Vindman outlines quid pro quo effort. TRANSCRIPT: 11/8/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Andrew Desiderio, Katie Benner, Mara Gay, Amie Parnes, Rick Wilson

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks both for your time tonight.  "Tonight`s Last Word" concludes now.  "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams begins.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  The election that gave us Donald Trump three years ago this very night.  And now we`re days away from public televised impeachment hearings.  The President`s talking points haven`t changed in three years.  It`s all a hoax reported by the fake news media.  The problem is, it`s about to get real.

In the meantime, even more testimony just out today further implicates Rudy and brings new heat on the President`s chief of staff for being involved in a rogue foreign policy and extortion.  The big question, does John Bolton want to come clean or not?

And if you feared the Democratic slate of candidates was missing a diminutive New York billionaire, you`re in luck.  Mike Bloomberg files the first papers that could lead to a run, as "The 11th Hour" begins its hour- long run on a Friday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 1,023 of this Trump administration.  Three years ago tonight from this very studio, we conveyed the stunning news to our viewers, Donald Trump had been elected President.  The news was no less stunning over at Trump headquarters a few blocks from here.  They had a concession speech prepared but no acceptance speech.  And the notion of ad-libbing a presidency was born in that moment that night, and it lives on to this day.

On this night, reality is closing in on this President and his White House.  We are now days away from public televised impeachment hearings after days of hearing from all those witnesses who testified in the basement of the Capitol, behind closed doors.  In thousands of pages released by House Democrats this week, eight current and former administration officials have described a kind of ad lib freelance foreign policy, carried out by Rudy Giuliani and others.  And the allegation is Ukraine was in effect extorted over military aid held up until they were willing to go after the Bidens and say so.

Today the President tried again to pass off the whole thing.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I`m not concerned about anything.  The testimony has all been fine. I mean, for the most part I have never even heard of these people, I have no idea who they are.  You have some never Trumpers.  It seems that nobody has any firsthand knowledge.

What they do is they go all over Washington, let`s find 10 people that hate President Trump the most and let`s put them up there.

In no cases that I see have I been hurt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So there`s that.  Next Wednesday and Friday, in hearings televised live, the nation will hear from three important State Department officials for starters whose testimony has now been released to the public.  Just today we learned that Fiona Hill, President Trump`s former adviser on Russia and Europe, and Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, top Ukraine expert at the NSC, told investigators in their own closed door sessions last month.

Vindman listened in on Trump`s call, you`ll remember, with the Ukrainian leader back on 25 July.  He was asked about allegations of this quid pro quo, or as it`s sometimes called, extortion, quote, question to Vindman, "was there any doubt in your mind as to what the President, our President, was asking for as a deliverable?"  Vindman, "There was no doubt."

He also testify that Gordon Sondland, the man who gave $1 million to the Trump inauguration, the man rewarded richly with the very real job of ambassador to the E.U., had told them that the linking of a White House meeting to an investigation involving the Bidens was "coordinated along with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney."  "He just said that he had had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney, this is what was required in order to get a meeting."

Fiona Hill also testify about Mulvaney`s involvement saying Ambassador Sondland, "basically indicated that there was an agreement with the chief of staff that they would have a White House meeting or, you know, a presidential meeting if the Ukrainians started up these investigations again."

Dr. Hill then said Rudy and his two guys, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas were trying to use the powers of the presidency to further their personal interests.  Fruman and Parnas were arrested last month.  They`re facing federal charges of funneling foreign money to U.S. politicians while trying to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations.

Dr. Hill told lawmakers that her boss, the former Security Adviser John Bolton, repeatedly told staffers and we quote, "nobody should be meeting with Giuliani.  And that Bolton directly said Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up."

Bolton was summoned to testify Thursday but was a no-show.  He wants a judge to rule on whether he can appear in defiance of the White House.  In the meantime, he`s all but advertising what he could potentially fork over.  Bolton`s own lawyer in a letter to Congress today said "Bolton could speak to many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed."

Meantime, there might be tension between Trump and his loyal attorney General Bill Barr.  "The New York Times" reports that unlike the Mueller investigation, Barr has remained largely on the sidelines and has not jumped in to publicly defend the President.  This week, several outlets reported Trump actually wanted Barr to hold a news conference to say the President had broken no laws, but that Barr declined that invitation.  Trump responded wildly on Twitter to that story and repeated much of it to reporters today.

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TRUMP:  Let me just tell you, I never ask -- listen, I never asked him for a press conference.

