LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, it`s the eve of the vote in the House to go on record, to lay out the map that appears likely to result in articles of impeachment. In that same Capitol again today more witnesses, more testimony about a shadow foreign policy, apparently run by a former New York City mayor in support of the President`s darkest suspicions about Ukraine.
And now a big sought after name has been invited to testify. With each name that comes forward, many of them career public servants who feel compelled to tell the truth. We`ll talk to a long-time GOP veteran tonight about how a politics of this is getting tough for the President`s party.
And this day in the life of Californians in the fire zone. No power, no school, no home to return to. No telling how far an ember will carry. Tonight it meant fire swirling around the library and grave site of a former president. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday evening.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,014 of this Trump administration. Another day of nearly hourly developments in the impeachment inquiry including more testimony, and the clock is under way toward tomorrow`s initial vote of the House. This is a resolution to lay out the impeachment process in effect.
In the meantime and looking ahead tonight, House Democrats have told former National Security Adviser John Bolton they want him to testify about the Trump White House and Ukraine. Tonight Bolton`s lawyer says he`s not willing to appear voluntarily but that he stands ready to accept a subpoena.
Fiona Hill, who worked for Bolton, reportedly testified that he referred to Ukraine pressure campaign as a "drug deal" and spoke of Rudy Giuliani as a hand grenade who`s going to blow everybody up.
Well, tomorrow congressional investigators will be hearing from another member of Bolton`s national security team, a guy by the name of Tim Morrison. He listened in on that now infamous July 25 phone call with the President of Ukraine. Last week Ambassador Bill Taylor testified that Morrison told him about this decision to block nearly $400 million in military aid that our Congress had approved to go to Ukraine until investigations were launched into the Bidens.
Well, late this afternoon there was a notable development when we learned that Mr. Morrison on the eve of his testimony is in fact quitting his job as -- at the National Security Council. He`ll be giving his closed-door deposition as the House resolution is brought up for consideration. This afternoon the rules committee in the House voted to move that approved language forward to the House floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM MCGOVERN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS RULES CMTE. CHAIRMAN: When our founders drafted the constitution more than 230 years ago, they included a process that could lead to removing a president from office if he or she abused their power.
This Congress with our existing authority under the Constitution and the rules of the House is in the midst of an impeachment inquiry right now.
I don`t know whether President Trump will be impeached. Only the facts and how we respond to them will dictate that. But I can tell you this. This process determining whether he should be impeached will be open to the public view just as it should be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Congressman McGovern of Massachusetts.
Earlier today two more witnesses testified to lawmakers about how outsiders appeared to be trying to influence this administration`s policy on Ukraine. State Department officials Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson each met behind closed doors with House investigating committees.
Anderson was special adviser for Ukraine negotiations until this past July. In his opening statement he said Bolton warned him about Rudy`s efforts to influence Trump on Ukraine.
Croft took over for Anderson in July after spending two years as a director covering Ukraine over on the National Security Council. This morning she told lawmakers that lobbyist Robert Livingston, you may remember this man, long-time Republican congressman from Louisiana, he is the former House speaker elect during the time of President Clinton`s impeachment, that he pushed to remove the one-time U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, calling her "an Obama holdover."
We`re also learning more about what Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman told members of Congress during his testimony yesterday. NBC News reports he testified that a White House meeting between Trump and the President of Ukraine as well as that military aid package was contingent on Ukrainian officials carrying out multiple investigations.
POLITICO reporting Vindman also said an associate of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes misrepresented himself to Trump in an attempt to influence Ukraine policy.
Some of the key aspects of the impeachment inquiry specifically, who knew about what, also emerged today during a Senate foreign relations committee hearing. Under oath was this man, number two guy at the State Department under Pompeo, John Sullivan. He is hoping to be confirmed as the next U.S. ambassador to Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D) NEW JERSEY: Do you think it`s ever appropriate for the President to use his office to solicit investigations into a domestic political opponent?
JOHN SULLIVAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Soliciting investigations into a domestic political opponent, I don`t think that would be in accord with our values.
MENENDEZ: You were aware that there were individuals and forces outside of the State Department seeking to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch, is that correct?
SULLIVAN: I was.
MENENDEZ: And did you know Mr. Giuliani was one of those people?
SULLIVAN: I believed he was, yes.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN, (D) NEW HAMPSHIRE: Were you aware that Rudy Giuliani had opened a second channel of diplomacy, if you want to call it that, a second channel of effort in Ukraine?
