LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Jennifer Rubin gets tonight`s LAST WORD.
Joyce Vance, Jennifer Rubin, thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate. That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight there`s a big story in "The Washington Post" about a whistleblower inside the Trump administration who reportedly heard the President say something troubling to a foreign leader. Now Congress wants to play its role. They want to know what was overheard. The lead writer of the story standing by for us.
Plus, with the Iran matter swirling we need Trump`s fourth national security adviser, by all accounts appointed in the nick of time.
And one of our guests tonight believes the Democrats are headed for big trouble if they ever let what happened yesterday happen again. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 972 of this Trump administration. And as we said, we have a big story in "The Washington Post" tonight. It involves a whistleblower complaint from inside the administration that the intelligence inspector general considers credible and urgent.
Tonight "The Post" puts it this way, saying this whistleblower complaint "involves President Trump`s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter." They go on to write "Trump`s interaction with the foreign leader included a promise that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community." This is obviously potentially explosive.
Greg Miller, "Washington Post" National Security Correspondent, is the first name in a three-part byline tonight. He has made himself available to us.
Greg, what is the finite list of foreign leaders our President could have been talking to in this case?
GREG MILLER, THE WASHINGTON POST NATL. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this complaint, this whistleblower complaint, comes in the early part of August. And if you look through the White House records, Trump had interactions with about four or five foreign leaders in the weeks leading up to this complaint. Perhaps the most relevant one is a late July -- end of July conversation with Vladimir Putin, in which the White House readout was very different from the Russian readout afterward in which the Russian government indicated they saw some sort of progress toward restoring bilateral relations between the two countries.
But there were others too. He was also interacting with the North Korean leader, with the prime minister of Pakistan and a couple of others. But I think that it`s safe to say that the speculation is going to center on Putin and on Kim Jong-un.
WILLIAMS: Now, I do know that in the modern era there have been -- traditionally in the national security shop in the West Wing, there have been phone listeners, sometimes note takers, sometimes analysts to recount what went on. That is a way of doing business, though, not all the time. Is there reason to believe there is a permanent record of the conversation? Because absent that, of course, opens the door to deniability.
MILLER: Right. So there almost undoubtedly is a record of this call. Calls made by Presidents out of the Oval Office. Two foreign leaders are always witness. There are always others who participate or witness or record the calls. Take notes.
In previous administrations those notes would end up being distributed across the national security community to keep other people and other government employees apprised of what was discussed and what was decided. This White House has curtailed that practice significantly in part because of a story that I wrote early in Trump`s presidency in which he disclosed classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office.
WILLIAMS: What is the short lesson on whistleblower laws? I know they are written for a reason, and that is the hope that no matter who the person and no matter how explosive the charge it is supposed to, if it`s working correctly, bubble up and make its way to the appropriate audience. And in this case, in this rare case, a first in the memory of veterans on Capitol Hill, this case has been blocked from being heard, correct?
MILLER: That`s right. So far the director of national intelligence, the nation`s top intelligence official, is refusing to disclose details about this whistleblower complaint, saying essentially that there are other equities here, that this involves the communications of somebody who is not -- who doesn`t work for me basically. So that has led to some speculation that this might be Trump. And we were able to confirm that today.
I think it`s important -- one thing -- other thing you just said, Brian, is very important, which is that this is really if not uncharted territory then pretty close to it. You`re basically -- we`re sitting on a story where an official who works for the U.S. Intelligence Community is troubled enough by what the President of the United States has said in a call with a foreign leader that he went to the intelligence community`s watchdog agency to report it.
WILLIAMS: We commend this article to the attention of our viewers. Look for this man`s byline, the first of three, big team working on this for "The Washington Post."
Greg Miller, thank you so much for finding the time to talk to us about it tonight.
As we continue, Donald Trump has tonight made his first move to punish Iran after that weekend strike on Saudi Arabia`s oil industry. In what passes for official communications these days, he told secretary of the treasury to "substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran."
Trump`s secretary of state, who is in Saudi meeting with officials at the Kingdom, came out with his provocative assessment while talking with reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECY. OF STATE: This was an Iranian attack.
We were blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack, but anytime you have an act of war of this nature there`s always risk that that could happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So he tossed out the phrase "act of war." Today the Saudi government revealed what they said were the remains of Iranian cruise missiles and drones used in the attack while U.S. intel reportedly indicates the strike originated from Iran, they deny all responsibility.