And if I asked Bill Barr to have a press conference I think he`d do it.  But I never asked him to have a press conference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  As we`ve said, the public impeachment hearings get under way next week.  They are something Trump`s Republican allies have been clamoring for, transparency.  Let`s get this thing out in the open.

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REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX):  The minority has been shut out of the process.  It`s being done in a SCIF, a classified briefing room behind closed doors when it should be in front of the American people.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA):  Everybody in America should be alarmed that right now, here in Congress, there is an impeachment inquiry going on to the President of the United States and the public is not allowed to see it.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  Nowhere in America would somebody go to a trial and not be able to have a witness, without being able to cross examine.  Without being able to have any fairness.

REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ):  You should be outraged if you`re an American at what`s happening here.  You should be allowed to confront your accusers.

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WILLIAMS:  When the topic of transparency and public hearings came up to the President today, he wasn`t having it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  They shouldn`t be having public hearings.  This is a hoax.  This is just like the Russian witch hunt.  This is just a continuation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And with all that in mind, three returning veterans here to start us off on a Friday night, John Heilemann, National Affairs Analyst, co-author of "Game Change" and "Double Down" and co-host in his spare time of "The Circus," season finale Sunday night on Showtime, Katy Benner, Justice Department Reporter for "The New York Times," and Andrew Desiderio, Congressional Reporter for POLITICO.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Andrew, I want to start with your reporting on how the Democrats are planning to roll out, planning to tell this story.  I think we can all agree the Mueller report lacked in the telling of the story.

ANDREW DESIDERIO, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO":  That`s exactly right.  And I think Democrats are looking to next week by drawing from the main takeaways this week.  And I think the top line item was consistency and that there are so many common threads running through the testimonies of the eight or so witnesses whose transcripts we got this week.

And from their testimonies, there are three unassailable, unchallenged truths.  The first is that Rudy Giuliani was the President`s freewheeling emissary, his enforcer with regard to Ukraine policy in a way that was running counter to what the United States government was trying to promote in the region.  The second is that senior American diplomats believed that there was a quid pro quo involving military aid and a White House meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky.  And the third unassailable truth is that of course American diplomats were caught in -- up in this entire thing as collateral damage, Marie Yovanovitch being top of mind here as the former ambassador to the Ukraine.

But Democrats are really less certain about trying to make the case on the military aid, because there really is a glaring blind spot for them when it comes to that because they`ve -- yes, they have gotten witnesses who have talked about the military aid from the State Department and the Pentagon and the National security Council level.  But they have yet to get Office of Management and Budget officials in for testimony. And those are the people who could really answer those burning questions about, you know, first off, why was the aid put on hold and secondly, how did those officials who were told to put the hold on the aid, how did they go about implementing it, right?

The officials who have testified so far have all expressed the same dismay and concern about the decision in the first place.  But they really came up empty in terms of giving investigators these answers on why the aid was held up.  And that is something the Democrats are going to have to confront next week in the public hearings.

WILLIAMS:  Katie Benner of "The New York Times," tell the good folks watching tonight who is John Eisenberg and if they don`t know his name, why are we all going to learn his name as a critical figure in all of this?

KATIE BENNER, JUSTICE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  Sure.  So John Eisenberg`s name has come up several times throughout the testimony.  He is the head attorney over at the National Security Council.  And he is the person who people had been going to again and again raising questions, saying, we think that the President`s behavior, we think that the shadow sort of diplomacy campaign run by Rudy Giuliani, all of it is a little bit concerning.

And what has happened again and again as these people go to John Eisenberg and say they`re concerned, John Eisenberg sort of -- has prejudged these moments and decided no criminal activity has taken place.  He has consulted with Pat Cipollone, his boss in the White House Counsel`s Office.  He has been told to speak directly to the President about it which he did not do.  But again and again we`ve seen him downplay what happened and some people have even accused him of burying what happened.  So, again, as we see their testimony live next week, his name will come up in the live testimony and we, the public, will judge whether or not they think what happened was correct.

WILLIAMS:  I appreciated getting a tour of his garage and the trunk of his car while you were talking.  How much jeopardy is a guy like that?

BENNER: I mean like if there`s a body buried in the garage or the car.

WILLIAMS:  We would have seen it.  Yes.

BENNER:  But, I mean, I think that for John, he`s a very careful lawyer.  Everybody says that he`s extremely cautious if nothing else.  Some people have even described him as paranoid.

I think that the problem for him is going to be whether or not the preponderance of the testimony makes it look like he`s hiding something.  And that`s a narrative that he`s trying to push back on right now.

