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

FBI, SDNY, DOJ all investigating Giuliani. TRANSCRIPT: 10/25/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Carol Leonnig, Philip Elliott, Josh Gerstein, Tom Nichols, JonMeacham

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST:  And that is "Tonight’s Last Word."  "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight a federal judge has handed the Democrats a significant victory coming at the end of an eventful week.  What appears to be a steady march towards articles of impeachment.

The President responds to criticism that his team may not be up to the challenge by saying there is no team, it’s just him.

And accidental phone call from Rudy’s phone to a reporter that left a message no one was supposed to hear.  It has to do with the Bidens and Rudy’s quest to make money.

And two former presidents at the funeral of a man who rose to powerful heights from humble beginnings.  And in their send off there is talk about the times we are in as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 1,009 of the Trump administration and, as another genuinely consequential week came to an end, the Democrats were handed a substantial victory by a federal judge in what now appears to be their steady march to articles of impeachment.  Judge Beryl Howell, the chief federal judge sitting in Washington, ruled the impeachment inquiry is, in fact, a legal proceeding undercutting the President’s argument that the investigation is illegitimate and throwing out the White House counsel’s argument along the same lines.

The judge also ruled the Justice Department must release certain grand jury materials gathered as part of the Mueller investigation to the House Judiciary Committee by next Wednesday.

We also learned today that President Trump’s former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, could be among the next witnesses to speak to Congress and that will be an event.

"The New York Times" reports, "Impeachment investigators have negotiated in recent days with a lawyer for Mr. Bolton about a date for him to be deposed behind closed doors according to two people briefed on the matter."  "The Times" goes on to say "leaders in the House are preparing for the next stage, high-profile public hearings that could begin as early as mid- November and feature hours of testimony damaging to the President.  Among the star witnesses who could deliver explosive public testimony in front of live television cameras could be John Bolton."

Earlier today, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence talked about the significance of such an event.


FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  If you hear from someone like that in a deposition or even in public testimony, you cannot ignore it.  The GOP defense of Trump will have a shelf life.  They will be unable to sustain this process-oriented defense, this defense that they are attacking the credibility of good career public servants.  That has a shelf life.

That can’t keep going once the facts take over.  And when someone like Bolton testifies to his dismay over potential unethical or illegal activity, Trump loses and he loses big.


WILLIAMS:  In the meantime, the President’s Senate allies are trying to provide air cover for their man, the President.  Senator Lindsey Graham’s resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry now has the support from 50 Senate Republicans.  The President referenced that during an event in South Carolina today with Senator Graham.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Somebody just said, Lindsey, we are up a to 50 already and I haven’t even made a phone call.  Fifty, 50 out of 53.

And they said you get to 40, that’s pretty good if you haven’t done anything.  But we are up to 50.  I don’t know if you’ve heard that, Lindsey.  Did you hear that?

Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, could you please stand?

All I can say is, thank goodness they’re on my side, because if they weren’t, I’d have big trouble, right?


WILLIAMS:  Three GOP senators have still not endorsed this resolution, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski, Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine.

Over on the House side, Democrats are moving full speed ahead with their impeachment inquiry tomorrow.  And, yes, a rare Saturday session, Acting Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Reeker, will be deposed.  This follows the most eventful testimony yet and that was from Ambassador Bill Taylor, a 50-year public servant who is the one guy who tied Trump to the Ukrainian pressure campaign.

There’s also some odd news today concerning this man, Rudy Giuliani.  There is no elegant way to put this, but he butt-dialed an NBC News reporter last week inadvertently leaving a voicemail message that no one was supposed to hear on which he could be heard discussing the need for a large amount of cash.


RUDOLF GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP’S PERSONAL LAWYER:  Tomorrow, I got to get you to get on Bahrain.  You got to call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I -- yes.  Hold on.  Hold on.

GIULIANI:  You got to call Robert again tomorrow.  Is Robert around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Rob, he’s in Turkey.

GIULIANI:  The problem is, we need some money.  We need a few hundred thousand.


WILLIAMS:  The context of the entire conversation is not clear.  And other portions of the call, Giuliani can be heard criticizing the Bidens.

Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" reports President Trump is not happy as the White House struggles to fight this inquiry.

Our next guest Carol Leonnig has co-authored a piece with Josh Dawsey in the paper that says in part, "The President is increasingly frustrated that his efforts to stop people from cooperating with the probe so far have collapsed under the weight of legally powerful congressional subpoenas, advisors said."

Earlier today the President dismissed the need for help in fighting impeachment.


TRUMP:  Here is the thing.  I don’t have teams.  Everyone is talking about teams.  I am the team.  I did nothing wrong.


WILLIAMS:  Here for our lead-off discussion on a Friday night, Geoff Bennett, White House Correspondent for NBC News, the aforementioned Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize-winning Investigative Reporter for "The Washington Post," and Phil Eliot, Politics Correspondent for "Time" magazine.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Carol, I’d like to begin with you.  Are we being led to believe that the lack of a strategy is the strategy?  That ad-libbing is going to be the way this goes?

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER:  I’m a little concerned about the lack of a strategy, how little time it takes to figure out what it is.

What I learned in the last couple of days with my great colleague Josh Dawsey is that the White House strategy does boils down to the President’s viewpoint.  He helped dictate a letter from the White House counsel’s office arguing why a probe of his interactions with the Ukraine President was unnecessary and the administration wouldn’t cooperate with it.  He has been reluctant to believe that this impeachment inquiry would proceed and gather evidence, and it is gathering evidence and steam and snowballing.

He was also arguing that there was no way they needed anybody to really help him because he was the best arbiter of whether or not this was serious, and he decided that it was not serious.  But that is changing the last few days, and the President has agreed they need to beef up their legal team and they need to get somebody on communications, a real strategy for communicating what is the President’s story because the President’s original story has not stood up to the testimony from his own administration officials.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Geoff, we often call political opinion polls a snapshot in time.  Often knowing that by the time we broadcast them, sometimes the facts on the ground have changed and the sample would have already changed.  Is that the same as a sense of the Senate resolution that doesn’t have any enforcement teeth?  Is this convertible to any support, or are those Senate votes, indeed, moving targets in the weeks to come?

GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I think they are absolutely moving targets, Brian.  And here’s why.  I was at that press conference where Lindsey Graham unveiled that resolution.

I will tell you this.  And this is important context, that resolution was advertised earlier in the afternoon as being a resolution aimed at condemning the entire impeachment process.  By the time that press conference rolled around, Graham was clear that this was really only about attacking the process, not the underlying substance of the issue.

In fact, he said, I’m not even saying President Trump did anything wrong.  I’m just saying that the process should be handled publicly.

And when we pressed him and we said, you know, you have senators who will, in effect, be jurors in a Senate trial once the House moves articles of impeachment off the House floor, if that is what happens, aren’t you, in effect, poisoning the well of jurors having them come out in support of this resolution aimed at criticizing the ongoing impeachment inquiry?  And he said, this isn’t about the substance.  This is all about the politics.

And so what happens, this followed President Trump earlier in the day, a group of senators have met with President Trump, and I am told President Trump made clear to them that he wanted his chief defenders on the Hill to basically step their game up.  So we saw earlier this week how House Republicans, a group of them stormed the secure area in the House side.  And on the Senate side you had Lindsey Graham, President Trump’s chief defender in the Senate introducing this resolution.

WILLIAMS:  Phil, the Democrats seem to sense the need to conduct some hearings out loud with television cameras in the room.  Run us through your knowledge of their next moves.

PHILIP ELLIOTT, TIME MAGAZINE POLITICS CORRESPONDENT:  So I was on the Hill this afternoon speaking with people in the room as the Democratic House members are plotting their next steps.  They are taking their cues from Speaker Pelosi who wants a fast but responsible process here.

And eventually, the Republicans are going to going to get their way.  There are going to be hearings.  There are going to be public votes and we’re going to hear in public the testimony that really turned Washington on its head.  A lot of Republicans after hearing Ambassador Taylor were pretty spooked and were asking themselves, OK, we are fighting about having open hearings.  Are we sure we want those?

