LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: And then he helped elect a bunch of the Republicans.
SHERMAN: Yes, so the circle has come all the way around.
O`DONNELL: Gabe Sherman, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SHERMAN: Thank you, Lawrence. Yes, thank you.
O`DONNELL: Amazing reporting again. Gabe Sherman gets tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news tonight, this may indeed have been the most consequential day of the Trump presidency thus far as now we know the details of the whistleblower complaint alleging the President abused his power and further alleging the White House tried to hide it. In fact, Trump`s own man in charge of National Intelligence today said this whistleblower did the right thing. The President then caught on tape comparing this to a spy case, reminding his audience what we used to do to spies.
The new focus tonight on Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump`s own attorney Rudy Giuliani. And the new momentum tonight behind the impeachment effort on the Hill, all of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Thursday night.
Well, good evening once again, and tonight happens to find us here in London, but all the news, of course, is back home where this was day 980 of the Trump administration. And the case for impeachment has just in the course of this one day escalated quickly and on live television with the release of that whistleblower complaint focusing on Trump`s July 25th phone call with the President of Ukraine. Put simply, this document, this whistleblower is accusing the President of abusing his power and further accuses the national security structure around him in the White House of trying to cover it up.
The complaint directed to the heads of the House and senate intelligence committees was filed August 12, about two weeks after Trump`s phone call, "I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President`s main domestic political rivals. The President`s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well."
The whistleblower notes there were not -- they were not a direct witness to the events described, but that the details came to light over a period of some four months. They add this, "In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to lock down all records of the phone call, especially official word-for-word transcript of the call."
Yesterday the White House released the notes from that conversation, which included Trump telling the President of Ukraine, "I would like you to do us a favor." That included an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The complaint released today corroborates that. The complaint also lays out Rudolph Giuliani`s contacts with Ukrainian officials about the Bidens and says multiple U.S. officials were, "deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani`s circumvention of national security decision-making process -- processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President."
Well, today at a private event with the staff of the U.S. Mission to the U.N., Trump attacked the whistleblower sources in this new footage obtained by Bloomberg.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to know who`s the person that gave the whistleblower, who is the person that gave the whistleblower the information? Because that`s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right, with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The complaint notes, "there were approximately a dozen White House officials who listened to the call" beyond the President, his lawyer, and his attorney general. The document names the Vice President, two ambassadors, and a federal prosecutor.
Tonight "The New York Times" reports the White House got advanced notice about the allegations that were coming against the President, and we quote, "even as the whistleblower`s complaint was moving through a process meant to protect him against reprisals."
This morning, the Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, retired Navy SEAL commander, 36-year veteran of U.S. Armed Forces testified before the House Intelligence Committee and defended his decision to keep the complaint from lawmakers at first and instead first take the whistleblower complaint to the White House and then over to the Justice Department for advice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE CMTE. CHAIRMAN: I`m just trying to understand the chronology. You first went to the Office of Legal Counsel, and then you went to the White House Counsel?
JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: No, no, no, sir. No, sir. No.
MAGUIRE: We went to the White House first to determine -- to ask the question.
SCHIFF: OK. That`s all I want to know is the chronology. So you went to the White House first?
MAGUIRE: Everything here in this matter is totally unprecedented. It just seemed prudent to be able to check and ensure as a member of the executive branch before I sent it forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Maguire and the Intelligence Inspector General went on from there and later gave closed door testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Tonight, the number of House members who now support some type of impeachment actions stands at 224. Speaker Pelosi made it clear today the impeachment investigation would not be bogged down by the numerous Trump investigations that are already in progress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER: The inquiry and the consensus in our caucus is that our focus now is on this allegation now. All of the other work that relates to abuse of power, ignoring subpoenas of government, of Congress, abuse -- contempt of Congress by him, those things will be considered later.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: By the way, a quick programing note here. And importantly, the Speaker of the House will be a guest tomorrow morning just hours from now, in fact, on "Morning Joe."
With that, here for our lead-off discussion on this rather dramatic Thursday night, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon, again, notably former chief counsel to the House Intel Committee, Susan page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, Matt Zapotosky, National Security Reporter for "The Washington Post," and Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times" who also happens to be co- author of the book "Impeachment: An American History." Good evening and welcome to you all.
