LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Neal Katyal gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Thank you very much for joining us again tonight, Neal. Really appreciate it.
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And that is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight the President reminds the nation of his great and unmatched wisdom and that`s a quote. The problem for him is his words and actions continue to draw sharp scrutiny. And tonight that includes global criticism.
All the while, the Democrats hear critical Ukraine testimony tomorrow, and they`re working on hearing privately from whistleblower number one and now whistleblower number two.
Plus, after one phone call, the President upends U.S. foreign policy and military policy in a violent part of the world, leaving behind those who have fought and died alongside our troops. And tonight the damage includes criticism from Republicans previously willing to say or do anything for Trump. All of this as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Here we are day 991 of the Trump administration. And the President`s telephone conversations with foreign leaders appear to be what is presently engulfing his White House. Trump`s now famous phone call with the Ukrainian President awakened the Democratic Party, launched a rapidly expanding impeachment inquiry.
And a conversation with Turkey`s President has led to a decision on Syria that members of this President`s own party say threatens our national security.
On the impeachment front today, the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed documents from the Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, and the Acting OMB Director, Russell Vought, related to the withholding of military aid to Ukraine. That brings the number of Democrats` subpoenas to five, including the Secretary of State, President`s lawyer, Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney.
The attorney for the first whistleblower has now confirmed that at least one more whistleblower has indeed come forward, and this one has firsthand knowledge of potential misconduct.
"Washington Post" reporting House Democrats negotiating for testimony from the first whistleblower are considering extraordinary measures to conceal that person`s identity because the law calls for protecting their anonymity. Options include having that person, "testify from a remote location and obscuring the individual`s appearance and voice." One Democrat on the Intel Committee explained the concerns here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI, (D) ILLINOIS: The President is basically threatening the whistleblower. The fact of the matter is that we can`t guarantee a 100 percent assurance or safety for this whistleblower in the current situation using normal methods or measures.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: This week House Democrats will hear from two top diplomats involved in this Ukraine scandal. A Trump donor who is U.S. ambassador to the European Union, he will testify tomorrow. His text messages revealed his involvement in negotiations with the Ukrainians. And the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was ousted from her post is scheduled to answer lawmakers questions on Friday.
As Congress investigates the whistleblower allegations, NBC News is reporting that Trump`s new national security adviser, Robert O`Brien is working to reduce the national security staff from about 300 to about 200, which brings us to the other controversy stemming from a Trump phone call. His conversation most recently with the President of turkey, Erdogan, and ultimately Trump`s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Northern Syria hours after that phone call. The move clears the way for a Turkish military operation in the region. It also leaves our closest regional ally in our fight against Isis, the Kurds, who have fought side by side with us for years, open to attacks from Turkey, which views the Kurdish forces to be a terrorist insurgency, every one of them.
NBC News reports Trump`s decision blind sided Kurdish forces as well as senior officials at the Pentagon, as you might imagine, and the State Department, and the White House, lawmakers on the Hill and our own European allies.
This morning Trump sent out a warning saying, "if Turkey does anything that I," and we`re quoting here, "in my great and unmatched wisdom consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey, I`ve done before." No one knows what that last item is a reference to.
And yes, Congress quickly piped up, and some members of Congress are genuinely outraged, but the difference this time, to be candid is that some of them have an r after their names.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Isis is not defeated my friend. The biggest lie being told by the administration that Isis is defeated, the caliphate destroyed. But there`s thousands of fighters over there, and no, the caliphate would not have been destroyed without the Kurds. This impulsive decision by the President has undone all the gains we`ve made, thrown the region into further chaos. Iran is licking their chops. And if I`m an Isis fighter, I`ve got a second lease on life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And how about this from Mitch McConnell. We quote in part, "A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that Isis and other terrorist groups regroup.
Late today Trump met with senior military leaders at the White House for a briefing in the Cabinet room. Shortly before that, he defended his decision to withdraw troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ve been in Syria for many years. You know, Syria was supposed to be a short term hit. Just a very short-term hit and we were supposed to be in and out. That was many, many years ago.