Well, they are going to come.  The problem is, we’re not sure on timeline right now.  Every new piece of testimony brings new evidence, new witnesses, new potential instances of wrongdoing.  The question for the speaker and her team is, how wide of an aperture do we want to go here, or do we keep it narrow and focus solely on the phone calls with Ukraine?  It’s going to be very tempting for Democrats to try to write a book when a sentence is really all they need to do here.

WILLIAMS:  Carol Leonnig, for those of us who enjoy reading legal writings, it is a sight to behold when a senior federal judge appointed for life gets angry, as was the case with Judge Howell’s ruling today.  But tell us what’s next.  It can’t be the last word in Washington, D.C., can it?

LEONNIG:  I doubt it will be the last word, Brian.  And you are wise to ask that question.  But the importance of Judge Howell’s order today can’t be underestimated.

She said what a series of lawyers have concluded themselves.  Lawyers for witnesses who have all been filing one by one into a secure basement room in a House office building and giving their first-person accounts of what they knew about the Trump -- about the President’s role in pressuring the Ukraine to dig up dirt on his Democratic rivals.  And what she has essentially said is give me a break.  The Department of Justice is wrong.

Their legal arguments are flawed and weak and nobody believes that.  Nobody with a law degree believes that you can argue a House impeachment process is not authorized and you don’t have to cooperate with it.  That’s already happening right in front of our eyes.

Another three witnesses have been subpoenaed from OMB and other places.  There are more to come, nine in the rearview mirror.

And it strikes me, Brian, as important to know that when Charles Kupperman’s lawsuit moves forward, it will answer the question about whether a senior White House advisor may be able to testify about what they have witnessed, which Charles Kupperman can argue he is.  But it will not stop the five witnesses who are named by one witness that are being now asked, oh, you have corroborating information?  Can you come in?  Those people are from agencies and nothing stops them from being compelled to come before Congress.

WILLIAMS:  Geoff Bennett, when historians like John Meacham, who is coming up later on in this broadcast, sit down to write the history of this era, what’s the chance that this week we have just witnessed in terms of mechanical moves towards getting us to possible and eventual articles of impeachment lands on the top 10 most consequence weeks of 2019?

BENNETT:  This week was certainly consequence because what House investigators are stitching together is this tapestry of evidence and testimony.  And you have diplomat after diplomat all providing investigators chapters of the same narrative.  And so, what we’ve now learned is that Rudy Giuliani was not just freelancing in Ukraine.  He was advancing one of President Trump’s stated goals.  That is the testimony of Bill Taylor.  We know from Kurt Volker’s testimony and others that as Rudy Giuliani was running this pressure campaign outside of the usual, the typical conduit, the State Department channel, officials who raised concerns, legitimate concerns, had no idea what he was up to and asked questions about it, Marie Yovanovitch among them.

Once they started doing that they were targeted by smear campaigns that Rudy Giuliani was behind.  We know that based on the State Department inspector general.

And so what was the point of this pressure campaign?  It was to get Ukraine’s leader, so goes the theory of the case, to manufacture damaging information about the Bidens.  That is the very simple story that Democrats are building.  That’s the public case for this entire impeachment effort.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that what President Trump has already admitted to, and already exists in the public record, that in itself is an impeachable offense.  It is a crime for any U.S. person, any American to solicit anything of value from a foreign national in connection with the U.S. election.

What Democrats are doing right now behind closed doors, this is their fact finding process.  They are getting the view from the White House, getting the view from the State Department, getting the view from Ukraine as to what was happening before and after this call.  So when you hear President Trump say the call was perfect, Lindsey Graham says I told President Trump there was nothing wrong with the call.  That’s not really the issue.

Democrats have said and some Republicans, for that matter, have said that the call did not exist in isolation.  There was a lot of advanced work that led up to it and a lot of follow-up work after the fact.  And so that’s the case the Democrats are building right now in private.  But we expect in a few weeks that they’re going to have public hearings to bring that all out to the floor.

WILLIAMS:  OK, Philip, let’s theoretically fast forward and talk for a minute, if you will, about the kind of pressure members of the Senate are going to be under if they indeed sit as jurors.  We’re going to hear the phrase on this broadcast and all day long for weeks at a time, this is a vote for your grandchildren, and they are going to be able to run, but many of them aren’t going to be able to hide.

