IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Calls for impeachment grow on Capitol Hill. TRANSCRIPT: 9/23/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Greg Miller, Anita Kumar, Tamara Keith, Bill Kristol, StevenShepard, Alexandra Jaffe

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Jennifer, thank you being with us, Jennifer Palmieri.

That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams begins now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Breaking tonight, the fallout from President Trump`s call with Ukraine.  Late reporting the President ordered his chief of staff to put a hold on military aid to Ukraine at least a week before Trump`s fateful phone call.

Also, "The Washington Post" reports tonight speaker Nancy Pelosi is sounding out Democrats on impeachment.  An all hands meeting tomorrow at 4:00 p.m.

And pressure is building at this hour including from seven House freshmen who have defended this country saying these allegations, if true, are a national security threat.

THE 11TH HOUR on a Monday night starts right now.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams.  Day 977 of the Trump administration.  President Trump is just a few blocks away at Trump Tower at this hour.  This as he begins several days of diplomacy at the United Nations, but tonight he is facing mounting criticism over reports that he called the Ukrainian president and asked him to investigate Joe Biden`s son.

Tonight, talk of impeachment is heating up on Capitol Hill and some are questioning if this is a turning point.

Just in the last 90 minutes or so "The Washington Post" has reported that speaker Nancy Pelosi is quietly asking top allies and lawmakers whether the time has come to impeach President Trump.  Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report, "Pelosi, according to multiple senior House Democrats and congressional aides, has asked colleagues whether they believe that Trump`s own admission that he pressured a Ukrainian leader to investigate a political foe is a tipping point.  She was making calls as late as Monday night to gauge support in the caucus and many leadership aides who once thought Trump`s impeachment was unlikely now say they think it`s almost inevitable."

And just in the last hour, "The Washington Post" is also reporting that Trump ordered a hold on military aid to Ukraine days before his call to that country`s president.  "The Post" reports, "Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of former president Joe Biden, according to three senior administration officials."

Also late tonight, seven freshman Democrats with national security backgrounds wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post" saying that if the allegations against the President are true they represent, "an impeachable offense."

House Democrats will hold a caucus meeting on Tuesday afternoon.  Nancy Pelosi will meet tomorrow with chairs of committees that are investigating the President.  We are going to get to all of the latest action on Capitol Hill in just a moment.

But first to recap where we stand at this point.  On Sunday, the President acknowledged he discussed Biden with Ukraine`s president.  Today upon his arrival at the U.N. the President was asked again about the phone call in question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What did you tell the Ukrainian president about Joe Biden and his son during the phone call?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, you`re going to see because what we are doing is we want honesty and if we deal with a country we want honesty.  And I think with the new president you`re going to see much more honesty in the Ukraine.  And that`s what we`re looking for.

We`re supporting a country.  We want to make sure that country is honest.  It is very important to talk about corruption.  If you don`t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?


KORNACKI:  We should point out there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe Biden or his son.  While meeting with the president of Poland later today, Trump denied there was ever any quid pro quo during his conversation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you tell the Ukrainian leader they would have the aid only if they investigated Joe Biden and his family?

TRUMP:  No I didn`t.  No I didn`t.  I didn`t do it and you could -- I hope you`re going to be able to see a call because I didn`t do it.

Everybody is looking for that call.  And keep going the way you`re going because when you see the call you are going to be very surprised.

I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I`m not going to give you "a."  I wouldn`t do that.  I wouldn`t do that.


KORNACKI:  Democrats are demanding the full whistle blower complaint thought to be at the center of the story from Acting DNI Joseph Maguire.  House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff has called on President Trump to release the transcript of the phone call.  Earlier today the President was asked if that was a possibility.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sir, you can release -- you can authorize the release of the transcript, will you do that, sir?

TRUMP:  I can do it very easily but I`d rather not do it from the standpoint of all the other conversations I have.  I may do it because it was a very innocent call on both his part and -- it was a very nice call.  It was really a congratulatory call because he had just won.  It was just confirmed and he is the new president.  And I think he is going to do an excellent job.


KORNACKI:  It is worth remembering back on May 9th "The New York Times" reported that President Trump`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he was planning to travel to Ukraine to push for an investigation into Biden`s son.  Giuliani then abruptly canceled the planned trip to Ukraine and blamed Democrats for trying to spin the visit.

Tonight Peter Baker of "The New York Times" points out, the President`s phone call with Ukraine`s leader took place the day after Robert Mueller`s July 24th testimony on Capitol Hill and adds this, "If anything, the President has grown even more defiant since Mr. Mueller found insufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, almost as if having avoided charges, he is daring the establishment to come after him again.  The man who once said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan without consequence seems to be testing whether he can do the political equivalent."

Here for our lead-off discussion on a Monday night, two Pulitzer Prize winners from "The Washington Post", the White House Reporter Ashley Parker and National Security Correspondent Greg miller, he is the author of "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia, and the Subversion of American Democracy." Tamara Keith White House Correspondent for NPR is with us well.  And with me here in New York, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor for POLITICO.  Thank you to all of you for being with us.

