or plastic cloths over their heads while he`s saying it isn`t raining, and what`s happening now at the national weather service is over the last two years he`s gotten his hands onto the wheels of the federal government.  And he is now bringing other people along with him into this game and it`s unfortunate and I think it should concern Americans of any political stripe because what he`s trying to corrupt here is his data and facts.  The national weather service came out in order to keep the residents of Alabama calm in the interest of public safety to say, no, there`s a storm not coming here.  Trump said there was.

This absurd sharpie-gate debate ensued.  We`re in the ninth day of it at this point.  And Trump pushed it so far to get the head of NOAA to come out on his behalf and say, the national weather service was wrong, Mr. President, you were right.  Even though the data and the facts show that not to be true.  And that actually ties together a lot of the events we`ve seen over the last week.

Mike Pence staying at Doonbeg, the air force staying at Turnberry, Bill Barr deciding to have his Christmas party at the Trump White House.  All of these various institutional players are essentially kowtowing to the President either by not observing the fact pattern or paying him this sort of patronage in order to please him and that`s not the way good government is meant to run.  And to me, that`s not even a partisan or ideological issue.  We should run a government by the facts.  And you have a president who`s not only ignoring the facts, he`s trying to deceive the public.

WILLIAMS:  And Michael Steele, let`s back the bus right up and go over it again.  Perhaps lost in the argument over crowd size is the fact that his first day in office, the President said it didn`t rain during his inauguration speech.  All those pictures on the right-hand side including 43 shrink wrapped were during the course of the inauguration speech.  Nothing was time shifted forward or back.  Remarkable to look back on.

STEELE:  Yes.  Between Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush 43 sort of like that.  It`s kind of raining out here.  But, again, I think Tim laid it out the absolute correct way.  It`s counterfactual.  It is a narrative that is created from the very first day on that podium looking at the nation.  He started this reality television presidency.

And every day there`s a new episode and within those episodes there are episodes at times, and so if truth and numbers, facts, and information comes out that`s contrary to that, he is going to consistently and insistently say that this is the truth as I see it.  And then you get the sycophants who value their job and pleasing Donald Trump more than they do serving the american people will come out and say what they say and host parties at his hotel and claim that, oh, yes, we always land the planes 2,000 miles out of the way or we always take the presidential -- the vice presidential party and plant them 130 miles away from the event because that`s -- that`s more cost effective.  I mean, it just doesn`t make any sense, but in his world, it does.

WILLIAMS:  Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stay with us over the break.

Coming up, you may have heard last night, we put it this way, there are two kinds of impeachment, regular and diet.  Which kind do you think the Democrats are serving up right about now?



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MINORITY LEADER, CALIFORNIA:  The President`s resorts are hotels that he owns.  People are traveling.  It`s just like any other hotel.  I know people will look at it.  I don`t know that that`s different than anything else.

Is it different that if I go and stay or eat at a Marriott here or eat at the Trump?  The President isn`t asking me to.  He`s competing in a private enterprise.  It`s nothing -- something he controls in that process, so if it`s in the process, they can stay there.


WILLIAMS:  May have sounded like the Trivago guy but that`s the top Republican in the House of Representatives.  Our two guests remain with us for this conversation.  Tim O`Brien, what do you make of that you can stay in a Marriott or a Trump hotel?

O`BRIEN:  Here`s the difference, Brian.  The man or woman running the Marriott isn`t the boss of the attorney general, the vice president, or the head of the air force.  The person running the Marriott is not the head of Kevin McCarthy`s party.  Whether or not the President of the United States is directing any of these people to patronize his hotels at a bare minimum, the fact that they go there creates a very bad look.  It`s atmospherically wrong.  It looks like you`re patronizing the President to line his wallet.  Even if you`re not.  At a minimum, that`s a problem.

The reality is this can`t be far from anybody`s mind that it might make good sense for them to go to a Trump hotel.  We know that when Mike Pence first went to Doonbeg, his own chief of staff, Marc Short, said he decided to look at Doonbeg because the President suggests to him, hey, you`re going to be in Ireland, you might as well stay at my hotel in Doonbeg even though it`s 125 miles west of Dublin and far from where most of your meetings are going to be.

