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Lisa Page speaks out in first TV Interview. TRANSCRIPT: 12/17/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Elisabeth Bumiller, David Jolly, Rick Wilson

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you very much for joining us tonight, I really appreciate it.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with New Jersey Zone Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the eve of the impeachment vote in the House says tempers flared again today in the run up to the inevitable, still starting just hours from now the House is starting its ultimate undertaking.

And then today out of nowhere a letter arrives for Speaker Pelosi, written or at least dictated mostly by the President and it reads that way.  Six pages, a rant filled with mistakes and false claims, fueled by anger, the Speaker quickly dismisses it as sick.

Meanwhile as they plan for the next step, senators fight over who will speak at the President`s trial.  And just today another of the President`s men learned his prison sentence all of it as the 11th Hour gets underway on this Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York, Day 1062 of the Trump Administration on this the eve of the House vote to impeach Donald Trump.  The House will start debate in the morning and the end of the day will vote on two articles, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Tonight the Associated Press and Washington Post both report the Democrats have the votes.  All Republicans are expected to vote as a block against both articles.

Today, the House rules committee meant to set the terms for tomorrow`s floor session calling for six hours of debate on the articles, no amendments can be offered earlier today, the President was asked about the situation he finds himself in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, do you take any responsibility for the fact that you are about to be impeached?

DONALDT TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No.  I don`t take any, zero to put it mildly.


WILLIAMS:  Today Trump also wrote a letter, six pages to Speaker Pelosi, attacking her, condemning her caucus for carrying out the impeachment inquiry.  For example he writes, "You have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word impeachment, you are offending Americans of faith by continually saying `I pray for the President` when you know this statement is not true.  You are the ones interfering in America`s elections, you are the ones subverting America`s democracy, you are the ones obstructing justice, more due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials."

A White House official tells NBC News the President came up with the idea for the letter and then relied on aids to draft it while directing the process, the official adds the council`s office did suggest some changes, some were made, others rejected.

To be clear in part because it contains so many errors and misstatements, the letter is not being regarded as a serious document.  Tonight John Dean called it pathetic.  David Gergen who has served four U.S. Presidents said it reads like a two bit dictator.  Late today the Speaker was asked about the document.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Your reaction to the President`s letter?

NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER:  No reaction.  It`s ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have no reaction?  Why not?

PELOSI:  I mean, I haven`t really fully read it.  We`ve been working.  I`ve seen the essence of it though, and it`s really sick.


WILLIAMS:  Tonight the Trump campaign is also using language similar to that letter to Pelosi in a fund raising email to supporters, under the subject line impeachment war, it reads, "By proceeding with an invalid impeachment, Democrats are violating their oaths of office, breaking their allegiance to the Constitution and declaring open war on American Democracy."

As the House prepares for tomorrow`s impeachment vote, the Senate is getting ready to hold the President`s trial expected in early January.  This morning the Majority Leader McConnell responded to the Minority Leader Schumer`s proposal for senators to subpoena documents and call witnesses forward including White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

McConnell who has already confirmed he is coordinating with the White House on the impeachment trial, made it clear he had no interest in this idea.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  The Senate is meant to act as judge and jury to hear a trial, not to rerun the entire fact finding investigation because angry partisans rushed sloppily through it.  It`s not the Senate`s job to leap into the breach and search desperately for ways to get to guilty.  That would hardly be impartial justice.


WILLIAMS:  McConnell will indeed serve as one of 100 jurors at the Senate trial which is why he said this for maximum shock value.


MCCONNELL:  I`m not an impartial juror, this is a political process, it`s not anything judicial about it.  Impeachment is a political decision.


WILLIAMS:  At the White House the President pointed to McConnell`s comments as a sign of Republican unity.


TRUMP:  I believe the Senate is equally as well-united.  I watched Mitch McConnell this morning.  I watched numerous people last night, the senators, and I think we`re equally well-united.  They know it`s a hoax, it`s a witch-hunt.