And Greg, let me just begin with you, because it is that reporting from your news-- there`s a lot of reporting from your newspaper we are talking about tonight, but specifically the reporting from "The Washington Post." take us through what you know about the President telling his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, a week before this phone call with Ukraine`s president to put a hold, you report, on military aid to Ukraine?

GREG MILLER, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT:  Right.  So in this case, I mean, this is money that is controlled under normal circumstances by the Department of Defense and the State Department.  And in this case, Trump asks his chief of staff, who is also acting as head of the OMB, to hold that money back, to prevent it from being released to Ukraine.

The White House officials were telling us today that that was because of concerns about corruption.  And, you know, I guess, you know, one of my reactions when we heard that was that under what other circumstances has this administration made battling corruption one of its signature issues?  I mean, this is not exactly an administration that has made that a core priority.

KORNACKI:  Does your reporting suggest at all -- you say that the White House is suggesting that this had to do with corruption concerns.  Does the reporting suggest that Trump was at all more specific with Mulvaney or more specific in the administration about this being directly related to Joe Biden`s son?

MILLER:  I mean, that`s the question that everybody is asking. And I`m not sure we have gotten to the truth with that yet.  I think that what`s important is to look at that call, that July 25th call, at the center of a broader series or collection of events of course in that -- in which the Trump administration is withholding not only this money, roughly $400 million, but is withholding the prospect of a meeting for much of the new president`s of Ukraine`s early tenure refusing to meet with or talk with him until this late July phone call.

And you have at the same time the President`s lawyer really freelancing diplomatically and much more directly and explicitly prodding the Ukrainian government to restart an investigation that they hoped would bring political dirt on the Biden family.

KORNACKI:  Ashley, this is a White House, a Trump White House, that is used to being under siege.  There of course was that two and a half-year saga with the Mueller investigation culminating in the Mueller report, Mueller`s testimony recently.  There have been a million other controversies, flare- ups, moments when the White House was forced to defend a comment from the President, and allegation against the President, these sorts of things.

How is the White House, regarding the developments, in the last 24 hours specifically relating to Democrats in impeachment?  Do they view this as par for the course or do they view this as something different?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  So the impeachment development is quite new but sort of, just first generally speaking, and this is not everyone in the White House and in the President`s orbit.  There are some people who are concerned.  But there is a sense that this is potentially -- can be spun as positive for the President if he can take this issue.  And this is his skill set and it involves his trademark shamelessness.  But take this issue and make it less about him, less about what he did or did not do or say, and use that media spotlight to focus on Biden and his son and Ukraine.

And, again, you said in the intro of the show that there is no evidence that there was any wrongdoing there, but that has not stopped Trump and his allies.  We saw this in the last 24 hours of trying to say that Biden and his son did something untoward, did something corrupt that needs to be investigated.  So from the President`s point of view and you saw this in his public comments today up in New York, he is sort of loving this moment.

That said, there is some concern, you know, of course, there was the concern that this could lead to impeachment.  That`s what we`re seeing tonight. At least one step closer. We`ll know more after the meeting tomorrow.

That`s a problem in part because you see how the President reacts.  It`s often quite erratically and making a problem worse for himself when he does feel under threat, when he does feel under assault.  So that`s the issue.

And there is also the risk that is there trying to shine the spotlight on Biden and his son that this narrative of the President yet again potentially asking a foreign country to intervene to help in an election, help with a political foe is not a narrative they want to harden in the public consciousness.

KORNACKI:  Anita, a version of the same question to you.  The status quo, par for the course, whatever you want to call it for the last two plus years when it`s come to Republicans on Capitol Hill and this President, has generally either been to defend him or to say nothing, to keep quiet.  In terms of what you`re picking up on and how they`re processing what`s going on right now, do you expect more of the same or something different?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think that they do -- the worry that they have and as Ashley said some people aren`t that worried, right?  Some people aren`t that concern.  But the worry that they do have is that more moderate Republicans are going to get -- go away from them.  That they`re going to lose that support.

They know where the Democrats are.  They know exactly that they`re going to be opposed.  It`s the Republicans that they`re really worried about.  And if that -- if they start to lose that support then it is all going to go downhill from there.  So that`s really their concern.

I will say, though, that they are feeling pretty good about one thing, which is that they feel this is very, very negatively affecting Joe Biden.  They feel very strongly that -- everybody I talked to today says, you know, this is damaging him.  And they feel good about that part of it, obviously not about the other part.

KORNACKI:  We mentioned here just in the last minutes that "The Washington Post" tonight has reported that Mick Mulvaney was told by President Trump to put a hold on that military aid to Ukraine a week before the President`s phone conversation with that country`s president.  Now I`ve just been handed this in the last five minutes, "The New York Times" reporting a version of the story.  You can see it up on your screen there.