Jeremy, given your background in this line of work, I`d like to begin with you for our viewers who couldn`t see today`s live coverage, who have only seen snippets of it, sum up what we witnessed today and sum up for us, if you can, the gravity of what we learned today on live television.
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, the significance of today really was the putting forth of the whistleblower complaint. The Acting Director of National Intelligence Admiral Maguire appeared before the House permanent select committee on Intelligence. And his testimony really centered around the process by which that complaint was shared with the White House, the Justice Department, and then ultimately after some machinations inside the Executive Branch, belatedly shared with Congress.
But that wasn`t the real headline, Brian. The real headline were the allegations laid out in meticulous, polished detail by an Intelligence Community whistleblower outlining a months` long effort by the President of the United States to engage in a secret parallel effort to pressurize President Zelensky of Ukraine using Rudy Giuliani as a go-between, ultimately culminating in that July 25th phone call. The transcript of which we saw yesterday and the whistleblower`s complaint exactly tracked that transcript.
And just in terms of the significance, Brian, we`ve never had an impeachment allegation against a President go to the House of Representatives that is this serious. This is not the Office of Tenure Act violation under the Johnson administration. This is not lying about sex in the Clinton administration. This is about soliciting foreign interference in a United States election. It is the most serious impeachment allegation ever against a President of the United States.
WILLIAMS: Susan Page, that is saying a lot, and it`s impactful to hear that from a guy like Jeremy Bash. Combining your head and your heart to answer this, what does this feel like to you given the number of years you have covered Washington?
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: You know, I never expected to cover one impeachment, which I did, and now I believe I`m going to be covering a second. And what is extraordinary about what`s happened is eight days ago -- it was only eight days ago that "The Washington Post" disclosed that there was a whistleblower complaint out with questions raised about the President in his conversation with a foreign leader. In the space of a week and a day, we have moved from impeachment being something that the President and most people in Congress thought was now off the table to something that is a very real possibility. We now have a majority of the House, as you noted, backing impeachment.
Nancy Pelosi doesn`t need to get any of the final, the 12 remaining Democrats to back this. She has a majority of the House ready to move forward without them. And I think we have every sign that that speed that we saw in the last week and a day is going to continue with the prospect that we could have an impeachment vote in the House before the end of the year.
WILLIAMS: That is absolutely extraordinary to say and to hear. Matt, we also are aware of the due diligence that still has to be done as fast as this thing is now moving, again, just over the course of today, think of all the names we saw mentioned and learned about today, all of those tributaries have to be investigated. Are we talking about a future witness list before these committees that include some or perhaps all of these names? Not all these folks can claim any kind of privilege.
MATT ZAPOTOSKY, THE WASHINGTON POST NATL. SECURITY REPORTER: Well, that`s hard to say, because if the House wants to move fast, you might not be able to get all of those people in frond of you. And I think the investigation has to entail, too, some names that we don`t know yet, the whistleblower in this case very explosively kind of allege that other White House officials were concerned about a cover-up here. The whistleblower is not a direct witness, but he claims to be in touch with half a dozen White House officials who believe there might be a cover-up in addition to concerns about this call with the Ukrainian president.
And I`m sure the House in their ideal world would love to identify these people and talk to them. They would be kind of the key people who were in on this and who could describe it, you know. You saw Joe Maguire testify today, and he`s a Trump -- recent, I guess, Trump appointee that doesn`t -- didn`t want to sort of be out of step with the President it didn`t feel like to me. But these people who inside the government feel like they have concerns that President Trump is abusing his power, those would be the most compelling witnesses for the House to get in front of them to sort of push this impeachment inquiry forward.
WILLIAMS: And Matt, while I have you explain to the folks watching who may not follow this quite as closely as you do, why the attorney general is in such a bad place tonight?
ZAPOTOSKY: Well, the attorney general got involved in this whistleblower complaint because the director of National Intelligence kind of reached out to him and said, what should we do with it? And Bill Barr`s Justice Department decided that it should not be turned over to Congress.