WILLIAMS:  John Heilemann, Sondland, Rudy Giuliani, Mulvaney, are they all three going to get nominated for the Heisman anytime soon and decide to spend more time with their families?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  You know, I`ve got to say that the one other thing as this thing has evolved over the course of this last seven, eight weeks, Brian, as you`ve seen the extraordinary fact of the notion that these low level officials.  But then we see that in these headlines we got through is there`s Bill Barr, there`s Mike Pompeo, there`s Rudy Giuliani, there`s Ambassador Bolton. These are --

WILLIAMS:  Big-ticket items.

HEILEMANN:  -- the very -- the most powerful people in the American government all in one way or the other, mostly negatively, possibly, in a positive light, John Bolton, connected in one way or the other to this scandal.  And you think about the way Donald Trump has handled past issues of this kind.  You know someone, it seals like, you know, from HBO show "Succession," you know, they constantly talk about, you know, "I need a skull."

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

HEILEMANN:  It feels like there`s -- it`s one of these people is going to be throwing off the wagon at some point or soon.  And I think the only reason that that someone or more than someone have not been so far is because that they are dangerous to Donald Trump.  And you think about what would happen if any of those people -- let`s put Bolton to the side for a second but if particularly Giuliani or Mulvaney would decide to turned on Trump in some way, the jeopardy for Trump was already extraordinarily high.  It would be even higher.

And so I think the President -- the only thing I think it`s prevented one or more of them from being sent off the island so far has just been the fact that Trump recognizes, for all of his bluster, he recognizes just how much trouble he`s in.

WILLIAMS:  And Katie, back to the guy you cover on a daily basis and that`s the A.G. Bill Barr.  He came on at first as such a supplicant.  People in the legal community who knew him when were alarmed by it.  And yet it bumps up against the latest chapter.  The reporting indicates a request from the President, have a press conference, clear my name, say I`m guilty of no crimes.  Is this perhaps proof, without asking for analysis from you, that Bill Barr has limits, ultimately?

BENNER:  Sure.  First, I want to clarify one thing the President said, he said that we reported that he requested that Bill Barr hold a press conference.  That is not what we reported.  We reported that people close to the White House and people in the White House sent a request over to the Justice Department.  So he`s bringing up a different point to knock down our reporting.

WILLIAMS:  Thank for that.

BENNER:  We never said that.  So, I`ll start there.

Second, when we look at Bill Barr, I think that some of the reporting we had around the Mueller report was informative of why the White House might have made this request.  So when the Mueller report came out, it was 400 plus pages of extraordinarily damaging information to the President.  There was a very intense negotiation between Barr and the White House.

Barr wanted it all out.  He felt that the Justice Department would just be lose all credibility if it didn`t come out.  And so the presser that he gave, that was extremely controversial, stemmed from those negotiations.  So if you`re Donald Trump, you think to yourself, I did it once.  I got the guy to do it once, why not do it again.  I think that`s one way of contextualizing this.

The difference, though, is that the Mueller report was a closed investigation --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

BENNER:  -- and the Ukraine transcript, the phone call, and then the shadow diplomacy, that is still an open investigation.  So Barr can`t go out and take the microphone and say nothing wrong was done.

WILLIAMS:  Nothing to see here.

HEILEMANN:  But I think there`s another issue here.  I mean, I think one of the things we learned about Bill Barr in how he handled the Mueller case was that he is not averse to exercise of raw political power.  And he understood the weaknesses politically of that case.  I think you look at Bill Barr here, you know, you step away from some of those details and you look at a guy who is saying, I could win this Mueller case by taking this report, by manipulating it, by presenting a certain kind of public image of it.  The facts don`t get close enough to Trump.

He`s looking at this thing, I would imagine just because he`s proven himself to be this savvy, and since the facts here are much worse for Donald Trump and much more directly tying him to behavior that if not criminal are certainly might rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.  And I think that Bill Barr recognizes that the other one was a fight he could win and this is a fight that if he got too closely involved in it, he might not be able to win and he`s going to keep his distance.

WILLIAMS:  And to Katie`s point, this is a story we can see and hear.

HEILEMANN:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  They`re using English we all know from phone calls.

HEILEMANN:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  We understand the ground rules --

HEILEMANN:  Very legible.

WILLIAMS:  Andrew, give us the last I normally ask you because the Hill is contained in your beat, if you are sensing any Republican erosion, at least the kind that would be admitted to a journalist.

