BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, the White House goes to war over impeachment pushing back an eight-page letter. The experts say doesn`t hold up and relies on legal powers they don`t have. Bottom line, though, it says no cooperation.
This day started when a big name failed to show, one of Trump`s ambassadors central to this Ukraine investigation skips his congressional hearing. Now he has been subpoenaed. Democrats want to know what the President told him and when.
And in politics, the polls have moved on impeachment. And Bernie Sanders, recovering from a heart attack, admits it had forced some upcoming changes in his campaign. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Tuesday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 992 of this Trump administration. And it saw the President launch something of a new scorched earth offensive against the impeachment investigation. And House Democrats strike back with a new subpoena for a key witness.
Tonight the White House notified Speaker Pelosi and three House committee chairmen, took them eight pages to do it, that they have no intention of cooperating with the inquiry. The administration`s letter signed by White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, accuses the Democrats of seeking to "overturn the results of the 2016 election." It calls the investigation "constitutionally invalid and a violation of due process," and it argues that the President "cannot permit his administration to participate in this partisan inquiry under these circumstances."
The administration`s letter asks Speaker Pelosi to abandon the impeachment inquiry, but stopped short of demanding a vote by the full House. Not long ago, the speaker responded, writing, "The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the President`s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction."
The administration`s letter was sent hours after the White House abruptly pulled the string and stopped Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union from testifying to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Sondland had flown from Brussels to Washington to do it but was ordered not to appear shortly before his scheduled deposition this morning.
President Trump offered this explanation, "I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and a great American to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court."
That right there, kangaroo court, was clearly today`s talking point, and we know that because Trump`s House Republicans were so excited to say it out loud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT GAETZ, (R) FLORIDA: What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court.
REP. LEE ZELDIN, (R) NEW YORK OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: There has not been a vote to launch an impeachment inquiry because minority does not have any rights for subpoenas. Because the President doesn`t have the right to have counsel present to ask questions, for subpoena power, to present evidence. This entire thing is a political charade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Earlier today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who remember is this ambassador`s boss, refused to respond to questions about why Ambassador Sondland was a no-show in front of Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Secretary, why did you instruct Ambassador Sondland not to testify?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee today accused the State Department of withholding information from Ambassador Sondland.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE CMTE. CHAIRMAN: We are also aware that the ambassador has text messages or e-mails on a personal device which have been provided to the State Department, although we have requested those from the ambassador and the State Department is withholding those messages as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The House is now issuing a subpoena to Sondland demanding documents by October 14, testimony by October 16. That`s a week from tomorrow. Text released last week reveal Sondland`s involvement in Trump`s conversations with Ukraine`s President and the concerns raised by other U.S. officials.
Acting Ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, a career diplomat messaged Sondland, "I think it`s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." NBC News has confirmed earlier reports that Sondland replied to Taylor after talking with President Trump. And he texted back in part, "The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo`s of any kind." He added "I suggest we stop the back and forth by text."
Another State Department official, the former ambassador to Ukraine is scheduled to testify to Congress on Friday. She, too, a career diplomat, not clear however, whether she will be allowed to appear.
Meanwhile, "The New York Times" is reporting on new details about that Ukraine/Trump call back in July. "The Times" says, according to the whistleblower`s memo of the call, a White House official described the conversation as crazy and frightening, that the official was, "visibly shaken by what they had witnessed." That official also reportedly described the call as, "completely lacking in substance related to national security."
Tonight sources are telling NBC News the Trump administration is consulting with former Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy of Benghazi fame about impeachment-related matters.
Earlier today Senator Lindsey Graham, chair of the Judiciary Committee let`s not forget, invited Trump`s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to testify about his role in trying to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Giuliani has signaled that is unlikely.
We`re also keeping a close eye tonight on developments in the Middle East. Reuters news agency quoting an aide to the Turkish President Erdogan reports Turkey`s military, along with the free Syrian army is about to cross over the Turkish/Syrian border. This is a big deal. This follows President Trump`s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Northern Syria after that weekend conversation he had with Erdogan. He has been subject to withering criticism ever since.
Today, Trump announced the Turkish President will be visiting the White House next month.
