Dems deciding next steps in impeach inquiry. TRANSCRIPT: 11/27/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Katie Benner, David Jolly, Karine Jean-Pierre

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  And that will do it for tonight`s LAST WORD.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Lawrence O`Donnell.  And don`t forget to listen to my latest podcast on impeachment, it`s called Article II.  You have a great Thanksgiving.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts right now.

BRIAN WILIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, the news refuses to take a holiday on this Thanksgiving eve.  For starters, the drama is deepening around the former mayor, TV lawyer, and accused bag man for Donald Trump.  The latest allegation is that Rudy tried to loosen six figures from the Ukrainian government while he was there as Trump`s back channel.  Tonight the latest on what Rudy is saying.

And a report in the "Washington Post" calls into question that phone call between Trump and Sondland where the president insisted no quid pro quo, all evidence to the contrary.

Also tonight the lights come up as impeachment hearings ramp up again a week from today.  What do the Democrats have planned all of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Thanksgiving eve Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 1,042 of this Trump administration.  New information continuing to swirl tonight around Rudy Giuliani after he was found to be conducting some sort of foreign policy while not remotely connected to the U.S. government.

"The New York Times" and "Washington Post" are reporting Giuliani was pursuing business in Ukraine while pushing for investigations that could have benefited President Trump.  The "Post" reports Giuliani negotiated to represent Ukraine`s top prosecutor for at least 200 grand.  "Giuliani began negotiations with Yuri Lutsenko about a possible agreement in February.  In the agreement Giuliani`s company would receive payment to represent Lutsenko as the Ukrainian sought to recover assets he believed had been stolen from the government in Kiev."

The "Post" also reports agreements were never executed and there is no indication Giuliani was paid.  Giuliani for his part told the "Wall Street Journal" today he was in talks with Ukraine but it was for even more money than that.  Giuliani said Lutsenko asked him to represent both the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice and Lutsenko personally on two matters.

The journal goes on to report "Giuliani said he subsequently drew up two retainer agreements for a total of about 500 large and gave them to Lutsenko.  The next day Giuliani decided he couldn`t represent Lutsenko personally because he believed doing so would pose a conflict with his representation of the President."

Giuliani said he declined the Ministry of Justice contract and was never paid a penny for that.  On Sunday, Giuliani denied any financial interests in Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:  I have no financial interest in the Ukraine.  I`m not going to financially profit from anything that I know of in the Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  As we mentioned here last night, according to reports from NBC News, ABC News, and the "Washington Post," Giuliani has either done consulting work, delivered speeches, or represented clients or governments in at least 19 foreign countries.  There are their flags.  Back in September, Giuliani insisted that his contacts with Ukraine were solely at the request of our state department.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: I never talked to a Ukrainian official until the state department called me and asked me to do it.  And then I reported every conversation back to them.  It`s all here.  Right here.  The first call from the state department.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Meanwhile, the "Washington Post" tonight is also reporting about another important impeachment witness.  According to the paper, there are new questions about a phone conversation that Gordon Sondland said he had with the president on September 9.  Remember, Sondland testified that during the call the president said he wanted no quid pro quo with Ukraine.  Immediately after Sondland`s testimony the president highlighted that at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I say to the ambassador in response, "I want nothing.  I want nothing.  I want no quid pro quo.  Tell Zelensky, President Zelensky, to do the right thing."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  But tonight the "Post" reports this, "No other witness testimony or documents have emerged that corroborate Sondland`s description of a call that day.  Trump himself in describing the conversation has referred only to the ambassador`s account of the call.  And the White House has not located a record in its switchboard logs of a call between Trump and Sondland on September 9."

That talking point that there was no quid pro quo even though it`s on the call summary and Sondland testified to a quid pro quo, it has clearly been adopted by Trump nation as they positively chanted it in unison with the president last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I want no quid pro quo.  I want nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  We`re also learning information about that highly anticipated internal review of the Russian investigation.  "The New York Times" reporting that according to people familiar with the draft of the report the DOJ inspector general found no evidence the FBI attempted to place undercover agents or informants inside the Trump campaign back in 2016.