DESIDERIO:  Not quite at this point.  I think Republican leadership is gearing up for a fight with Democrats and trying to keep all of their members in line.  The news that we learned today about Congressman Jim Jordan being added to the Intelligence Committee was a key data point in that respect, because it puts one of the President`s most strident defenders on the committee that will be conducting the impeachment hearings.

Republicans had been griping on at the decision to sort of centralize this inquiry in the Intelligence Committee because there weren`t that many flame throwers in terms of defenders of the President sitting on that committee.  And now that Jim Jordan is going to sit on that panel at least temporarily throughout these public hearings it will give the President`s side more representation, if you will.

Republicans have complained that the President`s counsel and the President himself don`t get to be represented in this process.  With Jim Jordan, that will now be the case next week.  And I think that makes it less and less likely that at least during this public impeachment phase, you`ll see Republicans come out in support of impeachment and sort of defy their leadership and the White House.

WILLIAMS:  Indeed we have some news about Mr. Jordan at the final conclusion of our broadcast.

Tonight to John Heilemann, to Katie Benner, to Andrew Desiderio, our thanks for starting us off at the end of another consequential week.

And coming up for us here, we`re seeing and hearing all the familiar signs.  Could it be that we are about to see and hear a fall guy or two?  We will put this question to a former U.S. attorney and see if it`s a legal strategy that could work, for starters.

And later, the author of "Everything Trump Touches Dies" on the State of Alabama, why it suddenly has the President`s attention.  And what`s out there that could blow up the Democrats at this late hour.  "The 11th Hour" just getting started in view of the U.S. Capitol on a Friday night.

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WILLIAMS:  As we mentioned, one of the major headlines out of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman`s testimony is that he implicated Mick Mulvaney, Acting White House Chief of Staff, in a quid pro quo.  "The Washington Post" sums it up this way, "Vindman testified that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., told him that the idea to precondition a White House meeting on the Ukrainians` help in investigating the Bidens was coordinated with Mulvaney.  Sondland just said he had had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney and this was what was required in order to get a meeting, Vindman testified.

This is the same Mulvaney who this week gave Congress the back of his hand and simply didn`t show up to testify.

Back with us tonight, Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney, former Senior FBI Official.  Around here he happens to be host of the popular podcast "The Oath" in a program note.  His guest this week is John Pistole, the longest serving FBI Deputy Director in the history of the Bureau and the former head of the TSA debut (ph).

Counselor, I`d like you to give the briefest legal clinic on something that I`m quite sure is going to come up again and again, and that`s hearsay.  A lot of this case --

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  -- a lot of the whistleblower story starting there relies on, I heard this, I heard this guy saying this.  Hearsay when you read it quickly, it looks like "heresy."  Is it admissible in court?

ROSENBERG:  Well, it`s usually admissible in court.  It`s always admissible in a grand jury.  And because impeachment proceedings are much more like a grand jury, at least on the House side, absolutely.  There`s no prohibition on inducing hearsay, Brian, none whatsoever.

Here`s a really simple definition.  Let`s say it`s important that I was driving a blue car.  You and I talk in the lobby of your building and I tell you I was driving a blue car.  And now you testify at trial and I`m not there and they ask you whether I was driving a blue car and you say, yes, Chuck told me in the lobby that he was driving a blue car.  That`s the classic definition of hearsay, stripped of all of its technicalities.

But is it admissible in an impeachment proceeding?  Absolutely.  There is no prohibition whatsoever.

WILLIAMS:  And Counselor, the folks watching tonight who may learn from a cop show that if they miss a court date it could end up in them having a warrant for their arrest, how can Mulvaney just ignore a request or worse yet, an order to appear before Congress and just not show?

ROSENBERG:  Yes, that thumb in the eye is rather remarkable.  But what he`s really challenging Congress to do is take him to court and litigate whether or not he has to show up.  And Congress has decided -- I should say the House has decided, and it seems logical, that they don`t have the time and they`re not inclined to do it.  And so they`re simply going to keep rolling with those who will show up.  And they will perhaps use the -- this obstructionist behavior, this intransigence as an element of their impeachment proceedings.

Should he go?  Absolutely, we ought to hear from him.  By the way, there`s an irony here.  You know, you can`t complain about hearsay being adduced at the impeachment inquiry, Brian, and then be the person not showing up to provide the direct evidence that they purportedly want, right?  You can`t have it both ways.  You ought to go and tell the House what you know.  I think that`s a duty.

WILLIAMS:  A glaring irony indeed.  I want to read you something from "The Washington Post," "As Republicans argue that most of the testimony against Trump is based on faulty secondhand information, they are sewing doubts about whether Sondland, Giuliani, and Mulvaney were actually representing the President or freelancing to go pursue their own agendas.  The GOP is effectively offering up these three to be fall guys."