WILLIAMS:  Just this very evening on this very network, the Minority Leader Senator Schumer signaled the debate over calling witnesses during the Senate trial is far from over here.  And he made clear he has strategy at his disposal still.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER:  Neither President Trump nor Mitch McConnell wants to hear from these witnesses because they`re afraid of the truth.  They don`t want to know the truth because it will probably -- we don`t know, but probably put President Trump in an even deeper hole.

I`m allowed to ask for votes.  I will ask during the impeachment proceeding for a vote on whether Mulvaney should testify, and whether Bolton should testify.  And many of my Republican colleagues will be in a real dilemma.


WILLIAMS:  There is a new Washington Post, ABC News poll that`s got a lot of headlines today because it finds 71 percent of those surveyed do want the President to let his aides testify, 64 percent of Republicans questioned in this poll said they agree.  Trump`s television lawyer Rudy Giuliani is back in the news.

The New York Times says Rudy alerted the President a couple of times about how former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had in his view blocked the investigations that he believed could be of use to Trump politically.  Those updates appeared to set the stage for the career diplomat`s eventual ouster.

With that and here for our lead-off discussion on a Tuesday night, Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times, her title until this week, Washington Bureau Chief.  And so we welcome her tonight with congratulations.  She has been added to the Times mast head as the paper`s newest AME Assistant Managing Editor.

Also in D.C. tonight, Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR, Boston`s NPR News Station and visiting us here in our New York studios from way down south is David Jolly, former Republican member of Congress from the great state of Florida who has since left the House and for good measure, his political party.

Good evening to all of you.  Elisabeth, may I ask, considering it was written in the same structure where Lincoln wrote his second inaugural, have you ever seen anything like President Trump`s letter today?

ELISABETH BUMILLER, THE NEW YORK TIMES ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR:  No.  Once again, this is unprecedented.  We were talking at the office today that it reads like one of Trump`s rants at his rally on White House stationery.

It sounds very much like it was dictated, we know, to White House aides.  We know that Eric Yulan, who was the legislative director at the White House has had some of the writing.  And also Stephen Miller was involved with the writing.  And it certainly bears a lot of extreme touches.  Salem witch trials are, for example, we should mention earlier.

WILLIAMS:  Yeah, I`m wondering who is going to tell him that there were 19 executions after that.

Kim, did the President, other than state of mind, reveal anything that was picked up in your line of work that was perhaps new?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR, SENIOR NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  No, it was nothing new.  It was clear that he wanted to submit this letter, not just to Nancy Pelosi, but to history.  He says so much in the letter itself, he wanted to register his anger and his insults toward the Speaker of the House and every single defense or rant he has made on Twitter since the impeachment inquiry began.

He clearly is unhappy about being impeached.  Any other -- if that was a question at this point that has been laid to rest.  He is angry, and it was basically a letter of grievance.

So the question is, is it also a signal to Republicans as to how he expects them to respond, how he expects them to defend him as this impeachment inquiry moves forward?

WILLIAMS:  Congressman, you sat down and reminded both of us, this letter goes in the record, like it and not, this is history.

DAVID JOLLY, FORMER, REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN:  Yes.  Yeah.  And the question is, how will history remembered this letter?  Because it is rambling, it shows mental unfitness, unwellness perhaps, in his emotional state on the eve of becoming the third president to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

And I would encourage anyone who has read that, that by contrast, maybe read the two articles tonight or before the debate tomorrow, whether you`ve read the President`s letter or not.  Because I think what the President is reacting to is the gravity of what the language of the impeachment articles is.

If you haven`t read it, and you`re watching tonight, it says that Donald Trump, in the language of the impeachment articles, betrayed the nation.  The President betrayed us, betrayed the nation.  It says, he subverted the constitutional process.  It says, he solicited foreign interference and persists in corruptly doing so.

I think what Donald Trump is wrestling with, what we can see through that letter is this is someone who, despite all the awesome powers of the presidency knows.  But it doesn`t contain the power to undo history or to rewrite history.  The President can`t undo the language of the articles of impeachment in a tweet or in a six-page rambling letter to the Speaker tonight.