Iraq, you know all about that. Turkey, Syria, let them take care of it. Let them take care of it. We want to bring our troops back home. It`s been many, many years. It`s been decades in many cases. We want to bring our troops back home. And I got elected on that.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Did you consult with the Joint Chiefs of Staff when you made your decision?
TRUMP: Sure. I consulted with everybody.
The two countries that are most disappointed that we`re leaving are China and Russia, because they love that we`re bogged down and just watching and spending tremendous amounts of money instead of continuing to build our forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: But then just tonight we remembered back in 2018 the President`s own words about those loyal Kurds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We do get along great with the Kurds. We`re trying to help them a lot. Don`t forget, that`s their territory. We have to help them. I want to help them.
Go ahead. What`s next?
They fought with us. They fought with us. They died with us. They died. We lost tens of thousands of Kurds died fighting Isis. They died for us and with us, and for themselves. They died for themselves. But they`re great people, and we have not forgotten -- we don`t forget. I don`t forget. What happens some day later, but I can tell you that I don`t forget. These are great people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Here for our lead-off discussion on a Monday night, Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize-winning Investigative Reporter for "The Washington Post." She also happens to be co-author of the forthcoming book, "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump`s testing of America." Also with General Barry McCaffrey, Retired U.S. Army Four-star, heavily decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, importantly, a U.S. ground commander in the Gulf War. And he has been to this region many, many times before in uniform. And Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate editor for POLITICO. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Carol, for these two phone calls to have been made, it almost means by definition the President would have cast off the rigor and the expertise and the advice of the people on the payroll who are supposed to be around him to counsel him in these areas. Looking at what this has touched off, remembering this is the issue Mattis resigned over, can you find anyone in the administration willing to talk this up with a straight face?
CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER: Nobody on the record, Brian. And I`m so glad you brought up that this is not the first time that expert advice has been rejected by this President on this exact issue. The withdrawal or the threat of withdrawal of U.S. forces in December of 2018, which the President made precipitously, basically broke General Mattis` heart, the Defense Secretary, and was the reason he resigned his post.
And it was so outrageous to many of the people who had worked alongside the allies, the Kurds, or the SDF, who had, as the President has pointed out, lost tens of thousands of people to I think less than a dozen U.S. troops who were hurt and killed in the same amount of time. Those people who are working with those allies felt they had basically left a friend on the field, and there was great worry in December of 2018 that they were going to leave the Kurds behind to be slaughtered by the Turks in the north.
Here we are again, not many months later, Brian, and the President is suggesting that we do exactly what forced one of the most serious people in his administration to tuck tail and leave.
WILLIAMS: Anita, I want to read a portion of what our friend Peter Baker wrote for "The New York Times," "A survey of 10 former White House chiefs of staff under President Ronald Reagan, Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama found that none recalled any circumstances under which the White House had solicited or accepted political help from other countries. They all said they would have considered the very idea out of bounds." This gets us to phone call number one and what happened with the President of Ukraine.
And Anita, if you had power of polygraph with the people you talked to in the West Wing, same question. Would anyone talk it up with a straight face?
ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I haven`t found that many people. I mean, we are seeing Republicans not criticize the President over the Ukraine call, but privately, they are calling it -- people that are close to him, people that support President Trump that advise him on the outside are calling it a mistake. They`re calling it naive, they`re, you know, and they`re saying that he shouldn`t have done that. But what we`re seeing is that the President has said repeatedly now that he doesn`t see anything wrong with it. He is reiterating that he would ask for help again. He has asked for help again when he asked China for help.
And so, you know, they`re sort of saying why is he taking this strategy? Why is he not sort of acknowledging what he has done or not? So, you know, Republicans are saying it`s not an impeachable offense or anything, but they won`t publicly criticize him. And we`ve talked about this before so many times that, you know, they have their political futures at stake. They don`t want to go there. So it`s really extraordinary today that we saw so many Republicans break with him over Syria. It was startling.