The headline, this is from "The New York Times," in the last five minutes. "Trump ordered aid to Ukraine frozen days before call with its leader."  This from "The New York Times" story.  I can read to you.  Mr. Trump`s directive was communicated to the Pentagon and the State Department which we`re told only the administration was looking at whether the spending was necessary, the official said.

So, again, similar here certainly to that report in "The Washington Post" came out a couple hours ago.  You were just being filled in on.

Let me bring in Tamara.  Tamara, we were shown just a minute ago the President today seeming at moments to suggest that, hey, maybe a transcript would be released at some point in the future.  Hey, if you heard it, he said, you`d realize there`s nothing to it.  When he was pinned down on that-- he would not let himself get pinned down I should say on whether he would release that.  What are the odds?  What is your sense of this White House actually releasing the record of that phone call?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the President also said that he would love to release his tax returns if only he weren`t under audit which there has never been proof that he was under audit when he was running for president.  He said that he would sit down with Robert Mueller.  That didn`t happen.

So, this could be one of those lossy with the football kind of things and likely will be.  The President in his remarks did mention something that is a legitimate concern which is that these foreign leader calls happened under the idea that they are not going to be made public.  That the contents and in particular transcripts won`t be made public.  Earlier in the President`s administration there was major controversy when some of these transcripts were leaked.

So, there are legitimate concerns about publicly releasing these sorts of things.  But, you know, it isn`t just the transcript.  It is also this whistleblower complaint that is being blocked from Congress.

And I think what`s happening now and where Democrats look to be headed is saying, you know, you, the White House, the Trump administration is actively blocking an investigation.  And they, senator-- or Speaker Pelosi in her letter that she sent to members yesterday used the strongest language she has used so far and implied that the lack of turning information over is part of the problem, too.

KORNACKI:  Right.  Ashley, following up on that, procedurally when there is -- my understanding when there is a whistleblower complaint like this the inspector general then deems to be of an urgent nature that procedurally Congress is then supposed to have the opportunity, the Intelligence Communities are then supposed to have an opportunity to review that whistle blower complaint.  Obviously the White House, the administration, is currently fighting that.  What is your sense in the Trump White House?  Is that a battle they think they can win long term or is there a sense that ultimately this is going to come out in some form?

PARKER:  Well, I would put it sort of in a more historical context.  This is one of many battles.  If you look back to the Mueller investigation and congressional investigations of that, the White House is pretty much stonewalled on just about every request they`ve had from Congress.  They have exerted executive privilege to prevent former aides from testifying.  They refused to hand over documents.  And so this is just another example where they`re not going to give an inch.

So far and some of these cases are making their way through the court system.  But so far it has been a pretty effective strategy for the White House and it has put Democrats kind of on the defensive and confused about what their next step should be.  So I think the way the Trump White House views it is they`re going to fight every single thing and win or lose.  Ultimately, it`s a win to sort of be aggressive toward the Democrats, put them on the defensive, and make them fight for every bit of information.

KORNACKI:  Anita, there has been a school of thought that`s out there.  Certainly you heard this during the Mueller investigation, during the Mueller saga, that in some political level, some strategic level the President would welcome the idea of impeachment, the idea he could then sell to his base, the idea that he was under attack from the Democrats, they would stop it, nothing to try to get him out of office.  Maybe some sense that that might help him with swing voters and make the Democrats look like they are over reaching.  That theory was often offered in the context of the Mueller investigation.

Do you think that would apply to this situation?  Or do you think there`d be danger here the White House would see because this is a different matter than the Mueller investigation?

KUMAR:  Well, if we can look at how President Trump is responding, he is doing exactly what he did before, right?  It`s the play under the same exact playbook.  He is using the exact same terms, you know, strategy.  He is saying it`s the media, it`s the Democrats, you know, it`s the deep state.  They`re all out to get him.

So I think he is planning on using that.  He is starting to use that.  He thinks that will be effective.

And look, I`ve talked to Trump supporters who feel that this is just like Russia, it`s Russia again, all over again.  And they are saying that because they`re hearing the President talk that way and this is their understanding.  So, I do think that he thinks it will be effective if he has to go that route.

KORNACKI:  Greg Miller, bringing you back in this, and we mentioned this at the top as well, some of the other breaking news tonight that there are seven freshman members of the House, seven Democratic freshman members of the House all with national security backgrounds endorsing the idea of impeachment.  They say if these allegations are true here, if the suggestions are true about what the President was up to, in his dealings with the President of the Ukraine, but all of them endorsing impeachment under those circumstances.

It does -- we say there are differences between the Russia investigation, the Mueller investigation, and what is now potentially being discussed.  One is you clearly see here from the Democratic -- from a Democrats` standpoint a national security, an urgent national security justification that they are prepared to use here in this situation it seems.