This will certainly bump up against the president`s frequent and repeated claims that he was spied upon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  There was spying.  They were spying on our campaign.

I think they were spying on the Trump campaign.  You can`t say it any better than that.

I`ll go a step further.  In my opinion it was illegal spying.  Unprecedented spying.

The fact is they were spying on my campaign, using agencies to -- intelligence agencies to do it.

And it went right up to the top.  And everybody knows it.

Spying.  Surveillance.  Trying for an overthrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That kind of thing.  Here for our lead-off discussion on this thanksgiving eve, Annie Karni, White House Reporter with the "New York Times." Katie Benner, Justice Department Reporter with the "New York Times" and Jonathan Allen, our own NBC News National Political Reporter.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Annie, what reporting have you on the current state of the Trump-Giuliani friendship, relationship for starters?

ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, there`s two prongs to it.  Trump himself seems to be standing by Giuliani for now while the rest of the White House basically has wanted him thrown under the bus as long as he`s been on the bus.  I mean, he`s been causing problems -- they really view him more as a friend who`s freelancing.  That`s the way they view him the whole times than a real defense lawyer who`s part of an overarching strategy here.

Remember, since he admitted that Trump repaid Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels hush money payment, he has been causing problems for this White House.  But Trump for a variety of reasons seems to every time he`s asked about him seems to call him the greatest mayor that New York City ever had and a great lawyer, and it might just be that he`s too close to lose at this point for Trump.  But there`s no signs that he`s doing the usual I barely know him shtick with Giuliani.

WILLIAMS:  Katie Benner, people were surprised at the kind of supplicant the attorney general turned into once he was on the job.  But then the subject of spying came up a few months back at the hearing, on the Hill, people were stunned by the answer.  I want to play the exchange.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE:  You`re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?

BARR:  I don`t -- well, I guess you could -- I think there`s -- spying did occur.  Yes.  I think spying did occur.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So Katie, fast forward to two weeks ago, we see waiting for the president to depart from the White House a kind of animated discussion going on in the Oval Office including that man, the guy you cover on a daily basis, the attorney general.  What`s the chance, just thinking out loud here, that the A.G. went to give his brother a heads-up on the early look at the I.G. Report to let him know hey, boss, it`s not going to find that there was spying?

KATIE BENNER, THE NEW YORK TIMES JUSTICE DEPT. REPORTER:  I`m not going to go inside of Bill Barr`s head, but I will say that --

WILLIAMS:  I tried.

BENNER: -- he is the attorney general and he does brief the president on a variety of topics.  What`s interesting about the spying language Barr used in the hearing that you played is it`s been adopted by the president and we`re showing that the report that`s going to come out on December 9th, we have a reporting that shows it erodes the argument there was the kind of spying that Trump has been alluding to for weeks if not months, which is that there was a mole inside his campaign, that there was somebody inside who was taking notes and then delivering that information to the intelligence agencies.  That is not going to be -- that is going to be knocked down in this report.

Now, whether there was surveillance, there was a wiretap of a former Trump campaign adviser, yes.  But the idea there was somebody inside of the campaign which Trump has been alluding to for a while, that is not the case.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Jon, if the Sondland phone call with Trump story becomes unwound in a more concrete way, will that cost Republican support?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTE:  I`m not sure that it will cost Republican support in terms of members of Congress, Brian, but, you know, the veil the president has over the idea that there was not a quid pro quo, that there wasn`t bribery, extortion, that there was not a relationship between the probes he was seeking and the money he`s holding up, has all disintegrated already.  That`s the one sort of thin reed that exists for him.

And so Sondland`s call going away would be perhaps important to some of the voters out there, particularly if Democrats in Congress can explain that to people in an effective way.  And you know, the other thing I would look at with that is even with Sondland talking about that call, even if that call occurred, even if the president said that, what we already know is that for months from the testimony we`ve seen, for months there was no explanation of the freeze on the money.

And then once the president -- once the White House was aware of the whistle-blower complaint, once they were aware that the appropriators in Congress were asking questions about that money then the president is supposed to have had this discussion with Sondland where he says no, no, no, no, I don`t want a quid pro quo.  The time element is clear in all of this.