WILLIAMS:  Are you expecting any shenanigans tomorrow in the will of the House from your former colleagues?

JOLLY:  I am.  You know, typically the Rules Committee shuts out any minority rights in a major matter like this, and they have done so.  So the minority will have half of the debate time.  The question is do they try to pull a stunt to take control of the narrative?

And to the earlier comment, I`m curious, you`ve seen on the hill Republicans may begin to make the argument that there was no crime.  They seem to feel comfortable saying, look, there was no crime.  So, therefore this whole impeachment process is hogwash.

The President is making a very different argument in saying that it was invalid.  He`s tearing down the powers of the Congress and saying, this is invalid, using language suggesting it`s unconstitutional.  I`m curious if House Republicans stick with, there`s no crime, or do they adopt the President`s very unscrupulous language, because that`s where you begin to enter the danger zone for moments of history, and frankly, for the future of the House impeachment power.

WILLIAMS:  Elizabeth, gallons of ink have been spent many, many column inches spent just in the past few days either accepting or rejecting any comparisons to where we`ve been before, most notably, I guess, Clinton a generation ago.  In your view, where are we right now tonight?

BUMILLER:  Well, there was actually -- first of all, Clinton was contrite, a publicly contrite, at least.  He was raging behind closed doors at the White House, but he was very contrite and apologetic and remorseful in public.  Obviously, Donald Trump is the exact opposite of that.

But if you look back, we were looking back today at the four, the three impeachments -- three -- the two previous impeachments and then the, a near impeachment of President Nixon.  Each one of those was really about the divisions in the country at the time.

We look back at Andrew Johnson, it was 1868.  There was a raging debate in the country about what kind of America it would be post civil war.  And during the time of Nixon it was -- there was just a continuing division of culture -- the culture wars of Vietnam and Watergate certainly.

Clinton was much the same.  The divisions in the country were quite pronounced at the time between Republicans and Democrats.  And we see it today with Donald Trump.  Not that this is just about the divisions in the country.  Obviously, the President did leverage military aid to Ukraine in return for a political favor.

WILLIAMS:  Kim, the President, I`m told, has been tweeting in the last few minutes.  Control room has these to put up on the screen.  "Good marks and reviews on the letter I sent to Pelosi today.  She is the worst!  No wonder with people like her and Cryin` Chuck Schumer, D.C. has been such a mess for so long.  And that includes the previous administration who and now we know for sure SPIED on my campaign."

Kim, give us a quick glancing fact check here on the spying issue, one more time.  And do you think the President is disappointed there haven`t been more Democratic defections?

ATKINS:  I think perhaps he is.  I think that`s probably just a bit of what we can expect from his rally tomorrow night in Michigan, which will be taking place at the very same time as he -- as the House may be voting on these articles of impeachment.  Yes, we know from the report that was released by the I.G. that the Obama administration or anybody else spied on President Trump`s campaign.

There were certainly mistakes that were made by the FBI, but in no way amounted to a spying campaign.  That is just one of a number of inaccuracies in President Trump`s letter, which again, mirrors his Twitter feed, which is also usually filled with a bunch of factual, inaccuracies, I believe, according to The Washington Post.  He has exceeded 15,000 since he took office.  It`s just one more bit of his messaging, the messaging we can expect throughout this process as it -- as the impeachment process leaves the House and heads to the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

The question then, again, is how the Republicans, each one who has to answer not only to -- for themselves, but to their constituent treats this process and how they move forward.

WILLIAMS:  David Jolly, to Kim`s point, the Republicans she was just talking about, not that they are all not deeply principled people.  These poll numbers out this morning, get your attention.  And if they are followed by more poll numbers, that robust, they`re going to get the attention of Republicans.

JOLLY:  And the interesting thing in today`s poll numbers is that the American people want a fair trial.  You know, when we see impeachment, yes or no, around 50/50, to me that says we have a fully informed public.  And generally we behave in 50/50 partisan lines.

