LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Appreciate it. That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams, they`ll have more text messages starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, our lead story is the President`s own words, what he said out loud with all of us listening that seemed to violate his oath of office, and seemed to some Democrats at least to be enough for an article of impeachment right then and there. What started as a story about what the President told Ukraine about having the Bidens investigated has exploded out from there.
Tonight, new breaking stories about the actions of our diplomats overseas, the actions of Rudy Giuliani overseas, the firing of our ambassador to Ukraine, and there is a new whistleblower, this time inside the IRS, a.k.a. the keepers of the President`s taxes. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Thursday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. And as we bring day 987 of this Trump administration to a close, yet again tonight we are in brand-new territory, all of us. That is because today in broad daylight, with cameras rolling and a helicopter waiting for him, the President said something out loud roundly believed to be impeachable.
Here is California Democrat member of Congress Ted Lieu. "There is more than enough evidence right now to draft articles of impeachment."
Here is Berkeley law professor Orin Kerr. "What if a President committed an impeachable offense on T.V. from the South Lawn and no one in his party cared? I worry we may be about to find out."
Here is how the always proper "New York Times" puts it quite simply tonight in their headline on the web, "Trump Publicly Urges China to Investigate the Bidens." And that is indeed what we heard the President say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call? Exactly?
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would think that if they were honest about it they`d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It`s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens, because how does a company that`s newly formed and all these companies when you look at -- and by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you asked President Xi to investigate at all?
TRUMP: I haven`t, but it`s certainly something we can start thinking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So that right there, Trump`s call for the Chinese to investigate the Bidens comes as he is facing impeachment charges for pushing the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens while withholding military aid from the Ukrainians passed by Congress. As that investigation moves ahead, new reporting about the administration is emerging tonight.
"The New York Times" says Trump`s diplomats pushed Ukraine to commit to inquiries into political rivals.
"The Washington Post" writes that a former diplomat tells House investigators that Ukrainians gave Rudy Giuliani bad information about the Bidens.
"The Wall Street Journal" is on the board. They reveal Trump ousted a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after complaints from Giuliani and others.
Also from "The Washington Post," there`s apparently another whistleblower, an IRS complaint involving the audit of either the President`s or Vice President`s tax returns.
Today, we saw the first witness in the impeachment inquiry appear on Capitol Hill, Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as Trump`s point man in Ukraine, was interviewed for over nine hours close sessions by House investigators about his dealings with Ukrainians and his dealings with Trump`s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
"New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt and his colleagues write that Volker and Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union "drafted a statement for the country`s new president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals."
"The Washington Post" says Volker told House staff that he "tried to caution Giuliani that his sources, including Ukraine`s former top prosecutor, were unreliable and that he should be careful about putting faith in the prosecutor`s theories."
And "The Wall Street Journal" reveals that one reason Trump ousted our U.S. ambassador to Ukraine had to do with assertions from his friend, Rudy Giuliani, that she was "undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden."
Meanwhile, Trump is ramping up his attacks on the Democrats. Here`s what he said to an audience of seniors during a Medicare-themed event in central Florida today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If you want to drive them crazy, just say eight more years, or 12 more years, 16 would do it good. You`d really drive them into the loony bin. And that`s why they do the impeachment crap, because they know they can`t beat us fairly. That`s the only reason that they`re doing it. They can`t win. They can`t win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tonight a source tells NBC News that the White House plans to send a letter to Speaker Pelosi as early as tomorrow, and they`ll say that they won`t turn over any documents related to Ukraine until the House votes to officially open an impeachment inquiry.
Yesterday, House Democrats said they planned to subpoena the administration for those records. Democrats will hear from their second witness tomorrow when Intelligence Community Inspector General, that makes him the ICIG, Michael Atkinson testifies behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee. It`s a lot, as we say every night.
And here for our lead-off discussion on a Thursday night, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS, Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press, Maya Wiley, former assistant attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a university professor at the new school here in New York, and the aforementioned Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times." Good evening to all of you. Really appreciate you stepping forward to help out our conversation and our fact finding here.