WILLIAMS:  And Annie, on the subject of Sondland, he is categorically denying allegations of sexual misconduct published and researched by ProPublica.  Might this on top of the testimony or this alone put his posting in jeopardy?

KARNI:  Not if the pattern that the president has followed with all allegations, "Me Too" related allegations holds, which is that President Trump has consistently when it`s an ally of any sort taken the position of I believe the denial.  So if he broke that pattern here, that would be a first.

There will be a tension here between Trump saying I believe his denial and he has said I barely know Gordon Sondland.  So we`ll see how those two play together.  But this president has consistently and I believe the woman moment in our culture said I believe the man.

WILLIAMS:  Hey Katie, give us a status report on the branch you cover, and that`s DOJ.  There has traditionally been an invisible wall between presidents and their departments of justice.  That kind of gave way for a good long while in this administration.  Are things going back to traditional norms?  Is there a bit more distance now between Barr and the president and their official roles between DOJ and the West Wing?

BENNER:  I think there`s speculation about distance between Barr and Trump, especially because it was Barr who was one of the people who advised that Trump release the transcript of the Ukraine call.  But any distance I think was collapsed a week ago when Barr gave a speech firmly arguing that president power is vast power and that nothing Trump has done has broken any constitutional norms.  And in fact he argued that the Democrats had done so.  If there was distance between he and his boss, that certainly would have closed it because it`s exactly the kind of defense that Trump would have been looking for.

So while it seems that that relationship has been healed, the rank and file of the justice department I would say is still extremely -- many people have said that they are concerned about this speech because they don`t necessarily agree with the attorney general`s interpretation of the constitution and the oversight law that for example Congress they believe should play overt Executive Branch which plays into the legitimacy of the impeachment.

So you see there`s discontent even as the relationship between the top of the department and the White House, that rift seems to be healed.

WILLIAMS:  And in a way we`re just getting started with of course the next stage.  Hey, Jonathan, I`m going to put on the screen the headline from the op-ed that the now former navy secretary wrote in the "Washington Post."  "I was fired as navy secretary.  Here`s what I`ve learned because of it."  And a quote from the inside.  "This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review.  It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices."

Jon, would you agree that this is an example of two opposing ideas true at the same time.  What happens when you cross Trump and you can cross Trump and live to tell about it?

ALLEN:  I think that`s right. I mean, what happened here is the Navy secretary was bounced out of government and that liberated him to tell what he believes is the truth.  You know, the words that he didn`t quite use there, but I think are very important at this moment as the House is considering impeachment and the Senate very likely will have an impeachment trial is rule of law.

And what he`s talking about right there is that the president in his view doesn`t have respect for the rule of law.  And what that means is the rule of law that has applicability to everyone.  Not just has applicability to people who the president wants to punish with the law and does not have applicability to the president himself.

WILLIAMS:  Annie Karni, one final question about someone we have now seen in photos on the White House grounds all three business days of this holiday-shortened week.  And that`s Jeanine Pirro of Fox News fame.  What`s going on here?

KARNI:  That`s a great question.  She actually sometimes shows up at the White House to -- surprising many people who work there.  She`s a -- you know, one of Trump`s most loyal defenders.  And yes, three nights in a row now she`s broadcasting from the White House.  I don`t know if he has more interviews with her, but she often arrives there unannounced is the truth of the matter.

WILLIAMS:  All righty then, or as we call it Wednesday around here.  Annie Karni, Katie Benner, Jonathan Allen, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  Thank you so much for coming on this Thanksgiving eve.

And coming up for us, the strategy for Trump`s legal team seems to be run out the clock.  How has that worked for them thus far?  A former federal prosecutor is here with us to talk about it.  And later, we`re one week out from a second round now of public impeachment hearings.  How will the Democrats tell the story this time around?  As THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Thanksgiving eve.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Today a federal appeals court put a hold on a judge`s ruling that former White House Counsel Don McGahn must testify before Congress, so the government will have time to appeal.