Further, Bill Barr`s Justice Department treated this like a criminal referral, in addition to weighing whether it should be turned over the Congress, the Director of National Intelligence said, hey, this might be a crime. The President might have broken campaign finance laws that bar you from soliciting a thing of value, a campaign contribution from a foreign source. Barr`s Justice Department in very short order decided they were not going to investigate that at all. They also decided that this complaint should not be handed to Congress. Those are two very controversial and perhaps questionable decisions, and the House is going to go after that too and see why Barr`s Justice Department decided to do those things.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, get comfortable, because we`re going to talk here for a minute about Rudy Giuliani. And I`m going to read you one quote and show you another. This is Elaina Plott got him on the phone and interviewed him for "The Atlantic" tonight. And this is the quote attributed to him, "It is impossible that the whistleblower is a hero and I`m not. And I will be the hero. These morons, when this is over, I will be the hero," Giuliani told Elaina Plott of "The Atlantic" tonight.
Further, here is Rudolph Giuliani tonight on Fox News with Laura Ingraham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: what do you say to Mitt Romney tonight, given that he runs to the cameras to express his deeply troubled opinion about this?
RUDOLF GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S PERSONAL LAWYER: It`s like a -- I don`t know, it`s like a child. I mean, look, Trump did what you couldn`t do.
One time Bill Clinton asked me, what`s this guy Romney like? You know what I told him? He`s our al gore.
INGRAHAM: All right, Rudy, hold that thought.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, what`s it like to be Rudolph Giuliani tonight and how much jeopardy by your reading of this case does he possibly face?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s a great question. Any question to Rudy Giuliani about running to the camera seems rather ironic, to say the least. At this point he has been all over the cameras through this whole thing as a lawyer representing the President, as a sort of quasi special envoy, you know, conducting kind of a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, and then coming back and reporting on it on Fox News and getting interviews to all sorts of journalists. He is playing a role very different than you normally see in somebody representing the President of the United States in this kind of a matter. He is right in the thick of it. He is right in the middle of it.
I don`t know whether he is a hero or a villain. That will be decided by history, by people smarter than I am.
But, you know, you`re not going find a more colorful character as part of this drama. And we`ve seen this before under Nixon, we`ve seen this under Clinton, you know, when you get to these impeachment battles, Jeremy, you know, tried to rank them in terms of importance. But one thing that we see is common in them is sort of this -- this sort of cast of characters some of whom are, you know, hard to predict, you know, kind of out there a little bit sometimes. In this case, you`ve got a lawyer who says one thing one minute, another thing another minute. Makes admissions that would seem to be against his own interests. And yet, you know, comes right back and happy to talk again.
So, you know, I think this is not the last time you`ll see Rudy Giuliani talking to a reporter on the phone or to Fox News on television.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, is witness tampering in realtime on the popular media a real thing? And I ask this because I heard Jeff Toobin say tonight remember three words, Susan Blasey Ford. And if we`re seeing the President and the people work for him go after and yet unnamed whistleblower now, can you imagine if a name gets attached to this complaint?
BASH: Yes, I have no doubt that the President and his allies are going to try to destroy the professional credibility and career of this whistleblower. There is no doubt in my mind that they`re going to try to out this person, they`re going to try to undermine this person`s credibility.
And I think in some ways intimidate this person and other people from speaking out. The President tonight in front of staff at the U.S. Mission at the United Nations said that in effect, he is going to treat this whistleblower and others, others who are blowing the whistle on the Trump administration, he is going treat them like foreign spies, meaning capital punishment, execution, hanging, firing squad, what have you, that`s witness intimidation. He and the attorney general are responsible for carrying out the laws of our country, administering justice. And for them to talk about whistleblowers in this way is a total anathema and undermines all pretenses of abiding by the constitution and the laws of this country.
WILLIAMS: Susan Page, obviously let`s blame it on jet lag. Toobin got her name right, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and indeed not Susan, though you are.
And let`s talk about the GOP in the West Wing. In this light, the word impeachment, at least the threat of it has been tossed about for a good long time. What -- how much of a preparation operation has been ongoing now that as we have this conversation at least on a Thursday night, it is beginning as you noted to seem very real.