Michael, I`d like to begin with you. Whose idea was it to present Ukraine with a pledge in effect tying their agreement to look into the Bidens with our agreement to loosen up military aid, by the way, to protect them from Russia, that was approved by Congress.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that`s what we`re trying to figure out. Moments ago, Capitol Hill releasing new text messages and e- mail messages that were exchanged between Volker and Giuliani and other senior State Department officials to try and shed more light on how this statement actually came about.
What was it that led these two career diplomats to raise the idea with the Ukrainians that they needed to say publicly that they were going to investigate this company linked to Biden`s son and the 2016 election?
To make it all sort of simple, I know there`s a lot here, we just have to come back to the July call. It was a July call between the President and the president of Ukraine in which these investigations came up.
August was the way that it started to move forward. They were talking about locking the Ukrainians in publicly to doing this. Just saying it to the President in a phone call was not enough. The U.S. wanted them to commit to it on the record. That`s what the President wanted. He wanted these investigations. He used his State Department to do it.
WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin, it looks all kinds of bad. Of course, the specificity, the granularity has been in terms of the Mueller report, this era that we`re living in that has been bad to tell the central tenets of the story. But this much we know that this pledge notion apparently falls between the phone call and the releasing of the military aid, and that furthers the bad look, correct?
JILL COLVIN, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, absolutely. And just the speed with which this is coming forward, the fact that we already now as of tonight are being able to look directly at these text messages, this information exchange between the State Department, between Ukrainian officials, it`s all just developing so much faster than the Mueller investigation did, which puts the President in a really difficult spot here because, you know, that was a months-long, years-long process where there was a lot of back and forth.
You had, you know, people outside the White House weighing. And you had the President`s inside and outside legal teams who were working together to come up with strategies.
And in this case you really just have the President, kind of the single body, the single person communicating, trying to dictate strategy here and holding sessions like the one we saw on the South Lawn today where the President sort of repeated that incredible moment from the 2016 campaign where he said, you know, Russia, are you listening? If so, we`d love Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.
And here you have the President standing there in the public eye on the South Lawn of the White House saying, hey, China, maybe you can help me out too.
WILLIAMS: Maya Wiley, I`m going read something from mutual friend of ours, Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in the state of Michigan. She wrote today, "This habit of committing crimes in plain sight is intriguing. Trump is practically daring us to call him out for soliciting foreign influence into our election, which is a crime. I accept the dare. This is a crime." Maya, does she speak for you?
MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Barbara absolutely speaks for me. And, you know, moreover, remember that in the Mueller report, one of the things that Robert Mueller said was 271 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
And on that day that Jill mentions when he said publicly, hey, Russia, love to see those, you know, any e-mails, if you can find those 30,000 emails, that that is the day that the agency that was interfering in our election ramped up its activity.
WILEY: Which is to say that in addition to it being a clear campaign finance violation, and I would argue that if Ukraine was a smoking gun, which it was, which it is, that China now and what Donald Trump did is a howitzer. That he -- it was plain, central, public, unabashed, and it is also an abuse of authority.
Remember that an impeachment we do not need a crime, even though we have one here, I would argue, that actually just using the office to advance your personal interests as opposed to the interests of the country, and in this case, with China, not just Ukraine, with China, not just Australia, that Donald Trump is saying help me with my personal political problem. Help me with my personal political problem.
And one thing that we should know, and I just want to note this, the Kyiv Post, which is independent journalism in the Ukraine, which as far as I can tell is quite respected source of independent information, wrote a piece making clear that the nonprofit, nongovernmental anti-corruption community was adamant about getting rid of the prosecutor, that Donald Trump wants to open the investigation on because not just Joe Biden, but other countries in Europe had been -- and abroad were insisting be essentially gotten rid of.
So, we have a constitutional crisis if we do not have a Senate as well as a House that is willing to take this up as the constitution tells us it must.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, let me throw you an audible in the interests of transparency. Since we`ve been on the air, I`ve been handed this, what, 30-page packet of information, including but not limited to text messages from the entire U.S. team over in Ukraine.