Here for our lead-off discussion on a Tuesday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times." We welcome to the broadcast Molly O`Toole, reporter for "The Los Angeles Times." And back with us Jill Wine-Banks, attorney, former assistant Watergate special counsel. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Peter Baker, that old term "stonewalling" is back in our lexicon. It seems to me it worked for this administration on aspects of the Mueller report. Stonewalling even worked for them in person when Lewandowski went before the committee, and yet for much of it was not present. Do they think they can win this going forward that way? And does this ever end with another sitting president deposed?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it`s a great question. Look, this is a strategy to take it from the playbook to other Presidents who faced impeachment in modern times. The idea is you turn the issue into the behavior of your opponents. You try to make the process the enemy. You try to focus on anything except for your own President`s behavior.
In this case the idea is to say this is illegitimate, this is unfair, this is partisan, it`s a witch hunt, to use a phrase. And it recognize what the President said last week even in public, that the Democrats almost surely have the votes to impeach him should they choose to do so. Most likely it will be along party lines. And what the President is doing is setting a predicate for saying, if they do it, it won`t be legitimate in the first place. That`s what he`s trying to tell his voters. That`s what he is trying to tell his fellow Republicans.
Now the letter itself that he has produced has some, you know, has some accurate observations about how this impeachment is different than previous ones. It is true that under Clinton and Nixon, the full House voted to have an impeachment inquiry. That did give the Republicans some ability to seek subpoenas and interview witnesses, and the President`s lawyers had the opportunity, certainly in the Clinton to interview witnesses before the committee. That`s not the case this time. So there are some substantive differences here.
Now, the problem for Trump White House in making this claim is the constitution doesn`t say anything about this stuff. The constitution basically says the power of impeachment rests with the House, and that means that Nancy Pelosi can do it differently than the previous Houses have done it if she chooses to.
WILLIAMS: Jill Wine-Banks, about this Ambassador Sondland, he may have really wanted to testify today, and we may never know. Joyce Vance tweeted this about them pulling his appearance, "No one prevents a witness who can exonerate them from testifying."
So A, I want to get your response to that. B, constitutionally, can the White House do this? Can they just tell Congress to go pound salt, they`re not going cooperate?
JILL WINE-BANKS, FMR. ASST. WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, Joyce is absolutely correct that if you have an exoneration you don`t silence the witness. In terms of what they can get away with, they have gotten away this up until now, and Congress is finally standing up to this kind of nonsense. They`ve claimed absolute immunity, executive privilege. They`ve stopped witnesses.
And by the way, during Watergate, when Nixon said, I`m not turning over any tapes, Senator Ervin, who was conducting the hearings said executive privilege, it`s executive poppycock. And that`s what this letter from Pat Cipollone is. It is executive poppycock. There is no truth to it.
Also, I just want to correct the record a little. During Watergate, they started the impeachment hearings before there was a vote to authorize it. And also, the rules were very different back then. Now Congress has much more independent authority to call witnesses and issue subpoenas. They don`t need to declare the authorization for impeachment at this time, which they needed to back in the `70s. So I think they can and should proceed as they are going about their business, and they should not allow people to get away with just totally stonewalling and obfuscating, diverting attention from the facts that are really an issue here, which are very clear.
WILLIAMS: Molly, it`s great to have you. Let`s start with this word "stonewalling." It is a proven momentum killer. It works. That`s why people employ it. But what counter-strategy are you hearing the Democrats may employ?
MOLLY O`TOOLE, LOS ANGELES TIMES REPORTER: Well, it`s hard to say at this point. I do think that the speaker and the Democrats feel that they have the momentum with them. We`ve seen the sort of support for the impeachment inquiry sort of tick up in the polls. They`re also making the argument, it`s a sort of difficult argument to make, but that they already have what they need.
They have the President`s words and the White House`s own summary of the call. They have the whistle-blower complaint, which to a large extent has been corroborated. They have the text messages between U.S. diplomats. So they`re making the argument that they have what they need, and at the same time that every attempt to obstruct the inquiry and further investigation is obstruction of justice, but I think they also potentially have the angle that as others have said, why prevent someone from coming before Congress, from sharing documents if they don`t have anything to hide.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, there`s a lot of this going around, and I speak of the dynamic our colleagues over at Bloomberg write about. I`ll read this to you, "Frustrated that they didn`t get a heads-up that Gordon Sondland would be preventing -- prevented from appearing Tuesday, a handful of GOP lawmakers went to the White House to discuss the issue with Trump and senior advisers. White House officials agreed to improve communication of their impeachment strategy with allies who are on the front lines."
