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Russia's Top Diplomat TRANSCRIPT: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 12/10/2019

Guests: Carol Leonnig, Paul Butler, Jason Johnson; Bill Kristol; Samantha Power

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight the Democrats reveal two 

articles of impeachment. Abuse of power and obstruction of Congress both now on track to a full House vote before the holidays.

Meanwhile, the President, armed with fresh fiction from his attorney general that he was the victim of some sort of government spying effort goes before an impeachment infused rally in Pennsylvania tonight where he calls FBI employees scum while also attacking the State Department.

Plus the Mueller report found 272 separate contacts with Russians. Add one more, out in the open today, that`s the Russian Foreign Minister, standing in the Oval Office today, an honor that Ukraine`s President never got. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,0055 of this Trump administration. And Donald Trump is now the fourth president in our history to be brought to the brink of impeachment. This morning Democrats in the House unveiled two articles against the President, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Tomorrow night, the Judiciary Committee announced they will start the mark- up phase, the debate over the language in the articles. The two articles are tightly focused on just the one subject, Trump`s actions to pressure Ukraine for political investigations. And the reasoning is made clear in the language. And we quote from the articles, "President Trump by such conduct has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the constitution if allowed to remain in office and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States." That last part, of course, requires a trial and a vote in the Senate.

The document, however, continues. And we quote, "President Trump thus interposed the powers of the presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives and assumed to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives. in the history of the republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate high crimes and misdemeanors. This abuse of office served to cover up the President`s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives."

The Democrats have been accused of rushing this, of being in a hurry to push this through. Today, Adam Schiff addressed that.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE CMTE. CHAIRMAN: The argument, why don`t you just wait, amounts to this. Why don`t you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him cheat just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time? That is what that argument amounts to.


WILLIAMS: About an hour after that, Speaker Pelosi joined members of her caucus to announce that Democrats and the White House had reached an agreement to move forward with the White House replacement for NAFTA. Tonight during a rally in Hershey, P.A., Trump said the timing of today`s events were orchestrated by the Democrats.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ve been waiting for a long time, for Nancy Pelosi to announce USMCA. And she did it on the same day that they announced that they are going to impeach!

You know why? It`s a huge deal and it plays down the impeachment because they`re embarrassed by the impeach impeachment.


WILLIAMS: About the Congress voting soon on his trade deal part that he announced tonight, the Senate Majority Leader, who controls the legislative calendar, does not appear to agree with that.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: We will not be doing USMCA in the Senate between now and the end of next week. That will have to come up, in all likelihood, right after the trial is finished in the Senate.

You`re wondering when you have to come back, right?


MCCONNELL: It will be right around the time the bowl games end. So, how about that?


WILLIAMS: Speaking of the impeachment trial, the "Washington Examiner" also reports the White House may not get a chance to have the witnesses it wants, "Senate Republicans do not expect to call witnesses President Trump might want to hear from most in an impeachment trial, conceding there are not the votes to summon key figures such as Hunter Biden and the unidentified government whistleblower whose complaint sparked the process."

Amid all that, the controversy over the Department of Justice inspector general`s report on the FBI`s Russia investigation continues to grow. That report found no evidence of government spying, no evidence of political bias on the part of the agents. It did note several errors and irregularities during that inquiry.

Tomorrow, the inspector general himself, Michael Horowitz, will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer for his work in effect.

Here`s what the President had to say about Horowitz as he offered a straight-up misrepresentation of the report`s findings.


TRUMP: This report was great by the I.G., especially since he was appointed by President Barack Hussein Obama.


WILLIAMS: Attorney General Barr is voicing his objections to the I.G. report. Here is what he told our colleague, Pete Williams.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: In one area I do disagree with the I.G., and that was whether there was sufficient predication to open a full- blown counterintelligence investigation, specifically using the techniques that they did to collect intelligence about the Trump campaign.

The core statement in my opinion by the I.G. is that these irregularities, these misstatements, these omissions were not satisfactorily explained. And I think that leaves open the possibility to infer bad faith.