Now, Chuck, this would hardly be the first White House to kind of construct, you`ll forgive the phrase, a wall around the President and try to make distance between the chief executive and those who worked for him.  Is it a good legal strategy to indicate, identify, publicly name those who are about to spend more time with their families?

ROSENBERG:  Yes.  I`m not sure it is. When you see shifting defenses, Brian, is another way of perhaps admitting that there is no defense, right?

First, we heard there was no quid pro quo.  Then we heard that the quid pro quo was fine or not illegal.  Then we heard there wasn`t transparency in the process.  Now we`re hearing that other people sort of took the reins from the President and were freelancing on Ukraine.

It`s sort of like this, forgive the analogy, but if you accuse my goat of eating your roses, first I could say it wasn`t my goat and then I could say it wasn`t your roses, and if you prove it was my goat and your roses, then I just claim that my goat was insane at the time of the offense.

Every time these defenses shift, right, it is a way for -- it`s sort of an admission that there`s no defense at all.

WILLIAMS:  A good lawyer always invokes goats, roses, and a blue car.  Chuck Rosenberg --

ROSENBERG:  Yes, sir.

WILLIAMS:  -- our thanks for your service to us on this Friday night, we appreciate it as always.

Coming up for us this evening, Mike Bloomberg picked up a Trump nickname already and he`s not yet officially in the race.  We`re back with more on him and what he may be up to after this.

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TRUMP:  I know Bloomberg fairly well, not too well, fairly well, well enough.  He will not do very well.  And if he did, I would be happy.  There`s nobody I rather run against than little Michael.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg officially filed the paperwork to appear on Alabama`s Democratic primary ballot at least because they have an early filing deadline there.

Long-time Bloomberg adviser confirmed to NBC News that one Michael Bloomberg is positioning himself to enter the already crowded Democratic race although he hasn`t made a file decision.  They all say that, don`t they?

Tonight a spokesperson tonight indeed said that if Bloomberg runs, he would skip the first four early primary states and start instead on Super Tuesday which is March 3rd.  "The New York Times" points out, quote, should Mr. Bloomberg proceed with a campaign, it could cause a seismic disruption in the Democratic race with his immense personal wealth, centrist views, and close ties to the political establishment, he would present an instantaneous threat to former Vice President Joe Biden who has been struggling to raise money and is already defending his ideologically moderate base on multiple fronts.

Here with us to talk about it, Mara Gay, member of the New York Times Editorial Board and Amie Parnes, senior political correspondent for The Hill, also happens to be co-author of "The New York Times" bestseller "Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton`s Doomed Campaign".

Good evening and welcome to you both.  Mara, you covered the guy.  You have free access to a live television camera.  Tell all those watching what they should know about Mike Bloomberg.

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  So Michael Bloomberg is one of the most fascinating Americans, I believe, who is living.

WILLIAMS:  Really?

GAY:  I really do.  I am totally fascinated by him.  I don`t think it`s just a personal obsession.  This is somebody who has affected the lives of Americans in ways far beyond New York City that they may not even think about.  The idea of banning smoke from bars and restaurants, for example.  Massive public health policies that have gone far beyond even the United States.  Also the rise of climate change as a public policy issue, the idea -- that`s right, gun control issues.  And of course the idea that public policy can actually start with states and cities.  And so he`s had a huge impact, he continues to have a huge impact.

I think the real question here is can he prove to Americans that he`s more than just a plutocrat, that he`s more than just another billionaire?  Because I think this is a year of outsiders and of populist anger, frankly on both sides on the far left, on the far left, and may places in between.  And a lot of that I believe stems from the struggles that the middle class has been seeing for decades now.

So, who is going to have the best answer for those voters and that middle class?  Now, it may come from Michael Bloomberg.  I just think his path way to victory in the Democratic nomination is extremely narrow.  His advisers know that.  But he`s a 77 years old.  He`s dreamt of this for years.  And they`ve got to be looking at the field and saying, you know, no one`s really quite rising to the top, why not give it a try.  They believe they have something to offer.

And I think it only enriches, frankly, the national conversation, to have somebody with big ideas, who`s actually frankly accomplished quite a lot in his life, to be a part of the conversation.  Now, he`s also going to really be taking a lot of flak throughout this campaign if he decides to run.  He`s going to sound out of touch.  He`s going to make gaffes.  He`s going to sound in some ways kind of  the like rich upper east sider that he is.