And it occurs to me, Peter Baker, the Pentagon is full of people with stars on their shoulder who have no heads-up on the Syria decision either.
BAKER: No, that`s exactly right. This is a White House that is making decisions on the fly and making them at the very last minute at times. Gordon Sondland, of course, is based in Brussels. He had flown all the way here to testify today, and he -- apparently they got a call at 12:30 in the morning, half an hour after your show ended last night on a voice mail saying, no the State Department was telling him he could not testify. So this was done abruptly at the last minute, leaving even Republican allies a little bit flabbergasted.
They did think that it would be a good idea for him to testify. They did think he would be a good witness for the President. Because remember in those text messages, Gordon Sondland is the one who said no, there is no quid pro quo. Now he might have done -- he did it after talking to the President, and therefore maybe you can discount that message that he sent as being, you know, simply repeating what the President told him. But there`s nothing in the messages on that regard that has him agreeing with Bill Taylor, who is the diplomat in Kiev that there was a linkage between the holding up a security aide and the demand for investigations. You would think therefore as earlier -- as Jill and Molly have said, that would be something that the President would want testified to.
But look, they have decided to throw down the gauntlet. It`s not about one witness. They decided across the board, they called a full halt tonight. A full halt to any cooperation because what they`re trying to say is nothing about this is legitimate. So therefore, why, you know, involve it at all.
Again, the kangaroo court, exception of the constitution is one that has missed a lot of lawyers, but, you know, what they`re doing is fighting in the court of public opinion rather than in a legal court.
WILLIAMS: And Jill, in the legal court, I don`t know much, but I`ve seen "Law & Order," and the Republicans are asking for all these courtroom rights that we know from T.V. shows like the right to call witnesses and cross-examine, the right to discover the evidence that`s going be used against you. Make objections. Is there any guaranteed right to that?
WINE-BANKS: No. I`m so glad you asked that question, because they are totally confused about our legal system. We have grand juries and we have trial juries. And the grand jury meets in secret. It is a tool of the prosecution to develop the evidence, to call witnesses in secret so that they will not be intimidated by the defendant.
This is like asking President Zelensky, were you pressured when he`s sitting next to the President and whom he is totally dependent for military aide. That would be the same thing as if you had the President sitting in the room with the grand jury. You can`t have that. You need to develop the evidence and then the defendant gets anything that was exculpatory and the defendant gets to question the witnesses against him. That`s what will happen in the trial in the Senate. That`s the trial jury.
Right now the House is acting as a grand jury and should be allowed to continue in secret to develop evidence, but they have to have witnesses. And if the President can get away with saying I can`t be investigated, I can`t be indicted, I can`t be impeached, then he has made himself a king. He is not the democratic ruler of a democracy.
WILLIAMS: Molly, let`s turn overseas, and if you know the area, and I know you know the area, this moment with Turkish forces poised to head into Syria across the border puts a lump in your throat. I want to add to your conversation, this is from David Ignatius of "The Washington Post," "A bad situation in Northeast Syria about to get much worse. Sources tell me that U.S. officials," excuse me, "have just informed the Syrian Kurds that Turkey is likely to attack on air and ground in next 24 hours. The U.S. will do nothing.
I`m also told that Kurdish attack appears coordinated with the Russians. Russian-backed forces are mobilizing to invade the Kurdish area from the south." Turkish, I`m sorry. The Kurdish area from the south. I got the Turkish attack wrong at the start of that graph. It`s a lot, Molly, but tell our viewers what they need to know.
O`TOOLE: Well, there are serious implications to this clearly for the conflict in Syria that has been ongoing, even if it hasn`t gotten much attention in the U.S. because it`s been somewhat of a stalemate. There will be clear and likely devastating consequences for the Kurds that have been such a key U.S. ally, particularly in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, and in Iraq as well.