These are poll questions around should there be a fair trial in the Senate?  And to go back to what the President just tweeted, because this draws into light and contrast the behavior of Senate Republicans.  The President tonight is frustrated, angry that he cannot control the Congress.  He can`t stand the lack of control.  He can`t control tomorrow in the House.  And so you`re seeing the true presidential behavior.

In the Senate, he feels safe because he can control it because Mitch McConnell has told Mr. President, I will do whatever you want me to do.  Lindsey Graham has said, I will do whatever you want be me to do.  Don`t worry, Mr. President, you`re in charge of the Senate.

That is the most damning condemnation of the United States Senate in 2019 that the President of the United States feels like he can control that independent body on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue when what we should see is the behavior of an independent Congress that we`re going to see tomorrow, a lower House, saying Mr. President, this is not your process, this is ours.

WILLIAMS:  And that, ladies and gentlemen, watching at home, is where we are on a Tuesday night in December with great thanks to Elizabeth Bumiller, Kimberly Atkins, and David Jolly for starting off our conversation tonight.

Coming up for us, Rudy appears to pull his client Donald Trump further into the morass of the Ukraine ambassador case.  And later, a new campaign to defeat the President launched by anti-Trump conservatives.  We`ll talk with a founding member of the Lincoln Project when we continue as The 11th Hour is just getting started while Abe Lincoln looks on, on a Tuesday night.


WILLIAMS:  As we mentioned, Rudy Giuliani told The New York Times he gave information to President Trump about how Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was impeding those investigations in Ukraine.

Giuliani said he told Trump a couple of times about how Yovanovitch had frustrated investigators that could help Trump.  Giuliani said the President then connected him with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as one does, who asked for more information.  And within weeks Yovanovitch was recalled, out of a job.

Meanwhile, a judge ruled today that indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas could remain free on bail after prosecutors argued it could -- it should -- his bail should be revoked for concealing assets.

The judge said he didn`t believe Parnas was being intentionally untruthful.  Prosecutors said Parnas hid or forgot about a million dollar payment from a lawyer for Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.  If that name Firtash sounds familiar in addition to being unique, it`s because he had ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.  We should note Lev Parnas has pleaded not guilty to campaign finance charges.

With us to talk about all of it tonight, Maya Wiley, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now with The New School here in New York.  And Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counter Intelligence.

Maya, at a very basic level Maggie Haberman tweeted tonight that Trump`s job is to keep Rudy close but not too close.  Rudy`s job is to arise any room between the two guys.  Is Rudy inadvertently helping the feds and hurting himself continually?

MAYA WILEY, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  Yeah.  I mean, that -- it`s not plus, it`s not every day where you see the defense attorney saying to the prosecution, let me hand you something that`s going to help you make your case against my client, which is essentially what we heard Rudy Giuliani do.  So he`s not -- he`s certainly not helping himself, but he really isn`t helping Donald Trump since -- remember that the Democrats have said that this begins as, you know, act one scene one --


WILEY:  -- is clearing the decks of Marie Yovanovitch who is going to stand in the way of resurrecting conspiracy theories that have been debunked because they`re not in the national interest.  So if you have to move her out of the way in order to set your own team in place to accomplish what it is you`re trying to get done, which is the investigations on the Bidens, which we`ve already heard from her she spoke quite eloquently about.  You know, what you`re really doing is saying, yes, when the Democrats in their articles of impeachment say that we were trying to clear away the anti- corruption ambassador in order to be able to move the defense of Donald Trump by getting these investigations started, that`s just making the case.

But remember that Giuliani has to worry about.  He has gotten a counter intelligence investigation.


WILEY:  Maybe you should talk about that connected to Firtash.  But this is just not a good for either him or Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS:  Hey Frank, do you remember during normal times when the introduction of Russian money, a Russian revenue stream into a case anywhere near the President of the United States would have been a pretty big deal?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  Would have been the lead story and talked about for days.  But in this bizarre world we`re living in, it`s a blip on today`s radar screen.  But let`s let this resonate for a while.  We`ve learned now that a million bucks has flowed from this guy Firtash who is connected to Putin and flowed into the hands of Parnas and then perhaps into -- or his wife`s hands, let`s put it that way and then perhaps ended up somewhere near Rudy Giuliani.