But it`s not clear that that`s going to make a difference.  The other thing I want to say is that a lot of people have shown interest in Donald Trump because he`s seen as a successful businessman.  Well, actually Michael Bloomberg actually is a successful businessman.  So that may hold some appeal.  And we`ll just -- it`s, you know, why not?

WILLIAMS:  Fascinating answer, thank you for all of it.  Amie, the pejorative of some of what we just heard, in a political season it`s useful to look at the world through the prism of a Republican ad, what they would make of it.  And you could see an ad where Beto O`Rourke has come into the back door to take your guns and Mike Bloomberg could be pictured as the Mary Poppins of the nanny state coming through the front door to take your Dr. Pepper.  Both of those won`t go well if they`re trying to pull back some of the 62 million folks or so who voted for Donald Trump.

AMIE PARNES, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE HILL":  And that`s the thing, he doesn`t really have a core constituency right now.  He doesn`t -- you know, a lot of people are saying he hurts Biden, and he does, to an extent.  But the problem for him is that he doesn`t have a core audience.  Who does he appeal to? African-Americans don`t really get behind him.  He needs to build that Democratic coalition and how does he begin to do that?  The working class voters?  Eh, iffy.  I don`t know if they would get behind him.  And that`s the Joe Biden`s core constituency.  Those are the people who are going to elevate him.  Those are the people he`s depending on to win the nomination.

So I think he has to sort of come out of the gate right away and kind of prove, you know, get there and appeal to people.  And he`s coming in so late in the game that I don`t know how he does it.  And that is the big question looming around his campaign right now.

WILLIAMS:  Mara, is it ageism or totally fair game and germane for a conversation like the one we`re having, you pointed to this, to say that he will give us three Democrats who would enter their 80s during a first term in office?

GAY:  I don`t think it`s ageism.  I think it`s perfectly legitimate a question to ask.  And frankly, when you look at judges who are appointed to a lifetime, those are questions we consider, rightly so, all the time.  You know, that said, a person`s health matters.  I mean you can have somebody who is in his 40s or her 30s who is completely unhealthy, and somebody like Michael Bloomberg at 77 years old who is quite spry.  So, you know, I don`t think it should be the defining issue.

WILLIAMS:  Amie, who -- how to put this -- who would win in a race where Bloomberg suddenly entered?  We can guess that older white guys and rich white guys would lose in this race.  Who would pick up something, who would see opportunity in this?

PARNES:  Definitely Warren, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are looking at this and licking their chops, because it takes away --

WILLIAMS:  It`s their antithesis.

PARNES:  Yes.  They are looking -- you know, Elizabeth Warren today said, OK, welcome, but you are exactly what I`m fighting against, you are -- and Mara is right, you know, this is -- we`re watching a wave of populism.  We`ve been watching this since 2016.  It`s carrying into 2020.  And this is sort of who she wants to enter the race because she`s saying, look, this party is out of touch and here is another person who is.  Joe Biden is, and she`ll point to Michael Bloomberg too and say the same thing.

WILLIAMS:  Can we do this exact same conversation again?  This was absolutely fascinating.

GAY:  I love so.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you both for coming in tonight.  Two terrific writers, Mara Gay, Amie Parnes, we appreciate it.

And coming up for us.  He said it about Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, even Vladimir Putin.  And today, Trump again turned to a golden oldie to describe his relationship to a name in the news.  We`ll have more on this when we come back.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Gordon Sondland said at the beginning of September, he presumed there was a quid pro quo.  Then there was a telephone call to you on September 9th.  Had he ever talked to you prior to that telephone call?

TRUMP:  Let me just tell you, I hardly know the gentleman.

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WILLIAMS:  Did you note that right there?  I hardly know the gentleman.  This president has a history and a preferred way of tossing some distance between him and virtually any name in the news.

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TRUMP:  I don`t know anything about David Duke, OK? I never met Putin.  I don`t know Putin is.  James Comey, I hardly know the man.  Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time.

I don`t know Matt Whitaker.  Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Michael Cohen, tell me about your relationship with him.

TRUMP:  Well he was a lawyer for me, one of many, not somebody that was with me that much.

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WILLIAMS:  Back with us tonight, Rick Wilson, long time Florida man, long time Republican strategist who is soon following up on his first book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies," with his new work, "Running Against The Devil," which for a whole lot of folks can`t come out fast enough, it`s due out in the early, early part of 2020.