There -- it`s very important to President Erdogan of Turkey to push the Kurds away from the border. It`s clearly very important for the Russians to made some sort of -- maintain some sort of influence in that situation. So there are very real consequences. There could be serious destabilization of the region. It`s been suggested by analysts who are concerned that this could actually herald the resurgence of Isis when there had been success clearly at defeating Isis and routing it in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. So there are very real consequences.
But it`s interesting, as Peter said, to connect it in a way with the context of the impeachment. There`s also concern that as the President feels increasingly embattled and as adversaries, they`ll feel increasingly emboldened to perhaps take advantage of the situation. And I think that`s what we saw, at least with the White House initial characterization on Sunday. It effectively was, well, the President spoke to President Erdogan, the Turkish President, and we have decided to step aside and let them move forward with this offensive.
Now in the last couple of days, that`s been walked back, but clearly, the Turks, if they`re about to cross the border tonight, they`re not exactly heeding the President`s warnings that have been issued since then. So that`s sort of a contextual concern to the impeachment inquiry as well. What else is happening in national security and foreign policy when all eyes aren`t there?
WILLIAMS: I think it`s fair to say as Americans head to bed tonight half a world away what`s going to go on tonight may not be America`s finest hour. Terrific guests to start us off tonight. Our thanks to Peter Baker, to Molly O`Toole, and to Jill Wine-Banks, appreciate it very much.
Coming up for us, a new move to pull the U.S. out of a treaty agreement with the Russians. Democrats charge it would be a gift to Putin. So why would we want to do a thing like that?
And later, the President calls the impeachment inquiry a scam, but are people listening to that? New polling out tonight on where Americans now stand on this issue and it`s a moving target. THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started. A view of the West Wing on a Tuesday night.
WILLIAMS: Senior House Democrats are sounding the alarm over reports that President Trump is planning to pull the U.S. out of something called the Open Skies Treaty. It`s an agreement that allows for unarmed reconnaissance flights over other countries, specifically each other`s countries like Russia and Ukraine to monitor military movement.
In a letter to the White House, Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel, Democrat of New York warned leaving the treaty would be, a "reckless action" that would only benefit Russia. Putin hates this treaty. The warning comes as the President is peddling a conspiracy theory that it was really Ukraine that interfered in our 2016 election.
Just today the Senate came out, however, with a bipartisan report unequivocally condemning the Kremlin for trying to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
Again, and for emphasis, while the words "Senate report" may not have the impact they once did, the following was put out by Republicans and Democrats in an era when Republicans and Democrats don`t do anything jointly. According to this report, and we quote, "Russia`s targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was part of a broader sophisticated and ongoing information warfare campaign." Goes on to say Russia`s efforts were "a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood." Much of this was laid out in the Mueller report, but this is the first, again, bipartisan call from Congress, at least on the Senate side, for sweeping action.
Republican Senator Richard Burr, Republican senator from North Carolina had this warning, "While Russia may have been the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics outlined in this report, other adversaries, including China, North Korea and Iran are following suit."
We have the man to talk tonight, Clint Watts, former FBI Special Agent, Distinguished Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and author of "Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorist, Russians, and Fake News."
Clint, it`s hard to believe that your area of expertise is now part of a bipartisan Senate report. It`s hard to believe this kind of thing isn`t our lead story in 2019. So let me ask you, how are we going to bump up against this in 2020? How big a threat is this?
CLINT WATTS. FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: It`s remarkable when you get to the end of the report. That`s what I was really looking for. Because we`ve heard so much about this over the last two years is what are we going to do.
We`ve had all of these hearings and committees, you know, multiple entities, other countries even, you know, helping us with this stuff. And the recommendations when you got to the end is, let`s increase public literacy. Let`s put out awareness.
Social media companies, you need to do something about it. And so --
WILLIAMS: You should be.
WATTS: -- when you get to the end, you really go, hmm, it sounds like we`re not going to do anything. Honest ads act. We talked about that. This is, you know, declaring candidates, declaring that is their adds to help distinguish mothers, still not passed.
WILLIAMS: It should be easy.
WATTS: Election integrity act, not passed.
WILLIAMS: Should be easy.
WATTS: Other provisions, do you take assistance from a foreign government in order to win election? As we can see from our current news cycle, I guess we`re going willingly go look for that stuff.