This is the time that the President needs those people in the Republicans in the Senate so much, and it`s a new day here today, and he`s woken up, and he has angered them. So, it`s -- looking at both of these things together, it`s just very startling why this would happen today.
WILLIAMS: General, our viewers would be forgiven for not following the plight of the Kurds day and week by week, but what do folks watching tonight, what should they know about the Kurds and the Turks` relationship to them and what the United States, what our President has now done?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, it was an extraordinary decision. Minus the input essentially, the informed input of armed forces of the people in the region, it caught them all by surprise. The Kurds have done 95 percent of the fighting to destroy Isis, which is essentially a Sunni Arab movement. It wasn`t their battle. They did it for us, primarily because they thought our presence on the ground would keep the Turks from finishing them off. But to pull the rug out from them at this point is widely viewed throughout the Middle East and our other allies in the world as shameful behavior.
And by the way, the Kurds are sitting on 10,000 or more Isis fighters, maybe 70,000 family members. They`re saying hey, these aren`t our prisoners. We`re going let them go. Finally, in the background, Erdogan, the Turks had tolerated if not even supported Isis for years. It looks as if on the face of it that Mr. Trump`s decision directly hampers, harms U.S. national security and favors that of his friend Erdogan.
WILLIAMS: General, I want to play for you something from Breitbart Radio. This is December 2015. This is Steve Bannon interviewing Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: If you`re elected President in prosecuting the war, what do you do with Turkey? Is Turkey a reliable partner? I know they`re a NATO ally. Are they a reliable partner?
TRUMP: Well, I also have -- I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul. And it`s a tremendously successful job. It`s called Trump Towers, two towers, instead of one. Not the usual one, it`s two.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So General, what does that tell you?
MCCAFFREY: It`s appalling on the face of it. It seems as if the President has made a decision directly harming U.S. national security, and he did it two times now in one-on-one conversations with Erdogan who he thinks is important to his private business interests.
By the way, his language throughout this, the tweets, in my infinite wisdom, this is bizarre, unsettling, strange language out of a President of the United States. So, I think we`re in trouble. It looks to me as if essentially we`ve got a rogue presidency cutting down the size of the National Security Council staff to eliminate leakers from saying what`s going on in the Oval Office and in the national security conferences. Brian, it looks to me as if we`re really in trouble.
And it`s one of a piece. You know, the President has gone systematically after NATO, South Korea, Japan, our allies don`t trust us. He`s told them essentially either pay for our forces or we`ll leave you in the lurch. They`re looking for new options, because they cannot trust nor predict what the President of the United States is going to do.
WILLIAMS: Well, Carol Leonnig, that assessment does tend to take your breath away, and it -- one of the points the general made was about people on the inside stepping up to tell the truth, which brings us to the whistleblowers, specifically, number two. Do we know anything except that he or she is prepared to share more firsthand information than perhaps whistleblower number one?
LEONNIG: You know, it`s interesting, Brian, from my perspective, whistleblower number two coming forward seems to be an effort to not let whistleblower number one stand alone, and also to help buttress and defend against the claims that the President and his allies have made that all of this stuff is just hearsay.
The problem with the hearsay argument is everything that the whistleblower has said in his complaint seems to be buttressed by the President`s own comments, the White House`s confirmation, and the transcript, rough transcript that the White House released. Almost every single thing that whistleblower has said has been proven true.
Still, whistleblower number two, who appears to be an intelligence official with much more firsthand knowledge has come forward ostensibly to help say no, this is not one lone person. There are people who saw this with their own eyes, heard it with their own eyes perhaps -- with their own ears, forgive me.
And what`s interesting to me, Brian, about all of this, and part of it is all the reporting we`ve been doing about other calls that went off the rails is that this group of people on the national security council, people who are often active duty military, intelligence operators, they`re so much more used to keeping their mouth shut in a position of trust. What happens in the White House stays there. But now they`ve taken a new route. They`re so frightened, they`re coming forward. They`re speaking. They`re saying what`s happened, because they feel a larger duty from what I can tell. And the larger duty is the obligation to tell the American public what`s happening.