Do we have a Russian government flow of cash that Rudy needs to explain?  Do we have Rudy explaining to all of us that he confesses now to having removed -- caused a U.S. ambassador to be removed, to do what?  To push a rash of Russian narrative, a Russian intelligence myth that it was Ukraine that muddled and meddled and interfered with our election?  What`s going on here?  And that`s the nature of counterintelligence, trying to figure out who is dominating, who is influencing, who is getting paid, who is working for the other team?

WILLIAMS:  Maya, is it your impression that this federal judge did Lev a huge solid today and allowed Lev to walk the streets of New York in effect of free man?

WILEY:  Yup.  I was surprised Lev Parnas got to walk the streets.  I mean, remember that Lev Parnas had a one way ticket out of the country when he was --

WILLIAMS:  Yes, pretty much at Dulles in the departure lounge, yes.

WILEY:  Yes.  When he was arrested and pleaded poverty, essentially, when he said I can`t pay all this bail.  And only had to post $200,000, that`s a lot of money for us, but compared to what he was being asked to.

And then we find out $1 million from, as Frank says a Russian-connected oligarch apparently -- why do you think he`s not a flight risk?  I mean, it seems to me that he has all of the markings of one.  Obviously the judge -- you know, I think judges do really important work for us and judges evaluate the facts as they see them.  I think that Lev Parnas got something that most of us would not get, big, big gift at holiday time.

WILLIAMS:  Frank, we learned a bunch of things today.  Number one, on the Manafort front, he is in the prison hospital, has been apparently since Thursday with heart trouble.  So there`s that, number two.  His former buddy, Rick Gates, who was very helpful in at least three cases that we know of, was sentenced to 45 days ever weekend jail, who knew that was a thing.  Three years of probation, is that commensurate, in your view, Frank?

FIGLIUZZI:  So, here`s how to read this.  When you see something -- and I`ve seen a lot of people today on Twitter complaining this was way too lenient and that Gates got off easy.  Here`s how I read it.  He must have given up everything he has and everything he could possibly give up on big targets.  And he`s been rewarded for that.  And here`s what I zeroed in on and focused on like a laser in the sentencing today.

The judge saying he is continuing to cooperate.  He`s agreed to cooperate in ongoing and sealed investigations.  That is huge for anyone watching this closely.  This isn`t over yet.  And part of the reason he, "got off easy" is because he`s still working ongoing cases that we don`t even know about yet.

WILLIAMS:  The gift that keeps on giving.  Both of these guests have agreed to stay with us.  Coming up after this break, she is one of the President`s favorite targets.  Tonight Lisa Page made her television interview debut in this very studio on this very network.  A look at what she had to say when we come back.



RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Given what you`ve been through with the past couple of years, why speak now on your own terms?

LISA PAGE, FORMER FBI LAWYER:  Honestly, I just wasn`t planning to and I didn`t want to.  I`ve led an entirely anonymous life and hoped to return to one.  And when the President, you know, finally did that vile sort of simulated sex act in a, you know, rally in Minneapolis, I just finally had to accept it`s not getting better.  And being quiet isn`t making this go away.


WILLIAMS:  Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page who is a frequent target of our President tonight granted her first television interview.  And in it she was asked by Rachel Maddow about that insurance policy text message that we hear so much about from the President.


MADDOW:  Can you explain to us tonight what was meant by, for example, the insurance policy text message?  So this is you and Peter Strzok texting about prospect of that President Trump was going to be elected, the unlikely prospect.

PAGE:   Right, I mean, it`s an analogy.  First of all, it`s not my text, so I`m sort of I`m interpreting what I believe he meant back three years ago.  But we`re using an analogy.  We`re talking about whether or not we should take certain investigative steps or not based on the likelihood that he`s going to be president or not, right?