And so I think when you look at the social media part, who has actually stepped up? Surprisingly, I don`t think I would have said this two years ago, are the social media companies in many ways. They`re doing weekly, if not daily takedowns oftentimes between Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, other platforms. They`re doing this sort of stuff. But to stay in front of it, ultimately comes down to who is going to police disinformation going into the 2020 election? Especially when we see not only these foreign countries that Chairman Burr mentioned, but domestic actors are on the scene now in a big, big way doing disinformation and misinformation. How are we going to do this?
And that really comes down Capitol Hill and the White House. And it seems like on both sides of the ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, we`re seeing a ramp- up of that rhetoric instead of actually trying to tamp it down.
WILLIAMS: And I was going to say, what about the backdrop we`re operating under right now? DOJ`s got its own report coming out that may read like something of a weird rebuttal to this. The attorney general is flying around the world, talking to foreign governments about hey, can you drop a dime on people on the home team back in the United States. That`s dangerous.
WATTS: And even pressuring the Australians who were the first to really tip off the FBI --
WATTS: -- that there was an investigation and maybe you should even look into. So when you look at that whole system, it even gives our adversaries great opportunities. Imagine Russia right now. I`m not saying they`ve done this, but what an opportunity in Ukraine.
You have the President, you know, reaching out to Ukraine, wanting dirt on his opponent. Well, if I was Russia, what would I do? I would go to Ukraine and I dump all sorts of dirt in there, right? You can do this from afar or you can do this from third party countries. You can mess with the American election.
We`ve seen just how powerful it is in dividing us going forward. So I think the one part that stuck out was there was a note in the recommendations that said, we encourage politicians, political campaigns to be, you know, very thorough about what they`re retweeting, what they`re amplifying and what they`re saying in attacking each other. And what we`re seeing is, that`s where the big weakness is in our democracy going into 2020.
WILLIAMS: Final point, this isn`t hard. Russia spent like $4 a day and completely bullock step up our society and our electoral process. And we`re an easy mark because we -- we`re good people.
WILLIAMS: We believe in a free and open society and medium.
WATTS: Yes, our strengths are vulnerabilities in this, but it only comes down to ultimately is leadership. If campaigns said, I`m not going to take help from a foreign country to win against my opponent, I`m not going retweet nonsense or manipulate the media or sped up video or something of Nancy Pelosi that isn`t exactly authentic, well, then this would probably work itself out. I won`t take stolen or I won`t talk about stolen information from another campaign. This would work itself out.
Being held to the truth, being the bearers of facts, being the government that we can trust to do the best for all Americans, if they just did that one step, this would be completely ineffective, and you would not see a Russia, Iran, a China or any other country be able to influence us from afar.
WILLIAMS: It was nice to get this report out of our current Senate. It would be really nice to get what you`re asking for from our current Senate.
Our thanks as always to Clint Watts for stopping by our studio and taking our questions.
Coming up, we have new numbers. They all show the same thing. American opinions on impeachment are on the move. They`re changing. So is Steve Kornacki, making his way to the big board to walk us through the numbers, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, the impeachment inquiry is a scam. You can`t impeach a president for doing a great job. This is a scam, and the people are wise to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Contrary to what the President had to say just yesterday, three new polls are out just today. They show support for impeachment is truly on the move. For that, our National Political Correspondent Steve Kornacki is back with us and at the big board where he belongs. Hey, Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian, that`s right. Three new polls out today. And remember, it`s interesting here the context of this. If you broaden it out the last couple of years, impeachment polling had really been stagnant when we were talking about Mueller, the Russia probe and all that. Since this Ukraine story hit, since Democrats announced they`re beginning the impeachment inquiry, we`ve been seeing some changes in the three new polls that came out today reflect that.
Let me take you through it. And keep in mind, the terminology when we talk about impeachment polling very important. Here`s what I mean. First of all, this is the question specifically of the impeachment inquiry. So this is asking voters in the poll, do you approve? Do you support? Do you like the idea of the House of Representatives launching an impeachment inquiry into President Trump? Not the same as asking, do you want to impeach Trump? Do you want to remove him from office? Do you want the get him out? Just do you support the inquiry.
And look at the three new polls today. Quinnipiac support for it, 53 percent. Our own NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll support for the inquiry, 55 percent. The Washington Post poll this morning, 58 percent. These are some of the largest numbers in terms of support that we have seen for the impeachment inquiry. Majority support for the inquiry in all of the polls today.