Pence later walked that back and said the President didn`t push any of that along.  But this is all conflict of interest issues that hung over Trump when he got inaugurated coming home to roost.  And by the way, a lot of those people are staying at properties, particularly the ones in Scotland, that are losing money so it also raises the question of whether or not he`s using taxpayers` funds to put the military up at his hotel to help his bottom line.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Michael Steele, I`m watching "Meet the Press Daily" today as all good Americans should and I hear Chuck Todd with an explanation of what the Democrats are up to that was unique to my eyes and unsparing, so we have put it on the screen and we`re going to all read it together.  And it begins, "The House Judiciary Committee is launching an impeachment investigation for the purpose of investigating the possibility of an impeachment inquiry.  Now they`re taking a big step to formalize the rules of the impeachment inquiry that doesn`t officially exist yet but one that Democrats say" -- now it`s gone past me -- "they`ve been doing and that they`re now going to do more seriously to potentially recommend articles of impeachment to the White House which the Senate is not going to consider no matter what".

Or to put it more succinctly, Congress is back in session.  Michael, what is this we`re looking at because Speaker of the House is not impeaching the President.

STEELE:  They don`t know what they`re doing.  They don`t know.  I mean, come on.  That is the worst word salad you could possibly come up with.  I have no idea what that means.  I don`t think anybody knows what that means.  The fact of the matter is no one`s talking about impeachment.  I mean, you`re going to bring this conversation up again, that`s fine, maybe a lot of folks on the progressive left are really still hyped up about it.

Just do the work.  Just come back, put some good bills on the table that forces both sides to have to push this President to make decisions and lay out your case for next year.  All of this other stuff is just at this point I think, Brian, a lot of noise and confusion like that paragraph or two that you just read.

WILLIAMS:  Two guys who have done the work.  Returning veterans Tim O`Brien, Michael Steele.  Gentlemen, thank you as always for coming on.

And coming up, North Carolina held a special election tonight.  We have Steve Kornacki at the big board after this.



DAN BISHOP (R), NORTH CAROLINA, NC-09 APPARENT WINNER:  And I`ll be North Carolina (INAUDIBLE).  And thank you to the good people of the 9th District.


WILLIAMS:  You could almost hear what he was saying there, but that was Republican Dan Bishop who according to NBC News is the projected winner tonight, North Carolina, 9th Congressional District.  The battle of the Dans.  Bishop running against McCready for the Democrats.  McCready`s second time out.  If you`ll recall, state officials would not certify the results of this race when they ran it in 2018.  That`s after evidence surfaced of an illegal scheme by the campaign of Mark Harris, who ran as the Republican, the last time around.

Bottom line, a red district since the era of Kennedy stays red, but we have Steve Kornacki to look at how it all went down at the big board.  Hey, Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, MSNBC NEWS:  Hey, Brian.  Yes, it`s a fascinating story here.  What happened in this district now.  You mentioned the bottom line, Dan Bishop the Republican wins this district by two points, will now represent it in the House.  This was in 2016, a Trump district, a big Trump district.  The President won this thing by double digits in 2016 comes down to a two-point Republican victory.

Tonight, why was it close?  Why was the Republican ultimately able to prevail?  There were two different story lines that kind of converged in this district tonight and each of them I think is a microcosm of what we talk about nationally right now.  One of the stories was right here in the suburbs that circle might even be too big, the area I`m talking about.  The densely populated suburbs of South Charlotte, about a third of this district is in Mecklenburg County.  And this is that -- we talk about it all the time.

Higher income, college educated suburbs.  A place that Trump won that portion of the district by three points in 2016.  McCready tonight wins it by 13 points.  So that`s the kind of swing we`ve been seeing in metro areas, suburban areas across the country, in the Trump era, away from the Republicans, toward the Democrats.

If you had said it at the start of the night, that`s where McCready was going to end up in Mecklenburg County, you might have thought McCready was going to win the election outright.  Why didn`t he?  Why did Bishop survives?  It`s the other major story line in American politics.  We saw here.  And that is the rural vote.