The possibility of military action against Iran came up as the President continued his fund-raising swing through California. He remembers the one who said the U.S. is locked and loaded. And he took a different line from his secretary of state today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you looking at a military strike?
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ll see what happens. There are many options as you know, Phil. There are many options. And there`s the ultimate option and there are option that`s are a lot less than that. And we`ll see. We`re in a very powerful position.
Right now we`re in a very, very powerful position.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say "the ultimate option," are you talking about a nuclear strike?
TRUMP: No, I`m saying the ultimate option meaning go in war. No, I`m not talking about -- I`m not talking about that ultimate option, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You saw the man standing with the President today. And as we mentioned, Trump chose today to introduce his fourth national security adviser, Robert O`Brien, a Californian, a lawyer by trade. He has been the State Department`s chief hostage negotiator. He will replace John Bolton, who left the administration a week ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He did a tremendous job on hostage negotiations. Really tremendous, like unparalleled.
You know, I think we have a very good chemistry together, and I think we`re going to have a great relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: O`Brien worked with Bolton. He`s been known to hold similar views especially with regard to Iran, Russia and China.
"New York Times" has an in-depth look at O`Brien courtesy of a reporting team that includes Michael Crowley, who joins us in a minute. They write together, "his friends all cite an affable, ingratiating personality that has earned him allies throughout the Trump administration, notably including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr. Trump`s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, both of whom supported his appointment. Questions remain about whether Mr. O`Brien`s background has adequately prepared him for the myriad challenges of his new job."
Around the same time Trump was introducing O`Brien, John Bolton was getting a little revenge. A report in POLITICO, now confirmed by NBC News says Bolton slammed Trump`s willingness to meet with the Taliban as house guests at Camp David saying it sent a "terrible signal and disrespectful to the victims of 9/11." Bolton was speaking at a closed-door event in New York. He also reportedly said any negotiations with North Korea and Iran were "doomed to failure." Bolton did not mention his former boss by name, but late today Trump was asked about Bolton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I was critical of John Bolton for getting us involved with a lot of other people in the Middle East. John was not able to work with anybody, and a lot of people disagreed with his ideas.
Guys like Bolton and others wanted to go into Iraq and that didn`t work out too well. All right? That didn`t work out too well. That was a horrible idea. It was -- and I put him in anyway. And frankly everybody knows if you move wrong he wants to -- you know, he doesn`t realize that you get stuck. You get stuck. And they got stuck. And I`m unsticking it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, there you have it. And we turn now to our lead-off discussion on a Wednesday night. Michael Crowley, White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," covering foreign policy, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor for POLITICO and Franco Ordonez, White House Correspondent for NPR, veterans all. And good evening to you all.
Anita, I`d like to begin with you. The last thing we just heard was Trump versus Bolton. Just about everybody expected Bolton to get a big advance and write a book and make his charges there. This is rather quick turnaround and it strikes me this could get ugly in a hurry.
ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I think we saw it get ugly on the first day, on the day of the firing, right? Remember they were back and forth on who got fired, if he got fired.
And I think that sort of signaled to us that he was -- that John Bolton was not going to leave and be quiet about this. He is definitely going to be a thorn in the President`s side as this goes forward. He is going to express his views. He is going to let everybody know what he thought was good and what was bad.
You know, it will be an interesting thing because we see a lot of people who do leave. Some end up writing books. Some end up kind of going quietly. But it`s clear john Bolton is going to continue to talk.
WILLIAMS: Hey Michael Crowley, if you`re old enough to remember the top of our broadcast tonight, I want to read this reaction from Neal Katyal to this whistleblower story. "This is going to be huge. DOJ and administration are contorting themselves backwards to try to hide this. Truth will come out. There are probably tapes and transcripts documenting a gross abuse of power by Trump. Going to be ugly. Enablers should all face consequences."
Michael, what`s your read on just how ugly this could get?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Greg said that, you know, we`re looking at uncharted territory. How many times have we said that in this presidency?
CROWLEY: We`re in uncharted territory --
WILLIAMS: Or as we call it Wednesday.