WILLIAMS: Anita, that takes your breath away too. And with you, we want the take a turn to more of a political realm, and that`s the reporting of your colleagues at POLITICO that Mike Pence plans to start a series of anti-impeachment town halls going after the Democrats in these various districts this Wednesday in Iowa. Can you share the thinking behind these events?
KUMAR: Well, we`ve been -- actually, it`s very interesting that he`s doing that, because we`ve been hearing now for a couple of weeks that the White House doesn`t really have a strategy to deal with impeachment. And that`s partly because sort of nobody really knows who`s in charge. Is it Mick Mulvaney, the Acting Chief of Staff? Is it Jared Kushner, the President`s son-in-law, and there hasn`t really been a strategy. But what we have seen is that the Trump campaign, and here`s where the Vice President comes in, has kind of come up with a plan. They`ve been quite aggressive now with T.V. ads, with the Vice President going around the country into districts where Democrats, vulnerable Democrats are for impeachment. They are taking that leading role right now.
They are pushing back in the very political way that the Trump campaign knows how to do. Remember, the President is going to be out twice this week for two different rallies. So we`re going to hear him talking about that. So they are -- and they had a couple of conference calls with reporters today too. So, so far really how the President is approaching impeachment has all been through the political apparatus. They aren`t so prepared for it at the White House, but on the political front, they are -- they are pushing back much, you know, in a pr way, in a very public relations type of way.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to our big three for rising to the challenge. This was sobering stuff to start a new week with tonight. Carol Leonnig, General Marry McCaffrey, Anita Kumar, thank you for coming on with us.
And coming up here tonight, as the President battles with Congress over this whistleblower complaint, and now another one, he is dealt a legal loss that could result in his tax returns being seen. A reporter who has been closely following this case joins us next.
And later, how Mitt Romney may be the new face of the resistance within the Republican Party. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Monday night.
WILLIAMS: We mentioned this earlier. Important new developments in the effort to see Donald Trump`s tax returns. A federal judge ruled today the President cannot withhold his financial record from prosecutors in Manhattan. The D.A. subpoenaed Trump`s tax returns last month. We reported on it here as part of its investigation into hush money payments made to cover up alleged affairs. They`re interested in possible violations of state law this time around.
Trump`s lawyers tried to argue the President can`t be criminally investigated, period. A federal judge today rejected that claim flat-out, "This court cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of immunity from judicial process." He went on to say, "This court finds aspects of such a doctrine repugnant to the nation`s governmental structure and constitutional values."
The President, in his way, responded on Twitter. "The Radical Left Democrats," capital letters all, "have failed on all front, so now they are pushing local New York City and state Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any president before. Not even close."
Trump`s lawyers appealed the ruling in the second court of appeals, Second Circuit Court of Appeals, quickly ordered a stay. That stops the clock. It means his tax returns are going to remain private for now. Oral arguments are set on that appeal later this month.
As a reminder, the President`s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, spending a three-year sentence in federal prison for his role in those payments in violation of campaign finance rules, in the case where the President was named an unindicted co-conspirator.
For more, we welcome to this broadcast, Andrea Bernstein, Senior Editor for Politics and Policy at New York Public Radio WNYC where, importantly, she also is the host of the podcast Trump, Inc. Welcome to you.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, WNYC SR. EDITOR FOR POLITICS AND POLICY: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: I know you were surprised by the outcome in court today. Why is that?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I won`t say I was surprised by the outcome, but the ferocity and strength of the opinion was something else. The judge said he basically rejected out of hand the Trump attorneys` arguments, and said that -- you remember during the Mueller investigation, Mueller said, OK, it`s Justice Department policy, you cannot indict a sitting president. Well, what the judge said is that Trump`s lawyers are arguing you cannot only not indict a sitting president, but you can`t investigate a sitting president, nor can you investigate anyone around that president.
WILLIAMS: That would put a President above the law.