Look at the opposition, low 40s, high 30s. Getting to be sort of a solid range there between support and oppose on the inquiry. How about this? If you broaden it out, here is every poll that we have found since Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of this impeachment inquiry.
On the question of the inquiry, you can see it right here. Look at this. How many are over 50 percent? One, two, three, four, five, six of the eight polls that have come out since this inquiry has been launched outright majority support for the impeachment inquiry. The other two, plurality support, 49-43, 49-46. Every single poll that has come out has shown more support than opposition for the impeachment inquiry. So on that, Democrats appear to be on pretty decent political ground right now.
Take it a step further, though. Not just the inquiry, but impeachment. Should the House impeach? Should the Senate remove? Should Trump be removed from office? What does the polling look like on that? A more complicated picture. The three new polls out today. Quinnipiac, more opposition than support, our NBC News poll, more opposition than support. Other way around in The Washington Post poll.
But no matter how you slice it there, much narrower in terms of both sides. Different than the inquiry. More support for the inquiry. It`s a little more muddled when you look at the impeachment question overall. But both of those numbers have moved dramatically since this Ukraine story emerged.
By the way, one quick thing to keep an eye on. When you look inside these polls, one thing we`re always looking at, the Republican numbers, because that`s one of the keys for Trump, the sense among Republican senators that, hey, the Republican Party voters support him. You see on the low end, 6 percent here in one poll supporting impeachment. On the high end today in one of the polls, 18 percent. The more you see numbers like 18 coming in consistently, the more trouble Trump might be in, the more it`s like 6, the more he has a chance of holding Republicans together.
WILLIAMS: Fascinating stuff, Steve. Hey, pure politics, Democrats 2020.
KORNACKI: Yes, very quickly on this big news today. The average of all polls, first time check this out, look at that. Joe Biden is not in first place. He`s been in this race for six months. He has led the polling average every day he has been a candidate. This afternoon, a new poll came out again with Warren in first place. And for the first time, it`s only two-tenths of a point. But for the first time, Elizabeth Warren leads the RealClearPolitics poll average ahead of Joe Biden.
WILLIAMS: The essential Steve Kornacki at the big board. Thank you, friend. Appreciate it.
WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, we will show you one way Republicans in the House are preparing to hit back against the impeachment effort. Here`s a hint. Today it involved invoking a beloved children`s television icon. The story when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court, and Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious captain kangaroo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Again, so there is that. There is certainly plenty of impeachment talk in the halls of the Capitol today. And with us tonight, two reporters who have spent their day working sources on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue because we asked them to share their reporting with us here tonight. Jonathan Allen, National Political Reporter for NBC News. We also welcome to the broadcast our second Molly of the evening, that`s a first for us, Molly Hooper, who herself is a Veteran Capitol Hill Reporter.
Good evening, gang, and welcome. And Jon, you just saw that superb breakdown of the numbers by Steve Kornacki. How do those numbers break in that building just behind you?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think we`re seeing it in that press conference you saw this morning with some of the Benghazi all stars, Jim Jordan, at least, and we`re hearing that possibly joining the White House team from our own Hallie Jackson will be Trey Gowdy, who ran that Benghazi hearing. The White House is very worried about those numbers. Republicans who support the President are worried about the polling numbers.
There is a huge desire to get an impeachment vote, any impeachment vote of any kind right now before the possibility of those numbers moving. The President would like to show strength. If there is a vote right now, they think they can keep Republicans together. I heard Peter Baker talking earlier about this real push that you`re hearing from Republicans to talk about process. That`s something that`s unifying for them.
But if you see more facts come out, if you see this process move forward, if the public changes a little bit over time, you might start to see some Republican defections. So I think all of that is part and parcel of this strategy where you see a lot of the President`s most vociferous defenders coming out today like you did in arguing about process.
WILLIAMS: Molly, it`s great to have you. I guess I want to know about other disruptions the GOP may try, and are they all going to work? Is it possible they`re going one way with disruptions while the numbers, as we just saw from Kornacki, and polls, polls matter in this area?
MOLLY HOOPER, CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes.
WILLIAMS: Public awareness, public opinion is going the other way.