WILLIAMS: Here for our lead-off discussion on a Tuesday night, Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize-winning Investigative Reporter for "The Washington Post," Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon and notably former Chief Counsel to House Intel, and Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times." Good evening and welcome to you all.

Jeremy Bash, first off, what are we watching here? Is the attorney general deciding on his own independent truth as the saying goes, all evidence to the contrary?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: And what`s amazing, Brian, is that the attorney general is complaining in this interview with Pete Williams that a presidential campaign was investigated. If that is precisely what he`s doing alongside Rudy Giuliani at President Trump`s direction with the leadership of Ukraine, it`s investigating Joe Biden, a candidate for president. So the attorney general has really no credibility here. And I think this is really just an effort not merely to undermine the inspector general`s report, which of course said that there was no political bias in opening the Russian counterintelligence investigation. But it`s an effort to change the subject away from those two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress because those two articles are, simply put, eight short double space pages that all Americans should read and that will be voted out of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, am I to take that that you think you agree with the strategy of limiting it to these two articles of impeachment?

BASH: Absolutely. I think it was very wise by the House leadership by the Speaker to, number one, set the bar for impeachment very high. And second, to say that there should not be a kitchen sink impeachment. It should be limited to Ukraine. It should be short, sweet, understandable and really closely tethered to the President`s conduct here, which was pressuring, demanding investigations of his political rivals.

WILLIAMS: Carol Leonnig, I`m going to play for you a bit of what the President said to his red meat rally audience tonight in Hershey, P.A., then we`ll talk about it on the other side. Here he says it was better to listen to Ukraine`s leaders than established American diplomats.


TRUMP: The Ukrainian Foreign Minister, and he said it so strongly, I have never seen a direct link between investigations and security assistance. He just said that.

They are the ones that know of this pressure, not so some crooked ambassador that`s a deep stater or that`s a Bushy or that`s a Clintonite or that`s a Barack Obama ambassador.


WILLIAMS: Carol Leonnig, another way to put it is the great divide. The people he just described, who have been on display during these hearings are also known for their knowledge, their expertise, their rigor. Together, they put together the government of the United States.

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER: It`s been interesting to watch, Brian, how often the President has referred to people who do their jobs for a multitude of administrations. Republican, Democrat, sometimes over the course of 20 years, as Bill Taylor did, as Masha Yovanovitch did, people to describe who view themselves as very apolitical, to say that they are essentially hacks who have nothing but an interest in unseating this President.

I found it striking, too, if I could merge our two themes. You know, Chris Wray, basically said today, the FBI director, in defending the criticism that the I.G. leveled at the agents. And also the Trump allies really came in with against them. He said, it is an affront to these people who are professionals, who work with rigor and care and lots and lots of unpaid hours. It`s an insult to call them that. And yet, that`s what we`re seeing all the time every time the facts that come out don`t match with what the administration wants to hear.

WILLIAMS: Mike, outline for our viewers what Trump and Barr are distorting about what the inspector general actually said.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Barr is taking on the issue of whether the FBI cleared the threshold to open up such an important investigation. And what Barr is saying the FBI, in his view, should have needed more to do this, to go to this extreme level, to look at the connections between four campaign officials and Russia.

Now, what Barr also is doing is he`s putting a lot of weight and emphasis on the Durham investigation, that is sort of the next chapter in the Russia saga, and that is a larger look at the origins of the investigation. We saw this highly unusual thing yesterday where Durham put out a statement in the middle of this report coming out, basically to say that he disagreed with the sort of central contention about the decision to open the investigation. We usually don`t hear from investigators mid investigation. Barr also saying today that he thinks that Durham will be done by the middle of next year, by the summer. Often times in investigations we`re not told when the end is going to be. So that is interesting as well. But, certainly that is where the Republicans and Barr and Fox News will be putting their emphasis as they continue this.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, government employees, public servants can hear this attorney general when he talks out loud and they know better, 37,000 employees of the FBI can hear the President refer to the bureau as scum in his speech tonight. What is any of this doing, any of this doing, do you think, for morale?