PAGE: Yes. I think it seems very real to the White House, which is at the moment not prepared with the kind of operation that we saw, for instance, President Clinton put together when he faced impeachment or even the kind of operation that history tells us President Nixon put together when he was facing impeachment. And that goes for Republicans on the Hill as well. You know there was an assumption I think that they were past this.
And what we saw today from Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee was an attack on those who attacked the President, although we didn`t see a defense of the President`s actions in that phone call. But in the senate side, what we saw were most Republican senators trying to do everything they could to avoid making any comment. The most common comment we got when we talked to Republican senators today was, I haven`t had a chance to read the complaint. Well, the complaint was only nine pages long, and I can guarantee you that I bet most of them have in fact had a chance to read the complaint, but it`s a sign of a reluctance to get out too far defending the President, and certainly the reluctance we`ve seen throughout this presidency of Republicans reluctant to criticize this President.
WILLIAMS: Yes, something just shy of a profile encouraged there to say I haven`t read it.
Peter, based on reporting from inside and also from things like looking at him, his delivery and attitude, what can we glean about the President treating this perhaps more seriously?
BAKER: Yes, I think, look, from the very start of his presidency, there has been talk of impeachment. Even before he was inaugurated, people were talking about it because of, you know, his own ethical violations or allegations or what have you because of the Russia probe. So I think from the beginning, he sort of anticipated that some day it would come to this. But you`re right, in the last few months it looked like the threat had faded. He himself said yesterday I thought it was dead.
And so, you know, I think he has in the last couple of days veered back and forth between sort of bristling anger, you know, eager combativeness and kind of an uncharacteristic subdued quality that he showed at the end of the U.N. when he seems so listless. And I think he`s -- I assume he is struggling therefore with, you know, some of the emotions that would come with this kind of a challenge. We look back at history, we know that both President Nixon and President Clinton, you know, put on a face with the public, but then behind close doors were, you know, quite emotional, quite, you know, distressed at times about this kind of a challenge to the legitimacy of their presidency.
We don`t know, you know, exactly what President Trump is going on behind. But I think he looks at this as a fight that he can win and yet one that is also, you know, likely to tarnish him in the history books. Even if he is impeached and then wins a Senate trial which seems to be the likeliest outcome at the moment, you know, he goes down in history as only the third President to be impeached. That`s not something any president would want.
WILLIAMS: And to our audience, our guests have agreed to stay with us over this break, and we will take one.
Coming up, can anything get done during the Trump presidency as long as this President is fighting to keep his job?
And later, that sure escalated quickly as the impeachment effort is now moving so quickly in the House. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on a Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: The complaint reports a, "repeated abuse of an electronics record system designed to store classified sensitive national security information, which the White House used to hide information of a political nature." This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The whistleblower complaint says senior White House officials tried to "lock down," in their words, records that were related to Trump`s phone call with the President of Ukraine. What the House Speaker is now calling, as you heard her say, a cover-up.
The whistleblower adds that the move, "underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call."
The report describes how the call`s transcript was placed into a stand- alone computer system managed by the National Security Counsel, "reserved for codeword-level intelligence information such as covert action." And that, "some officials voiced concerns internally that this would be an abuse of the system and was not consistent with the responsibilities of the directorate for intelligence programs." The complaint goes on to say "this was not the first time under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive rather than national security sensitive information."
This is a lot to discuss and a really important point. Still with us Jeremy Bash, Susan Page, Matt Zapotosky and Peter Baker.
So Jeremy, in the mid-`70s, it was all about recorded phone and office conversations. Welcome to the computer age. This gets squirreled away. The implied promise that there may be more like it. To ask a blunt question nicely, are you going to rely on the patriotism and rigor and diligence of people who are drawn to working in the NSC realm that they be will be honest brokers, go back, respond perhaps to subpoenas and find what else there is?
BASH: Some of them might. We just don`t know yet. But I think the way to translate some all of this into English is that when senior White House officials realize what had gone on during this July 25th phone call and actually reread the near verbatim notes or transcript, many of them set ruh-roh, we got a cleanup on aisle eight. We have a serious problem on our hands.