ELLIOTT:  Yes, it’s going to be really tough for people like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, the list goes on.  I mean, especially for members who are retiring like Lamar Alexander, what is his legacy here?  This is going to be very important for them.

It’s also going to be very problematic if you are running for president in one of these senators because you are going to be sidelined by those trials six days a week at 1:00 p.m.  There are six of them, including some of the frontrunners, who are going to be stuck in Washington and not in Iowa if this goes into the New Year as increasingly looks like it’s going to happen.  They are basically going to have to like concede Iowa or at least the ground in Iowa to Vice President Biden, Mayor Buttigieg.  It gets really tough there.

You talk to them and the people around them, they say, you know what, this impeachment trial is more important than the Iowa caucuses.  And they are making a bet that they will be able to raise enough money off appearances on shows like this network, broadcasts after the trial ends, that they will be able to convert appearances on cable into fundraising to pay for the ads to offset their absence in Iowa and New Hampshire. That said, it’s a small fraction of the delegates heading in -- that will be awarded heading into super Tuesday at the beginning of March.  So the race might reset at that point.

WILLIAMS:  Well, we are especially indebted tonight for our big three Washington journalists all for choosing us over the World Series.  Geoff Bennett, Philip Elliott Carol Leonnig, our thanks for coming on and joining us as always.

And coming up for us, we’ll talk about just how big a boost that federal judge might have given the Democrats’ impeachment effort today.

And later, could it be that an armored column of U.S. troops are moving into a different part of Syria not to protect the Kurds, mind you, but to protect the oil fields?  "The 11th Hour" is just getting started on this Friday night in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you all concerned about the growing criminal investigation into Rudy Giuliani?

TRUMP:  I don’t think so because I think Rudy is a great gentleman.  He’s been a great crime fighter.  He looks for corruption wherever he goes.  Everybody understands Ukraine has big problems in that regard.  Rudy Giuliani is a fine man.  He was the greatest mayor in the history of New York.  And he has been one of the greatest crime fighters and corruption fighters.  Rudy Giuliani is a good man.


WILLIAMS:  However, about those growing criminal investigations into Rudy, POLITICO has added this reporting just today and we quote, "The scrutiny isn’t coming just from the previously known probes by FBI agents and the U.S. attorney’s office based out of Manhattan, according to two people familiar with the investigation.  The criminal division of the Justice Department in Washington," that gets your attention, "has taken an interest in the former New York mayor, too, meaning an expansion of resources that indicates the politically sensitive probe into the President’s personal attorney is both broader and moving at a faster pace than previously understood."

Here with us to talk about it, Cynthia Alksne, former Federal Prosecutor herself, and Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs contributor for POLITICO.  Welcome to you both.

Cynthia, at the Southern District of New York justices New York office they refer to Washington as main justice for a good reason.  So if main justice is now interested in this, how worried should Rudy be tonight?  How much legal jeopardy do you think he is looking at?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, there’s two ways to look at it.  One is, uh-oh, more resources, more FBI agents.  You know, they’ve already looking, you know, at 50 bank accounts and they’ve got wire taps and all kinds of things that happened in those cases.  So that he is in more trouble.  That’s one way to look at it.

The other way to look at it is, oh, main justice is there.  Now Barr is a little more involved.  Now they -- there are -- they know exactly what’s going on in the Southern District of New York.  You could look at it in conspiracy way as well, that there is -- like, there is a chance that Barr is more able to intervene.

And I have to tell you, you know me, I was for Barr coming in as an institutionalist.


ALKSNE:  Fool me once, you know, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  So, I am suspicious of anything that happens now that has Barr’s fingerprints on it.  And the fact, you know, just in an ordinary world the fact that the criminal division is getting involved in the case would suggest he was in more trouble.  When Barr is the attorney general, anything that allows him more access to information in an easier way is also scary.

WILLIAMS:  Wow, that should make everybody think. So main justice and Barr would have more power over even a really committed U.S. attorney in New York?

ALKSNE:  Well, I mean, if they are read into every move.  I mean, usually, you know, the Southern District of New York is pretty independent.  The sovereign district of New York is what they call it.