MILLER:  Yes, and I think it`s not just the Democrats in Congress. You just used two important words that the inspector general for the United States Intelligence Community used when this whistleblower complaint was brought to him.  He saw this, evaluated it, and judged it to be an urgent, credible national security issue that needed to be brought to the attention of the congressional committees and leaders of Congress.  So, I mean, I do think that there is real national security concern here.

And across the Intelligence Community, which I cover, I mean, the idea that a president would use the levers of government for political gain like this is deeply troubling.  So, beyond how this plays out in the White House there is this other dynamic of how it plays out across the entities in the State Department, the Pentagon, whose moneys were being withheld possibly for political purposes here.

KORNACKI:  Tamara, what can we expect?  We mentioned here in terms of Democrats and where they`re going from here, all these new calls for impeachment tonight, meeting of the House Democratic caucus tomorrow, reports that Nancy Pelosi is now raising that question with top Democratic leaders there in the House of whether to go forward with impeachment, from the President`s standpoint as this plays out in the next 24, 48 hours, what can we expect from him?

KEITH:  Well, the President is also addressing the U.N. general assembly and having a meeting with the President of Ukraine in the next 48 hours.  So there`s a lot going on.  The President is also going to take questions from reporters numerous times in the next couple of days.

And his story -- the way he has described this, has changed repeatedly.  You know, these seven lawmakers that wrote this op-ed they were -- they are the majority makers.  These are largely moderate Democrats, most of them, who helped the Democrats win the House in 2018.  These are the types of members that Nancy Pelosi had in some ways been trying to shield from the impeachment question and now they`re out there in this op-ed saying that if these allegations prove true, it would be impeachable.  Those members coming forward, those members from purple and red districts, that`s significant.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Tamara Keith, Ashley Parker, Greg Miller, and Anita Kumar, thank you all for being with us.

And coming up, set your watches for 4:00 p.m. tomorrow.  That is when Democrats will hold a members only meeting amid those growing calls for impeachment.  It could be a game changing moment.

And later, a milestone for the Elizabeth Warren campaign, understanding in the all important Hawkeye State.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Monday night.



REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  I have been very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment.

But it may be we have to move forward with that extraordinary remedy.

I`ve spoken with a number of my colleagues over the last week and this seemed different in kind.  And we may very well have crossed the rubicund here.


KORNACKI:  The number of House Democrats who publicly favor an impeachment inquiry has grown throughout the day.  This evening Representative Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut, a long-time ally of the House speaker issued a statement that reads impart, "An impeachment inquiry may be the only recourse Congress has if the President is enlisting foreign assistance in the 2020 election.  Congress must meet this pivotal moment in our nation`s history with decisive action."

As we`ve said, the full Democratic caucus is scheduled to meet tomorrow afternoon to discuss this.  Politico adds this important detail, "Nancy Pelosi is expected to meet with the six committee chairmen investigating Trump to discuss Democrats` next steps and may even issue a forceful statement endorsing the impeachment investigation."

This time it goes beyond Trump`s dealings with a foreign nation as a candidate.  Now there are serious questions about possible attempts as President to pressure a foreign government to target a political opponent.  Speaker Pelosi has already called it, "a grave new chapter of lawlessness."

With us for more, Maya Wiley, former Assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a university professor with the New School and Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, editor at large of "The Bulwark."  Thank you to both of you for being with us.

I want to take each party one at a time here.  Maya, let me start with you on the Democrats.  When I saw the Rosa DeLauro statement tonight, I know Rosa DeLauro and Nancy Pelosi go way back.  It would be unlike Rosa DeLauro to put Nancy Pelosi in a difficult spot publicly if she could avoid it. Does that tell you that Democrats have moved substantially closer to impeachment tonight?

MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  It does.  And I think it also does because Nancy Pelosi has been very concerned about protecting Democrats who won in 2018 in districts that had been held by Republicans.  When you take all of this together it paints a picture that makes a pretty clear that Nancy Pelosi is probably taking this very seriously, that she has to change her position.

And it`s not that surprising, I mean, just line up what we have in reporting compared to the Mueller report, right?  One clear difference is Trump is sitting in the White House.  He is also directly implicated in having the discussion personally.

One of the issues in the Mueller report was you had 271 contacts with Russians but never had Donald Trump directly having those contacts.  And you have a Donald Trump appointee saying he has an urgent and credible complaint, whistleblower complaint.  You put all those things together and the Democrats dealing with him obstructing Congress at every turn on legitimate, congressional oversight and inquiry, they don`t have a choice.

KORNACKI:  Bill, I want to ask you about how the Republican Party, specifically Republicans on Capitol Hill are going to process this.  Let me first show folks what has played out in the last couple of hours though Mitt Romney, Trump critic certainly from the 2016 campaign, now a senator from Utah, he was asked about it earlier tonight.  Here`s what he had to say.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R) UTAH:  I think it would be very helpful to get to the bottom of the facts to follow the law to get us there.  That would include the whistleblower as well as the transcript of the conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And if they don`t?