BERNSTEIN: Right. Not only the President, but anybody that he has worked with. So the judge pointed out that the prosecutors are looking into the President, his business, unnamed third parties, and that if the investigation is impeded, as it has been by this delay in turning over the tax returns, then those people as well don`t face justice. It`s sort of like the -- if you take the argument to the logical conclusion, the judge is saying, yes, if the President went out on Fifth Avenue and shot somebody, no local D.A. could look at anybody who might have conspired with the President under this line of thinking.
So it was a very bald decision, a 75-page decision in which he went back and he started to cite the founders, saying the founders were warning against this, and they set up our system so that it wouldn`t be subject to monarchy, and to having people outside the rule of law. So it was unambiguous. When I was in court last week, it wasn`t necessarily clear from the judge`s questioning of the lawyers what direction he was going to go. But he made it clear today.
WILLIAMS: The federal judge liked keeping their cards close to the vest. For people who may assume that if the returns, if this prevails, if the returns get seen by the New York D.A., ergo the publicity gets to see those returns, is there any guarantee in there or with they remain under seal for public?
BERNSTEIN: They would remain under seal, because this is part of a grand jury criminal investigation in New York. And the question is we know from Michael Cohen`s testimony and documents that he released that the Trump organization said it was paying him a retainer. That retainer some $420,000 was actually to reimburse him for the hush money payments. So, under New York law, that could be a felony. And that`s what the D.A. is looking into.
However, it`s a grand jury investigation. So it`s all covered by secrecy. And this is one of the things that was pointed out in the decision today is not made public. In fact, people are prevented by law from revealing that information unless and until it becomes part of a criminal indictment and/or a court proceeding. So that`s the only way that the public would know. Obviously, what is significant is no one outside the Trump organization, the President and his accountants have seen those tax returns. So this would be a case where some independent outside authority could examine them.
And there are all sorts of questions that have been raised over the years about the President`s tax returns and what they tell us about his business. So to have a prosecutor examine to see whether they`re on the up and up would certainly be an interesting first step, although we in the press not have them, which is obviously something that we dearly want so that we can compare them to other statements and disclosures that he has made.
WILLIAMS: Two new members of the audience who may not know already, this is the authority. She is here with us tonight. Andrea Bernstein is the host of Trump, Inc., where all your favorite podcasts are procured, our thanks for coming by --
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: -- and explaining all of this here tonight.
Coming up, the President faces new resistance, this time from within his own party. Two veteran conservative strategists, both of whom have since broken ranks with their former political party join us next to talk about it.
WILLIAMS: Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney is learning what can happen when a Republican speaks out against this President. After Romney called Trump`s suggestion that China investigate Joe Biden wrong and appalling, that`s what he called it, wrong and appalling, the President responded saying, "Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous a double q, who has been fighting me from the beginning except when he begged me for my endorsement for his Senate run, I gave to it him. When he begged me to be secretary of state, I didn`t give it to him. He is so bad for Republicans".
Another Republican senator is criticizing Trump`s China request. The Bangor Daily News reports Maine Senator Susan Collins as saying, "The President made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent. It`s completely inappropriate." And remember, dear viewers, for Susan Collins, that`s scathing.
Then there is most of the Republican Party still defending the President. And on "Meet the Press" yesterday morning, Chuck Todd got into it with Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Chuck, I just want the truth. The American people want the truth.
CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST: So do you not trust the FBI? You don`t trust the CIA?
JOHNSON: No, no, I don`t.
TODD: I`m just very confused here.
JOHNSON: Absolutely not.
JOHNSON: After James Comey --
TODD: You believe the FBI and the CIA --
JOHNSON: John Brennan -- no, I don`t trust any of these guys in the Obama administration. I don`t trust any of them.
TODD: You don`t trust them now? Do you trust them now?
JOHNSON: No, I didn`t trust them back then. Something pretty fishy happened during the 2016 campaign and in the transition --
JOHNSON: -- the early part of the Trump presidency, and we still don`t know. Robert Mueller --
TODD: We do know the answer.
TODD: You`re making a choice not to believe the investigations that have taken place, multiple.