SULLIVAN: As I said in response to questions from Senator Menendez, I was aware that Mr. Giuliani was involved in Ukraine issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So that`s about the way that went.
And here for our lead-off discussion on a Wednesday night, Shannon Pettypiece, veteran journalist and senior White House reporter for NBC News Digital, Mieke Eoyang, attorney, former staffer for both House Intel and Armed Services Committees, and Andrew Desiderio, Congressional Reporter for POLITICO. Good evening. Welcome to you all.
Andrew, I`d like to begin with you and your beat, just to remind us, what does Bolton testimony get you? How big a fish is he considered in all of this considering how much is already in there on the record?
ANDREW DESIDERIO, POLITICO CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, considering what we already know about what has been testified to behind closed doors is that John Bolton was a witness to these efforts, these shadow efforts by Trump-aligned associates and consultants to try to implement a shadow foreign policy that was inconsistent with the foreign policy that the U.S. diplomatic and national security apparatus was pushing. Obviously, John Bolton as someone who led the National Security Council for so long and has been a Russia hawk for so long was very invested in the idea of supporting, you know, Ukraine and making sure they had the resources to push back against Russian aggression.
And we`ve learned from the testimony that, you know, when he learned that Rudy Giuliani was trying to, you know, push something that the U.S. was trying to warn against essentially he was becoming very alarmed at it. We heard from Fiona Hill, the President`s former top Russia aide, to that effect. We heard of course from Colonel Vindman yesterday who backed up a lot of Fiona Hill`s assertions. And then of course William Taylor last week, the top diplomat to Ukraine. So it seems like the nexus here always comes back to John Bolton and that he was aware of these efforts.
And not just aware but he was very concerned and alarmed. And that`s why I think House Democrats really want his testimony at this point.
WILLIAMS: So Mieke, you`re the lawyer in this conversation. When a John Bolton says I`m not going to just respond to your invite but I would accept a subpoena, do you take him at his word?
MIEKE EOYANG, FMR. HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE STAFFER: I think you do. And we`ve seen this happen with other witnesses coming before the committees of inquiry where they have said hey, I am willing to come but you`re going to have to force me to come, I can`t come voluntarily.
It`s interesting because my understanding is that John Bolton shares an attorney with another witness that`s been asked to come who has said, look, I have to go seek legal guidance because I need to find out whether or not the administration`s attempts to bar me from appearing are legal or not. So they`re not doing the outright obstruction that we saw coming out of the Trump White House, but they are not coming fully voluntarily the way that we have seen Ambassador Taylor and others come.
WILLIAMS: So Shannon, I want to read you a piece of reporting from the Associated Press just to remind us about the circumstances when Bolton left. "Morrison," this gentleman who`s testifying tomorrow, "told people after Bolton was forced out of his job that the national security adviser had tried to stop Giuliani`s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine and that Morrison agreed."
And Shannon, it`s just more evidence that every day there`s just more evidence. And it`s these people from the inside. This is -- this will now make two people who heard the call happening contemporaneously.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC NEWS.COM SR. WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: And that undercuts this argument that Republicans have been trying to make of first we don`t have anyone with direct firsthand knowledge of the call. Well, we now do have someone with direct firsthand knowledge of the call. They have tried to say, well, Bill Taylor and his assertion there was a quid pro quo, that`s just one person, we don`t have anyone backing that up. Well, they now do have someone backing that up because that is essentially what Vindman said yesterday, is that the aide to Ukraine, the meeting with the White House, was contingent as he said on these investigations going through.
So while these witnesses in the next few days and that we saw today may not bring any sort of new revelations, they are backing up the current revelations that we have.
And I would note, the White House is really in the dark here. They don`t know what anyone is going to say. They don`t really know what John Bolton is going to say. And part of that is because they`re refusing to cooperate with this investigation. I mean, the White House doesn`t even know what exactly is said in these hearing rooms.
And as a contrast to the Mueller investigation, where the White House was cooperating, where every witness from the White House who went in to talk to Mueller went in and talked to the White House Counsel`s office, the lawyers between those witnesses and the White House Counsel`s office were coordinating, were discussing. They had a clear picture of what was going on. Because the White House is not cooperating in this, they do not have a lawyer in the hearing room and the White House lawyers cannot, you know, exchange any information at all with the witnesses who are going forward.
WILLIAMS: Shannon, what an excellent point. And going into another day tomorrow, they again don`t know exactly what it is we`ll be reporting on 24 hours from now.