"New York Times" reporter Charlie Savage points out that even though Trump keeps losing in court incrementally his legal strategy is net, net winning anyway.  He writes, "Like a football team up late in a game whose defense hangs back to prevent big plays while letting its opponent make shorter gains, Mr. Trump`s legal team is looking to run out the clock, putting forth aggressive legal theories often backed by scant precedent.  The strategy risks periodic bad headlines in the short term and could lead to definitive rulings that hamstring future presidents, but it is demonstrably advantageous for consuming time."

So let`s talk about this.  Back with us again tonight, Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and Georgetown law school professor.

Professor, you`ll forgive me.  I`m a New York Giants fan, so I`ll just talk about protecting a lead didn`t make any sense to me.  Perhaps it will to you.  You concede that this is working.  Tell us how courts and/or Democrats in the House could try to combat this and put a stick in the spokes.

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  So yes, Brian, Trump is winning by losing.  When he goes to court, he most often loses.  So, on Monday the federal judge ordered Don McGahn to testify.

But here`s the thing, it took her four months to decide.  She wrote 120- page scholarly opinion.  And now the case goes to the Court of Appeals and then maybe the Supreme Court.  And this case might not ultimately be decided, the issue of which witnesses testify in the impeachment proceeding until June, when Congress most certainly will have already decided the impeachment issue.  And that`s how Trump wins by keeping this vitally important witness testimony from the American people.

Congress doesn`t have a whole lot of options because of the tragedy of running out the clock.  So what Speaker Pelosi has said is they`re going to count this against Trump in the impeachment debate, including possibly an impeachment article about obstruction of Congress.

WILLIAMS:  And, Paul, let`s say -- we`ll, let`s call it the McGahn case.  What if the McGahn case ends up at the Supreme Court?  What`s your prediction?

BUTLER:  You know, again, I don`t think that Trump has an ideological stake in this.  There are serious questions about the scope of presidential power and executive power.  Other presidents have made these same claims.  Trump`s really looking out at it for his own interests.  We know this because other presidents have tried to compromise.  Trump hasn`t tried to compromise.

So the thing is even though he often loses on the merits what else has he done?  One reason that the Republicans are sticking by him is because he has packed the court.  He has packed the Supreme Court and he has packed the federal appellate courts.

And so some of these judges might actually have an ideological stake in the idea that the president of the United States does have these extreme powers including some of what Trump`s argued.  For example, we know that Trump has said that the president is not subject to any kind of legal criminal process while in office.  He can`t even be investigated.

Again, that`s an extreme point of view.  But if we look at where Trump is getting his judges from, the federalist society, this radically conservative right-wing group, a lot of those folks share those same extreme ideas.  So irony of ironies, he might lose in all the appellate courts but might win based on this very conservative ultra right-wing Supreme Court that he`s packed.

WILLIAMS:  Well, Professor, as usual, you`ve given us a lot to think about.  We have a long holiday weekend to do that thinking.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  Thank you very much for coming on tonight.

BUTLER:  Thank you, Brian.  Happy Thanksgiving.

WILLIAMS:  Paul Butler returning to the broadcast tonight.

And coming up for us, will impeachment follow members of Congress home for the holidays as they say?  More on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTEL COMMITTEE CHAIR:  When the founders provided a mechanism in the constitution for impeachment, they were worried about what might happen if someone unethical took the highest office in the land and used it for their personal gain.  And I think we need to consult our conscience and our constituents and decide whether that remedy is appropriate here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  House members are all back in their home districts this Thanksgiving week, where they have a chance to hear from those constituents, in some cases whether they want to or not.  Democrats are now trying to determine how to proceed on possible articles of impeachment with the latest polling showing Americans remain split on the issue.

With us tonight to talk about it, two of our returning veterans, Karine Jean-Pierre, chief public affairs office for MoveOn, also an alum of both the Obama campaign and the Obama White House.  Also happens to be the author of the new book "Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work and the Promise of America."  And David Jolly, a former Republican member of Congress from the great state of Florida who has since left the House and his political party, but he`s with us.  So -- and we win all around.

Hey, Karine, I know the work of MoveOn, your organization, in the past.  Are there plans to mobilize your organization into subgroups around impeachment the way we saw on health care and actually the way the right organized in the field at the birth of the Tea Party movement?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON CHIEF PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER:  I`m so glad you asked that, Brian, because there is.  We have folks on the ground in key districts and in also in key Senate races where you have vulnerable Republicans like in Colorado with Cory Gardner, like with Susan Collins in Maine where we are going to be very loud and clear with our message.  Is the president of the United states above the law or not?