BASH: And what`s amazing, Brian, is that Bill Barr is the chief legal officer of our country. He oversees not just the FBI, but a multitude of law enforcement elements. And in some ways he`s the embodiment of law enforcement. And here he is denigrating law enforcement because that`s the political direction that President Trump has given him. And he`s not merely undercutting Chris Wray, but he`s undercutting the entire country (ph) of law enforcement professionals who are on the front lines, defending our freedom, keeping the country safe at this hour and they`re not doing it for any reason other than the fact that they are patriots and they want to serve the public`s interests.

WILLIAMS: Carol Leonnig, does the circle of trust, the circle of protection around this President come down to people like Mulvaney, like Bolton, like McGahn?

LEONNIG: It`s such a great question. You know, I wondered all along if we`re going to give sodium pentothal to these folks and they were going to have a clear shot sitting in front of a television audience and say, what happened, what would they say. It may be that way.

In the Mueller probe I remember a source saying to me there are key things we`re not going to learn about the President`s actions because this is a man who does not e-mail. And e-mail is, of course, the way in which we learn a lot of details in internal investigations.

What`s different this time around, though, is you have people contemporaneously who spoke to the President who have testified, Gordon Sondland. Gordon Sondland is not an Obama holdover. He was the President`s choice. Gordon Sondland is not a person who is a deep stater. He arrived as a major multiple million dollar donor.

So, it`s interesting. You have the President`s voice from various people, including that official who was in a restaurant listening to Gordon Sondland talk to the President where the President said are they going to investigate them? So, in a way it`s not exactly the same. This time we do have the President`s voice as we did not in the case of the Mueller investigation.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Mike, the President did another dramatic reading of the Strzok and Page text traffic tonight in his own voice. He slandered them bypassing along a rumor in his own way. Do you reckon those texts? And similar material of that ilk is going to come up tomorrow when the I.G. goes before Senate Judish (ph)?

SCHMIDT: I`m sure that the I.G. is going to be asked about the question of political bias, about whether text messages that FBI agents sent both pro- Clinton and pro-Trump, were they impacted? Did they have any impact on the investigation?

And as the I.G. found in the report there was no evidence of political bias in what the FBI did. And I just think that it`s really important to understand that that was -- has been the central claim of the President for two years now since he first tweeted in March of 2017 about how Barack Obama and the FBI had wiretapped him. He has accused the FBI of acting politically to stop him.

And here we are with this report that has examine pretty much probably everything that there is on the FBI and DOJ side. And there`s nothing to actually substantiate.

WILLIAMS: We`re honored to have you three on a night like this. Carol Leonnig, Jeremy Bash, Michael Schmidt, our thanks for helping us out.

And coming up here tonight, Attorney General Barr continues to defend Trump, dismiss parts of I.G. report. Two former Justice Department officials are waiting to join us to weigh in.

And later, she knows a thing or two about Russia`s tactics because she has seen a thing or two as U.N. ambassador. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and diplomat Samantha Power is with us tonight as "The 11th Hour" is just getting started on this busy Tuesday night in view of the West Wing.



PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Was it appropriate for John Durham to issue his statement yesterday, given that he`s a U.S. attorney with the grand jury and his investigation isn`t done yet?

BARR: Right. Oh, yes, I think it was definitely appropriate because I think it was necessary to avoid public confusion.


WILLIAMS: John Durham is a U.S. attorney, serving in Connecticut. He was hand selected by that man, A.G. Barr, to investigate the origins of this Russia investigation over and above the DOJ`s own internal inspector general report, which we`ve been talking about, because it was issued yesterday. But Durham took the unusual step of releasing a statement, reacting to the I.G. report while he`s in the midst of his own work on the same thing. His statement read, in part, and we quote, "Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report`s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened."

That, right there, is not done. U.S. attorneys work for the Justice Department, they do not traditionally comment on ongoing matters.

And on Nicolle Wallace`s broadcast today, the former inspector general at DOJ reacted to what Durham has done here.