Rather than me reading cold names I haven`t seen and information I don`t yet know, I know you`ve had a few minutes to look through them. What kind of material have the Democrats released tonight?
ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The most important information were text messages from Mr. Volker that reveal he was in touch with the White House about having Ukraine take some kind of investigative action in order to secure a meeting with President Trump and perhaps to get that military aid.
So you see the transactional nature of these discussions with Volker, with President Trump and members of his administration, with the Ukrainians, and that`s revealed in an explicit way in many of these text messages.
WILLIAMS: And now, Robert, a tougher question, because it has to deal with the times we`re living in. And it`s about the Democrats. Arguably, Joe Biden and the Biden campaign have allowed Donald Trump to tell his story and their family`s story this week, period, end of sentence, end of paragraph. That`s been where the Biden narrative has been coming out every 10 minutes from the White House.
Similarly, tonight you`ll know at the top of our broadcast, we quoted Ted Lieu saying among the many people who said today the President just handed us language of an article of impeachment, and he did it on live television today next to the helicopter.
We can`t throw you to the press conference that we saw today at 5:00 or 6:00 Eastern Time with the Speaker and with Adam Schiff. Speaker had an event in Florida. Schiff had an event in Chicago.
A buddy of mine called tonight to say if they`re going to continue to meet all the obligations in their calendar without a war-time consigliere during this time, they`re going to have a tough time prevailing in this case up against that guy. Do you hear any similar sentiment?
COSTA: There`s a wide array of concern within my Democratic sourcing community among House Democrats about can they move this forward in a narrow way, even though hour by hour the headlines are flashing across the screen about President Trump`s use of executive power. Can they try to get an article or two of impeachment through the House by Thanksgiving or December?
They do not want this to stretch into the New Year. They want to give breathing room to whomever emerges as the Democratic presidential nominee to run in 2020 and take command of the party. Speaker Pelosi doesn`t want this to be too quick, but she doesn`t want this to be too drawn out at the same time.
Democrats, though, are appalled. They feel like they have to do their duty and impeach President Trump. Many of them are coming around not just to support the impeachment inquiry, but to support impeachment itself.
The questions they face is, the Republicans in the Senate at this point haven`t been turned. Until that happens, they feel like they`re not making the case to the country they want to, which is removal from office.
WILLIAMS: And Jill Colvin, you`ve seen the debates. There are Democrats, and you and I know who they are, walking around Washington saying, what more were you waiting for? He gave you the language of an article of impeachment today. Where was the leadership to come out and say it as part of a rapid response?
COLVIN: You know, we`ve seen the message that Pelosi and Schiff are trying to push out there. But what I think you`ve also seen is although the polling, the public polling has indicated that more and more of the American public is in favor of pursuing this impeachment investigation, the fact of the matter is that at this point, the President`s numbers haven`t really shifted. The President`s support has been pretty consistent since the day he stepped into office.
And it`s still unclear at this point the extent to which the shifting public attention to this. And the question then will be is how does this impact all of those vulnerable Democrats who right now are occupying House seats in districts that the President won and the calculus that all of these members are going to have to make, that the House is going to have to make when they decide how they want to pursue this.
WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, to my knowledge you`re not a board certified physician, but you do watch this President very carefully and you`ve learned a lot about how he communicates. When -- what is the kind of psychology behind when he chooses to say something publicly, even it`s -- if it is outrageous and especially if it is outrageous?
SCHMIDT: Well, I think you just see him grasping for whatever he can to get through the conversation he`s in. He is standing on the South Lawn of the White House. These issues come up related to Joe Biden. He knows what they`ve been saying on Fox News about how the next thing that Giuliani is going to be going into is Biden`s ties to China, and he picks up and he runs the same play that he ran during the 2016 election and asks a foreign country for help.
I mean, this is a thing we`ve seen time and time again. I know a lot of people think this moment is very different. A lot of people thought that the Michael Cohen investigation was very different. They thought the end of the Mueller investigation was very different.