And so this is definitely very similar to what you just said, Brian, to the stopping the repeal of ACA.  So we will be out there for the recess period.

WILLIAMS:  So, Congressman, this is probably my weekly chance to ask you the same question, and that is anything on your radar, anything of the known unknowns, the conceivable possibilities in this case, that would change Republican minds?

DAVID JOLLY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN:  I don`t think in the House.  I think we got an indication from the hearings over the past two weeks that Republicans are going to vote to a person to oppose impeachment articles. I think the Senate is still in question, and to Karine`s point, some of those Republican senators who will choose to side with party over country will very likely lose their seats in the next cycle.

And so, forecasting just a bit, what all of this may mean, the one political consequence is Republicans may lose the Senate in 2020.  You may have Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate in 2020, which makes the race for the White House that much more pivotal because this simple decision that has historic consequences could actually stack the deck for Democrats all across the board in 2020.

WILLIAMS:  And Karine, back to your point again, I remember the look on Grassley`s face at a town hall meeting when the Tea Party movement was coming up.  These were folks to the right of him.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, POLITICAL ANALYST, MSNBC:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  And he was shocked by the volume and the anger of the crowd on a subject of health care.  So I`m just remembering that degree of shock and an incumbent Republican from his right.

JEAN-PIERRE:  I agree with you.  I remember that as well.  I was actually working in the White House the first two years, 2.5 years, of Obama`s presidency.  And I remember those tea party kind of town halls or they`re showing up at the town halls at many, many congressional districts and Senate town halls as well.

Look, here`s the thing, Brian.  There was a poll that showed 70 percent of Americans believe that the President of the United States did something wrong.  You can`t get anybody to agree that today`s Wednesday nowadays.  That`s how divided we are.  And so that is what Republicans are going to have to deal with in some of these districts and some of these states.  Is the President of the United States above the law or not?

And clearly some districts will have different conversations, but this is where we are.  We do have people who are watching, who were watching the hearings, are now moving more steadily closer and closer to impeachment.  And that`s just a reality of the situation.

WILLIAMS:  And Karine, just a quick answer to this.  What`s the viewer`s guide to the judiciary now as they take the baton from Intel?  I think it`s safe for everyone to admit they were rather embarrassed during the Corey Lewandowski appearance --

JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  -- when they were last on live television.

JEAN-PIERRE:  So now we`re in the judiciary hearings phase of this, committee phase of this, and now they`re going to lay out the legal case, right?  They`re going to lay out the constitutional argument.  And we`re going to see history here.  We`ve never seen a president get impeached for national security.  And so that`s the articles of impeachment that we`re going to see.

And so it is going to be probably a month-long process.  And it`s going to get voted out of -- they`re going to present the articles of impeachment and it`s going to get voted out of the House, and we`re going to -- I believe we`re going to see a president who will be impeached on national security.

WILLIAMS:  And David Jolly, forgive me.  I buried the lead.  Mike Pence came out for impeachment.  I should probably add for clarity, the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  This was reprinted today.

An op-ed he wrote back then where he said, "The challenge for the Republican Congress lies in the fact that the polls may be right.  The American people may deeply wish to move on," there`s a phrase, "and put this unpleasantness behind us.  Regrettably, the Constitution does not permit such a national denial".  Hey, Congressman, what do you make of that?

JOLLY:  Hypocrisy.  But we know that after three years from Mike Pence and all Republicans.  The political vulnerability for Republicans right now that the American people can see is by denying as Republican leaders that Donald Trump did anything wrong.  They don`t get to argue for a lesser sentence.

You see, when Bill Clinton obstructed justice, committed perjury, Democrats said look, he shouldn`t have done it but they argued maybe the House should censure him, it`s not impeachable.  What we`re seeing from Republicans is an unwillingness to even suggest it was wrong but not impeachable.  That`s a very politically vulnerable place to be when 70 percent of the American people, as Karine said, think the President did wrong.  It`s OK to debate the sentence, the consequences.  Republicans would be on stronger footing.  But they won`t even get there.