MICHAEL BROMWICH, FMR. INSPECTOR GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: To directly criticize the findings of an 18-month investigation and a tremendous amount of work is something that really I can`t even understand and wrap my head around. It is completely inappropriate. It`s unprecedented. And I think in some people`s minds, including mine, it should be grounds for disciplinary referral against Durham.


WILLIAMS: That`s saying something. And back with us, Paul Butler, a former Federal Corruption Prosecutor notably and these days a Georgetown Law School Professor and Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence.

Frank, I want to read you the tweet from the President about, as he called him, the current director of the FBI. Imagine waking up and you are the current director of the FBI and wondering how much job security you have when your boss is saying this on Twitter. Do we have that? There we go.

"I don`t know what report current director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn`t the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken, despite having some of the greatest men and women working there."

He called the FBI scum tonight at his rally. How does it feel these days to be an FBI veteran?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Brian, this has moved way beyond morale as an issue. We`re now looking at a threat to the independence and neutrality of the FBI. It`s essential for the FBI to remain independent of pressure and political influence. But in the last 24 hours, all we`ve seen is pressure and political influence and led by who? The attorney general of the United States rejecting his own inspector general`s report.

WILLIAMS: Paul Butler, is the attorney general, to coin a phrase, Muellering the inspector general report? What he did by setting public opinion into the firmament, knowing the Mueller report was voluminous and would not be read by a majority of our population. He has now put out this pre-definition of the I.G. report, even though the author will be appearing at a Senate hearing tomorrow. It`s the A.G.`s words that got circulation because they were delivered over the mainstream media today.

PAUL BUTLER, FMR, FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Attorney General Barr is the attorney general of President Trump`s dreams. He`s a fixer. He represents the interests not of the United States, but of Donald Trump.

When the attorney general descents from an inspector general report he or she is supposed to write a letter that becomes a formal part of the report that states the objections. That`s not what the attorney general did in this case. Instead he went on this media blitz. It appears to be a coordinated campaign with Durham and with the President. It`s more about spinning the I.G. report than responding to it substantively.

WILLIAMS: I want to play for you, Frank, this is the attorney general when Pete Williams asked him specifically about Ukraine.


P. WILLIAMS: Are you concerned that Ukraine has a missing server from the Hillary Clinton e-mails?

BARR: Fortunately, I haven`t gotten into the Ukraine thing yet. I don`t know.

P. WILLIAMS: What about the allegation that it was Ukrainians who meddled in the election and not the Russians. Are you satisfied that`s not the case?

BARR: I`m confident that the Russians attempted to interfere in the election. I don`t know about the Ukrainians. I haven`t even looked into it, frankly.


WILLIAMS: What worries you most, the thought that he doesn`t know, perhaps hasn`t asked, or knows not to admit he knows because this is Russian disinformation that we`re predicating this whole thing on?

FIGLIUZZI: What worries me most, Brian, is that the attorney general is lying to the American people about this. Don`t forget, he is the overseer of the FBI. He has all the clearances necessary. He knows the FBI and the U.S. Intelligence Community have absolutely debunked the theory that Ukraine meddled in our election. So for him to sit there and say, I haven`t looked into it yet, I don`t know about that, I think the legal term is horse manure.

WILLIAMS: When he talks about spying, he appears so troubled, so burdened, he`s almost believable.

FIGLIUZZI: Well, he`s slapping a negative connotation to the word spying and because it has a negative connotation. But the I.G. report clearly found that in each and every case, including the Russian counterintelligence case, the Carter Page case, the Manafort case, the Michael Flynn case, in each of those instances, there was proper and sufficient evidence to open the cases. So when he tells the American people, I don`t see the sufficiency of predication, he`s misleading us.

WILLIAMS: Paul, give us a preview of tomorrow, Horowitz, the inspector general, goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And how does his job differ in size and scope and freedoms from someone like Durham, a U.S. attorney who has been plucked out of being a line attorney and is now working as a task of the attorney general?