Well, what if they are sharing 302s every day?  I’m not sure that’s what we want quite frankly in Barr’s Justice Department.  I am depressed to say that because it’s, you know, I view it as it should be such an independent place.  But right now because of Barr I’m suspicious of almost everything.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Josh, "SNL" has given us the title the "two Shreks" for the Rudy associates who were arrested, the two Ukrainians.  They have been called straight up bag men for Rudy.  How messy could this part of the case get?

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Brian, I was at the arraignment there in New York earlier in the week, and it sounded like it could get pretty messy.  I mean, there is what Cynthia mentioned already which has to do with all the information that is being gathered from search warrants, from the bank accounts.  There was mention of more than 12 telephones either having the call records or maybe other information about them seized by federal agents.  So that sounds pretty messy.  But the defense lawyers were already sort of throwing down the gauntlet here and saying, look, it’s going to be difficult for prosecutors to rummage through all this.

You know, the claims by these two Giuliani associates are kind of fascinating.  They are saying that they were working for Giuliani, that they are working with Giuliani and that Giuliani was working for them and that they all were working or at least one of these Ukrainian fellows was working for Giuliani for the President of the United States.  And that all these things present some kind of legal obstacle to prosecutors just rummaging willy-nilly through all that information that they have gathered.

WILLIAMS:  Cynthia, let’s talk about this federal judge ruling that we were talking about in the first segment tonight, and what happens now?  It really was, as documents go, a sight to behold.  Does it hold?

ALKSNE:  Well, I’m sure this 75-page smackdown will be appealed.  But she’s obviously gone to incredible detail to go through constitutional history, legal history, legal background.  She cited, you know, every little instance in the Mueller report.  The different writings by the White House.

So it’s -- she has set a record that’s pretty impressive.  It is shocking the manner in which she goes after the White House.  I mean, she basically says you are -- you A, B, and C, and by the way A, B, and C are wrong.  And even if they were right, you lose anyway.

And then she is also specifically takes a shot at the White House counsel, Cipollone, in that letter.  And in fact, she says not only is the White House obstructing, but because you are obstructing and that letter is proof of the obstruction, it’s more reason why we should give you the existing (ph) material.  So she has used that as a fulcrum also to get the material.  So it’s rather extraordinary.

WILLIAMS:  Josh, I am a layperson here, but it sure reads to me as if it was created to be to appeal-proof itself.  What should our viewers know about this particular federal judge?

GERSTEIN:  Well, you know, it’s tempting and I have seen people on Twitter, Brian, saying, well, you know, because she is an Obama appointee, this is a Democrat judge ruling as the Democrats would like her to rule.  But I actually think that there may be a more fundamental allegiance on her part here that comes into play, which is she spent a decade on Capitol Hill at the Senate Judiciary Committee working for Senator Ted Kennedy, eventually rose to be the general counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So, if we’re talking about institutionalists as Cynthia mentioned earlier, I think there is a good chance she is an institutionalist with some allegiance to Congress and its constitutional prerogatives.  And I saw that throughout this opinion today, that she would just not see that Congress’ subpoena power could be sort of thwarted by the White House in this fashion.  And she seemed to resent it and that’s what led to this smackdown.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I would only advise those planning to take her on to curl up with this 75-page opinion today.  Think about it again.

Great thanks to our two returning veterans, Cynthia Alksne and Josh Gerstein.  Thank you both.

GERSTEIN:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up, why on earth would more U.S. troops be heading into Syria when we were just told they were coming home?  We have an expert on that to talk about it.


WILLIAMS: Our Defense Secretary Mark Esper, last referred to by Trump on Twitter as Mark Esperanto, made it official today.  He says the United States will send troops to Eastern Syria to guard oil fields from ISIS, just not to save the Kurdish civilians from the Turks.

The Associated Press reports today, "Though Trump repeatedly says he is pulling out of Syria, the reality on the ground is different.  Adding armored reinforcements in the oil-producing areas of Syria could mean sending several hundred US troops even as a similar number are being withdrawn from a separate mission closer to the border with Turkey."