Hey, Andrew, since we`ve been on the air three other guests on this broadcast, Carol Leonnig, Tom Hamburger, and Greg Miller over at "The Washington Post" have broken this. Here`s the headline. "White House lawyer moved transcript of Trump call to classified server." Where have we heard that expression before? "After Ukraine adviser raised alarms."
So we all know the broad outlines of this story. Mr. -- Lieutenant Colonel Vindman testified yesterday. He hears the President on the phone with the President of Ukraine. And in places later replaced but ellipses, three dots, he hears the President talking about things that weren`t reflected on the transcript, or the summary that we saw. This now alleges that the lawyer at the NSC is the one who made the call to put it in a more secure place. Does this by your reading, Andrew, imply any guilt or innocence or any conclusion?
DESIDERIO: Well, my first thought is that it corroborates the whistleblower`s complaint even further. You`ll recall that the third most central point that the whistleblower complaint was making was that there was an effort to shield the contents of the President`s conversation with President Zelensky by putting it onto a classified server that usually these transcripts do not go on.
And yesterday of course we learned late last night, rather, after Vindman testified for more than 10 hours behind closed doors that he was trying to sort of get a more correct version of the transcript out there in terms of the one that was released publicly including adding references to Burisma, of course the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board of. And he was trying to essentially make it more accurate so that the public could get an accurate reading of it. But he was essentially, you know, he was voted down in that respect. And it all comes back to that whistle-blower complaint, though, and the extent to which it`s being corroborated behind closed doors. And that`s my first thought hearing this "Washington Post" story tonight.
WILLIAMS: So Mieke, by distant of your experience on the House of Representatives, you know that in normal times if it`s a foot race between molasses and the House calendar molasses wins walking away. However, all of this has been fast tracked. Having said that, do you have any idea, just a viewer`s guide, as to timing? Start with when we`ll see the first public hearings perhaps.
EOYANG: So it`s not clear when we`ll see the first public hearings. But now that they have this resolution that will come forward which will allow Chairman Schiff to set public hearings, we now have a process going forward that will be more transparent so the American people can see what these witnesses have said behind closed doors. Chairman Schiff had said earlier that he would make statements and witness evidence public once it no longer compromised the inquiry itself.
And what as Shannon pointed out, since the White House doesn`t know what`s happening they can`t put pressure on witnesses to try and conform to a particular story. They go in and what they say is black boxed so that they can then check it against other witnesses. We`ll see all that come out.
But again, the House has made very clear they want this done before the end of the year. And nothing motivates members of Congress to get something done than leaving for the holidays.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Don`t get between them and national airport. It will be at your peril.
Shannon, a point you started to make, and I want to finish on it. And that is the art of distraction, the shiny object. All of the arguments we`ve been seeing, secret court process, kangaroo court, there have been Republicans in these depositions all the while. Aren`t the Republicans about to lose all those talking points when all of this gets televised on this network and others? And more than that, we get to read all these depositions with secrets redacted for national security.
PETTYPIECE: Well, yes. There is this assumption that transparency will work in the Republicans` favor, that they will get a chance to present a counternarrative or chip away at these witnesses. They kind of think back to the Blasey Ford testimony where they feel like they were able to turn the tables on that narrative against Kavanaugh once her testimony was actually public and Republicans were able to sort of dig in and go after her character.
But that is assuming that the facts aren`t on your side, you know, assuming the facts won`t be on your side. And transparency could really come and get them. They don`t know what these witnesses are going to say. They have an idea now that they`ve had some of these closed-door hearings to give them an idea of where this is going, but they might not necessarily want a television clip of some of the things that are going to be said in these hearings coming out forward.
But that said, I think they will -- if the talking points have to move from process to something else they will shift those. And the President is staying on a message like we saw with the Mueller investigation of no quid pro quo. Whether it is true or not, whether it is contradicted, he will stick to that. It is the new no collusion. He will repeat it over and over again along with this is a witch hunt and hope that it gets imprinted in the American public`s psyche similar to how he felt it did in the Mueller investigation.
So, I think developments aside, that`s where the President is going. And they will stick to a message, they will deny, they will attempt to discredit, just as we saw them do during the Mueller investigation.
WILLIAMS: A great point to end on. And thank you for that. Three of our returning veterans, Shannon Pettypiece, Mieke Eoyang, Andrew Desiderio, thank you all for starting us off on a Wednesday night.
And coming up, as we continue, what the speaker is putting up for a vote tomorrow, it`s not without its risks. We`ll dig deeper into the politics of it with a former member of her congressional caucus.