BUTLER: So the inspector general is not a political appointee in the traditional sense. He is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate but his term overlapped various administrations. He is supposed to be independent. Unlike the United States attorney who reports to the attorney general and who is a political appointee of the President. And so what I expect the inspector general to say tomorrow is that there was no choice but to open an investigation based on the credible allegations. And while there were mistakes made by the FBI, they were not political in nature.

Here is the irony, Brian. Last week the attorney general made a speech where he said certain communities need to show more respect and support for law enforcement. Tonight the President called members of the FBI scum and the attorney general himself does not support and respect the office of inspector general and also the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency all of whom concluded it`s the Russians not the Ukrainians who interfered in the 2016 election.

WILLIAMS: We`re grateful to these two men, both former feds, for joining us tonight. To Paul Butler and Frank Figliuzzi, our thanks.

Coming up for us, explaining victimhood and victimization culture surrounding this President, how it plays out in live audiences like tonight and in our politics.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the whole stupid thing, this impeachment thing is just a waste of time and it`s ridiculous and stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have no facts, no first firsthand knowledge and that they`re going on by on what the so-called expert says happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m very upset today. I`m glad I`m here. But I think it`s so hard because, you know, he`s done such a great job and this is the way that he`s being treated. It`s very upsetting to me.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: President Trump`s base still not shaken in its faith, its support of him. Tonight at his rally in Hershey, P.A., the Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor had a warning for Democrats.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Pennsylvania, I think is the singly most important swing state in the country. And then I really believe that. I always try to push back on this notion that there`s a blue wave in Pennsylvania. There`s not. For as many counties as we flip in SEABA, we lose or did lose an equivalent amount in Western P.A.


WILLIAMS: Two notes. Obviously that was before the rally in SEABA, Southeastern P.A. Here are with us tonight, Jason Johnson, Politics Editor at The Root and Bill Kristol, Editor-At-Large at The Bulwark, also a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations. In what was, let`s face it, another time in our nation`s history. OK, Jason, his impeachment, as we know it, as presented today, worth the risk.

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT POLITICS EDITOR: Yes, it is, because the President is an actual danger to the regular functioning of the American democracy. This is not about him being a bad guy. This is not about people being unhappy. This is about a President who is repeatedly and consistently said that he will cheat and use whatever means are at his disposal in order to win.

Now that may be fine if you`re the New England Patriots but it`s not OK if you`re President of the United States. And when the Democrats have discovered consistently that he has asked other people for assistance, that he has encouraged other countries to come in, that he has refused to allow money to go forward to improve election security, that is an impeachment offense. It is worth the political risk because what`s the point of politics if we don`t have a free country to do politics in?

WILLIAMS: And Bill, noting your status as a never-Trump Republican and noting the President`s base as apparently immovable and sticking with the percentage it is. Same question to you, is it worth the risk?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, sure. And I mean there`s a risk going the other way, too, right? We`ll just sit there and do nothing. I actually think the speaker`s handled as well. She was reluctant to do this. I was much more in favor of taking the Mueller report and moving to at least consider impeachment. She resisted that.

They really took the breaking of the Ukraine story and some of the details of the story to get her to agree basically to move ahead with impeachment. Some of the younger Democrats, some of the first-term Democrats in swing districts were the ones especially the veterans who had that letter, they really broke it open. I think they`ve done it in a pretty careful way. They`ve got two pretty solid articles of impeachment.

I think, they -- by going ahead with the vote on the Mexico and Canada trade agreement, they`re showing they can also do things legislatively and even cooperate with the President much the -- unhappy to someone who left the Democratic Party. So I think she`s handled it quite well and there`s not much empirical evidence that it`s helping or hurting much. I mean, if you look at the match-ups between Trump and Biden or Trump and whoever, Sanders, Warren, they`re all pretty much where they were three or four months ago.

WILLIAMS: And Jason, I`m sure you`re sympathetic with the temptation to reach back into the Mueller report and throw more into the hopper of articles --


WILLIAMS: -- of impeachment. I`m also guessing you concur with the decision to keep it to two. Do you think they`ve made the case to the average Democratic voter around the country and if not, can they in the next few weeks?