JOHNSON: No, I`m trying to get to the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Here with us, two men on the Masthead at The Bulwark, Charlie Sykes, founder and editor-at-large. He`s also the author of "How the Right Lost Its Mind." And Bulwark editor-at-large, Bill Kristol, also a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations. Gentlemen, welcome to you both.
Charlie Sykes, the minute I heard that interview, I thought of you and the sturdy traditional kind of Republican you guys in Wisconsin have been producing for decades and generations. And sadly, the question to you tonight is, does Senator Johnson deserve to represent the people of Wisconsin? And should the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the U.S. Senate feel the way he does about our FBI and CIA?
CHARLIE SYKES, FOUNDER & EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE BULWARK: Well, I`ve known Ron Johnson for many years, and we have been friends. And that was a deeply embarrassing performance by the Senator. And really an example of Trump derangement syndrome, the real Trump derangement syndrome, when you have somebody from a state like Wisconsin who is channeling the former Senator from the state of Wisconsin Joe McCarthy and spinning out these various conspiracy theories. So it was an indication of what happens if you go all in in defending someone like Donald Trump.
And I would remind people that it was, you know, about 70 years ago that Margaret Chase Smith of Maine took to the floor of the United States Senate for her declaration of conscience talking about a former Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy. And she denounced the fear, ignorance, bigotry and smears of the McCarthy era. And you do wonder when other senators are going to step up and, you know, form a critical mass to be able to say that kind of thing. Because we know how history remembers Margaret Chase Smith. What is history`s verdict about the Joe McCarthy toadies defenders and the Republicans who remain silent.
WILLIAMS: Bill, over to you on this front. Sooner or later I guess we were due for this President to do something that would make some prominent Republicans in, let`s say, the Senate to break with him. On the Kurds, many of them have thus far. What are you seeing?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE BULWARK: I think you said do something. I think that`s really important, Brian. You know, the President said all these things, and a lot of Republican elected officials were able to reassure themselves. He is sort of sitting in the Oval Office giving ridiculous orders saying ridiculous things, tweeting foolish and offensive things even, but those orders aren`t being carried out that often. The tweets don`t have much effect in reality. And so we just kind of ignore it and go on.
But now we`re seeing that the President`s policies are being effectuated by the Attorney General, by the Secretary of State. Rudy Giuliani Is traveling around, you know, trying to make things -- I mean, Ukraine, it`s not that he said -- I mean, the transcript of the conversation is bad enough, but what`s more interesting and more important I think is that he tried to do. He withheld the aid. He pressured them to actually find dirt on Joe Biden. He`s got people traveling around. The Attorney General is going around the world, trying to get evidence against our own intelligence agencies.
So I think the movement from speech to deeds, you know, the fact that he`s got the administration willing people, unfortunately the administration and huge Cabinet agency, state and justice doing his bidding has got people much more alarmed. I`m struck by talking to people about that. And the other thing I would say is the Senate is not the House. Two-thirds of the senator aren`t on the ballot this year. A lot of them -- some of them are retiring. There are some people who have been there a long time. I think at some point they might face up to their institutional responsibilities here and really think hard about whether they are comfortable having this man in the Oval Office. I mean, that`s what it comes down here.
In the past, I`ve been disappointed that they haven`t criticized Trump, or they`ve got along with all the Trump`s appointments and all this policies. But that`s one thing, you know. Choosing not to stick your head up, choosing to vote for policies or whatever, they might have approved of those policies. If Trump gets impeached, they will have an up or down vote in the Senate. Is this acceptable what the President has done. Not just what he said, but what he has done, his use of the executive branch to further his private political interests at the expense of our national interests.
And incidentally, is it safe to have the kind of reckless foreign policy we`ve seen in the last 24 hours with respect to Syria. So I think the chances of the Republican -- we say this before, but I actually do think this time Republicans, especially in the Senate really are looking at this differently than they have over the last couple of years.
WILLIAMS: All right, Bill. You`ve given us a lot to think about. We will do so over a break. Both gentlemen are staying with us. When we come back, we`ll look at the air war the President is launching already.