And because it wasn`t the `70s and it wasn`t recorded and so they couldn`t destroy tapes. It also wasn`t the 1980s during the Reagan administration during Iran-Contra, John Poindexter threw the thing into the shredder machine and Fawn Hall did as well down at Oliver North`s office. They can`t do that anymore. So what did they do? They took the document which was marked secret, which is a fairly low level of classification, and they put it on the super Uber sensitive classified network at the White House which only a very few handful of individuals have access to, in effect shoving it in the desk drawer so it would never see the light of day.
WILLIAMS: Along with the other sensitive secrets like plans we may have for foreign leaders and assets we may have placed in foreign capitals, correct? This was right up against some of the more vital secrets we keep.
BASH: That`s right. For covert action programs including things like the raid on Osama bin Laden`s compound in Pakistan in 2011.
WILLIAMS: So, Matt, in addition to learning just now that ruh-roh is a term of art in national security, we learned today this was squirreled away for political reasons. That is a distinction with a big difference here. Walk the folks watching through exactly what that means.
ZAPOTOSKY: Yes, so my colleagues Josh Dawsey and Carol Leonnig have some reporting tonight that I think helps put that in context. This White House is very afraid, paranoid about leaks. And they`re paranoid in particular about leaks of President Trump`s phone calls with foreign leaders. He has experienced a couple of those with leaders from Australia and Mexico, and he doesn`t like that.
So one strategy they`ve used is just developing technical mechanisms to lock the information down or trace who has access to it. Kind of creating chain of custody records, making sure fewer people are in on these calls. And then in this case, apparently an egregious case, moving it to this super classified server where it doesn`t belong. Now things get classified, potentially over classified all the time. That`s a persistent problem in government.
But what the whistleblower is alleging here that just wasn`t the case, and you can really see it when you read the transcript of that call the things the President says Rudy Giuliani has also said to any Ukrainian prosecutor who will listen. There is no real argument that this should be classified. So the conclusion is, it was classified just to protect the President`s political interests, and that is inappropriate. It`s inappropriate to put something on a super classified server that`s just meant to hide it from people and protect the President`s political interests because there is really no argument here that what was said on the call at least from what we`ve seen could be, you know, legitimately classified.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, it is a real argument that foreign leaders will have what we like to call the next chilling effect before their next heart to heart with this President knowing there are listeners on our end and knowing the notes of that conversation should they suddenly become important to national issue can be released. How do you think having just come back from accompanying the President at his several day of U.N. visits, how do you think allies, adversaries are watching this chapter in the Trump presidency?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, it`s a great question. Look, there was, you know -- I mean, President Trump did have reason to be a little suspicious about transcripts or records of his calls coming out, even aside from whether he had committed some sort of an abuse in a conversation. Remember early on, of course, his phone conversation with the leaders of Mexico and Australia both leaked to The Washington Post. He obviously got upset about that. He`s been particularly suspicious ever since. He`s particularly suspicious about anybody having records of conversations with Vladimir Putin.
You`ll remember at one point he told the interpreter after his first meeting with the Russian President to give him the notes and not tell anybody what had happened there. So there is no question that he had some cause for concern at the beginning and had a particular affinity for keeping his conversations quiet. He doesn`t want them to be spread out around the government. But you`re right. Other leaders overseas are going to watch this with some degree of concern.
The President of Ukraine is quoted in this transcript, this rough transcript reconstructed from notes as saying some things that were disparaging about European leaders he spent the last 24 hours. He and Ukrainian officials trying to make up with the Europeans. They don`t want to be isolated, worst possible outcome for him. He is alienated from the Trump administration because he`s caused trouble in some way. He hasn`t really tried to. And he is alienated from his European allies and he`s left only facing Russia by himself. So there are real consequences to what`s going on here in the real world beyond Washington.
WILLIAMS: A couple of things here. Apparently since we`ve been on the air, we`ve learned that the count in the House has now gone up to 225. In the House, ball game is 218. That`s where you get past the absolute math majority. So now, 225 members of the House have made clear their preference for some sort of impeachment-related action.