CROWLEY: -- and -- right. I mean, it`s amazing how we -- you know, there -- but -- and yet there are still these constantly unique new variations on the theme where you say, wow, this one really is like -- we haven`t seen anything quite like this before and this feels like it could really be it.
You know, what can I say, Brian? I just -- I want to know so much more. I want to know was it Vladimir Putin? What was this -- the magnitude of this promise? But I think that the story, what I can say with some confidence, it`s turned a corner now. We`ve got a little more clarity on just what was going on. It was sort of bubbling beneath the surface. It`s going to be topic A all day tomorrow.
And you know, if it really is something that implicates the President, he is -- we`re going to start hearing from him. I mean this President in the last few weeks does not stop talking. He talks to reporters multiple times a day. He will be addressing this tomorrow and I will be fascinated to see how he handles it.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Michael, give me the 30-second thumbnail of the new national security adviser. Interestingly, as people pore through his Bio, Californian, educated at good schools. Grew up a catholic, became a Mormon later in life.
CROWLEY: Yes. And look, people really love this guy. People who`ve worked closely with him. I mean I was just stuck -- struck by how easy it is to find friends of his. In fact, in our reporting today I had colleagues who were working on other stories who were calling people about unrelated things, who were saying, oh, I know this guy and I love him. And a lot of Americans I think.
Even national security professionals didn`t really know who he was. But it turns out he is just wired up particularly in Republican circles, in Trump world circles. And people love his personality.
And the question is, you know, is he prepared for the intensity of this job? I mean, he is an accomplished lawyer. He has had this very challenging job as a hostage negotiator. Those are tense, difficult negotiations. But the interagency process, if he`s going to run it the way it`s traditionally done and you`re dealing with the intelligence community and the military, diplomats, foreign leaders, managing the President, managing big egos, that is an enormous challenge. I don`t know that he`s had that kind of managerial experience or that real depth of experience in government and foreign policy.
So -- but at the end of the day it may be that getting along with President Trump better than John Bolton and H.R. McMaster did and getting along with other people in the administration notably including Mike Pompeo and Jared Kushner is sort of the key to success at least by the relative standards internally of this administration.
WILLIAMS: Franco, the fourth guy, same job, 28 months. What does it say about talent?
FRANCO ORDONEZ, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it says that it`s very hard for them to keep the talent. I mean, President Trump has gone through these national security advisers very quick in a historic fashion and O`Brien is coming at a tough time. Not only is it a tough time in the world with, you know, issues with Iran, North Korea and China but also there`s issues at home.
At the National Security Council we`re reporting today that they`ve had a hard time with morale and trying to keep talent because more and more people fear that going to the NSC is going to kind of taint them as a political operative. This is the kind of thing that O`Brien is going to have to confront and deal with and kind of try to regain some support and kind of a rallying cry to get people and get -- because they provide so much positive and important information for the President.
WILLIAMS: Franco, please assure us there are career and military staff, that there is a machinery of the NSA within national security, within the West Wing, and that job one for him is going to be getting his arms around that.
ORDONEZ: Well, I mean, certainly there, you know, there is that machinery that it`s there. There are Republicans and Democrats in the office doing that work who still believe in supporting the President, in supporting opinion, giving him all the information that he needs to make the right decisions. But there`s no question that from the people that -- from the people that I`m talking to they`re also having a harder time getting the best of the best talent. This is a position that the most -- one of the most prestigious in foreign policy circles.
But now, as I said earlier, people are afraid of being tainted as political operatives. They`re worried that they may have to say no to an ambassador. And years later when they go back to say the state department or their other agency that may come to haunt them.
WILLIAMS: Anita, the comment by Senator Lindsey Graham that Iran would take this as a sign of weakness if we did not hit back and even perhaps on behalf of the Kingdom. What an interesting kind of soft trolling of his good friend, the President, who was forced to react to that today.
KUMAR: Yes. Senator Lindsey Graham knows how to get under President Trump`s skin. I mean, he clearly knew what he was saying and felt like he wanted to break with the President. Obviously the two are very close. They talk frequently about a variety of issues. And he`s an important ally to President Trump in the Senate, the Senate Judiciary chairman on so many issues.
But yes, I mean, you saw the President`s response to that. He pushed back on Senator Graham, said it was not something that he was mistaken and it was actually a sign of strength, not weakness. He felt like he needed to respond to that. And we`ve seen that over and over with President Trump.