Rick, when you hear that mashup, when you hear "I knew him for a very short period of time," is that as good an indication as any that you`re about to start spending more time with your family?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  That is a sign the knives are well, deeply in place in your back and the inevitable cycle of everything Trump touches dies has already reached its arc.  Very soon it will be much more insulting and nastier.

You know, the phase of, he was a volunteer, he was coffee boy, I barely knew him, I may have seen him in the parking lot one time, will be replaced with he`s a deep state conspirator against America and a traitor who must be destroyed.  It happens every single time.

WILLIAMS:  And now, Rick, I want to play you something, this was Nikki Haley during an interview with our friend Norah O`Donnell.

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NORAH O`DONNELL, CBS NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Do you think ultimately the president will be impeached and removed from office?

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.N. AMBASSADOR:  No.  On what?  You`re going to impeach a president for asking for a favor that didn`t happen and giving money, and it wasn`t withheld?  I don`t know what you would impeach him on.  Look, Norah, impeachment is like the death penalty for a public official.  When you look at the transcript, there is nothing in that transcript that warrants the death penalty for the president.

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WILLIAMS:  Rick Wilson, people from both parties who have applauded her independent streak would have good reason for asking, what`s going on there?

WILSON:  Well, look, like everyone who is around Donald Trump, he is both corrupt and corrupting.  And I`ve talked to a couple of Republicans tonight since that piece of video aired.  A sense of enormous disappointments disappointment in her, the sense that she has a path way out of Trump world that she might be the one rare person that could survive and come out and say, you know, I did this for the good of the country and I didn`t agree with it and now I`ve broken with it.

But obviously she`s now parroting the same line that every boot-looking cur in Trump world, you know, repeats.  I read the transcript and so there`s no quid pro quo.  All the things that are on the Trump talking point list were regurgitated by her tonight.  I think to her enormous detriment and enormous corrosion of the reputation she had built up over a long period of time.

WILLIAMS:  Followers of yours would do well to ask the question where were you when Rick wade in on Mike Bloomberg entering the race on social media.  I know where I was.  Can you share with our audience some of your initial thoughts when you heard Bloomberg?

WILSON:  Well, my initial thought on this is that if Mike Bloomberg wants to defeat Donald Trump, the best thing Mike Bloomberg could do, instead of burning a billion dollars in a bonfire and blowing up the Democratic field and still losing, Mike Bloomberg could go out and spend a billion dollars running ads against Donald Trump, doing voter registration, activating Hispanic voters in Florida and Arizona.

He could invest in something that would absolutely be a positive and decisive set of strategic goals in this campaign rather than engaging in what is a vanity project.  But Tom Steyer`s got, you know, enough money burning a hole in his pocket.  Mike Bloomberg has a whole lot of money burning a hole in his pocket.

And the vanity of this thing is -- I am stunned by how destructive it`s going to be to this race.  This is way too late in the process for even a guy with enormous resources to get in there.  And it is lining up to leave Democratic voters with a bad choice, again, where they feel like they`ve got some guy who has come in -- it was Hillary`s turn and she had all this institutional power.  He`s got all this financial power.  And I think it would lead to a great deal of frustration.  I don`t think he`s an effective candidate against Trump especially in the swing states we`ve talked so much about in the last few months.

WILLIAMS:  Fascinating to hear you out on Bloomberg.  Rick Wilson has canceled all of his social plans for the next ten minutes in order to stay with us.

And coming up, an old adversary of the president decides to run for senate.  What could possibly go wrong?

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JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Have a said a crossword about our president?  Not one time. And  I`ll tell you why.  First, that would be dishonorable.  I was there to serve his agenda, not mine.  Second, the president`s doing a great job for America and Alabama.  And he has my strong support.

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WILLIAMS:  I wouldn`t have thought of the upbeat `80s disco music, interesting touch.  Jeff Sessions officially filed a run for his old Senate seat in Alabama today.  President Trump was asked about his former attorney general`s Senate aspirations just this afternoon.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Will you endorse Jeff Sessions for his Alabama Senate run?

TRUMP:  Well, I haven`t gotten involved.  I saw he said very nice things about me last night.  But we`ll have to see.  I haven`t made a determination.

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WILLIAMS:  Said very nice things about him, though.  And Trump was also questioned about the root of their fraught relationship, Jeff Sessions` decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Have you forgiven him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation?

TRUMP:  I don`t even think about it.

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WILLIAMS:  He doesn`t think of it anymore.  And still with us to reminisce is Rick Wilson.

Straight up prediction, Rick, what happens in this Senate race?

WILSON:  I think that Roy Moore`s Horse, trigger, or whatever the hell its name is, fancy or trigger, whatever it is, it`s probably going to be the likely nominee at this point.