JOHNSON: Well definitely, Brian. So number one, the average Democratic voter in the United States isn`t specifically driven by this. The desire for impeachment and removal is driven by the Democratic base. Left, young people, and African-Americans. African-Americans on particular are the strongest group in favor of both impeachment and removal. And I think that a lot of those different groups doubted that Nancy Pelosi was going to do anything. So they have definitely satisfied their base.

If you look at the polling, we`re 50 percent, 51 percent of the American people say yes, he should be impeached and remove. So I think the Democrats, they`ve done their political job of convincing the public that this is not a witch hunt, that this makes sense. Now they have to do their constitutional job. Now they have to do their job to the United States Republic for the future.

So I think they`ve managed that politically. And I agree with you, I don`t think there`s going to be any massive backlash in 2020 about impeachment. The kind of person whose vote was going to be determined by whether or not the Democrats impeach Donald Trump is already somebody they decided how they`re going to vote next year.

WILLIAMS: Bill Kristol, here`s my biased. The ads, your political group has put together are tougher on Trump than just about anything I have seen from any Democrat in the race right now. Having said that, having established that, is there something you see the Democrats aren`t doing in this effort that you think they ought to?

KRISTOL: No, because I think to a degree that it`s a Democratic ad, it looks Partisan as far as we`re allowed to say what we believe and we do believe it so we just say it. I mean, we failed mostly though to persuade. It looks like many Democrat and many Republicans in the House, maybe we`ll get a few, probably gets to the Senate, the large itself (ph). Republicans around the country are sticking with Trump.

We have a couple of candidates running against Trump for the nomination and I wish them well but they`re, you know, they`re not going to -- it doesn`t look like they`ll get a huge number of votes. So, the loyalty of the Republican Party to Trump especially over the last two or three months where many of them have actually doubled down, I would say. Even despite all the evidence, it would strike me. That you might want to distance yourself.

And the fact that Nikki Haley and at least (INAUDIBLE) and people who kept a little bit of arm`s distance are now all in for Trump. That really is striking and I don`t quite know what that pertains on.

WILLIAMS: Well you can say that again. Jason and Bill are going to stay with us over a break.

And coming up, the Russian Foreign Minister picked a heck of a day to visit the Trump White House and the Trump White House picked a heck of a day to show him in to the Oval Office. That when we come back.


WILLIAMS: On the same day, the House formally accused Donald Trump of soliciting the interference of a Foreign Government in the 2020 election. The President was meeting privately with Russia`s Foreign Minister as one does. The White House says Trump did bring up election meddling but the KJ Lavrov shrugged it off later.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translation): All speculations about our alleged interference in domestic processes in the United States are baseless. There are no facts that would support that. We did not see these facts. No one has given us this proof because it simply does not exist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mentioned, you would like to see the U.S. come forward with information about election meddling. Why not just read the Mueller report? It`s very detailed when it comes to U.S. allegations related to meddling in the 2016 election.

LAVROV (through translation): Now as for meddling or non-meddling, you suggested to simply read the Mueller report. We read it. There was no proof of any collusion.


WILLIAMS: Those responses, of course, are right out of the Russian response playbook. For his part, the president called it a very good meeting he had today. Back with us Jason Johnson and Bill Kristol.

Bill, you`re still a lifelong republican. Let`s talk about the help the Russians are getting from some elected republicans in this country. Senator John, no relation, Kennedy of Louisiana. Just this weekend, Ted Cruz of Texas with Chuck Todd and then I heard Former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent say about Cruz, you`d think he`d have more self- respect. What`s going on when elected Republicans pass along Russian disinformation about Ukraine?

KRISTOL: I mean, it`s terrible and it`s a way of deflecting, having to defend. It`s a way to avoiding him. It`s actually defend what Donald Trump has done over the last four or five months with respect to Ukraine to say, well it`s very up in the air who interfered with what and Trump`s suspicions might have been reasonable and therefore, he gets kind of a pass on everything he asked President Zelensky to do with respect to Biden in 2016 and everything Trump did.