The eastern part of this district when you get away from Charlotte, you get away from the suburbs, these are more blue collar, rural, exurban areas.  And that is where it was the Election Day vote.  You know, half the vote`s early vote, half the vote`s Election Day in North Carolina.  Well, it was the Election Day vote, folks who went out today in the rural parts of this district came through big for Bishop, the Republicans.

Does it have something to do with the rally that Trump held on election eve in this district?  That`s certainly possible.  But it was a big rural turnout.  Republican turnout for Bishop.  Big suburban strength there for McCready.  Two different story lines.  Bottom line, two-point win for the Republican.

WILLIAMS:  Steve, stay right where you are.  I want to expand this conversation by one to include Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, editor-at-large of "The Bulwark."  Bill happens to be teaching this semester at Davidson University in North Carolina.  Lucky for those students, also lucky for us to bring in Bill to talk about this from North Carolina.

So Bill, I heard it said tonight on cable television that a 51-49 win for the Republicans in this district will send such worrisome signals about the suburban vote to sitting members of Congress that we`re going to see another round of retirements.  Do you concur or should it not be viewed that harshly?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE BULWARK:  It`s possible.  I mean, if you represent a district like sisterhood (ph), Davidson`s just outside the district.  But, you know, I`ve been there a day or two a week and I`ve seen the race fairly up close.

I think Steve`s analysis is exactly right.  The suburban swing wasn`t quite big enough to offset the rural swing the other way.  There was also I think some underperformance among minority voters for the Democrat in the district.  But at the end of the day, the big picture, the forest as opposed to the trees, an 11 or 12-point margin for Romney and for Trump goes to a two-point margin for the Trump-like candidate, the candidate for whom Trump came in this district.

Now obviously you can`t, you know, extrapolate exactly from that.  McCready`s a more moderate Democrat than the Democrats are likely to nominate nationally.  Trump is maybe a better candidate than Bishop.  But I would say just stepping back and looking at the big picture, if this happens across the nation Trump is not going to get re-elected.  If this happens across North Carolina Trump won`t carry the state.  That is to say, Trump carried the state by four points last time when he won the district by 11 or 12.  So if he wins the district only by two, he`ll lose the state.  If he wins the district by five or six, he`ll lose the state.

So I think, you know, Democrats would be very disappointed.  McCready was a very good candidate I think and would have been in my opinion a good congressman.  But nonetheless, if things go -- where we are now is not a good place for Trump or for the Republican Party.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Bill, I just wanted to give you a heads-up.  The leader of the Free World who, for the record, tweeted out a cat video Saturday night is now on the board having tweeted this.  Just this, "Trump 2024." your reaction.

KRISTOL:  Well, maybe he expects to lose in 2020 and then he`ll run again in 2024 which, you know, I`ve always wondered.  Everyone assumes if Trump loses in 2020 we`re done with him, but why do we think that, you know.

WILLIAMS:  Bill Kristol, thank you.  Steve Kornacki, that`s why they pay Bill Kristol the big bucks.

Steve, this broader question.  And I know you never do opinion.  But if you`re looking for danger signs for the Republican Party in the American suburbs writ large, I know a guy like you could find them.

KORNACKI:  It`s right there.  It`s Mecklenburg County.  It`s that we could zoom in here.  I say it`s geographically tiny.  It`s right here.  Look, Dan McCready, it`s a 12-point win for Dan McCready.  All the votes are counter there.  Again, this is actually better than McCready did last November in this part of the district.  He won it by 10 then.  He wins it by 12 tonight.

In this same slice of the district I`m showing you right here, Trump won by three in 2016.  So this is an area densely populated area that Trump was able to carry as a candidate but as President twice now in a congressional election it`s gone double digits for the Democrat.  If you have that happening in Mecklenburg County and you have that happening in places like that across the country that`s a big trouble sign.

WILLIAMS:  We`re flattered to have you both, gentlemen.  Bill Kristol, you`ve got class in the morning.  Steve Kornacki as always holding class for us here.  Thank you both for being here and being a part of our broadcast.

And to those watching at home, that is our broadcast for this Tuesday night.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Good night from our 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