When he is criticized, he pushes back no matter who is doing the criticizing. So he felt like he needed to say that. He talked about the sanctions. And we`ll see if there`s anything else.
You know, I talked to some people today who were saying, you know, this is what this Trump presidency is like. It`s possible he will go ahead with these sanctions as he mentioned and then he`ll move on to something else, at least for the time being. So it`s unclear whether he plans on doing more.
WILLIAMS: In that respect it`s only Wednesday after all. Three of our returning veterans on this breaking news night. To Michael Crowley, Anita Kumar, Franco Ordonez, our thanks for coming along for the ride.
And coming up for us, Nancy Pelosi has a message to her fellow Democrats on impeachment and she doesn`t care who leaks it. And it did.
And later Ken Burns is here to talk about his new documentary on the past and the future of country music. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Wednesday night.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. The divide over impeachment between the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and some of her own Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee appears to be growing. For that matter you can watch it on television every day.
But this was said in private. POLITICO reports that during a closed-door meeting Pelosi complained Democratic committee staffers are pushing the issue when the votes for impeachment are simply not there. She reportedly add, "feel free to leak this." And someone dutifully did.
Tonight "The Washington Post" reports the Speaker was heard saying she would have held Corey Lewandowski in contempt during yesterday`s committee hearing. Rachel Bade reports, "In a small huddle with lawmakers from across the caucus, Pelosi complained that no witness should be able to treat members of Congress like President Trump`s former campaign manager did, according to three people familiar with the exchange. "I would have held him in contempt right then and there" she said."
"Post" says several lawmakers in the room saw that as a dig at Chairman Jerry Nadler.
Back with us again tonight, Rick Wilson, veteran Florida man, veteran Republican Strategist whose views about our 45th President best expressed by the title of his book "Everything Trump Touches Dies."
Rick, I was following you, following your every word yesterday. We quoted you on this broadcast last night as accusing the Democrats of having brought a soup ladle to a gunfight among your best work. They got rolled. They got played. And again, the football was snatched out in front of Jerry Nadler again on a national audience.
Your point has been for the last 24 hours if Corey Lewandowski is going to do that to you, imagine when you get a professional in front of that committee.
RICK WILSON. REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Exactly, Brian. It is an absolute sign that they are not prepared to execute on a plan to impeach this guy. Should he be? Make that argument all day long.
Will they be able to pull it off? I f they`re at the performance level they showed yesterday, I would put Donald Trump`s odds of even getting enough votes to vote on impeachment in the House, you know, to stop it as excellent. Not to mention what`s going to happen in the Senate. Mitch McConnell is going to have every single Republican vote in the Senate and probably three or four Democrats if they`re this incompetent at handling this.
You know, I`m not arguing about whether he should be impeached. I`m arguing about their technical ability to handle it. Corey Lewandowski yesterday went out there and did everything but drop his pants and wave his ass at these people. He insulted them. He lied to them. He was in contempt from the minute he opened his piehole. This is a guy who should have been held in contempt.
The words that should have come out of Jerry Nadler`s mouth were, sergeant at arms, take that man into custody, he is in contempt. They treated him - - they let him treat them like dirt. And it`s astounding to me.
What happens when they get people who do have immunity? What happens when they get people who do have -- who can exercise executive privilege? This is an astounding lift. They think they`re going to get a miracle of impeachment and remove him from office? They`re out of their damn minds?
WILLIAMS: Now, I`m going to ask you a question that I am assuming you know the answer to. Tell the good folks watching tonight why guys like you and me who have some miles on them, how it is we first heard the names Fred Thompson and Samuel Dash.
WILSON: Fred Thompson and Samuel Dash were on the Watergate hearing, Watergate committee as counsel asking questions of the Watergate conspirators. And what you`ve got right now is an example of why you want to bring in the pros.
Yesterday`s circus didn`t get really -- didn`t get started until almost at the end of the day when they finally had Berke come out and ask questions in a way that put Lewandowski on the defensive, that didn`t let him play his little games and didn`t let him cutely roll his eyes and smirk the entire day. That`s what they needed to do in the front end.
This committee, these guys all wanted their five minutes. They all wanted their moment to strut and get out there in front of it.