Just this morning, the President wrote this and we quote, "We are bringing our soldiers back home, ISIS secured."  Another point of fact here.  The US keeps thousands upon thousands of troops in the Middle East Region.  There is every reason to fear the resurgence of ISIS.

Meanwhile, as our Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel report for us tonight, the situation is growing far worse for the Kurds in Northern Syria.


RICHARD ENGEL, CNN CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  Turkish-backed militias are stepping up their attacks on Kurdish fighters, who now have no American protection.  For five years Kurdish men and women fought together with US troops against ISIS, partners and allies.

Among them, Chechik Kobani (ph), 26 years old.  She fought with US forces in some of the toughest battles against ISIS in her hometown, Kobani, in the ISIS capital Raqqa, where she was injured.

This is what happened to Chechik (ph).  A Turkish-backed militia took her prisoner, and then posted it online, laughing as they call her a pig.  Shouting "slit her throat."

This is how ISIS operated, bragging about its abuses.  Chechik’s (ph) family tonight confirmed it’s her in the video, and they’ve lost contact with Chechik (ph) since she went to the front lines last weekend.

Her uncle told us, we fought against ISIS for the world.  Now the world has turned its back on us.


WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to Richard Engle for that.  That’s what this conflict is about.

And with us for more tonight is Tom Nichols.  We welcome him back to the broadcast.  He is a professor at National Security Affairs at our US Naval War College.  He is an expert in this area, author of over half a dozen books.  Usual reminder, when Tom is on the broadcast, the opinions he expresses are his own.

Tom, having pointed that out, first of all, subsection question.  How many troops ballpark do we have in the Middle East?  Why does the President keep saying he is bringing the troops home?

TOM NICHOLS, NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS PROFESSOR, US NAVAL WAR COLLEGE:  Well, between the Middle East and Central Asia, we have something like 60,000 to 70,000 troops overseas.  And the President, I think says these things because they are promises he made to his base and he knows he is not going to get checked on it by his base.  They’ll believe him if he says the troops are coming home.

So he says it because it’s effective and it works.  It’s like when he goes to rallies.  And just says, I’m bringing the troops back home, I have beaten ISIS, you know, the world is grateful.

He is not really speaking to the foreign policy community or to the informed listener.  He is speaking to his base because he is telling them what they want to hear.  And he is giving them the sound bite they need to have.

WILLIAMS:  How are we supposed to process the optics alone, forget about the morality, of sending men and women in to secure oil fields and not Kurdish humans, including 70,000 children on the run?

NICHOLS:  It’s such a strange reversal that the president, who ran on a campaign of bringing the boys back home and, you know, getting our men and women out of harm’s way and not being the policemen of the world, is now saying that the only thing that really swayed him about leaving troops in the region was to go protect some oil fields so ISIS couldn’t get them.  Which itself is a contradictory claim because as far as he’s been claiming all along that ISIS has been completely defeated.

But I think at this point, the most important thing to understand, is the president is improvising every minute that he speaks because he made an impulsive decision, talking with the Turkish leader.  And now, he and the rest of his team just keep back filling rationales about why he is doing what he is doing and why it all really will work out even though none of it is working out.

And this is all chain of command stuff, what must be the Joint Chiefs, what must the combatant commanders on the ground think?

NICHOLS:  Well, of course, I can’t speak for them.  I think it’s probably presenting a serious strategic dilemma to anybody who has been dealing with that situation over the past five years, because we have an ally there.  We have an ally, a nominal ally in Turkey within NATO.  We’re trying to protect people that have fought by our side.

In a sense, the President took a status quo that was highly stable and he turned it completely into a no-win scenario with one phone call.  The status quo wasn’t perfect.

There’s, you know, there’s not -- it’s not easy to identify heroes and villains all the time, but this was a status quo that was working pretty well, protecting some of our friends, keeping our ally at bay from doing something bad, and now the President has just thrown all of that up in the air.  And I think everybody who is trying to plan around this is now picking among options that range from terrible to awful.

WILLIAMS:  And, Tom, because I follow your every word on social media, I’ve got to hit you with a question on Tulsi Gabbard.  She made news today saying she was not going to run for re-election as a member of Congress while running for president.  She is a lot of things.