And later, the first major candidate just signed up for the nation`s first presidential primary. This photo may give some of the story away. One of several 2020 headlines you might have missed. Steve Kornacki will be here in this studio to help catch us all up as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Wednesday night overlooking the West Wing.
WILLIAMS: So the Democrats and their speaker have this vote tomorrow on how to proceed basically. POLITICO reports the Dems are confident they will achieve "near unity" on the resolution. And top Democrats are expecting few defections.
The "Times" is reporting House Speaker Pelosi struck a sober tone in a closed-door meeting with her Democratic caucus today. They report "Nobody came here to impeach a President, and no decision has been made to impeach the President," Pelosi told members, according to an aide in the room. But she added a decision had been made to open the impeachment inquiry and now we are putting forth the terms as to how we go forth in the fairest possible way."
Republicans are continuing to argue that the President is not being afforded proper due process. Here is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: No due process now, maybe some later, but only if we feel like it. It`s not a standard that should ever be applied to any American and it should not be applied here to the President of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: With us to talk about it is a veteran of the House, Donna Edwards, former Democratic member of Congress from the great State of Maryland who is these days a "Washington Post" columnist.
Congresswoman, thank you very much for coming on. We needed someone fresh from the game. Let`s do this as a lightning round. First of all, what`s the problem with what McConnell just said about being denied due process?
DONNA EDWARDS, (D) MARYLAND FMR. U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, the problem is that Mitch McConnell hasn`t actually read the resolution, which really affords the President an opportunity in the hearings to call witnesses, to examine witnesses, to present evidence.
And apart from that, this is like a grand jury. It`s an -- it`s part of the investigation. When it gets over to the Senate Mitch McConnell can present the President all the due process that he needs in the context of what looks like a trial but it`s not a criminal proceeding.
And you know, Republicans all along have also had an opportunity to examine witnesses in these closed-door investigative depositions and they haven`t really participated. And so now the speaker has set forth a set of rules that the House is going to pass. And that will outline the procedure, which I think is a really thorough procedure that allows full participation.
WILLIAMS: Earlier tonight I was calling this vote procedural. Do you think there`s any more risk to it than that?
EDWARDS: No, I don`t. I think it was an important part of the process. I mean, the House got -- Democrats got an affirmative ruling in the courts last week. They had already opened an impeachment inquiry, and now this sets about the process by which those public hearings will be conducted.
WILLIAMS: Can you name one member of Congress with an R after their name who you`re going to be curious to see if they cross over and vote for this?
EDWARDS: Well, you know, we do have the obvious ones who supported the impeachment inquiry, but I don`t know. In some ways they may treat tomorrow`s vote like a regular procedural vote and stick to party lines. But it doesn`t really matter.
I mean, the House is a majority institution. And this process is going to go forward. And Republicans can decide if they want to clown around like they have in the past or if they want to treat this like the serious constitutional matter that it is.
WILLIAMS: We`ve been trying to warn our viewers of a possible iceberg ahead, and I`m curious to hear how much you actually fear an attempted government shutdown as we go forward in these next few weeks.
EDWARDS: Well, you know, it would be very unfortunate. And, you know, what we do know is that government shutdowns do not work in favor of the -- those who are pushing forward for a shutdown. It`s not a good political move apart from the fact that it`s right before the holidays and not a great move for the American people. And I don`t think the public is going to be distracted or confused by the President pushing forward with a shutdown because he wants to avoid the constitutional process of impeachment.
WILLIAMS: Do you think by Christmas we`ll be looking at articles of impeachment?
EDWARDS: I think we could. But I think as the speaker has said, you know, this is a -- it is a process, and they`re going to go where the facts take them. But I think it is likely that we`re going to end up before then. But in time for the Senate to start the new year and begin the process of trying the President, should it come to that.
And you know, the speaker said that she`s not confident -- she doesn`t know yet where this is going to lead. I mean, you know, when you look at the evidence that`s been laid out even in the public thus far, I mean, it seems very unlikely that there would not be articles of impeachment. And I would expect that that process is going to be done and I would expect that the witnesses who are called and what they`ve laid out in terms of allowing staff counsel to ask questions, allowing Chairman Schiff to really present a full narrative without interruption of the evidence, I think these are really important mechanisms to tell the story to the American people and to convey the absolute urgency of doing this in the face of a President who -- this isn`t like we`re talking about the 2016 election. This is -- we`re talking about interference in the 2020 election. There could not be anything more urgent than to hold the President accountable for his behavior.