So it`s a -- I think that`s kind of what`s behind it. But it`s a -- it`s to pay -- the price we`re going to pay for their, you know, political cowardice is great. I mean to be -- to willing to sort of slough over Russian interference, make it seem the Ukrainian, you know, some Ukrainian running an op-ed is a similar to they sustained attack by the Russian government on their electoral system is bad in terms of history and it`s terrible for what it portends for 2020.

WILLIAMS: Jason, what`s the point of having Lavrov today? First of all, we know the Russians prepare for these kinds of visits.


WILLIAMS: They prepare a lot. And of all the days, of all the looks, there he is, grinning in the Oval Office.

JOHNSON: Yes. We would -- the political science term for this would be dunking, right? They`re basically dunking on the impeachment process. Because, look, this meeting could have been delayed, it could have been had at other times. It is the Russians basically saying we don`t care.

We know that this President is in our pocket and won`t be at all concerned about these kinds of issues. And it`s also a way for the White House to basically gas light the United States and say, hey look, the Russians are here. It`s fine. We`re not concerned about any of these sort of foreign interference issues.

But, Brian, here`s what I think is really the long-term concern here. I`ve always said, look, Hillary Clinton didn`t lose the 2016 election because of the Russians. She lost for a lot of different reasons. But when you have a president, and you have a foreign leader who basically said I have a green light to get involve in this elections, it may not stop with Russia, right? If they can pretend that this has to do with the Ukraine, then there are other countries that may be involved and there domestic terrorists who might get involved in our election system.

So when you make it a sort of free, open party to mess with 2020, it becomes a danger. And the Russians really have accomplished what they wanted.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, I can`t thank you enough for coming on and helping at our conversation tonight. Jason Johnson, Bill Kristol, thank you both.

And coming up, judging by the remarks he made tonight, the President has already forgotten about world leaders laughing at him at the NATO summit last week in London. A Former U.N. Ambassador, Samantha Power standing by to join us. We`ll talk about it among other things.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This country is so respected and we were not respected four years ago. We were laughed at. President Barack Hussein Obama.


WILLIAMS: That was tonight in Pennsylvania but remember it was just a week ago when our leading allies, like the cool kids in high school, were caught on camera mocking Donald Trump.



JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top. I watched his team`s jaws drop on the floor.


WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about all of it, shall we? With our guest tonight, Ambassador Samantha Power. She was U.N. Ambassador under President Obama where she also served on the National Security Council. She happens to be a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and at her alma matter Harvard Law School. Her latest book is called, The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir".

It strikes me, Ambassador, it takes idealists to travel the world, as you did, and fill up the ranks of Foreign Service. In your view, what`s been lost thus far?

SAMANTHA POWER, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Where to begin? I mean, for starters, I think the hardest thing to recover is just trust. Not just trust in America`s word for the time period in which we have somebody who doesn`t tell the truth and who`s violated commitments that we`ve made previously but sadly a more enduring loss of trust. A concern that if this happened once, if there is a leader who comes along and rips up everything that`s come before, what does that mean for the next presidential? How do they do deals with other countries particularly at a time where the U.S. Senate couldn`t pass at treaty to save its life --


POWER: -- to lock a commitment in an enduring way. So I think that`s going to be extremely hard to recover, is our credibility. And then these alliances. I`ve been traveling a fair amount in these last weeks and months. And the amount of hedging going on, you know, countries taking positions vis-a-vis China that you would never have expected them to take just recognizing that they`re not sure where the United States is going to be in the short, medium, and the long term. And so that`s going to be very, very hard to recover. But better to start that recovery process sooner rather than later, that`s for sure.

WILLIAMS: When you see a picture like the scene today in the Oval Office with our President seated and grinning and looming above him Lavrov. Not Putin, mind you, but the Foreign Minister. What happens in your heart and head?