What happened in Watergate when you had guys like Fred Thompson and Sam Dash taking apart the Watergate conspirators and grinding down on the details, that altered the tone and the texture of it. If they`d led with this yesterday we`d be in an entirely different position right now because Corey Lewandowski basically did five hours of vamping until daddy came out to spank him.
WILLIAMS: Why do you think it is not a greater priority for the Democrats to try to win the Senate?
WILSON: Look, winning the Senate, it takes a couple of big things right now. It takes focus. It takes the ability to get good candidates into these races. And right now, you know, seemingly every Democrat who can walk on two legs is still in the presidential field.
I`m shocked that they`re not working harder to get Bullock into the race. I`m shocked that they`re not working harder to ensure that Hickenlooper is in a stronger position in Colorado. They should be working very hard in Maine where they`ve got an opportunity. But right now they`re scattered.
And they -- there is still this idea that you`re going to somehow impeach Trump in the House and magic things happen. He goes to the Senate. Mitch McConnell laughs his tail off and says no. And it`s over. Trump claims exoneration. He`s raised, you know, $250 million off of the impeachment scare to his base. And here we go.
They`re not going to capture the Senate if they don`t get focused on it, though. And that should be a strategic goal. But right now the Democratic Party`s got way too many people running for President and not enough running for Senate.
WILLIAMS: Well, speaking of that very thing. First of all, the preternaturally cautioned Rick Wilson is going to stay with us and take part in this next conversation.
But coming up, despite some alarming new poll numbers the Harris campaign for president says it`s doing just fine, thank you very much, though we did find out about their travel plans today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MNSBC HOST: How are you feeling about your campaign and where you`re at?
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, CALIFORNIA: I`m feeling good.
MADDOW: Tell me.
HARRIS: I`m feeling good. There is an incredible amount of enthusiasm. I mean, Rachel, we`re going -- obviously a lot is the primary states. New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada. People are standing in line for hours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Of course here`s the problem. Here`s why people like Rachel ask people like the senator. The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Kamala Harris dropping eight points since just July to fifth place now with 5 percent. And this summer she`s been missing from the early states.
Look at this. As of today it`s been 72 days since she`s been to South Carolina, 37 since she`s visited Iowa, 21 since her last visit to Nevada. Ten days since her last trip to New Hampshire, though prior to that visit it was 53 days since she had been up to the Granite State. A Harris campaign spokesperson told NBC News she`ll be on the trail a lot more in October. "We`re not playing to win a summer news cycle in the off-year. We`re playing to win an election."
And there`s this. Journalist Matt Laslo posted on twitter today, and we quote, "I am f-ing moving to Iowa. Senator Kamala Harris joked to Senator Hirono of HawaiI before she noticed me."
With us for our conversation, Jim Warren, a veteran around here, a veteran print journalist, now executive editor of the new start-up NewsGuard that rates the veracity of news and information sites. And still kind enough to stay with us is Rick Wilson. So Jim, is October an OK time to recalibrate -- let`s take them on their word -- to recalibrate a presidential campaign.
JIM WARREN, VETERAN JOURNALIST & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, if I strike folks as boring, stay tuned. I`m the warm -- we`re the warm-up act for Ken Burns --
WILLIAMS: We are all the warm-up act for Ken Burns.
WARREN: Folks, stay off the Ken Burns, please. No, it`s not too early to recalibrate, but it`s a little bit too early to go overboard. On the way here, I was looking at Gallup polling 2007.
WILLIAMS: That`s really sad.
WARREN: 2007 -- not as sad as the play I saw tonight that is really depressing called "The Height of the Storm" about a guy coming up with dementia. 2007 Gallup analysis made quite clear that Hillary Clinton would romp over an Illinois Senator named Barack Obama. She was up by about 30 points. And remember in Iowa that year voting was in January, not like this year in February. Who was -- OK, Brian, who was the Republican leader clearly in the Gallup polling? Rudy Giuliani.
WILLIAMS: Yes, President Giuliani.
WARREN: The President Giuliani. So it`s, you know -- just don`t go overboard. Now, does she have reason to be concerned? Yes, she has reason to be concerned. Her strategy doesn`t seem to have been terribly consistent. Her three debate performances were very uneven. This polling is not very good. But there are a lot of things to potentially be said for her candidacy.