You know, in this instance, Trump has taken sort of the greatest hits of the first half of the Mueller report on collusion and then the second half on obstruction and smacked them together. He`s got -- trying to collude with a foreign power to investigate his rivals, you know, and the Democrats still seem to be struggling.
So, you know, I guess, you know, we`re maybe still in the same place we were two and a half years ago.
WILLIAMS: And Maya, you`re shaking your head. Here you are after a life spent in the law, and it really comes down to whatever story line we`re fed.
WILEY: So what`s astounding to me, Brian, is if Congress does not acquit its constitutional obligation, the founding fathers are rolling over in their grave. Because this is not about polling, it`s about principle.
The President of the United States is -- this is very different, because the President of the United States has publicly admitted to a crime. The level of proof that you need and evidence that you need for impeachment is less than what we have.
Nancy Pelosi`s absolutely right to take the appropriate steps for a process, because the process should be what is due, that`s why we call it due process.
But that process can go very quickly in this case and must, because the reality right now is that the opinion of the American public has to be shaped by the facts, and the facts only come out through a constitutional process that the Democrats unfortunately have to lead. It should be nonpartisan. This is not about party, this is about the constitution. This is about national security.
And I think that as this moves forward, we`re already seeing it in the polls, there`s one poll that -- there`s one study that actually shows that the support for impeachment is actually underrepresented in the polls because there are some folks who are saying I think he should be impeached, but I`m not in favor of it because I`m concerned about what it does for the country.
WILEY: When an American president stands up and says there will be a civil war if I`m impeached, that`s a threat. That`s a threat. And Congress needs to step up to that threat and do exactly what Barbara McQuade did and call it what it is.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, last word.
COSTA: The biggest issue for Congress is not just evaluating President Trump`s alleged abuse of power, it`s their whole oversight role is now being tested. The entire branch is being pushed by this executive, President Trump to the brink, stopping witnesses, documents.
So as they try to pursue answers here, they are now being challenged, and they may decide to move forward with impeachment not just because they`re unhappy with how the President handled foreign policy, but they can`t do their jobs when you talk to many of these House Democrats. They feel like this White House refuses to even comply with the oversight role of Congress.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, Jill Colvin, Maya Wiley, Michael Schmidt, thank you all so much for coming on with us on this Thursday night.
And coming up, we talk to a veteran diplomat who knows some of the major players who are now under scrutiny. We`ll ask him how far from normal this all is.
And later, Bernie Sanders with some new replacements parts on board remains in the hospital tonight, and the campaign trail awaits his return. All of it as "The 11th Hour" is just getting started on a Thursday night.
WILLIAMS: Here`s the guy on Capitol Hill today, the man of the hour, Kurt Volker, career diplomat, happens to be a John McCain ally, our former point man in Ukraine who resigned days ago, and that nicely freed him up to become a very interesting closed door witness today, and he did so for over nine hours.
Democrats wanted his story because it was the first inside account of all the actions that led to the whistleblower complaint and to recap what we learned through reporting, the U.S. government pushed Ukraine to look into the Bidens and the U.S. envoy warned Rudy Giuliani that Ukraine was feeding him bad info.
Then there`s "The Washington Post" report on another key figure in the complaint. According to them, "President Trump ordered the removal of our ambassador to Ukraine after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the matter. In Mr. Giuliani`s view, she had also been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter." And this is what the President had to say about our former ambassador earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, why did you recall the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine? Was she a problem? Why did you recall her?
TRUMP: I heard very bad things about her, and I don`t know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her, but I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Back with us tonight, we are so happy to have Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia. And ambassador, let me start with the start. The only reason we know any of this in addition to the fact the existence of the whistleblower complaint is that phone call in July. It seems to me about half the west-wing payroll was listening in on a dead key to that phone call, including our Secretary of State. How rare is that?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, MSNBC INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, in my experience, extremely rare. I worked for three years at the White House, prepped many phone calls with foreign leader, including the leaders of Russia. Never was a Secretary of State on the call, and also, always was the national security advisor on the call or in the Oval Office. We usually were in the Oval Office. In this case, Mr. Bolton was not. And in addition, the Vice President`s national security advisor, General Kellogg, was on the call, not the national security advisor. So that is extremely unusual.