Susan Page, one of the other phrases from the mid-`70s, the cover-up is always worse than the crime. Talk about that tried and true phrase, and talk about the coming role in our national politics that the speaker of the House will have.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, sometimes truisms are true, and I think that is probably the case in this one. And, you know, one of the problems that the President has is that the allegations are so simple to understand. He got on the phone with a foreign leader and said please -- I`m going encourage you to investigate my political rival. I think that strikes most Americans as the wrong thing to do. And there are allegations that they abused a national security system in order to hide the account of this telephone call from political exposure. I think that strikes most Americans as the wrong thing to do as well.
And Mr. Trump`s biggest problem is the person who now owns impeachment is Nancy Pelosi, who is an enormously skilled legislative leader who has been very reluctant to go down this path before, who was persuaded only after members of her caucus who are in swing districts most at risk for political blowback from supporting impeachment came out and said this is the right thing to do. She -- The indication we got from her today in her comments to reporters is that this is going to be controlled mostly by Adam Schiff, a committee chairman she trusts and is close to, and that she is going to keep it narrow and focused on Ukraine, although I`ve got to say I think the four most chilling words in the complaint that we read today were not the first time, quote, not the first time meaning that there are other conversations with other world leaders that have been parked in this national security secret computer server that surely will now be the subject of great inquiry and interest by Congress.
WILLIAMS: We have asked a lot of four of our returning veterans tonight. We`re much obliged to Jeremy Bash, to Susan Page, to Matt Zapotosky and Peter Baker. Thank you all very much for coming on with us.
And coming up, the President remains angry, defiant while the mood in the West Wing gets described with words like total panic, or as we would call it around here, a Thursday night on "The 11th Hour." We`re back with more right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s a disgrace to our country. It`s another witch hunt. Here we go again. And it should never be aloud what`s happened to this President. What these guys are doing, Democrats are doing to this country is a disgrace and it shouldn`t be allowed. They there should be a way of stopping it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So on NBC News report tonight describes a sense of what they`re calling, quote, total panic at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this week. As one person close to this White House describes it, "There appears to be rising anxiety, unease, and concern, that the whistleblower`s allegations could seriously wound the President and some of those around him. "There`s not a lot of confidence that there`s no there there", to use a double negative, this person said".
Here with us to talk about it, Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for Politico. Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR, Boston`s NPR news station. Two more of our returning veterans, and welcome to you both. Nancy, impeachment has been on the cover front page of everything with the possible exception of sports illustrated and the local favorite here, "Horse & Hound." How it is possible that this White House did not have some semblance of an impeachment defense shop up and running?
NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, I talked to a bunch of White House people today and Trump allies, and what I learned is that they were so consumed over the past year by the Mueller investigation and all of the other scandals and issues that they`ve had that although they definitely saw impeachment is something that could happen if the Democrats take back the House. I think that they saw it as a distant possibility and it wasn`t something that they`ve gotten geared up with.
And what we`ve seen since the Democrats took over the House is that the President and the White House have successfully stonewalled a bunch of investigations. So I think the White House thought that they had really batted down the House Democrats and sort of worn them down so they weren`t going to do it. I was told that the White House and Trump were very, very surprised by the swiftness with which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acted this week, and she`s really caught them flat-footed. They do not have the staff in place to deal with this. They have a lot of long-time aides who are exhausted. They have junior people. They have family members. They do not have a war room set up, and they keep careening from strategy to strategy, as we saw this week, as they try to figure out how to handle this.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Kim, any read, is there any possible way of knowing how this one`s going play? Is it going to be along the usual lines of hair on fire up and down the Acela corridor? Trump`s base remains unmoved and unconvinced and he just keeps at it, calling it a witch hunt?
KIMBERLY ATKINS, SENIOR NEWS CORRESPONDENT, WBUR: I think he is counting on that. I mean, we have to remember so far through everything, including the Mueller investigation which was supposed to be the biggest threat to this presidency, this administration has made it through it. This President more or less has made it through it, and he`s never really had to face a major repercussion for any of his actions. And I think that`s why we`re seeing the exact same play here, the exact same playbook.
Excoriate his critics. He is going after Democrats. He is going after the press. It`s exactly as he did before. He is advancing conspiracy theories and trying to discredit the people who are investigating him. It`s worked before essentially, and so I think he`s going back to that playbook now.