If you are a Democrat who is rightly concerned about elements like having to have a lot better turnout in big midwestern cities like Detroit and Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh and she probably plays pretty well down south. But, yes, there`s concern but there is a long time to go. Otherwise, we would have said Rudy Giuliani was a lock to be president.
WILLIAMS: OK, Rick Wilson, since we`ve established you used to beat or try to beat Democrats for a living, look at all these campaigns. All the Democrats who can fog up a mirror as you mentioned are in the race for president. What campaign would you like to work for? What campaign would you be least apt to want to work for?
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I can give you the least apt thing right now. It would be the -- I would least like to work for communist Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders. I think the guy`s a recipe for electoral disaster. And I know what`s going to happen now. My twitter feed`s about to turn into a hot radioactive stew of Bernie bots.
WILLIAMS: And it never is. But go ahead.
WILSON: No, not at all. Look, I think the candidate right now who is having her breakout moment is Elizabeth Warren. She may be having that moment she needs to sort of establish herself as the front-runner, but we`ll see. Biden is still in the fight. He`s going to be in the fight until the last dog dies because he`s got high name ID. He`s got a lot of resources. He`s got a lot of relationships. He`s very strongly polling with African-Americans right now.
But, you know, for the good of their party, there are Democrats to consider how much longer you want to grind this thing out. I mean, do we really need to hear much more from Bill de Blasio? And look, Harris is now polling in the zone right around Yang.
And, you know, if a guy who mostly is running his campaign off of Reddit is outdoing somebody who`s a major, you know, U.S. senator and a national political figure, you might want to think about whether you`re going to stay in this fight the whole way through. And Jim`s point about, you know, Rudy was leading and Hillary was leading in 2007, those were both two very much national brand people. You knew who they were. Name ID was the strongest influencer on the polling at that point.
These Democrats are mostly not nationally known figures. And I think you`re going to see a sorting that`s going to be inevitable. But it would be salutary (ph) for the field to, you know -- for some of these folks to make a decision sooner rather than later.
WILLIAMS: And then he throws down a salutary out of nowhere. Hey, Jim Warren, listen to this. With us along with our audience, Jimmy Carter has a way of endearing himself to his fellow Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I hope there`s an age limit. You know, if I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don`t believe I could undertake the duties that I experienced when I was president. But one thing you have to be very flexible with your mind, you have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them all together in a comprehensive way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Jimmy Carter saying there should be an age limit on president. I wonder what issue that refers to in our common news coverage.
WARREN: Oh my gosh. That`s not one that wants to go too heavy with in a campaign. Particularly if you look at the some of the upper Midwest states where it`s really interesting as Rick probably knows. Since the last election, things have gotten quite a bit older in places like Michigan.
WARREN: The number of folks 65 and older has grown at a much higher rate than those, you know, like 18 to 25. So I don`t think you want to do that. And we all know folks who are, you know, vital into their 80s and what do we have on the slate here? We`ve got Trump, Biden, Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren 70 or over. Do you want to simply say now once they get to a certain age they`re out? No, absolutely not.
WILLIAMS: To both of these gentlemen, towering American names each, Warren and Wilson it occurs to me. Jim Warren and Rick Wilson, in this case, thank you very much for sharing part of your evening with us.
Coming up, you heard it mentioned, a very special guest whose latest film is more like eight films because that`s what the subject matter demanded. Ken Burns is here to talk about his latest work involving in part that man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARTH BROOKS, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Country music comes from right in here. This heart and soul that we all have.
DOLLY PARTON, SINGER/SONGWRITER: You can dance to it. You can make love to it. You can play it at a funeral. It has something in it for everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let`s say something here. When a final accounting is made of the age we`re living in now, there will hopefully be a large section devoted to the thanks of a grateful but distracted nation. Thanks to those who have contributed to our culture like writers and composers and soldiers and astronauts like country music musicians and like the filmmaker Ken Burns.
He has given us so much reflecting ourselves back to us. Our civil war, our Vietnam War, our national parks, our national pastime and now our highly decorated national filmmaker gives us country music. Sixteen hours of it. Airing on PBS. We are so thrilled to have Ken Burns here with us. Thank you for coming.
KEN BURNS, DIRECTOR & PRODUCER, "COUNTRY MUSIC": Thank you, my friend. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: How on earth -- is there a whiteboard in your studio that we need to see like "A Beautiful Mind"? Are there post-its? How do you take something this vast, any of the topics you`ve handled, and organize them into pieces?