She is an Iraq War veteran.  She is an army major in the Army Reserve.  She is a member of Congress.  She is a Democrat by label, and she is a locked in a debate with Hillary Clinton, among others, say nothing of social media, that where she has been labeled a Russian asset.  What’s going on here, do you think?

NICHOLS:  I had always thought that Tulsi Gabbard was trying to stakeout a position as the anti-establishment wing of both parties, of the Democratic and Republican Parties.

I don’t think Tulsi Gabbard ever thought she had a shot at the nomination.  I think she entered this as a kind of chaos candidate.  And she does have a remarkable, and I think debate moderators and other Democrats ought to ask her about this.

She has a remarkable fluency with Russian and Syrian talking points.  But I think Secretary Clinton made a pretty explosive charge, implied a pretty explosive charge that was then confirmed by one of her spokesmen that Congressman Gabbard is who she was talking about.  And I think it needlessly elevated Tulsi Gabbard’s profile.

Now, Gabbard can present herself as leading kind of the anti-Clinton, anti- establishment wing of a group of the Democratic Party.  And I think that was a self-inflicted wound and I think it was unwise for Secretary Clinton do that.

WILLIAMS:  Well, it it’s not a mess, it will do until the mess gets here.  Tom Nichols, thank you as always for your candor and for coming on.  We appreciate it.

And coming up for us, yet another consequential week as we said in this presidency.  Jon Meacham at long last will help us try to understand some of what we’re looking at.


WILLIAMS:  This week, our President turned his outgoing fire on members of his own party and here’s the quote. "The Never Trumper Republicans, they are human scum."

Susan Glasser points out in this week’s New Yorker, the President’s human scum tweets bears noting it is quite simply the language of tyrants and those who aspire to be tyrants.

Here back with us tonight is Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning Author and Presidential Historian.  Among his books is the timely, "Impeachment: An American History" which he has co-authored.

Jon, you’re a historian and the author of young kids.  What do we do about this?  What do you tell them and what parallels are there to hold on to in American history, if any?

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, it’s all on us now.  There is no outsourcing of learning the art of dignity and the art of good manners, which entirely now on neighborhoods and families.  We can’t look to the top of our republic, and which is what we’ve always really wanted to do.

Even from the very beginning, George Washington wrote to James Madison that has, "I will be the first of everything.  I want to make sure I get it right."  And he didn’t mean first as in the top guy in the way that the incumbent would mean it.  He meant the first in a long series.

President Roosevelt, FDR once said that the presidency is preeminently a place of moral leadership.  It’s about modeling and embodying hopefully the best we can be.  They don’t get it right all the time.

The best we can say of our former presidents is that, they are imperfect people who left us a more perfect union.  And in this case, we just have an imperfect person.  And right now, the union in many ways, you know, you and I know a lot of saying smart patriotic folks who really are not sure we survive this man.

I have continued to be hopeful that we do, but that hope is based on believing that a sufficient number of us will say, and particularly those of us who have been given power in the public square in Congress, in the Senate, will say, you know what?  I don’t want to be Joe McCarthy.  I want to be Margaret Chase Smith.  I don’t want to be George Wallace.  I want to be Rosa Parks.  I don’t want to Neville Chamberlain.  I want to be Winston Churchill.  I think that’s the kind of conversation we have to have.

WILLIAMS:  I’m going to hold it right here.  Let me slip in this commercial break and ask you to stay with us on the other side.  I want to talk to you about a person in history known as Mr. X, and by the way of retelling that story, we will ask our Pulitzer Prize-winning historian if history needs to be signed along the way.


WILLIAMS:  We foreshadowed this a bit earlier, we have new details tonight on what’s to come from this upcoming tell-all book by Anonymous, a senior Trump official.

It’s called "A Warning."  It’s due out next month.  It’s the first we’ll hear from this person since that September 2018 op-ed in "The New York Times."  We don’t know the author’s gender, whether they are still employed inside the administration.  Only that he or she intends to remain anonymous.

There is this from the back cover, however.  You will hear a great deal from Donald Trump directly for there is no better witness to his own character, to his character than his own words, and no better evidence of the danger he poses than his own conduct.

The nameless author goes on to warn the truth about the President must be spoken, not after Americans have stood in the voting booth.