WILLIAMS: Important point to end on. Our guest tonight, Donna Edwards, puts a D after her name. Congresswoman, thank you very much as always for joining us. We appreciate it.
EDWARDS: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, it`s a red flag word that campaigns try to avoid, and that`s restructuring. It`s exactly what this big name campaign announced today. There happens to be a lot of 2020 political news to catch up on. Enough, in fact, to qualify for a visit from one Steve Kornacki, who joins us next.
WILLIAMS: Let`s get into this. New national polling out today in the 2020 Democratic race showing former Vice President Joe Biden still at the head of the pack but with a softening lead. Usual caveat here, it`s a national poll as opposed to our 50 state elections. But according to this new USA Today/Suffolk poll, Biden leads Elizabeth Warren, his closest rival, by nine. In August, that margin was 18. So that`s a story. His overall standing has dropped six points since the last time this poll was conducted. That`s a story.
And with just 96 days until the Iowa caucuses, Senator Kamala Harris is restructuring her campaign. This is what the announcement looked like when it came out today. A memo announcing plans to lay off dozens of staffers at her campaign headquarters in Baltimore and to go, quote, all in on Iowa.
Well, there`s only one person we wanted to talk to about all of these and he thankfully is here, Steve Kornacki, our National Political Correspondent. Steve, there comes a time and I guess every campaign where they`ve got to look in the mirror. Campaigns burn money. This is a senator from California in the Senate in Washington, put her headquarters in Baltimore and now wants all in in Iowa. I guess they`ve got very little choice.
STEVE KORNACKI, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, MSNBC: Think about the big picture with the Kamala Harris campaign, the expectations.
KORNACKI: When she got in the race, first of all, then that first debate. That first debate that was NBC/MSNBC back at the end of June, she had that moment with Joe Biden where she went after him. There was polling in the week or so after that debate that actually showed her catching or coming very close to Biden for the lead nationally. And there was a sense that this thing had just taken off. And there it was.
You had Biden and Harris and that might be the race. And since then, basically nothing has gone right for her. And so basically, it`s becoming an all in bet on Iowa for her campaign. It`s going to be pay cuts for staff. You go through all the restructuring you`re talking about right there.
If you want the sort of optimistic note for the Harris campaign, it would be this. The race does remain fluid nationally. Biden you show still ahead. He`s only in the mid 20s. And that`s in good polling for him. There`s other polling that has him in the low 20s. So nobody else has really broken out and run away with this. So there`s still some opportunity there.
And there are candidates in the past who have really bottomed out and then rebounded. You can think back to John Kerry in 2004. Of course one thing that John Kerry had in 2004, he was able to borrow 6 million bucks against the value of his house. Pour that into Iowa when he went all in there. Not sure Harris is doing the same thing here.
WILLIAMS: By the way, it only works if you own a $6 million house.
WILLIAMS: Two things I want to get to with you. The new numbers out of New Hampshire. And I have never asked you, but I presume you share my caveat and my suspicion about national polls. We don`t have a national election.
KORNACKI: Right. And we have -- so you put the national poll up there. The race looks different when you look at Iowa and New Hampshire. New Hampshire, there it is right now.
KORNACKI: Bernie Sanders. There`s two stories I think emerging in this poll, right? First Bernie Sanders, about a month ago the news was the heart attack, oldest candidate in the Democratic field. And there was just the sense that maybe his campaign was just going to kind of fade out here. And instead I think this is a reminder there is a strong core of support there for Bernie Sanders.
I think especially New Hampshire, obviously a next-door neighbor state for him but a state where he got 60 percent of the vote in 2016. And by the way, Joe Biden, look at where he is there in New Hampshire there too.
WILLIAMS: And I wanted to ask you about Joe Biden because the Biden campaign has been very assiduous in saying to people like you and me and networks like this one pay no attention, pay less attention to Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina`s our firewall, we don`t really expect to do gangbusters in those two states. What`s the problem with that where Democratic Party political history is concerned?
KORNACKI: The problem is if you don`t win Iowa or New Hampshire, if you don`t win at least one of them, the track record in the modern era of winning the Democratic nomination, basically non-existent. One case where it happen, it was Bill Clinton in `92. But Iowa was uncontested that year. So I don`t really count that.
Otherwise, every nominee in the modern era of Democratic politics has won either Iowa or New Hampshire or both. And the reason it`s so critical is I think folks at home know how these campaigns go. If you win that first one, all the new media attention you get, all the money you get, all of the momentum, everybody wants to join the bandwagon. If you win the second one after winning the first one, that bandwagon is suddenly 10 times as big.