HOOPER: Well, first of all, the thing is how are the polls in the districts of those 31 Democrats that won in seats that Trump won in 2016, what are they hearing on the ground back home? Because as we`ve seen, the NRCC has targeted those districts, and you can go to their website, and I`ve talked to some folks at the NRCC, and they are highlighting these town hall meetings of those 31 Democrats saying get out there and push your member on how they`re going to vote on the impeachment inquiry.
As for Republicans, what shenanigans they may have, as you heard Matt Gaetz, he was saying that Adam Schiff is running a kangaroo court, and they are very upset about the way Adam Schiff in particular has run this inquiry so far. They say he hasn`t been fair. He`s only released portions of Kurt Volker`s text messages, hasn`t released the whole transcript that was a big beef this morning.
Well, one little wrinkle, and a GOP lawmaker pointed me to this. An ethics complaint has been filed against Adam Schiff by an outside Republican leaning group, the Tea Party group of America and, you know, against Adam Schiff saying that he essentially has put forward misleading statements about his contacts with the whistleblower. They list a whole host of issues. The reason this is important, this Republican lawmaker said is because back in 2017, Democrats were saying the same thing essentially about then House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes and his contacts with the White House.
And the only reason really that Nunes stepped aside and recused himself as head of the Russian investigation into election interference is because of an ethics complaint that he was dealing within the House. So that`s why this Republican lawmaker said look to that. But again, to Jonathan`s point, Republicans are arguing on process right now and personalities. They`re not really going to the heart of the matter.
WILLIAMS: OK, Jon, give me a reality check. It may call for your reasoned judgment, and that is, are the Democrats going to get pushed into, forced into holding some kind of a vote that gets everybody, including everyone in dicey congressional districts on the record on impeaching Donald Trump early?
ALLEN: Look, all the sources I`ve talked to on the Republican side are eager to get that vote. They really desperately would like to push Nancy Pelosi into that position. Every source I`ve talked to on the Democratic side says that Nancy Pelosi is never going to get bum rushed into anything. The -- You know, the sort of X factor in this is a court.
There is a case going through right now the House is trying to get grand jury testimony that was for the Robert Mueller Special Counsel probe, the Russia probe, and there is a fight going on between the White House and the House over that. The White House has basically said that because the House has not had a vote on impeachment inquiry, that should not have to be turned over. The House has said that the White House has no and the Justice Department have no ability to demand or shape the impeachment process in the House.
If a court rules on the side of the Justice Department of the administration, you might see some different opinion from Nancy Pelosi. But for the moment, I don`t think she is in the mood to accede to the demands of the President on how her branch of government should operate with impeachment which is outlined in the constitution as the sole power of the House of Representatives.
WILLIAMS: Both of our guests are going to hang out over this break. When we come back, we`re going to do the impossible. We`re going to discuss Rudy and Bernie in the same segment. We think that may be a first in this building.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day that he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress and he became the judge and jury.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, that was Lindsey Graham`s approach to impeachment during the Clinton administration. There is a ton of that stuff on tape, by the way. That was then. But let`s also not forget this from more recently. This was Lindsey Graham, after all, May of 2016. "If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed and we will deserve it."
Back with us, Jonathan Allen, Molly Hooper. Molly, this is a germane question in terms of everything we`re seeing here. Will Rudolph Giuliani ever be in front of a congressional committee under oath in this case in this investigation?
HOOPER: Oh my gosh, can you imagine? I don`t think it will happen in the House. I predict it won`t happen in the House. In fact, Rudy Giuliani says take me to court. I`m not appearing in that quote/unquote witch hunt.
But Senate Judiciary may be a different story. Lindsey Graham has actually invited Rudy Giuliani to come before the committee and essentially testify on what he learned doing sort of these secondary, unofficial investigations into Ukraine`s involvement in 2016 in the server and all this jazz to come and talk before that committee and discuss what he found essentially. Because, you know, as we`re speaking right now, Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department I.G. is looking into it. And apparently, reportedly is coming to a close of his investigation in to how the FBI handled and whether they handled it properly, that getting a FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page. But there`s a lot that have going on. Giuliani may go before Senate Judiciary.