The difference here, I think, is that these are much more serious charges, especially among Republicans, who by and large, now the Republicans in Washington have stood behind him. There`s a lot of consternation. Republicans, especially in the Senate, they`re going home now on their congressional break back in their districts, and they`re going hear from the voters there. And I think that could really play a different role here if public sentiment has changed.
Clearly, public sentiment changed enough for the Democrats in a lot of these swing districts to get firmly behind some sort of impeachment effort. All but 12 House Democrats now backing that. I think Republicans are going to be hearing some of the same things from their voters in their home states, and I think that could make a difference here.
WILLIAMS: And Nancy, let me return to what was your last point, and that was just the sheer forward speed of just today how fast Nancy Pelosi has acted on this after a period of silence. Her threshold was overwhelming support for impeachment and overwhelming evidence that it was called for. When will we know about public opinion to Kim`s point, public opinion moving at a commensurate amount?
COOK: Well, we`ve already seen public opinion really shift this week. There are some important polls that have come out this week. One is a Politico/Morning Consult poll. The other was an NPR/Marist poll. And they both showed that the number of Americans who support impeachment has really risen over the past week. It used to be that the majority of Americans didn`t approve of it. We saw those numbers rise. So it`s about even 50-50 now.
And it`s just amazing to me that public sentiment could shift so much in just, you know, basically a week just as swiftly as Nancy Pelosi, you know, acted. And I think that that is what has the White House so freaked out, and it has them wondering if this is going to turn out differently than the Mueller investigation just because everything is moving so fast and they don`t really have a plan in place for it.
WILLIAMS: And, Kim, we`re going put the graphic back up on the screen, if we can. The Republican senators who claimed amid kind of a sea of crickets today in their responses, their response was, you know, I really haven`t had time to read it, even though it is not that mentally challenging a document. Where will you measure some of these guys? Look at, you know, Blunt. Look at Portman. Where will you measure the movement? Who are you watching?
ATKINS: Yes. I`m watching a couple of Republicans. One is Mitt Romney. Because of all the Republicans in the Senate in particular, he has the most political leeway to really speak out here. He`s never going to appear on a ballot with Donald Trump. He is in Utah where he`s very popular. And where Utah Republicans don`t like Donald Trump.
So he could do what Jeff Flake tried to do before and didn`t really succeed at in really calling out this President and calling out these actions if he is really troubled by it. So he has the least to lose. It`s also the Republicans who have the most to lose like Susan Collins who really faces a tough reelection. She has tried to be moderate and really speak out against the President, at least say that she`s troubled. I think if she moves and speaks out much more firmly on this, we will see how that could have an effect on the rest of the caucus as well. So, I think those are a couple of the big names that we`re watching as they certainly as they come back to Washington after this break and when they hear from the folks at home.
WILLIAMS: You raise a good point, though. A whole lot of people are troubled. If troubled was a candidate tonight, troubled would probably win this election. To Nancy Cook, to Kimberly Atkins, our thanks as always for coming on the broadcast with us tonight.
And coming up for us, when we talk about possible articles of impeachment in the House, we heard reference to this already tonight. What kind of time frame are we really talking about?
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. And as we`ve been saying, by all accounts, Democrats intend to move quickly with this impeachment inquiry, especially if today`s any judge. House Intel Chair Adam Schiff says he plans to start calling witnesses in this as soon as next week. Washington Post adds this tonight, "House Democratic leaders are eyeing a fast-paced investigation instructing the committees handling the probe to wrap up their findings within weeks in hopes of concluding before the holiday season".
For the record, and because we live in the real world of cable news in 2019, just tonight, Tucker Carlson over at Fox News called Adam Schiff, quote, demonstrably mentally ill. So there`s that.
With us for more tonight, A.B. Stoddard is back with us, Columnist and Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics. A.B., I didn`t want people to think the world had changed significantly in the last 24 to 48 hours. Dual question to start you off, what are Republicans telling you? And what again does this feel like to you?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, Republicans are trying to buy time after reading the complaint and finding it as jarring as Senator Ben Sasse warned them 24 hours ago that they might. And they don`t want to talk about it. So that`s why we saw so many accounts today from Capitol Hill with Senate Republicans saying they hadn`t read it yet. They think it`s bad.