And if you`re on the losing end of it, things evaporate really quickly. And we`ve seen it. Howard Dean -- you think of all the examples of candidates. If you don`t break through in those first few states, your support vanishes. So if the Biden campaign is there saying, hey, look, we`re doing great in South Carolina and they are doing great in the polls in South Carolina right now. The real big question is, what will that number in South Carolina look like if he`s third in Iowa, third in New Hampshire, something like that?
WILLIAMS: We also, again, transparency, play a role in that coverage on those nights, Iowa and New Hampshire. You wrote, and I read your book on this subject more broadly. And that is we love declaring new kings and queens. We love saying, oh my goodness, he`ll never recover from this. We play a role.
KORNACKI: Sure. And of course the famous case of that 1992 Bill Clinton lost New Hampshire by nine points to a guy named Paul Tsongas. But in the early going on primary night `92, it was close. Clinton made the very smart move of coming right downstairs into that hotel ballroom and saying it`s basically a tie and New Hampshire`s made me the comeback kid. And the comeback kid narrative stuck. And that`s one of the reasons Bill Clinton was able to win the nomination despite not winning New Hampshire in 1992. But yes, media coverage obviously, it`s not a national primary --
KORNACKI: -- but folks are responding to national media now in ways they weren`t before.
WILLIAMS: You and I will be logging some hours in this very room. It will all be a pleasure. Steve Kornacki, thank you very much --
KORNACKI: Looking forward to it.
WILLIAMS: -- staying up with us tonight.
Coming up, he`s had some strong words for the President but today Mitt Romney said it`s time for him to do something else. Rick Wilson with us next to talk about the Republicans` next move on impeachment. That and more when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: And I respect my colleagues and they have the capacity to make their own decisions. But in my view, it`s time for me to stay silent on impeachment until the process is complete.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You second that?
ROMNEY: Yes, I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Romney and Manchin. Not much of a defense for Trump there from two prominent senators, one from each party, it would appear. The President is taking some notice. POLITICO is out with this new reporting tonight. "Sitting inside the White House, Mitch McConnell gave Donald Trump some straightforward advice. Stop attacking senators, including Mitt Romney, who will likely soon judge your fate in an impeachment trial." And in this case, Trump appears to have listened to the man in the Senate who controls the future of his presidency.
Well, there`s this on the upside, the President did this today. He tweeted out a picture of the hero dog from the Baghdadi raid receiving the Medal of Honor. The photoshop required removing the actual recipient of the Medal of Honor, James McCloughan, who survived two days of sustained gunfire in Vietnam, saved 10 of his brothers, suffered combat wounds, and refused an order to evacuate. So we have that.
With us tonight is Rick Wilson, long-time Florida man, long-time Republican strategist, soon following up on his first book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies," with the new work "Running Against The Devil," which is due out we`re told in early 2020. Rick, thank you for coming on. I`ve checked there`s nothing else on TV tonight.
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That`s fine.
WILLIAMS: So good on us. And I wanted to --
WILSON: Yes, right?
WILLIAMS: I wanted to just start by having some fun. In this very studio about two days ago, Donny Deutsch, who likes to foment things in the conversation, floated out the ticket Romney-Haley and asked which Democratic ticket could beat that. What`s your answer?
WILSON: Look, I think that would be a formidable ticket. I don`t think it`s in the cards right now, though. I think the party is still too stuck with Donald Trump. I don`t think the primary mechanism, unless Governor -- or Senator Romney decided to very aggressively do that, would be amenable to it. However, you know, there may be Republicans who, as this impeachment process grinds on, ask themselves, was it a great idea to give Trump the car keys to the entire party process.
WILLIAMS: I want to know what your indicators are, what will tip you off that Republicans in the Senate are available to be peeled off? I just put together off the top of my head some names. Alexander, Collins, Blount, Ernst, Gardner, McSally, Portman, Romney, Sasse. Starting with that list, what are you going to look for? What do you think the chances are that so much as one name on that list goes?
WILSON: The main thing you watch for is when Mitch McConnell feels like his majority is in danger. The moment Mitch McConnell sees that McSally or Collins or Gardner is going to lose and the moment he sees that his numbers are going to be much closer to 49 or 47 than 51 or 52, he will cut Donald Trump loose. He will leave him flopping on the deck like a gutted fish. It will be done.