And in doing that, and frankly what we`re going to see in judiciary where they suggest this is a show trial and refuse to participate, Brian, it`s not now just Donald Trump that`s undermining the basic institutions of our democracy.  It is Republicans.  Congressional Republicans are tearing down the United States Congress, not Donald Trump.  If he refuses to show up, if he doesn`t participate, it`s the Republicans in Congress who allow him to do that, who refuse to stand up for the Article I authority of the Congress that are just as responsible as the President for tearing at the fabric of our democracy here in real time in 2019.

WILLIAMS:  You`ve given us a lot to think about.  As usual, let`s all resolve to take tomorrow off.  And with that Karine Jean-Pierre, to David Jolly, very best and happiest Thanksgiving to you and yours.

JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you both for coming on here as well --

JEAN-PIERRE:  Same to you.

WILLIAMS:  -- tonight.

Coming up for us, the shift in strategy expected next week during this next round of impeachment hearings.  A Capitol Hill-based preview when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you expect either the President or his counsel to show up?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN:  I never make the mistake of speaking for the President or his counsel.  And I think it`s well established that it`s unpredictable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Even members of the House Judiciary Committee like Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, don`t know whether the President will send a representative to next week`s impeachment hearing.

Melanie Zanona is back with us tonight with a preview.  She is Congressional Reporter for POLITICO and a returning veteran on this broadcast.  So Melanie, give folks at minimum a kind of viewer`s guide how will these hearings that we`ve become used to now in the Intel Committee, how will it seem different in Judiciary?

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO:  Well, this phase is going to look a whole lot different when it shifts to the Judiciary Committee.  The Intel hearings were focused on fact witnesses, on gathering the evidence and really just putting it all out on the table.  But when the Judiciary Committee takes over, they are essentially going to be trying to put this into context.  The first hearing they`re going to try to define what is an impeachable offense.  They`re going to bring in constitutional and legal experts.

And Democrats really know this is their last chance to move public support in support of impeachment.  So I think both sides are going to be coming in guns a-blazing.  You have members on both sides who are really fierce fighters for their respective parties.  You have members of the Freedom Caucus on the Republican side.  You have members of the Progressive Caucus on the left.

And keep in mind, Brian, this is the hearing -- or the committee where earlier this year one of the members brought in a bucket of fried chicken as a prop to try to mock Bill Barr for not showing up and calling him a chicken.  So we are expecting fireworks.  But at the end of the day, this is a political fight.  We`re expecting political warfare.  And this is the last chance to put a bow on all this evidence that Democrats have collected.

WILLIAMS:  I`m glad you mentioned the chicken.  Every time I mention it, I catch hell for it on Twitter.  Be that as it may, two things are true.  We continue to learn facts every day, thanks to our colleagues in the news media.  Secondly, the Democrats are up against a clock.  But that`s of their own making, of their own calculation.  Talk about this because the two may collide.  They may call an end to this stage of impeachment while we`re still learning things.

ZANONA:  Yes, that`s absolutely the case, Brian.  In fact, there is a court ruling going on right now about whether Don McGahn has to testify or not.  It`s been put on a temporary stay after a judge initially ruled that he does have to testify.  But Democrats are not interested in waiting around.  And in fact, the timing that we`re hearing right now on Capitol Hill is that there`s going to be just two weeks of hearings in Judiciary followed by a week of voting on the House floor on articles of impeachment.

But there is still a lot of decisions that need to be made including how many articles of impeachment.  Is it going to be limited to Ukraine and not touch on the Mueller report?  They also need to decide how many hearings to have and what the rest of the hearings will be focused on.  So a lot of things that need to be happening.  But it looks like Democrats are on the fast track to get this wrapped up bit end of the year.

WILLIAMS:  And one more procedural question.  Let`s say John Bolton has a moment at the Thanksgiving table and decides to start talking in addition to tweeting and say he`s ready to come in.  What`s the mechanism to take more testimony of an important witness like that while this is going on?