WILLIAMS: If you watch television over the weekend, you have seen the many campaign ads the President currently has on the air. One of them goes after Joe Biden. Another tries to highlight change the President is said to be bringing about in Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden promised Ukraine a billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son`s company.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the prosecutor is not fired, you`re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It isn`t pretty. The swamp hates it. But Mr. Nice guy won`t cut it. It takes a tough guy to change Washington. It takes Donald Trump.
WILLIAMS: We should mention there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe Biden or his son, but right here is where we should also mention that`s us saying that. Biden chose not to get out ahead of his own story on this, and so the President is filling the void.
Still with us, Charlie Sykes, Bill Kristol. Hey, Bill, do you concur with that, that the President has taken over the telling of Joe Biden`s story for now?
KRISTOL: Yes, he`s trying to. I don`t know how effective these ads will be. I just don`t -- well, I don`t know. I`m sort of dubious that this will affect the Democratic race, which has its own dynamics. And I think the fact that Trump is willing to talk, has got everyone focused on the Biden story, that has worked in the past in some respects, this kind of gaslighting and, you know, he gets attacked and he attacks Mueller and everyone gets dragged down enough that Trump doesn`t get in trouble. But I don`t know that it works in this case.
He, as President of the United States made that call from the Oval Office, as President of the United States has ordered the Attorney General to go around the world. As President of the United States, has ordered Mike Pompeo to fire the ambassador to Ukraine, who we`ll be hearing from I think at the end of this week, right? I mean, that`s where I think the disproportion comes out. You can say a lot of things, but what he has done as President now is really in question, I think.
WILLIAMS: Charlie Sykes, if I gave you a national map and a couple of magic markers, could you formulate a mathematical case where this President wins using the base, an electoral victory as of today right now?
SYKES: Yes. If you gave me a map, a magic marker, and a billion dollars to be able to run ads like that for the next year and a half, you can do it, you know. And, you know, Bill is absolutely right. That the merits of this case are very, very clear. The President is lying, but he can set the narrative. And I think this is something the Democrats are going to have to come to grips with is that Donald Trump knows that he cannot be reelected. What he needs to do is have the Democrats become so toxic that they will lose this race. It is going to be an incredibly negative race.
And I have to also say I don`t think that Joe Biden has stepped up forcefully enough, and as a result, you know, one of Donald Trump`s goals was to take out the most electable Democrat, and he appears to be poised to do that. So at some point, you know, Joe Biden either needs to push back more forcefully, more dramatically, or he is going to feed the narrative that he is not up for going one-on-one with Donald Trump.
WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, we can`t thank you enough. We`ll always have you back, both of you. To Charlie Sykes, to Bill Kristol, our thanks for joining us tonight.
Coming up for us, there is a new book out that says the U.S. has lost the battle against disinformation. When we come back, what we should be looking for every day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK STENGEL, FMR. UNDER SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY & PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Every minute there are attacks and misstatements about America and American foreign policy that cannot be left to stand. Social media is a powerful medium for truth, but it`s also a powerful medium for falsehood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was back in 2013 when our next guest was a State Department nominee. Russia, remember, hadn`t yet interfered in our 2016 election. The Trump campaign hadn`t yet branded or sold the notion of fake news. But our guest tonight Rick Stengel was already well aware that there was a war on with an enemy that we couldn`t often see but could hear. And as he puts it, looking back, "The real problem was that we were in the middle of a global information war that was going on every minute of the day all around the world and we were losing it".
With us tonight, the aforementioned Rick Stengel, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, also happens to be the former Managing Editor of Time magazine. His newest book is, "Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It." Welcome. Great to see you --
STENGEL: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: -- as always.
STENGEL: Thanks for playing that video.
WILLIAMS: W found that young man on tape. We`re old enough to remember those earrings. First of all, I have to get you on to today`s news. What does the President`s decision today mean for the power behind that American handshake that is a bulwark of diplomacy?
STENGEL: Well, it`s a gigantic victory for Vladimir Putin who goes around the world saying that you can`t trust the Americans. They are not honest. They talk about transparency and human rights and then the betrayal. That`s exactly what we did to the Kurds. And even Donald Trump had said that before that we -- that they died for us. So it`s not good for American public diplomacy. It`s not good for the American brand and will take us a long time to recover.