WILLIAMS: And why do you think such a vast array of people were on -- listening in on a telephone call?
MCFAUL: Because of the content of the call. And we`re now learning -- it just dropped, Brian, while I was waiting to go on T.V. with you, so I was just scrolling through it. But we have a lot of information now that was just released about texts between Ambassador Volker, between our E.U. ambassador. Goodness knows why he is involved in any of this, by the way. And it is not just this phone call.
We now know that they were prepping the phone call, and the quid pro quo is clear as day in these texts. The quid pro quo is not only do you need to open an investigation, Mr. Zelensky, but you need to put it on the record that you are going to do this investigation. Oh, and you need to also put it on the record that you are going to expose what Ukraine did in interfering in the 2016 elections.
Extraordinary stuff that just dropped a few minutes ago, but it shows that it`s a much bigger story. It wasn`t just an off-the-cuff remark that the President, as he sometimes does, as you and I know, this was all calculated. And then the next day, we have a delegation there, Mr. Volker himself is in Ukraine to try to follow up on what the President said in that call.
WILLIAMS: To your point just then and there, our mutual friend Susan Glasser writes for "The New Yorker" says something along the lines of what you just said. "Reading tonight`s late-night info dump from the Ukraine affair, make no mistake. Rudy Giuliani was placed in charge of Ukraine policy, and diplomats desperate to get Trump to meet with the Ukraine president had to go through him. This is a shadow foreign policy, in text form."
Ambassador, indeed, what is the danger of having a guy like Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, who is flying around the world with permission, if not with portfolio?
MCFAUL: Well, it`s completely crazy, let`s be honest. He is the President`s personal lawyer. He does not do foreign policy, and it`s obvious that his only mission here is to get dirt on the Bidens and to put together this cockamamie story that the Ukrainians were involved in interference in 2016, not Vladimir Putin.
But it`s worse than that, Brian, because these diplomats, and they`re both political appointees, by the way. The E.U. ambassador, he is a Trump supporter. He`s not a professional diplomat. They`re not career diplomats.
Ambassador Volker, who I know well, was also a political appointee in this job. They are working with Giuliani. They are working this. They are part of what is going on here. And I think so far, let`s see what we learn, but in these texts today, the real hero is the Acting Ambassador Bill Taylor, another person who I know well in Ukraine who says in these texts, if we are going to do a quid pro quo, security assistance, military assistance for a political favor for the President, I`m not part of that, and he says I quit. That`s what everybody should have said when they heard about this crazy scheme.
WILLIAMS: Finally, your reaction to hearing the President of the United States ask China, our number one information and economic adversary certainly, ask China to investigate the Bidens.
MCFAUL: Well, as you were saying earlier, again, we don`t really need any more information. The President keeps doing things you`re not supposed to do, asking foreign governments to interfere in our elections. But it`s worse than that, Brian. He`s handing them leverage. He`s now saying this is more important to me than any trade deal. And if you do this favor for me, I`ll do you a favor on the other side.
It`s just a terrible way to conduct foreign policy. And he doesn`t have the national security interests of the United States of America first and foremost in his mind. The only thing he is thinking about is reelection and getting dirt on the Bidens.
WILLIAMS: At least you get to be on the campus of Stanford, and we`re here in New York. Ambassador Mike McFaul, thank you, as always for coming on the broadcast and explaining all of these.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, the President threw another log on the impeachment fire today, granted. But will his fellow Republicans find it at all alarming that he just today asked the Chinese to help out in investigating the Bidens? When we come back.
WILLIAMS: As Democrats move ahead with their impeachment inquiry, some lawmakers who are home on recess, remember, because they`ve worked so hard since getting back from their last recess, are facing questions from their constituents. As you might imagine, not everyone is thrilled with what they`ve been hearing from the President in recent days. So Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, who is up for reelection next year in a very interesting race, she went and held a town hall in her home state earlier today. Here is some of what we heard and saw.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is the line? When are you guys going to say enough? You still stand there silent and your silence is supporting him and not standing up.
SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: OK. So President Trump. I can say, yes, nay, whatever. President is going to say whatever the President is going to do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about whistleblower?
ERNST: And I`ve already said that too. Whistleblowers should be protected. I stand with Chuck Grassley on this. We have laws in place. Again, laws need to be enforced. I don`t care where it is, I don`t care who it is, when it is, corruption is corruption, and it should be combatted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it`s OK for our President to extort other countries?
ERNST: I -- you know, I -- OK, we`re going to move on to another question, but what I would say is we can`t determine that yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So you just saw what happened right there. And yet we also point out millions of Americans feel it`s the political and media types who are obsessed with impeachment while they care about health care and dairy prices, indeed. Health care went on to come up at the town hall.
Here to talk with us about all of it, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize Winning Columnist for The Washington Post, and Tim Alberta, we welcome him back to the broadcast as well, Chief Political Correspondent for POLITICO Magazine, he`s also the Author of "American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump". Gentlemen, good evening to you both.
And Eugene, that town hall, and I can`t wait to see what Susan Collins finds in Yarmouth and Biddeford Poll (ph) and Portland up and down the post. Will that build courage among returns Republicans right there?
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: In which direction? Will it build their courage to --
WILLIAMS: Are they going to be sick of trying to explain away this President?
ROBINSON: You know, they`re going to actually read their constitutions. Some of them are sick of it, and some of them are afraid to say that. I don`t know that many are going to step out, if the Republican dam breaks, I have a feeling it will be like a dam breaking. It will happen all at once, pretty much, I think but not yet and clearly not yet.
You know, when Congress comes back as the impeachment inquiry goes on, we will -- you know, we will see what effect these pressures have. But that`s the difference now. There is an impeachment inquiry in that wonderful first segment you had with that great reporter panel.
WILLIAMS: Just right in the way of tonight.
ROBINSON: They`re really good. But, you know, you ask, well, what`s different about this time? And what`s different about this time is that we are on the path to impeachment. And anybody who has talked to Nancy Pelosi in the last few days realizes there is something has clicked with her. Something is different with her. And it`s not just about politics this time.
WILLIAMS: Tim, your role here is to throw in a warning. You just wrote a piece about when impeachment runs up against a broken Congress. Cut to the chase and tell us what happens when that happens.
TIM ALBERTA, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO MAGAZINE: Well, look, you know, obviously, you can make an argument, Brian that Congress was broken long before Donald Trump came down his golden escalator, and it will be broken long after he sought of office. But obviously, you can also make the argument that for Congress to be fully executing its duties under the constitution under Article I, that impeachment is what they should be doing. It`s what they should be pursuing. And what you`re beginning to see, not as much with Republican lawmakers, but certainly with some of these moderate Democratic lawmakers, they are responding to their constituents.
People are always asking, you know, what will move people ultimately with Trump, and what is it that can compel a lawmaker of his own party certainly, but even a moderate Democratic lawmaker who ran in 2018 promising to pursue bipartisanship, not get caught up in impeachment and opposition to the incumbent President and his party, what can be done to move these people. And ultimately it`s nothing that happens in Washington. It`s no bill that passes or doesn`t pass in Congress. It`s no power play in the halls of Congress.
It`s their constituents rising up and demanding action. And that`s what you`ve begun to see over the last several weeks in a lot of these districts around the country, a lot of these states around the country. And if that clip from Iowa earlier today is any indication, that pressure is going to continue to ratchet up on Republican lawmakers in the weeks ahead.
WILLIAMS: Gene, you will concede that today was one of those what just happened days.
ROBINSON: About five times, Brian.
WILLIAMS: And on social media, there was no shortage of people saying that, right there, the thing he just said --
WILLIAMS: -- is an article of impeachment.
WILLIAMS: And yet we didn`t see that response from the Democrats.