ZANONA:  Right.  Well, Intel has said they`re open to the idea that they could be taking more closed-door depositions even while the rest of this is going on.  There`s also speculation that maybe he could be hauled in for the Senate trial and that`s where you could hear him speak.  But honestly at this point, Democrats don`t know what to expect.  He`s sort of been a wild card dangling the idea in front of Democrats that he might have something to say but we don`t know.  He`s also promoting a book.  So we`ll just have to wait and see with Bolton.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Mel, happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  Thanks for coming on.

ZANONA:  You too, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Really appreciate it.

ZANONA:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Melanie Zanona from POLITICO.

Coming up for us tonight, reflections on a person who took on the President of the United States and won, although it did take a moment or two.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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JOHN CHANCELLOR, FMR NBC NEWS HOST:  Here is where we stand.  The President has offered a compromise designed to circumvent a court order which would have required him to turn over the secret tapes to a federal judge.  He has lost his attorney general in a dramatic resignation.  Mr. Nixon then tried to get the deputy attorney general to fire the special Watergate prosecutor.  And when the deputy attorney general wouldn`t do it, he was fired.  Nothing like this has ever happened before.

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WILLIAMS:  John Chancellor, NBC News, in a studio just feet from where we are now.  The deputy attorney general who held his ground during the Watergate controversy was William Ruckelshaus.  He died today at the age of 87.  Ruckelshaus also headed up the EPA under two presidents.  He was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama back in 2015, even that seems like a lifetime ago.

As his "New York Times" obituary put, it quote, "For many Americans the deeds of Mr. Ruckelshaus`s varied career were all but eclipsed by his role in the events of a single night in autumn of 1973 as the political dirty tricks and cover-up conspiracies of the Watergate scandal closed in on his boss, the beleaguered President Nixon."

With us tonight Pulitzer Prize winner, presidential historian Jon Meacham.  Happens to be the author of among other titles "Impeachment: An American History," to which he contributed with Tim Naftali, Jeffrey Engel, and Peter Baker.

So Jon, in addition to learning that the early `70s were a bad era for television, earphones that stuck out on camera and that Mr. Chancellor preferred copy on paper to the teleprompter in front of him.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  Tell us about the man -- I heard a historian talk about Ruckelshaus as a patriot`s patriot.  Tell us about the mark he leaves on American society.

MEACHAM:  That`s a great description.  He was part of a vanished breed.  He was a moderate Republican.  He was of the Rockefeller, Prescott, Bush school of Republicans who believed in fiscal probity but wanted to protect the environment and wanted to protect the rule of law.  What I would hope tonight and going into tomorrow is that every self-described Republican supporter of Donald Trump would read that obituary very carefully and imaginatively project themselves to that ultimate moment of reckoning.

Do you want said of you that when the constitution was under ferocious attack you stood in the breach and stood for the work of Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, or do you want to be seen as someone who took a dive?  Which easily could have happened on that October Saturday in 1973.  But Ruckelshaus believed in the rule of law, Elliott Richardson, the attorney general who resigned, believed in it.  It was Robert Bork, a controversial figure in his own right, who ultimately fired Archibald Cox that night.  That`s a separate debate for another night.  But I think that someone like Ruckelshaus, and we`re almost exactly a year away on November 30th from the one-year anniversary of the death of George H.W. Bush, who also belonged to that company of men and women who believed in the system.

They believed in the constitution. and they knew that at some point, however imperfect they were, however ambitious, however many things they got wrong, they believed at the end of the day that the system, the country, was the thing that had to come first and their own ambition, however much they had serviced that ambition, however much they had worked and driven through the arena with it, had to take a second spot.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s fast-forward to a week from today.  Second round of the hearings and a new and different committee for television voters -- viewers opens up.  Tell us what high crimes and misdemeanors may look like in 2019, because the only thing your profession has in common with, say, a Supreme Court justice or a legislator is trying to figure out what the framers might have meant then as it applies to now.

MEACHAM:  Very interesting.  Gerald Ford famously remarked -- another one of that company, by the way.  He is about to come vice president in that same era.  Ford said that a high crime and misdemeanor is defined as whatever a majority of the House of Representatives decides it is at any given moment and that`s true.  But it`s a phrase from the English common law, it`s an ancient phrase, it was one of the checks and balances on Article II on executive power.  Very interesting that so much of the conversation in the Intelligence Committee hearings focused on the term bribery, that is the offering of a favor in exchange for something else.