You have to keep in mind, if President Trump doesn`t become president, the national security risk, if there is somebody in his campaign associated with Russia, plummets.  You`re not so worried about what Russia is doing vis-a-vis a member of his campaign if he`s not president, because you`re not going to have access to classified information.  You`re not going to have access to sources and methods in our national security apparatus.

So the insurance policy was an analogy.  It`s like an insurance policy when you`re 40.  You don`t expect to die when you`re 40, yet you still have an insurance policy.

MADDOW:  So don`t just hope that he`s not going to be elected and therefore not press forward with the investigation hoping, but rather press forward with the investigation just in case he does get in there.

PAGE:  Exactly.


WILLIAMS:  Back for more, Maya Wiley and Frank Figliuzzi.  Maya, I just looked at you.  She matter of factly said that if Trump doesn`t get elected, the national security risk plummets.  Put that on the pile of notable sound bites of 2019 that we`ll get to some day.  Talk about the degree to which in attacks on people like her, the President has changed our perception of our institutions, whether it`s your beloved Department of Justice, Frank`s beloved Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

MAYA WILEY, FORMER ASSISTANT US ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  Yes, it`s an astounding thing, a shocking thing that we have a sitting president undermining the very agencies that he sits atop of.  Remember that as the chief executive of the country, the executive branch, these are agencies that essentially report up to him.  And we rely upon in this country to make it work for us.  In other words, public servants serve us.  They serve the public.  So what trump has done is tremendously damaging, particularly to law enforcement, particularly to the notions of an independent law enforcement.

Because what he`s essentially said is, unless I think you`re loyal to me, I will come for you.  And you will have a very hard time defending yourself because as president, he has a bully pulpit almost no one can compete with.

That`s essentially what we`re hearing from Lisa Page, is.  Here I was a public servant.  You know, I regret some of those exchanges, and we should not ignore that, of course.  Public servants have political views that they must keep for themselves and not have infused in their work.  But she was cleared of any wrongdoing by an inspector general, and she still, still has to live with the reputation damage to her.

But the department, it`s not just her.  Remember, James Baker who was --

WILLIAMS:  Right, counsel.

WILEY:  -- was counsel also felt that he had to come out because Trump called him a liar, and he had trouble getting work, he says, after that.  That`s devastating.

WILLIAMS:  Frank, you`ve been tough on Lisa Page.  She has her regrets as she expressed again tonight.  But I think you`d also agree has paid a heavy price.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes.  We may say that Lisa Page had terrible judgment in having an extra marital affair in the workplace.  We may say she had terrible judgment using FBI devices to talk about politics and opinions.

But what we can no longer say, as Maya pointed out is that, Lisa Page had anything to do with the opening of the Russian case or the supervision of it afterwards.  That`s in writing from the inspector general of the Department of Justice.  So when we`re seeing the lashing out and attempted destruction of a woman who dedicated her career to public service, what we`re really seeing is a president who doesn`t have any facts on his side any more and just chooses to find the most convenient scapegoat and victim he can lash out.

And, boy, it increasingly looks like he likes to do that with women.  And Lisa Page has decided to fight back.  And I`ve toyed all day knowing she was going to do this, very substantive interview with Rachel tonight.  I toyed with this theory of, what would you do in this situation?

She`s going on the offensive.  It doesn`t mean Trump is going to stop, but it means that Trump now knows he`s on notice that when he lies about her and continues to denigrate her, she can come back publicly and come right back at him.

WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to two former public servants, frequent contributors around here.  Maya Wiley, Frank Figliuzzi.  I greatly appreciate it.

Coming up, they are four Republicans who will here after become known as the co-founders of a group to channel the Republican Party of Lincoln and by doing so, defeat Donald Trump.  One of the co-founders is here with us here next.



REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D) RULES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  And he claim "More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem witch trials."  I mean, are you kidding me?  Innocent people were tortured and hung.  Their corpses were thrown in shallow graves.  An 80-year-old farmer named Giles Corey was literally placed between boards and crushed to death.  I mean, for the President to say that he is being treated worse than the Salem witch trials is unhinged.