I mean, look, this is setting up for Trump to exercise his incredible short temper, short attention fan -- span fits a peak behavior and he will churn on this and he will percolate on this and he will discover how much he hates Jeff Sessions all over again, leaving the Republicans with a choice between noted kid diddler Roy Moore and Jeff Sessions who is on Trump`s bad list.  I think that thing is just -- it`s got merriment for Doug Jones written all over it at the moment.

WILLIAMS:  Rick, I have another clip to play for you.  It is clinically possible the President doesn`t understand the significance in the life of the Soviet Union, now Russia, of their annual May Day parade, but he does love a military parade.  He loves an invitation.  Here`s what he said to the press today.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You`ve been invited to Russia for the May Day parade --

TRUMP:  That`s right.  I was invited.  I am thinking about it.  It`s right in the middle of our campaign season, but I am thinking.  I would certainly think about it.  President Putin invited me to the -- that`s a very big deal -- it`s a very big deal celebrating the end of the war, et cetera, et cetera, very big deal.  So, I appreciate the invitation.  It is right in the middle of political season, so I`ll see if I can do it.  But I would love to go if I could.

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WILLIAMS:  Rick, who`s going to tell him?

WILSON:  You know, it just -- it boggles the mind that he`s missing like the basics of what the May Day parade symbolized for the Soviet Union and the Communist Party.  But on the other hand, it shouldn`t boggle anyone`s mind.  He is a man with a minimal historical knowledge of anything around him.

But, look, if he wants to go for a quarterly review at the home office in Moscow, that`s his prerogative, obviously.  But it just shows how superficial the man`s intellect is and how trivial his grasp of history is and how he`s playing back into every one of the cliches about his relationship with Vladimir Putin.  He`s not just, you know, going to honor the Russian people at this parade.  It`s the May Day parade.  It`s traditionally about the Soviet communist system.  It just boggles the mind.  But, you know, here we are.

WILLIAMS:  Fellow mind boggler, Rick Wilson.  You can always come back on this broadcast.  It`s always a treat and a pleasure.

WILSON:  Thank you, sir.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you very much for joining us on this eventful Friday night.

And coming up for us, trouble in the house, a big Republican name taking on an even bigger role haunted by a big problem in his past when we come back.

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WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight has to do with that man, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, perhaps known best for his all- business signature shirt sleeve look as well as his frequent verbal bombast.  As friends of the President in Congress are concerned, he has given himself over to Donald Trump in all cases and at all costs.

In fact, the Republican Party wants to make Jordan an even more visible, bigger player during impeachment, give him even more camera time.  The problem with that is a problem from Jordan`s past as a wrestling coach on the staff at Ohio State during a period of serial criminal sexual abuse of students by a team doctor there.  It resurfaced again today.  We get our report tonight from NBC News Correspondent Jeff Bennett.

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JEFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Republican Congressman Jim Jordan tonight facing a new accusation that he ignored warnings about an Ohio State university doctor accused of sexually abusing nearly 200 men over two decades.

In a lawsuit filed, Thursday, a college wrestling named as John Doe 42, says in the mid `90s, he told Jordan, then Ohio State`s assistant wrestling coach, that the team`s physician, Richard Strauss, performed a sex act in front of him in a shower.  The referee says Jordan and the team`s then head coach shrugged it off responding, yes, that`s Strauss.

The referee and his attorney declined to be interviewed on camera.

DUNYASHA YETTS, FORMER OHIO STATE WRESTLER:  Everybody talked about Strauss.

BENNETT:  Former Ohio State wrestler, Dunyasha Yetts, also says he complained directly to Jim Jordan after he says Strauss once tried to pull his pants down.

YETTS:  I had told him, you know, hey, this is not right.

BENNETT:  Yetts, who`s not part of the latest lawsuit, said Jordan failed to address it.  Jordan has previously denied having knowledge of the abuse, saying the allegations that he was told about it are politically motivated.  His office did not respond to our request for comment.

The lawsuit comes as House Republican leaders today named Jordan to the House Intelligence Committee giving Jordan, known as President Trump`s most aggressive defender, a more prominent role in the committee impeachment hearing.

Tonight OSU called Strauss`s actions reprehensible, adding, it has added multiple safeguards in the 20 years since Strauss left the university.  Strauss died by suicide in 2005, his horrifying legacy raising new questions about what should have been done to stop him.

Jeff Bennett, NBC News, the Capitol.

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WILLIAMS:  And that is our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week.  Thank you for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END