POWER: Well, this is an unthinkable scene. I mean, first of all, just on protocol grounds, what is the Russian Foreign Minister doing -- having a bilateral meeting with the President of the United States?

WILLIAMS: His equivalent is the Secretary of State.

POWER: Correct. He would be normally in the normal course of things, if there weren`t something else going on at the State Department with his counterpart. But also, again, remember the dog that isn`t barking. The Zelensky Oval Office meeting at a head of state level that isn`t happening.

So the message here is you interfered in our election, I`ll pretend it didn`t happen for the duration of my presidency, won`t do anything to keep our election infrastructure safe from future interference, there will be no sanction from me. Yes, the Congress will impose sanctions. I will make it very clear that I oppose those sanctions. And we will smile and make nice with one another. And indeed I will even meet you beneath my pay grade. I will meet anybody from your government, whether the Russian Ambassador to Washington or the Foreign Minister, even though I would never do that with any other country and no other president of the United States would do such a thing.

At the same time, I will not have a meeting with the President of Ukraine because he has not sufficiently interfered in our election on my behalf. And therefore, I`m going to meet with the Foreign Minister of Russia and not meet with the President of Ukraine. I mean, the messaging also to other countries that are thinking about where they stand, whether they try the path of flattery, obsequiousness, serving President Trump`s personal interests, political interests, financial interests, or whether they do things in accordance with international stability, regional stability, our alliances, I mean, the clear message is do things for me and you get things.

WILLIAMS: Can you assure folks that the Taylors and Yovanovitchs and Hills are all still out there in their posts around the world?

POWER: There are many of them but fewer than there were three years ago and fewer of them than there were three months ago. I mean, this is an effort by these individuals, these remarkable patriots who, by the way, you know, are people who disagreed with dimensions of Barack Obama`s Ukraine policy, right? I mean, so this is not some partisan thing. This is a view that we have a responsibility as the United States to stand with countries that are being subjected to the kind of aggression that Russia has perpetrated against Ukraine.

And they are out there. And they will continue to be out there but we will need a major renovation job for our diplomatic corps in the wake of the Trump administration. And not just there, of course also in our science agencies and any place that expertise is needed. That`s the foundation for making sound policy. And we need more sound policy and more expertise at the root of it.

WILLIAMS: You came here from Ireland as a young girl. Do you concur that U2 has been the greatest Irish export in the last 50 years?

POWER: I`m with you there, Brian Williams.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Ambassador.

POWER: Thank you/

WILLIAMS: Appreciate it. Good luck with the book. Again, Ambassador Samantha Power is the author of "The Education of An Idealist."

Coming up, the most admired woman in the world talks about what our world is coming to.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, the words of a former first lady who just happens to be the most admired woman in the world. Our friend Jenna Bush Hager and the Today show production team tagged along on Michelle Obama`s trip to Vietnam to highlight education for young girls. And during their walk in there, talk Jenna asked Michelle Obama about the impeachment process and the times we`re living in.


JENNA BUSH HAGER, NBC`S "TODAY" SHOW HOST: When you turn on and see that there`s an impeachment proceedings going on, do you feel like this is something we can come back from?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s surreal I think because the last impeachment hearing a lot of young people weren`t around for that so this is all new. I don`t think people know what to make of it. But do I think we can come back from it? Oh, yes. We`ve seen worse times. We`ve seen tough times in this country.

You know, we`ve gone through depressions and wars and bombings and terrorist attacks and we`ve gone through Jim Crow. And we`ve always come out stronger. And that`s what we have to continue to believe. Because what`s our choice? To ball up in a corner and call it a day? Well, that`s not fair to this next generation that`s coming before us that are counting on us to get this right. It`s not an us or a them, it`s not an R or a D. We are all here as part of this country. We all want the same things. It`s just sometimes that gets lost in the noise.


WILLIAMS: The most admired woman in the world assuring the daughter of a former President and all of her fellow Americans that the world as we know it will still be there when this is all over.

To that end, that`s our broadcast on a Tuesday night. Thank you so much for being here with us. Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.