ROBINSON: Now that is interesting. Because I would have thought there would have been a quicker, more definitive, more vocal, more public response from the Democratic leadership to the fact that millions of people witnessed what many people believe is impeachable act in realtime. I mean --
ROBINSON: -- we saw it taking place.
WILLIAMS: This is no ordinary time to coin a phrase.
ROBINSON: This is certainly no ordinary time. Now granted it was difficult to keep up today --
ROBINSON: -- with Volker on the Hill and all this coming out here and that coming out there. The newspapers all, you know, hourly scoops basically. But that should have been front and center. It was the lead of this broadcast and deservedly so. It was extraordinary.
Asking China, China --
ROBINSON: -- of all countries to investigate an American, a former vice president, it`s just unimaginable.
WILLIAMS: I want to be there when somebody bursts into Xi Jinping`s office and says boss, I`ve got one for you. Eugene and Tim have both agreed to stay with us.
And coming up, the word that perfectly describes what President Trump is trying to do these days. We`ll get to that when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The conversation that I had was absolutely perfect.
The call was perfect. That perfect conversation I had with the Ukrainian President.
The conversation was perfect. It couldn`t have been nicer. A perfect conversation. He took that conversation, which was perfect. It was perfect. The call was perfect.
Think of it. You have a perfect, I mean perfect conversation. It was perfect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In his new column entitled, "Trump apparently thinks he`s a master at gaslighting," our guest Eugene Robinson writes among other things this. "Trump understands that repetition is one of the keys to making people believe something that is patently untrue. That`s what he does with the derisive nicknames he gives to those he sees standing in his way. Trump is trying to do the same thing now in a desperate and probably hopeless attempt to avoid going down in history as just the third U.S. president to be impeached. When the phone call is brought up, he doesn`t want you to think of abuse of power or extortion or high crimes and misdemeanors. He wants you to think perfect."
Back for round two are Eugene Robinson and Tim Alberta. Eugene, thank you for writing about this topic. I`ve been thinking for a week. Perfect phone call to me? It`s Arby`s. We made too many roast beef sandwiches.
ROBINSON: All right.
WILLIAMS: Get down here and help us. That`s a perfect one. But no one describes phone calls --
WILLIAMS: -- as perfect.
ROBINSON: No. No one does. And thus it`s memorable when somebody does, and when somebody does it --
WILLIAMS: He branded it.
ROBINSON: Over and over and over again. He`s branding it. This is something he`s good at, right? I mean, you know, look at all the buildings that other people built and owned around New York that he had his name on. He`s good at branding.
WILLIAMS: He owns Joe Biden`s story in Ukraine now.
ROBINSON: Exactly, exactly. And, you know, it`s Donald Trump`s one great talent. It`s amazing that people don`t recognize that and realize that if you want to get your message out, you have to get out there. You have to play on that terrain, and you have to define the playing field or he will. And he will define it to his advantage.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Tim, you`re well sourced within the Pence team of Vice President and the people around him. It is very clear they can read the papers. It is very clear they have some Ukraine involvement. It is very clear they would like to be anywhere but where they are on this right now. What else can you add to the conversation?
ALBERTA: Yes. This is a continuation of a long-standing pattern with the Vice President where his team will sort of, you know, get wide eyed and say well, look, you know. He knew just enough of what was going on to be sort of shocked and as surprised by all of you guys, but he wasn`t in nearly deep enough to know the implications of this. And it`s certainly not something that he was in on or approved of.
Look, there is a -- there is sort of a well-worn routine for the Vice President and for his team now where they want plausible deniability. But everybody in the White House knows that the Vice President is as trusted, if not more trusted by this President than anybody else around him. Because if you haven`t noticed over the last two and a half years, while every other person around the President has wound up in the doghouse at one point or another, the Vice President never has. That`s because he keeps confidence. He never leaks. He never gets out of his lane. He never speaks out of school.
So Donald Trump implicitly trusts Mike Pence with just about everything he does and says. So the idea that we are asked time and again to believe that Mike Pence doesn`t have knowledge of something significant that is happening within the White House, it just doesn`t pass the smell test.