ROMNEY:  Well, that would be up to the House to decide how to proceed but it`s very much I believe in the public interest to get this resolved and be able to move on.


KORNACKI:  So there is Mitt Romney, a former Republican nominee, obviously calling for the whistleblower complaint to be made available, also potentially the transcript of the conversation.  I should note Romney made those comments, Trump through his Twitter feed then went after Romney basically video of him losing the election in 2012 basically, you know, calling him a loser through his tweet there.

Bill, are you going to see more Republicans doing and saying what Mitt Romney said tonight or is he going to be an exception here?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE:  I don`t know.  But I think it`s more likely than it has been at any point so far that others will follow.  I think Mitt Romney has played an important role in this.  His tweet on Sunday, I think it was kind of earlier Sunday, I think was an important moment.  He said we need to get the facts.

First, it`s a very serious matter, very troubling.  He put it in Romney as a (ph) term, so it was quite of dramatic as some people like, but very troubling, troubling in the extreme and we need to get the facts.

Once you say we need to get the facts then you are saying the administration has to turn over the transcript and the whistleblower report and make witnesses available and so forth.  And you`re implying that if the administration doesn`t do that, then Congress has been thwarted and presumably would have to consider that obstruction, perhaps itself impeachable.

I mean, one of the big things, Maya is absolutely right, that one reason this is so important is Trump as president doing this directly from the Oval Office to the president of another nation, pretty different from his son meeting in a shady meeting in the Trump Tower in the middle of a chaotic campaign in 2016. 

Ironically, another difference now is there`s no Mueller investigation.  I mean, if this had happened a year ago, someone would have said, House Democrats looking to avoid having to bite the bullet, would have said, let`s let Robert Mueller look into it.  You know he`s looking at everything else.  Then we`ll look at the report and make a decision.  There is no Mueller.  The Justice Department is not looking at it.

It`s not going to get to court any time soon.  And so it`s in Congress`s lap and Congress is fairly, you know, fairly -- squarely faced, I cannot speak, squarely faced now with the choice.  I mean, are they going to let Trump get away with not only doing this pretty terrible thing honestly for a president to do, apparently, if that`s what he did, but also to simply stonewall Congress?  I mean, really the ball really is in the House`s court.

So I think Rosa DeLauro is very significant.  I saw her, it happens last week with Nancy Pelosi at an event.  They are very close.  They didn`t tell me anything.  You know, top-secret.  But I got the impression from both that they were, you know, they sort of joked to me about how I was, you know, more for impeachment than they were.  That they were sort of opening their minds a little more.

But I think this statement by DeLauro is very important.  That signals to me I think where Nancy Pelosi is going.  I think Romney has helped reassure maybe Speaker Pelosi that there is the possibility of Republican support, maybe in the House and incidentally maybe in the Senate.

If you take Romney`s statement seriously, he is not just saying maybe the House should impeach.  He is sort of saying that maybe as a Senate Republican, he would vote to convict.  And suddenly if you have a couple more Republicans even sound somewhat like that, the notion that this is a purely partisan maneuver, there will be no Republican in the Senate who will even take it seriously that goes away.

One final thing, I`m sorry we`re going too long is, I think the House Republicans who served in the military or in the Intelligence Community, the seven Democrats, Democratic freshmen put out that op-ed earlier this evening that`s very powerful I think, I`ve got to think that Will Hurd, Mike Gallagher, Mike Fitzpatrick, Will Hurd CIA, Gallagher Army, and Fitzpatrick FBI, former in each of those cases, they have all shown streaks of independence from Trump at moment.  I`ve got to think, they are thinking to themselves, maybe this is the moment for me to step up as well.

KORNACKI:  Well, so Maya, let`s pick up on what Bill just said there because he raises the -- if Democrats unanimously in the House decided they wanted to impeach the President they would have the votes to do so.  However, they would not have the votes to convict him in the Senate.  You need a two-thirds super majority.  You need Republican buy-in.

If Democrats are making a decision to go forward with impeachment given those political realities, is there a case there to narrow the scope of this?  You`ve already got the Judiciary Committee pursuing some kind of impeachment inquiry, we`re not quite sure what`s going on there, talking about a lot of matters in the Mueller report, some other things that have come up.  Is there a case strategically here for Democrats to say, no.  If we go forward it`s about this Ukraine business, make it narrow and focused on that.

MAYA WILEY, UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, THE NEW SCHOOL:  I think there is a case certainly.  I think one of the things that the Democrats have to be somewhat concerned with is if they have substantial evidence from the Mueller report that Donald Trump is a sitting President and took steps to apparently obstruct justice, I mean, literally took steps to make sure that the Mueller investigation was interfered with, as a sitting President, what might he do here?  And they probably have to do some work to remind the American public that their oversight has to protect against that in this case as well.