BURNS: Well, most of the credit goes to my long-time producing partner and writer Dayton Duncan, who wrestled the larger intertwining of this sort of Russian novel of a story into the eight episodes and our co-producer Julie Dunphy who set off the team that was finding the photographs and finding the footage and conducting the interviews. It`s been an amazing thing.
I remember in "Jazz," the late critic Nat Hentoff told us of this time when Charlie Parker`s on 52nd street perfecting the bebop that he invented. And between sets he`s feeding the jukebox, putting in nickels, playing country music, playing Hank Williams, playing "I`m So Lonesome I Could Cry." And the cats are going, bird, why are you playing that? And he goes, listen to the stories..
And so when we said yes, when we got down on our knees and proposed to country music, we knew this was going to be about stories and a way in which you could surround the songs with those stories and lift them up. So when you find out why Dolly Parton wrote "I Will Always Love You," a kind of declaration, a woman`s declaration of independence, we all remember Whitney Houston`s version, it raises the hair on the back of our necks still. But when you hear the story of why Dolly wrote it and Dolly`s version taking nothing away from Whitney goes up to that level.
WILLIAMS: The Carter family early recordings, is it the equivalent of having the federalist papers?
BURNS: It`s exactly that. And maybe with Jimmie Rodgers offering some of the opposing views. So the Carter family, mother Maybelle is the original American lead guitarist. Sarah Carter has the original voice of country. The sort of keening things that Rosanne Cash says comes from the bedrock foundation of us.
A.P. Carter`s out collecting those songs with an African-American song collector named Lesley Riddle who brings a song from the African-American church when the world`s on fire. They drop the lyrics, take the same melody and do "Little Darling Pal Of Mine," one of their big hits. Woody Guthrie, takes the thing, drops the lyric, keeps the tune and does "This Land Is Your Land."
I mean, you can`t make any of this stuff up. And I guarantee, Brian, when Hollywood hears the Merle Haggard story, there will be a biopic in the works because this guy escapes from juvenile detention 17 times. He`s in San Quentin, has a chance to escape, doesn`t. The guy who escapes murders a cop, he comes back, gets executed. He hears Johnny Cash play and he becomes Merle Haggard, the poet of the common man whom Emmylou Harris says, if you want to know about country music get a Merle Haggard album, any Merle Haggard album. Put it on a track, any track.
BURNS: And you will learn what country music is.
WILLIAMS: Your playlist, which is available on the Interwebs to the folks watching tonight, is so extraordinary. "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" -- by the way, I wanted to tell you, Michael Nesmith has an excellent remake of that song worth a listen. Hank Williams, Patsy cline singing "Crazy," Willie Nelson`s opus, Emmylou, Waylon, Merle, girl from north country, Bravo. Kristofferson, Bravo. You mentioned the essential, the elegant Roseanne Cash and her masterpiece "Seven Year Ache."
WILLIAMS: And if you hadn`t done "Pancho and Lefty", I would have lost hope. If you hadn`t --
BURNS: Our entire seventh episode revolved around "Pancho and Lefty" moving through the snake of country music and ending up, you know, starting with Townes Van Zandt and then going through all these permutations and at the end of our longest episode, which is over two hours and feels like our shortest one, you end up with it being sung again and the journey that it takes. We have one of the longest sentences we`ve ever written in our 40 years of making films, which Dayton wrote, as beautiful as you can get. Peter Coyote read about "Pancho and Lefty".
WILLIAMS: If you hadn`t done "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones, I would have expected Nashville police to come to your home and lock you up.
BURNS: I take my way.
WILLIAMS: And they would have been within their rights.
BURNS: They would have been completely within their rights.
WILLIAMS: Ken Burns is not going anywhere luckily for us. We`re going to take a quick break.
Coming up, the history of our country is complicated. Ergo, the history of country music is complicated because both of them involve our original sin. We`ll delve into that when we come back.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like so much other music of the time, it drew deeply from so-called race music. Even if that music was performed almost exclusively by whites, most of them southerners.
WYNTON MARSALIS, LOUISIANA: If the cultures coming together, one of these contradictions, together, in the south. You have a lot of the opposites that create a richness.