WILLIAMS: Two of the smartest writers who ever played a keyboard for a living. Eugene Robinson and Tim Alberta, gentlemen, you`ve made our broadcast better by coming on tonight. Thank you both so much.
And coming up, a late night tonight. We have an update from the Bernie Sanders campaign on his condition when we come back.
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SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Can you do me a favor? Where`s Ari? Get me a chair up here for a moment. I`m going to sit down here. It`s been a long day here.
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WILLIAMS: That was a very rare thing right there. Senator Bernie Sanders remains in the hospital tonight and off the campaign trail for now. He`s gotten two new stents in his chest to fix a clogged artery in his heart. The campaign isn`t saying much else. Sanders was admitted to a Las Vegas hospital after experiencing chest discomfort during a campaign event. Closed to the press but broadcast by his campaign in Nevada on Tuesday night. And it was right then as we showed you.
For him, he did something very unusual. He asked for a chair so he could sit down during the Q&A portion of the evening. As of course he is allowed to do. Today his wife Jane offered this update.
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JANE O`MEARA SANDERS, BERNIE SANDERS` WIFE: I want to reassure everybody, he`s doing wonderfully. We`re heading back to Burlington this weekend and take a few days to rest up, if we can convince him to stop talking about all the issues. I don`t think that will happen. But he will be on the 0:03:22.
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WILLIAMS: The Sanders family says he has every intention of being at the next Democratic debate 12 days from now. We`ve also learned tonight he is restarting a suspended $1.3 million ad buy in Iowa.
And just back up to our lead story tonight. We can`t say this too many times. This was the day Donald Trump, on camera, reached out to China to investigate the Bidens. So people are still reacting to the kind of day we`ve had. The people reacting include Michael Moore, who was a guest in this very studio. Not that many days ago.
"What? He`s still President. So, how many crimes does he have to commit before he`s impeached, tried, and convicted? I think the rule is he has to commit three felonies, two acts of treason, and have more than a dozen unpaid parking tickets. I think that last one is what`s holding things up." Michael Moore expressing what so many people have today on social media after the news we got earlier today right there and on camera.
Coming up for us, we know that Donald Trump -- what Donald Trump wants out of foreign leaders. But what does he really want for himself? We got another one of those hints along those lines today.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, we`re going to take you to the former wilds of Florida, Northwest of Orlando, though they still get a little wild down there. A place called the villages. Envisioned as a community for seniors, it has grown and expanded into a teeming social ecosystem all its own. It`s home to over 50,000 people because so many of them vote, it`s usually a mandatory stop for the candidates.
It`s a bit more rare to see a President there. And it`s really rare to hear a President say he doesn`t need the job.
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TRUMP: I should be retiring with you. I should be in this audience clapping. But I didn`t trust anybody to be standing here.
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WILLIAMS: It`s always been really important to this guy who came from reality TV and politics to tell his audiences he could be doing a lot better if he wasn`t President.
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TRUMP: I didn`t need to do this, believe me, I had such a nice life, it was good, the company was good, the family`s nice, everyone`s good. I love everybody.
I mean, what do I need this for, right? What the hell, I could be home relaxing.
I have places that are the best in the world, OK? I could be doing other things.
I could be back working in New York and doing my deals.
I could be doing "The Apprentice" right now. I could be. I could be doing "The Apprentice" now.
And I don`t need this. Look, I could have done something a lot easier, I could have enjoyed myself.
I love it. I love it. I love it. But I didn`t have to do it. This is like work.
My great wife, the first lady, Melania. She said, you know, you`ve always been a hard worker, you love to work. But your life was a lot easier in the old days.
She loved her other life, you know. Her other life was a good life, she doesn`t need this. Most people think I`m crazy to have done this and I think they`re right. I could be having a very nice life right now, I don`t have to be with you people ranting and raving, right?
You`re welcome. You`re welcome.
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WILLIAMS: Our incumbent President taking us to the end of our broadcast for tonight. Thank you so much for being here with us. Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END