So I think there are a couple things happening here.  One, they still don`t know until they have a proceeding whether or not they`re going to win Republicans as we`ve heard, Mitt Romney make very clear, he`s got to see more fair.  That is fair.  But this is also about the American public and what they think after they hear it and what Democrats have to do I think is make sure they have a coherent story that people can follow simply.  And the more you, you know, confuse things with six years of information, the harder it is for the average citizen to follow.  But you can`t just limit it from this pattern of behavior that may very well arise while they are trying to do any kind of investigation of what we`re hearing about this whistleblower report.

KORNACKI:  OK.  And Bill, there`s also the question here of the calendar.  Again, if Democrats do decide to go forward with impeachment, 2020 is an election year.  This is a first-term president.  This would not be like Nixon and Clinton who were impeached in their second terms.  Does that affect the thinking on this at all?

Just in terms of you talk about Republicans and trying to make that decision if any of them are torn at all on this to having any of the thoughts that Romney apparently is having, is there a thought there that, hey, you know what?  Even if this is troubling, even if this is wrong, let the voters sort it out in the election in November, 2020.  Don`t have Congress six months earlier impeaching him?

KRISTOL:  Yes.  But Trump could continue to do things for the next year that actually jeopardize the election of 2020.  It`s being a free and fair election.  I think that`s why it is actually important.  I very much think they should narrow the case, move fast, have a select committee or designate one of the committees to move ahead.  Have kind of a month timetable to find out what happened.

If the administration doesn`t provide the relevant documents or witnesses or instructs the witnesses not to say anything, that itself has to be understood as impeachable.  I think that`s the key lever.  Otherwise the administration solves (ph), delays, doesn`t answer, and you go to court and you`re dragging on.  They need to make clear this is it.  And so I think it has to be narrow, discreet, fast, up or down.

There are many other potential, you know, articles of impeachment but I think in a way you got to say they`re stronger if they focus on this.  What it`s happened in real time, in the last couple of months with the President the day after Mueller testifies on the Hill and he thinks he is free, he doubles down on the questionable, let`s says, things that he was documented as having done by the Mueller report.  What does that portend for the future?  So I think the Democrats can make a very strong case by narrowing the scope, by making it fast, by making it a kind of up or down vote.  And maybe a select committee.  Again, they have to make clear that obstruction is itself going to be grounds for impeachment I think.

KORNACKI:  OK.  Maya Wiley, Bill Kristol, and again, 4:00 p.m. tomorrow we may get some clarity here on what Democrats are doing or not doing.  We will find out.

Coming up, if you are a Democratic presidential candidate, it just got harder to make the November debate.  I`m heading to the big board with the party`s new rules when THE 11TH HOUR continues.


KORNACKI:  All right.  So this was the scene in Houston just a couple days ago.  It was the third Democratic presidential debate.  But this one was different than the previous Democratic debates.  Why?  They could fit all the candidates who qualified on one stage.

This was the first time you had 10 candidates on one stage all together for one night.  Why was that?  Because he DNC had instituted some stricter rules over the summer.  They had that giant field of 24 candidates or whatever the exact number is.

Some strict rules were implemented over the summer.  Polling, fundraising you had to do.  And basically you ended up with 10 who qualified for this debate.  So it was a different thing.  You had everybody together for once.  It played out over one night.  So the field may be starting to winnow a little bit because of that.

Now, another debate is coming up in a few months.  They`re about one -- in a few weeks, I should say, they are doing about one debate a month.  The next one is coming up in October.

Now, here is the thing, here`s the catch.  All of the candidates who are on the stage for this most recent debate, they are qualified for the October debate.  However, the qualifying period also allowed potentially two more candidates to make the stage.  So Tom Steyer who didn`t make the September debate, in the days after the September debate, he did hit the threshold so he is qualified.  So you`re going to have 10 plus Steyer for the next debate.

Also Tulsi Gabbard, the Congresswoman from Hawaii.  She has not qualified but you still have a week to get into this October debate.  She needs one more poll in the next week, one more qualifying poll where she hits 2 percent.  If she can get that in the next week, then she would join Steyer and she would join these 10 other candidates and you would have 12 candidates in the next debate in October.  So you`d go from only 10 to 11 or maybe 12 in October.  That is the next step here for Democrats.  So that`s the immediate thing.

But there`s also this.  We say they have these stringent rules.  They said for all debates, today they announced, for all debates after October, the debate coming in November.  Here are the new rules.  Here`s the new criteria.  This is for debate starting in November.  You got to be at 3 percent in four polls or you got to be a 5 percent in two polls in the lead-off states.  And, yes, by the way, you need to have 165,000 donors.  So this is for November and beyond.

Just to give you a sense of what that might look like.  The polls so far that have come out, Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg.  They`ve hit all those thresholds in the polls right now that are part of the criteria.  There will be more to come in the coming weeks.  But right now there are five who look like they`re going to be on course to qualify for that new criteria.