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WILLIAMS: If there`s a theme that runs through all 16 hours of this new Ken Burns documentary, it might be that country music is so uniquely American. Its origins and history are complicated and at one point, we look up at the screen and we see just two words, hard times. So, with that as the fusing, tell us how you take on the intersection of race.
BURNS: You know, I`ve had the great privilege to spend my entire professional life talking about the U.S., capital U, capital S. But I`m also talking about us, the two letter, lowercase, plural pronoun, and we and our. And what country music showed me is that there is only us and no them. Of which our dialectic, our binary media and computer world would like to convince us. At the heart of us and the U.S. is this startling contradiction that we proclaim to the world that all men are created equal, but the guy who wrote that sentence owned more than 200 human beings.
Most of my work charts the indignities that flow from that and country music is not immune to those indignities. But one of the amazing things is that the banjo comes from Africa and the fiddle comes from the British Isles and Europe, and that the influence of African-Americans on this music that comes down to us is essentially white and rural, we think, you know, Nashville is the capital, and southern, is, in fact, completely interrelated with all other American forms of music. It`s not an island nation in which you need a passport or a visa or some relaxed immigration laws. It is abutting the blues, it is abutting jazz, it is abutting rhythm and blues. It is, in fact, with rhythm and blues, the parents of rock `n` roll, it abuts rock `n` roll and Gospel and folk and pop and even classical and rap.
And what you find is that A.P. Carter needs that Blackstone catcher (ph). Hank Williams said the only education he needed was from Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne, a bluesman. Johnny Cash had Gus Cannon, a jug band bluesman. And even Bill Monroe, the father of Bluegrass had Arnold Schultz, who is an African-American fiddle player. Interwoven into all of this music is the blues and our history that we don`t always focus on, but is there and is there in country music from the very beginning.
And so, we shouldn`t be surprised that Lil Nas X, a black gay rapper --
BURNS: -- has just had the number one country song of all time this year. We not to surprised but we continually allow ourselves to be surprised because we forget in our top-down version of the past that race is central to the U.S. and to us, in both the intimacy of that and the majesty and the breadth and the complexity and the contradiction and the controversy.
WILLIAMS: What a pleasure. Thank you so much --
BURNS: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: -- for spending time with us. Ken Burns. The next episode of his new documentary "Country Music" airs Sunday on PBS. While we want to remind you to support your local PBS station, because it`s important, there are a number of ways to catch up on the first few episodes and stream the entire series in order, because, did we mention? It was made by Ken Burns. Our thanks.
Coming up, the President campaigned on it, Mexico isn`t paying a dime for it, but he sure talked about it again today.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, as you may know, the President likes talking about walls, pretty much any wall, but more than likely, what he sees as his wall, real or imagined, along the Mexico border. So, there was he today at a section of wall on the California side that`s been made higher. It gave him the opportunity to talk about his wall.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted them to show you the interior of parts of the wall. So, you have the rebar, you have the outer crust and you have the inside is concrete and it`s hardened concrete, very powerful concrete. Because after the wall is up, we pour concrete. That`s a very strong, that`s a very powerful concrete.
The concrete, you see it right here. And concrete goes into the tube. And again the concrete is poured after it`s up. They pour it through funnels. And a lot of technological advances have been made with concrete. So if you think you`re going to cut it with a blow torch, that doesn`t work because you had concrete. I said, fellow, how about doing a less expensive version. They said, well, this is the version that works.
That`s the Rolls-Royce version. It all fits together like a puzzle to protect your -- how that stops and say, an anti-climb device, if you look at the steel on top. We actually built prototypes and we have, I guess you could say world class mountain climbers. This wall can`t be climbed. It`s very, very hard.
If we had climbers, we had 20 mountain climbers, that`s all they do, they love to climb mountains. They can have it. Me, I don`t want to climb mountains. Plus, it`s designed to absorb heat. So it`s extremely hot. You can fry an egg on that wall.
So, if they`re going to climb it, they`re going have to bring hoses and waters -- water, and we don`t know where they`re going hook it up because there`s not a lot of water out here. Nobody`s going over the wall. But going over it is impossible. Is virtually impossible. I guess maybe one of the greatest pole vaulters in history could get over the low one, but it`s going to be very painful when they land.
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WILLIAMS: President talking about his wall to take us off the air on a Wednesday night. And that is our broadcast for this evening. We thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END