Mitch McConnell is a survivor. Mitch McConnell doesn`t give a damn about Donald Trump. He does give a damn about control of the U.S. Senate. Donald Trump is an impediment to that, he`ll go. As long as Mitch McConnell has that equation, he`s going to hold the majority of the Republican vote and certainly he`s going to hold the number required to prevent the President from being convicted in the Senate until he sees that his majority`s in danger.
And what we are seeing is signs, Brian, that, you know, Republicans are falling behind in fund-raising in Maine and in Arizona, in Colorado and other places. We`re seeing that there`s been a real drop-off in the polling for a lot of Republican members of the Senate. And I think those concerns are only going to get more amplified as we go forward with the impeachment process.
WILLIAMS: I wanted to get your reaction to a Tom Friedman quote from the New York Times yesterday. He sure can turn a phrase. "If America`s worst enemies had spent years designing a plan to erode our greatest strengths, they could not have done better than what some of our fellow citizens are doing to the country every day for short-term financial or political gain. Prominent figures in government, politics, and commerce are behaving in ways that are so destructive of the core institutions and norms that underpin our democracy, one can only assume that they take the country`s stability as a given, that they can abuse and stress it all they want and it won`t break. They are wrong. We can break America, and right now we`re on our way there."
Rick, as a patriot, what`s it been like for you to watch just the destruction of character, the character assassination? Career public servants, decorated military veterans coming forward to tell the truth about what they saw.
WILSON: You know, Brian, the most disappointing thing about this is there`s this sort of nihilistic take in the minds of a lot of supporters of this President that anything is worthwhile. That in order to protect him, you can burn down every norm, every institution, you can ignore the law, you can ignore the constitution, you can ignore fundamental human decency, no matter what as long as it owns the libs and protects this President, they`re willing to do it.
That`s not a way to be a governing party. That`s not a way to be a participant in a republic that has survived this long by having a dynamic tension between the two major ideological threads and by having a tension between the two parties that no side ever got everything they wanted. No side ever was dominant for too long.
What they see here is this opportunity with Trump slipping away from them because of his behavior and his corruption and his manias, and they`re terrified of it. So they`re going to get while the getting is good. They`re going to feast because tomorrow we may die. And they`re, you know, doing everything they possibly can in the political domain, in the financial domain, in the lobbying domain, in all those areas we are seeing an enormous abuse of power, an enormous abuse of the public`s goodwill and trust. And I think it`s going to be a very grim and ugly outcome at the end of this thing because this sort of corruption and this sort of behavior only ends one way and that is in tears and hopefully not in blood.
WILLIAMS: Rick Wilson has agreed to stay with us over the break.
When we come back, something we all have in common, it turns out, with the White House Chief of Staff. We all learned about the Baghdadi raid when he did via Twitter. Is that a problem? We`ll talk about it when we come back.
WILLIAMS: When the White House released their photo of the situation room during the weekend raid to take down the leader of ISIS, which some have later compared to The Apprentice, notably absent was the President`s Chief of Staff. Turns out Mick Mulvaney didn`t know the raid was about to happen. Five current and former senior administration officials telling this network, "Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney first learned about the U.S. military raid against ISIS leader al-Baghdadi after the operation was already under way. Mulvaney was at home in South Carolina when President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday night that something very big has just happened."
For context, the Chief of Staff is typically the President`s top adviser, typically plays a central role in White House decisions. For more contexts and to put it in other way, the Russians knew about the raid before Mick Mulvaney. A White House source told NBC News Trump did not see Mulvaney as having a role in national security issues. Whoops.
Still with us is Rick Wilson. And Rick, we have some imagery to remind people about the importance of the office of Chief of Staff. We have Andy Card. He was the guy, leans in tells the boss the second tower has been hit. We`ve got Bill Daley standing in the back room, but in the room where it happened the night bin Laden went down. And now this, what do you take from this?
WILSON: Well, I think part of this speaks very much to the sort of shambolic disorganized insufficient way in which Donald Trump thinks he can manage the White House from his Twitter feed. A great Chief of Staff is a value proposition that every President who is serious about the work understands. And whether they`re in a Republican or Democrat, presidents who have been well served by chiefs of staff can weather crises, can get through problems. You know, they don`t think that they`re playing 87 dimensional chess. They recognize this is a large complex undertaking that has a lot of diverse and complicated moving parts all at one time.