WILLIAMS: I have this theory that every day after the invention of this device, we`ve lost our ability at consensus because this device and the conversation on it means that everyone pipes up and we don`t reach consensus on much anymore. 2013 there you are at that hearing. Looking back on what has happened since, did you do as much as you possibly could? Did you warn everyone you possibly could of what you knew already was underway and rolling our way?
STENGEL: Well, Brian, one of the things I found going into the government and having been a journalist for all these years like we both have been was the realization that government is actually the worst messenger for the message it wants to get out there. Why? In part, because they don`t really know how to create content and also because they are the enemy of all the people that were trying to tweet against, whether it`s ISIS or the Russians or the Turks or who knows what. So I don`t feel that government is the answer or government messaging is the answer. I think, you know, the answer lies elsewhere.
WILLIAMS: How are we ever going to gain on what has happened to us? What is -- as you point out out there every minute of every day?
STENGEL: You know, I`m not as pessimistic about things as you were talking about the phones. In fact, I mean, that is just more democracy, right? Everyone --
WILLIAMS: Sometimes everyone is talking and no one is listening.
STENGEL: Well, and of course, the founders were not really against the kind of democracy -- for the kind of democracy that we have now. But I actually think that there are certain things that can be done. I talk about reforming the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which was long before even Facebook to give the platform companies more liability about they say not like you and I have liability about what we`re saying but because it is third party content. They need to have more responsibility about it. They need to take off content that is verifiably false.
WILLIAMS: When you go on this book tour that you are embarking on, when people come up and say to you, what is the misinformation and disinformation? I`m a consumer, how does it enter my life every day? What of what I`m seeing has been put out there because it`s wrong?
STENGEL: Yes, it`s a great question. Disinformation is deliberately false information that is trying to sway you to a point of view. Misinformation is something that`s just wrong. I mean, we commit misinformation all the time. The problem of dealing with people about it is we all have confirmation bias. That is we all seek out information that we agree with and reject information that we don`t. So if you think that, you know, there are flying saucers that are going to land here, you`ll find that information and you`ll believe it`s true and then the other cognitive bias that makes it hard is the kind of double down theory where people have a strongly held belief and you contradict it, it makes them believe it even more strongly.
WILLIAMS: For the folks who care about what they are seeing, perhaps what they are not seeing these days and the state of our democracy, we recommend this. The author, Rick Stengel, has been our guest here tonight. It is called, "Information Wars." Thank you.
STENGEL: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, a guy who had ample reason to take today off but he worked anyway perhaps because there has never been anyone else quite like this guy.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, can we get an amen for Jimmy Carter? Just days ago, he celebrated his 95th birthday and then just yesterday he took a nasty fall in his home. He was taken to the hospital where he received 14 stitches above his eye. Most former Presidents, truth be told, most of us would have called it a day and begged off of building houses the day after that, but not Jimmy Carter and we get a report tonight from NBC`s Harry Smith.
HARRY SMITH, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It`s not for nothing, Jimmy Carter is viewed by many as the best example of a former President. He`s worked tirelessly to end disease in Africa. He`s traveled the world promoting and defending democracy. And then, of course, there is habitat for humanity where he`s volunteered for decades, not just as a spokesperson but as a hammer and saw-swinging man of the people. So when Carter took a hard fall, no one would have blamed him for skipping his turn at building another house for the needy.
JIMMY CARTER, FOMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I took 14 stitches in my forehead, and my eye is black, as you noticed, but I had a number one priority and that was to come to Nashville to build houses.
SMITH: And he did indeed go back to work as he and Rosalynn have done now 36 times in 14 different countries, helping to build or renovate more than 4,000 homes. Among those who have held the highest office in the land, perhaps he among them truly is the public`s servant. Harry Smith, NBC News.
WILLIAMS: At least they let him use a nail gun.
That`s our broadcast for this Monday night as we start a new week. 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