And so -- in the constitution, there are three things listed for impeachment, treason, which has to happen in a state of war, bribery, the exchange of the now famous quid pro quo, the first time Latin has been this, you know --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

MEACHAM:  -- used this widely since Rome.  So, there is one benefit here.  Or high crimes and misdemeanors, I think you`re going to see more and more focus on the bribery as the Judiciary Committee takes over.  The Judiciary Committee remembers where the fabled Watergate hearings unfolded.  Peter Rodino, of then Republicans like Charles Wiggins of California, Walter Flowers of Alabama, conservatives who wanted to stick with Nixon but at the very end of the day, they were moved by the facts of the matter.

And the question we`re confronting now is, will the facts of the matter move those who have pledged their allegiance to President Trump?

WILLIAMS:  And do you see, in the 30 seconds we have remaining, any reason for movement among Republican senators provided that`s where this is headed?

MEACHAM:  I don`t.  I`ve been struck by that.  I like and I understand the juror defense.  They have to hear out -- you know, they`re using that as a block to buy some time, but to get 67 senators to agree to go to lunch is almost impossible.  And to see that significant a break with the president and the Republican caucus will be highly unusual.  Here`s hoping that there are some profiles in courage there who want an obituary like the one we`re reading tonight.

WILLIAMS:  Jon Meacham, I happen to know your love once to them and to you, wishing you a happy thanksgiving.  Thank you very much for coming on.

MEACHAM:  Same to you.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us, it happened last night, but we are betting you are going to want to see it here tonight.

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WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight.  We have done this for so long for so many years and more decades than I care to remember in this business.  Some of our viewers have actually come to expect it from us.  At this point in our thanksgiving eve broadcast, this is where we say, 55 million of you are traveling this thanksgiving.  This is where we remind you that this coming Sunday is the single worst travel day of the year.  This is where we show you the live radar satellite overlap of this country by way of saying, we are so sorry if you`re waiting for someone at home.  We`re so sorry if you`re watching this on a seat back TV on a plane on a tarmac or worse yet, in an airline terminal, because here, this is the live graphic showing all the flights aloft over the U.S. right now.  You have a lot of company up there in the sky.  So, that`s the topic of thanksgiving.

What we really want to end on tonight is something that went by too quickly.  Some of the overlooked verbal stylings of our president at his rally last night in Florida.  He started out with the throwing of the red hats, because Trump fans love them some red hats.  They love their merch.  And come to think of it, who among us doesn`t love free merch?  The President got right to business, including celebrating a big week for something called the SOCK rocket.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  Do you believe it?  I`m president, look.  You know, we just had another SOCK rocket, you saw that right?  The SOCK rocket.

Everybody`s getting rich and I`m working my ass off, that I could tell you.

You`re not having a good time getting up in the morning?  All you do is find a new job and you`ll get more money, most likely.  And I opened up an Apple computer plant, they make the new beautiful Mac, whatever.

And some day soon, we will land an American astronaut on the surface of Mars, that`s what we`re shooting for.  The space force.

The deranged impeach -- think of this.  Impeachment.  Impeachment.

A perfect phone call, I used that -- it`s a perfect call.  That was a perfect.

I want no quid pro quo, I want nothing.

What happened to Hunter?

I don`t want to go on it too long, but all I`m saying is that it`s a terrible hoax.  They said, he went into the hospital and it`s true, I didn`t wear a tie.  Why would I wear a tie?  If the first thing they do is say take off your shirt, sir, and show us that gorgeous chest.

I always thought Ron was a little heavy, right?  I did.  I thought he was a little over overweight.  And then I see him without a shirt one day and this guy is strong.

And remember this, the Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln, we forget.  Abraham Lincoln.

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WILLIAMS:  The 18th Republican president since Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump, bringing our broadcast to a close on this thanksgiving eve 2019.  And so, that is our Wednesday night effort.  We wish you all a happy thanksgiving.  Thank you for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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