Still with us is historian and author Jon Meacham.  Jon, should history have to be signed?  And you know this is coming, tell us about the newspaper scandal of 1947, the article by Mr. X.

MEACHAM:  Yes, the long telegram.  They adapt through the author of containment was George Kennan.  And it was an anonymous article.  It was actually in foreign affairs, wasn’t it?

WILLIAMS:  Yes, that’s right.

MEACHAM:  And this is the first time -- I’m glad we’re up against the World Series and we’re talking about George Kennan and foreign affairs.  I think this will --

WILLIAMS:  Because we can.

MEACHAM:  Kennan was an American diplomat.  He wrote -- basically laid out the argument for containment, and the intellectual father of that, and wrote it anonymously.

You know, I think there are -- I would think -- I’d look at this in two levels.  One is in real time, the exogenesis of the moment are such that those of us who aren’t so courageous, and who don’t have the choice, really, to be anonymous and make this kind of warning.  I think need to be careful about casting the first stone here.

This person is clearly working through an enormously complex set of factors in their life, and trying to put the life of the country in a better place as well.  Now, in the fullness of time, and that’s like just quickly too, that’s like an anonymous source.  That’s like deep throat, Mark Felt for Watergate.

That was someone who maintained a cloak of anonymity and yet, did nudge the republic to a better place.  And so that’s one set.

I’ll say that in the long sweep of history, it helps to know who these folks are because then you can assess the evidence better.  I find in my own work if I come across a blind quote from someone’s work, you know, a senior administration official, you know, working for whomever.  It’s trickier to credit that the farther you get away from, again, the exogenesis of the moment.

At the same time, the federalist papers were published under pseudonyms.  Ultimately, of course, we did know who wrote them.  I think what we’re going to be talking about pretty soon is who this person is.  It’s incredibly difficult to write a long-form book, particularly if you’re reporting, to report conversations where your identity will not become self-evident.

This isn’t like a work of fiction.  It’s not like an op-ed.  So I suspect we’re going to know who this person is sooner rather than later, just a guess.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  It’s also true that electronics algorithms can take idiom and figures of speech, and match them against the public record like the word "malign" and its usage in the original anonymous piece.  That is a word very much in vogue in the national security set.

Anyway, I guess, we’ll have a lot to pore over.  Jon, thank you very much as always for being my Friday night companion.  We talk about Kennan on a World Series night because we can.  Jon Meacham with us tonight.

MEACHAM:  God bless America.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, an honorable man remembered honorably as we echo Jon’s assertion there, God bless America, as we go to our final break.  Stay with us for this next story.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight.  When two former presidents and much of official Washington turns out to remember a man born of humble beginnings.  It’s a good indication he did something right during his time here on earth.

Today our nation’s center of political power remembered a powerful man, a consequential man who happen to be the son of South Carolina sharecroppers who by the time of his death was a powerful committee chairman, a fixture and benefactor in his community and in lives great and small.  This was the day his congregation and friends said farewell to Elijah Cummings.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I love this man.  I loved every-minute I ever spent with him, every conversation we ever had.  I loved his booming voice.  But we should hear him now in the quiet times at night and in the morning, when we need courage, when we get discouraged and we don’t know if we believe anymore, we should hear him

Still a small voice that keeps us going, keeps us grateful, keeps us happy, and keeps us moving.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  It’s been remarked that Elijah was a kind man.  There’s nothing weak about kindness and compassion.  There’s nothing weak about looking out for others.  There’s nothing weak about being honorable.  You’re not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect.

He would remind all of us that our time is too short not to fight for what’s good and what is true, and what is best in America.

Two hundred years to 300 years from now, he would say people will look back at this moment and they will ask the question, what did you do?  And hearing him, we would be reminded it falls upon each of us to give voice to the voiceless, and comfort to the sick, and opportunity to those not born to it, and to preserve and nurture our democracy.

May God bless the memory of the very honorable Elijah Cummings.


WILLIAMS:  A proper farewell for the old campaigner, Elijah Cummings, the third of seven children, 23 years in Congress, chairman of House Oversight, gone at the age of 68.

That is our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  And goodnight 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