Once you get beyond that, Booker, O`Rourke, Yang, Klobuchar, Steyer, Gabbard, unclear, unclear if they`re going to be able to meet those thresholds.  So we`re going to go from 10 to 11 or 12 in the next debate.  But then because of what the DNC announced today, you could be down to single digits.  Single digits on the debate stage starting in November.  New DNC rules announced today.

Coming up, we`re going to go live to Des Moines that is where Elizabeth Warren has just received some good news.  Two top campaign reporters are coming here when THE 11TH HOUR comes right back.



SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Congress failed to act and now Donald Trump has shown that he believes he is above the law.


KORNACKI:  With a little more than 130 days to go, the best pollster in Iowa says that Senator Elizabeth Warren is the new leader in the first in the nation caucus state.  Warren coming into the Des Moines register poll at 22 percent.  That is a seven-point jump for her from June and that is ahead of Joe Biden who comes in at 20 percent in this poll.  Bernie Sanders back at 11 percent.  No one else cracking into double digits.

For more, we welcome Chief Polling Analyst and Senior Campaigns and Elections Editor for POLITICO and Alexandra Jaffe, Political Reporter for the Associated Press in Des Moines Iowa.  Thanks to both of you for being with us.  Steve, let me just go with you first.  In terms of the meaning and the significance of this poll, there`s been all this talk for a while now that Warren has momentum, that Warren is climbing.  Now here is a poll, a quality poll showing her in the lead in the first in the nation caucus state.  I guess here`s the skeptical question to ask you.  Is she peaking too soon?

STEVEN SHEPARD, CHIEF POLLING ANALYST, POLITICO:  Well, that`s a great question.  Look, the Des Moines register poll is the gold standard poll in Iowa and Selzer has been the gold standard pollster there for a couple decades now.  Look, the caucuses are still in early February.  They`re a long way away.  And she wouldn`t be the first person who opened up a lead however small in this case, a statistical tie essentially with Joe Biden.  She wouldn`t be the first candidate to open up a lead in the fall leading up to the caucuses and see that lead not hold up by the time you got to caucus time.

There`s a lot of campaigning to go between now and February.  I think it`s unclear if she is speaking too soon.  But the one good news for her is that this has been a slow and steady climb.  Really since she got in on New Year`s Eve, she has really, especially since the spring, been climbing steadily and slowly and so this is not a sugar rush or a sugar high.  This seems to be genuine momentum built especially at the grass roots level.

KORNACKI:  So, Alex, how is the Biden campaign processing this?  What is it like on the ground there?  Obviously, he is running on the idea of electability, running on the idea that he is a winner, but if he can`t win in Iowa, that could potentially set off a pretty devastating domino reaction for his campaign.  How is his campaign processing the rise of Warren in Iowa?

ALEXANDRA JAFFE, POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Yes.  And as you know we`ve seen Iowa sort of end Biden`s presidential hopes in the past.  So it`s not beyond the realm of possibility.  But we have seen not just Biden but Pete Buttigieg go a little bit harder after Warren now that we`re seeing her rise in a number of polls including this one this weekend.

Earlier this week in Iowa, Joe Biden said, you know, you got to ask Elizabeth Warren what`s going to happen when she raises your taxes if we are in the middle of a recession.  And what was interesting about that, though, and one of the reasons I think Elizabeth Warren is going to have some sort of lasting staying power is when she was asked about these attacks she refused to sort of engage.  She ignored the attacks.  She said that`s not what I`m talking about.  I`m talking about lowering costs for Americans when it comes to healthcare and sort of pivoted back to her message.

So, while Elizabeth Warren is going to face attacks as she continues to rise in the polls as we saw from Joe Biden, I think that the way she`s engaging with this or really refusing to engage with it is going to help her sustain that rise.

KORNACKI:  And Alex, what are you hearing from voters when it comes to Biden obviously, electability as we say is his campaign.  They think that`s their strongest selling point.  What are the concerns and reservations?  What`s holding them back?  A former Vice President at 20 percent.  What`s holding him back from being higher out there?

JAFFE:  Well, the question is, is he the most electable?  And I think as you increasingly see, you know, negative headlines about gaffes he has made during the debates or the more folks see him on sort of the trail and there are times when you can tell he`s a little bit tired and may make some stumbles and I think as Iowans see that more and more and as that narrative picks up in the media, there are some questions that are lingering.  Particularly, I`ve found it fascinating to speak to older Iowans who say, you know when I`m 70, I couldn`t be president right now.  I`m slowing down and they say I can see that happening in Joe Biden a little bit as well.

I think what sort of saving him is there is no other clearly electable candidate.  No one else has picked up that mantle, that`s still a big concern with Elizabeth Warren.  And so for now he does seem like the most broadly unifying candidates despite some challenges that he may face.

KORNACKI:  So we know the Iowa poll over the weekend.  The Des Moines register poll puts Warren ahead by two points.  We can also look at this.  You vote from Iowa, eight days later in New Hampshire, here`s the average of the polls right now in New Hampshire.  Biden on average head there but again very close.  Sanders is right behind him and Warren only a couple points behind both of them.