WILLIAMS:  Some prominent conservatives are now taking formal steps to stop the President`s reelection.  The group which includes Rick Wilson, John Weaver, our own contributor Steve Schmidt and George Conway, the very husband of Kellyanne, are forming a Super Pac they call the Lincoln Project.

In today`s New York Times` op-ed, the organizers write this among other things.  Over these next 11 months, our efforts will be dedicate to defeating President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to elect those patriots who will hold the line.

It`s not just the President they`re taking to task.  They go on to say this President`s actions are possible only with the craven acquiescence of congressional Republicans.

There was praise for this group tonight from Jennifer Ruben of the Washington Post who writes, "At least the Lincoln Project founders can say to their children and grandchildren that they gave their all to defend the deeply held principles on which this country was founded.  That is far more than many will be able," and I would add willing, "to do."

With us for more, Rick Wilson, Lincoln Project Co-Founder, long-time Republican Strategist, author of the forthcoming book, |Running Against the Devil", due out next month.

By way of explaining your new effort, are you sure you want to do this, this putting country over party thing, because I don`t see anyone else out there doing this.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  You know, we`re not doing it for any of the normal reasons people would do these things.  We`re not doing it to make a ton of money.  We`re not doing it to aggrandize our egos.  We`re doing it because between the four of us, the main founders, we`ve been around politics for about 120 years collectively.  We`ve been to this rodeo a few times.

And all of us give a damn about this country in a way that Trumpism denies.  And Trumpism is not about the sacred nature of the American experience and about the propositional nature of this country.  It is a cult dedicated to a mad man.  He is displaying it today and tonight that he is an unhinged maniac.  That he is lavishly corrupt and will do anything to defend himself.  And we happen to believe that the country is more valuable than a temporary moment, a blip in the politics of this country.

You know what, we`ve gone back and forth.  We`ve played ping-pong ideologically in this country a long time.  And no Republican ever gets too much power too long and no Democrat ever too much power for too long.  And that`s part of the design feature of this country.

This is a man who sees himself as unbounded by the law, by the constitution, by anything else.  And we believe firmly that he needs to be stopped.  And frankly, the people that are enabling him and empowering him, and looking away from the immorality and criminality of this man, they need to have a political lesson applied to them as well.

You know what, we`re not going to have as much money as Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, but we are some scrappy old bastards.  We`re going to get in this fight.

WILLIAMS:  Explain to the good people watching your theory about going after you other Republicans with their names on ballots to get to the king.

WILSON:  Sure.  Let me tell you, right now Susan Collins and Corey Gardner and Martha McSally, they`re nervous as long tailed-cats in a room full of rocking chairs, OK?  They do not want to be asked questions.  They do not want to be on the spot.  Why is that?

It`s not because they have some moral question, it`s because they know that Donald Trump is political poison and if they are exposed to that, it will kill them.  And so, we`re going to offer them the opportunity.  You can either win fabulous prizes or you can have Donald Trump smeared all over you like a carcass in the middle of a -- road kill carcass and it`s going to stink you up for a long time.  Your call.

And in a lot of these cases, you know, we`ve got -- what we see right now is that there are -- it takes four Republicans in the Senate to blow the whistle on this thing and just say, we have to have a trial.  We have to hear witnesses.  That`s it, just four.  Just four could stand up and do this.  Even three could probably make it happen.

But right now even the ones who claim that they are all morally concerned and they have questions and issues, they`re going to vote with Mitch McConnell on this.  There`s no external pressure.  They`ve abandoned their oaths.  They`ve abandoned their principles.  And right now nothing else is out there to stop them.

WILLIAMS:  Rick Wilson has agreed to stay here with us over this break.  We`ll do that and when we come back, some of the President`s supporters seem to be ignoring a repeated plea in his impeachment defense, one that you may have read on a t-shirt near you.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I would say read the transcript.

Just read the transcript of the phone call.

Read the transcript. 

And I`ll say it and I`ll say it again.  Read the transcript.

Read the transcript.  It`s all about the transcript.