And good chiefs of staff as you mentioned Andy Card, Mac McCarty, James Baker, there are plenty of examples throughout history of chiefs of staff who understood how to handle both the president`s needs and the information flow. They`re almost always read in at the highest levels of security clearances because they have to be a filter between the president and the various operational aspects of the intelligence community, the defense community. There are things only the president knows and sees maybe from the DNI.
But for the most part, most presidents have included chiefs of staff as a central part of their management theory. Donald Trump however does not understand how to manage anything. The largest thing he ever managed was a failed casino business and a branding company in New York which was basically a bunch of family members and some Russian stooges. This is not a guy who understands how to move the levers of leadership without help, but he won`t ask for it.
And then for Mick Mulvaney, I mean, he`s in the, you know, dead man walking, everything Trump touches dies category right now. He`s dead. He just doesn`t realize it yet.
WILLIAMS: That should be the title of a book if it isn`t already. Hey, I`m going to play for you two disparate and unrelated moments that have in common only this, they were both uttered on Fox News. The first one is DJTJ, the President`s son. The second is Laura Ingraham. We`ll discuss both on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: I wish my name was Hunter Biden. I could go abroad make millions off of my father`s presidency. I`d be a really rich guy. It would be incredible.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: There is no GOP in 2020 without Trump. Should you abandon him on the spurious grounds ginned up by the vino (ph) Adam Schiff? You`ll not only not grow the party, you`ll lose everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So Rick, woah, first of all. Number one DJTJ, is that some Olympic gaslighting that we`re witnessing? And number two, to Ms. Ingraham`s point, what you saw that`s what whips do in Congress. That`s majority whip kind of stuff done usually in cloak rooms in the back room.
WILSON: Well, to first cover Don Jr., you know, irony dies on Hannity, pretty much on the daily. That was a moment where the national irony reserves were drained. The well is empty. It`s done. It`s over. I mean, if this family -- if the Trump, you know, syndicate hasn`t been lavishly profiting off of these things, I would be shocked, you know, to find anyone who would believe that.
And in Donald Trump, Jr.`s case, going out there and pretending that Hunter Biden was engaged in something that even comes close to the fact that the Trump family enterprise is still a global enterprise taking in enormous amounts of money from foreign powers and foreign lobbyists and firms representing foreign powers, it`s absurd. Now, as for Frau Ingraham, you know, that threat, that sort of it`s me or nothing, it`s Donald Trump or nothing, that is something that as you said, it`s a whip tactic. It`s the existential crisis of the GOP. And, you know, she may end up getting her wish in some ways. But the fact of the matter is for most of the party`s elected officials, the cost of opposing Donald Trump in any way has been much greater than the cost of standing up. We may be seeing a change in that.
WILLIAMS: Rick Wilson, 15 seconds or less, could you have dreamed as a young man you would someday write a book, talking about your upcoming book that would be in effect a guide for Democrats to defeat the incumbent Republican President?
WILSON: It would have been a very unlikely scenario, my friend.
WILLIAMS: Rick Wilson, thank you as always for coming on the broadcast. And as we go to a break --
WILSON: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: -- our big congratulations for your World Series champions, the Washington Nationals are victorious 6-2. Much more when we come back as the celebration just begins in Washington. We`ll switch our focus out west right after this.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, the state that is home to 40 million of our fellow citizens as tonight`s consumed with a historic fire season. Today a lot more of California was consumed by fire.
We want to start by showing you this. Watch the scene around him as our correspondent Miguel Almaguer is talking not unlike a jet engine in the background. Winds were high enough today to knock you off your feet. The embers they spun off started too many fires to count, and it devolved into a destructive bedlam. A little easier to get a handle on tonight only because you can see them all even if they can`t all be stopped.
Today, the winds blew with the force of a hurricane. The one hill firefighters vowed to defend was full of American history, that one. The Reagan Presidential Library and burial site and at one point it had fire swirling all around it. We also saw from our own camera crew today what it`s like to be in the middle of an air drop of fire retardant right over the top of your position.
The most shared moment from this horrible day was the horse being lead to safety reported to have then bolted and returned to the compound to get the other horses out. Tonight power`s out to over a million Californians, some of them under a mandatory black out not affected by the fires. Thousands are on the run, over 200 structures are now gone. And by now, it`s apparent to just about everyone this is not sustainable.
The westward expansion that brought Americans to that beautiful state was all about the American dream in all the places where today was a nightmare. Solutions will be difficult and expensive. They require commitment and consensus in a country that doesn`t seem to do the big things anymore.
It`s also true that California has led the way for years on its own, something to think about as we thank you for joining us here tonight. 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