WILLIAMS: Jon Allen, I want to show you something. Bernie Sanders back home in Vermont after suffering his heart attack came down the front lawn and talked to the small group of reporters and embeds gathered there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I certainly intend to be actively campaigning. I think we can change the nature of the campaign a bit, make sure that I have the strength to do what I have to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean by change the nature?
SANDERS: Well, probably not doing four rallies a day. I`m not quit sure that -- I could be wrong on this, but I don`t know if there`s anybody who did more rallies than we have done all over the state. So we`re going to, you know, probably not going to do three or four rallies a day to-- or to other events as well.
JANE O`MEARA SANDERS, BERNIE SANDERS` WIFE: Well, it`s also something that the entire campaign and especially me have been saying for months, not for his health but for the ability to keep up that kind of a pace for everybody else, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So Jonathan Allen, what does this all mean?
ALLEN: I think it means you`ve got a candidate that really believes in what he`s trying to do, what he`s trying to accomplish, that has a fan base that`s been with him now for two elections that is confronting a real health scare. And something that, you know, he`s obviously not ready to close down his campaign but you would think that people close to him would certainly want him to think about for his own health whether it`s advisable to continue a campaign. Certainly, obviously, he doesn`t want to continue it at the level he has been doing. And, you know, I think we`ll all watch and see if Senator Sanders decides that he wants to keep going through this nomination process or perhaps pull back from it.
But, you know, I think, you know, everybody would like to see him obviously make a full recovery from, you know, from the procedure that he`s had and restored to full help. And, you know, I think he`s probably taking it, you know, one day at a time. I hate to use that cliche, but I think he`s taking it one day at a time and we`ll figure out things from there.
WILLIAMS: We got about a half minute left. Do you think inside the campaign when they close the doors and it`s just them, are they going to look at opinion polling if it`s available? Are they going to look at fund- raising as their marker?
ALLEN: I think they`re going to listen to Bernie Sanders.
ALLEN: I think he guides that campaign like few other candidates do. I don`t think he`s driven by advisers. I don`t think he`s driven by polling. I think in some ways like the current President, he wants his operation and my guess is that there were a lot of people advising him to pull back. I know that there were people advising him not to run this time in the first place.
WILLIAMS: All right. Jonathan Allen, Marly Hooper, thank you both so much for adding to our broadcast here tonight.
Coming up, when we come back, most people who met him might have mistaken him as an ordinary guy. But that`s where he had most people fooled. A unique American story coming up after this break.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, the people in this country who might have known an elderly man named Frank Currey, people who perhaps are learning with this announcement that he has just passed away at the age of 94, probably only knew Frank as they encountered him in life. Could have been the while he was up counselor at the VA office in Albany, New York, spend 30 years there until his retirement. After that, he had a landscaping company, most recently he worked on convention bookings down in Myrtle Beach.
And of all the people who new Frank Currey, how many of them knew him by his other identity? We ask that because Frank was also officially known as Francis S. Currey, recipient of the Medal of Honor, Battle of the Bulge, Belgium, Second World War. Francis S. Currey was an orphan raised on a farm in Upstate New York. He joined the Army at 17 at the height of the war. He arrives in France on Omaha Beach weeks after D-Day as a replacement soldier.
Four nights before Christmas, 1944, in the cold, with frost bite having been issued no winter gear, young private first class Currey was a rifle man, guarding a bridge crossing when the Germans chose to advance. Frank took it upon himself to turn them away. He repeatedly stood up and opened himself up to hostile, incoming enemy fire, killing several German troops himself. But the Germans, they also had tanks. And so using a combination of bazookas and anti-tank grenades, Frank crippled four of those before rescuing five Americans who had been pinned down by fire.
So if you don`t count his silver star and his three purple hearts, Frank was then awarded the Medal of Honor seven months later in the field in France. So those of you who knew an old man name Frank Currey, tall, hard of hearing, rather stooped, curly, white hair, he was that Francis S. Currey who, on one day in 1944, was the very best of us Americans. Frank`s death was confirmed to us just tonight by Drew Dix, he`s head of the Medal of Honor society, happens to be a Medal of Honor recipient himself from the Vietnam War. Our friend, Frank Currey`s death leaves 70 living Medal of Honor recipients and of that number, only two men remain from the Second World War.
With that, that is 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