But the hope, there`s two things. One, they can buy time until they can find out if this is true, meaning they can wait out an investigation which Chairman Burr on the Senate Intelligence Committee is doing in a bipartisan fashion with Senator Mark Warner alongside the same, you know, corresponding investigation in House Intelligence on the House side. Both committees will be talking to the whistleblowers. So Republicans think they have some more time and they know there will be more revelations.
Their hope is what the White House hope is, Democrats will over reach. So they`re looking for the silver lining of some kind of chaos on the Democrat side and they will be picking on every obviously questionable part of this process. You saw the criticism today of Chairman Schiff because he opened with a parody of what that conversation was between President Zelensky and President Trump and there was a lot of criticism of that. So they`re going to do what they can to not talk about the substance of this as long as they can stick to the process and wait until findings have been found, Brian.
WILLIAMS: While we`re at it, let`s talk about this. Think of who we didn`t see on television today. Oh, that would be Jerry Nadler. Do you think the emphasis on Schiff is a happy accident for the speaker where chairmen of these committees go?
STODDARD: Yes. So this is the part that I don`t think is decided. We hear they want to act with speed. They don`t want the public to think they rushed to judgment. There`s a conflict there. They hear that -- we hear that Adam Schiff is going to be sort of the lead on this but at the same time articles of impeachment might come from the House Judiciary and they`re all still doing this together.
I think that there is a rush to look unified and ready to go and decided and convicted on this. And to want to get through this, no hearings, because I think they are afraid of public spectacles like Rudy Giuliani coming and given them a Corey Lewandowski show. But in terms of the internal workings of these, I don`t think it`s all figured out and I think that we will see some wrinkles being smoothed out in terms of committee jurisdiction in the days and weeks to come. Because there`s a recess, those divisions might be kept more quiet. But the work will continue.
But I`m not sure that they`ve completely worked out that they`re going to have this on the floor by Thanksgiving and they know exactly how it`s going to go. Because as I said, they don`t want to be look like they`re rushing and there`s a lot of territorial jurisdiction to deal with.
WILLIAMS: And who can blame them for needing a recess having worked so hard since they got back from their summer break? A.B. Stoddard, it is always such a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for always taking our questions. We greatly appreciate it.
Coming up for us, definition aside, this President sure likes to talk about treason. We have a reminder for you on that front coming up after this.
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TRUMP: You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? With spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
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WILLIAMS: So that was our President on a recording initially obtained by the L.A. Times talking tough this morning about what should happen to the insiders who spoke to the whistleblower. Trump was at an event for U.S. diplomatic officials and their families including children. At this point it may be useful for all of us to just repeat the definition of treason. According to the constitution, "Treason against the United States consists of, quote, levying war against them or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort".
This morning, of course, was hardly the first time the President has gone there invoking treason and the notion of severe punishment.
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PETER ALEXANDER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Sir, the constitution says treason is punishable by death. You`ve accused your adversaries of treason. Who, specifically, are you accusing of treason?
TRUMP: Well I think a number of people.
Bergdahl. You know Bergdahl, right? Traitor, he`s a traitor. Remember the old days and the olds days being deserters. Bump. In the old days deserters were shot.
Boom. Firing squad. No, it`s true.
Bing. It goes quickly right? It`s called you`re dead. Treason. It`s treason.
There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things. Very bad things. I would say treasonous things against our country.
If you look at Comey, if you look at McCabe, if you look at probably people higher than that. If you look at Strzok, if you look at his lover Lisa Page.
It was treason. It was really treason.
And that`s what it is. It was treason.
This is actually treason. You`re just lucky I happen to be the President because a lot of other presidents would have reacted much differently than I reacted.
They have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person. That`s treason. That`s treason.
Treasonous, OK? Thank you very much, everybody.
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WILLIAMS: Our President on the subject of treason. And with that, from one of the very few places on earth with politics as completely broken down and full on crazy as they are back home, that is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being here with us and good night from our NBC News bureau here in London.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END