You know, Steve, it is not -- we play these things out too far in advance I know.  But if Elizabeth Warren were ever to win Iowa, the track record of a Massachusetts candidate in New Hampshire is pretty good and the track of a candidate winning Iowa in New Hampshire getting the nomination is also pretty good.

SHEPARD:  Yes, winning in Iowa would be rocket fuel for her campaign.  The one he said like he coming back to and just kind of analogue for this campaign might be 2004.  And we were -- In the fall of 2004 -- fall of 2003 rather, looking at Howard Dean Vermont Governor really gaining strength and tapping into a lot of grass roots support.  But for Democratic voters, the most important thing in that campaign came beating George Bush.  That became a dominating issue.

We all think of Howard Dean screen, the night of the Iowa caucuses is what undid (ph) in his campaign.  But he just finished third that night.  This is -- His campaign was sputtering long before that.  That was the final nail in coffin.  Eventually, Democratic voters decided they wanted somebody who could beat George Bush.  And they went with John Kerry.  Now John Kerry didn`t beat George Bush.

But that`s a lesson that I`m just think about a lot as I think about what Iowa could mean and what that could mean for New Hampshire.  These are places where -- Elizabeth Warren, if she can go the distance in Iowa, she will be set up really well in New Hampshire (INAUDIBLE).

KORNACKI: All right.  Well our guests are going to stay with us.  When we come back, we`re going to go back to our top story of the night, impeachment and how it relates to the 2020 race.  We`ll be right back after this.


KORNACKI:  We have more breaking news tonight and thoughts inside the House Speaker`s office.  NBC News is reporting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is dropping her month`s long opposition to talk of impeachment considering it as two divisive in the past.  But multiple Democratic aides tonight say that Pelosi is asking colleagues whether they believe President Trump`s own admission that he pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Joe Biden is a tipping point.  Pelosi`s office is refusing to comment on the record.

NBC News has also learned that Speaker Pelosi, and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler spoke by phone today about the Trump`s whistleblower complaint and impeachment.

Alex Jaffe and Steve Shepard are back with us.  Alex, let me start with you.  For months we`ve been saying that it would be surprising if Nancy Pelosi would come out for impeachment.  Have we reached the point where it would now be a surprise if she doesn`t?

JAFFE:  You know, I don`t think we`re at that point yet because there are still a number of Democrats that are key to their chances of holding onto the House that are reticent to support it.  I mean, two are here in Iowa, Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne just won a tough -- both tough races in 2018.  Those are districts that went blue to red and Donald Trump won in type races.  So they`re worried about their reelection fortunes and Donald Trump is still pretty popular here.  So until we start seeing lawmakers like those two come out in favor of, I think she`s in a little bit of a stuff spot when it comes to impeachment.

KORNACKI:  So Steve, Alex knows there are still some of these swing district competitive seat Democrats who clearly have some political doubts about the wisdom politically of impeaching the President.  But then again there also are some from swing districts now competitive districts who are coming out publicly who hadn`t been speaking before.

SHEPARD:  Yes.  You mentioned the seven freshmen Democrats with national security experience, who co-author that Washington Post op-ed that broke tonight.  Four of them come from districts that Donald Trump carried in 2016.  Two of them, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abby -- Abigail Spanberger, rather of Virginia come from districts.  Donald Trump carried by five points or greater.  This is Republican territory.  And while it is true Cindy Axne, Abby Finkenauer, and a bunch of other House Democrats who are vulnerable have not come out for this yet, it`s now nine of 31 of the Democrats who represent Trump districts are for impeachment and half of those were today alone.

So I think we are seeing what could be a beginning of a turning point here.  And it`s difficult to imagine that these four vulnerable Democrats on "The Washington Post" op-ed would come out so forcefully like this if they weren`t some kind of stalking horse maybe for Speaker Pelosi and Democratic leadership.  Or at least feel confident that these calls weren`t going to fall on deaf ears.

KORNACKI:  Alex, if there is an impeachment proceeding brought up by Democrats, we intercepted at some point obviously with the presidential race.  I`m just curious out there covering this.  How much does this come up on the campaign trail for Democrats and for their audiences?

JAFFE:  It`s interesting.  It`s not a question that comes up from the crowd.  I mean, it seems like pretty universally agreed upon among most of the Democrats in the field that it`s time to move towards impeachment.  Of course, Joe Biden is not in that sort of group but voters don`t bring it up.  They`re asking about healthcare.  They`re asking about issues.

So until Trump sort of forces the hand and until some of these candidates start picking it up more as calling card perhaps, I think it`s not as frequently mentioned on the trailer as you would expect.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Alexandra Jaffe, Steven Shepard, thank you both for your time tonight, appreciate it.

And that is our broadcast for tonight.  Thank you for being with us and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END