WILLIAMS:  To be clear and for the record, we`d love to read the transcript.  We`ve never seen a transcript of the call Trump made to the Ukrainian president.  We just saw a summary with gaps and ellipses built in that the White House put out to us.

But what it does say, what we are allowed to read from the call, backs up what the whistle-blower said.  And despite the fetching rally attire, Trump supporters don`t seem to be in a rush to read the transcript or the summary, at least not those that talked to the daily show last week.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Read the transcript right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you read the transcript?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have not read it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But we should read the transcript.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look at the transcript, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, look at the transcript.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you read the transcript?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I trust the word of our President, man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It`s important that everybody reads the transcript.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is very important.  Pay attention and think for yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  You have -- but to be clear, you have not read the transcript.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But it is just important.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don`t be a sheep, think for yourself.


WILLIAMS:  Rick Wilson is still here with us.  What is this moment we`re in?

WILSON:  This is a moment where a parasite crawled inside of a political party and ate it from the inside out.  And it still sort of sounds like and looks like the old Republican Party, but right now the virtues of the new party are slavish obedience to Trump, blistering pig ignorance.

I mean, those guys, they should be ashamed.  They should sink in the damn earth out of shame by thinking -- having a moment where they`re called on the primary -- the primary defense of this President in this case and they should say to themselves, I should go home and read.

Maybe I should switch off the agitprop channel for a little while.  And maybe I should try to grind my way through a few of the basic facts in this thing.  But they don`t and they won`t.  That`s the old party.  Now it is, you know, are you enough -- is your passion for Trump strong enough?

WILLIAMS:  Let`s go back to Susan Collins, just because it`s fun to go back to Susan Collins.  What does she do if Chuck Schumer gets an up or down vote on the Senate floor.  Should we call John Bolton?  Should we at least hear from John Bolton?  What does she and her ilk do?

WILSON:  Well, look, my prediction of what she does is she will agonize and she will waffle and she will go through a whole fan dance.  She will furl her brow and she will express deep concern.

And then at the end, she`ll give this anodyne speech and say, well, I didn`t see enough evidence, so we have to move forward and won`t vote for it.  That`s what`s going to happen in my pessimistic prediction.  And I think you`re going to find a lot of people who politically might be smart for them.

Look, Cory Gardner`s in a state that`s not just turning purple, it`s turning dark blue.  His survival may depend on this.  You know, 63 percent, 64 percent of the vote is going to come out of Boulder and Denver.


WILSON:  It`s not red hat country.  He`s got a political existential crisis on his hands.  Martha McSally, if she wants to keep that seat, that`s not a state that`s deep red anymore either.  So the political cost of supporting Trump is something they are weighing against their terror they feel about him being angry at them or tweeting at them.  But as we`ve seen over and over again, they`re much more comfortable being in the tall grass scared to death than they are standing up for what`s right.

WILLIAMS:  Final question is about the six-page screed that we got from the President today.

WILSON:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  You`re a student of history as well.  I can`t drop the thought that that was written in the same structure where FDR wrote in the word infamy in pencil.

WILSON:  Sure.  This is, you know, there is a great rhetorical tradition in this country with presidents.  It is -- the work of presidential speech writing and communication is something that has mattered for a long time.  I mean, the power of words in the presidency has mattered since Washington.  I mean, you look at some of the things that were produced from the pen of Abraham Lincoln.

WILLIAMS:  The letter to Mrs. Bixby.

WILSON:  And they are emotive, and they are powerful, and they`re passionate, and they uplift America.  This was the rantings -- this is like, you know, they walk into the lunatic asylum and the guy`s written his manifesto on the wall in his own waste products.  I mean, he`s just completely bonkers.

And so, you know, we`re not seeing -- when they send us their rhetoric, they`re not sending their best.

WILLIAMS:  What day do people have to wait until this comes out?

WILSON:  January the 14th.

WILLIAMS:  This is a galley copy for just really cool kids.

WILSON:  Yes, it is.

WILLIAMS:  But it will be out in hard cover and kindle and all that.

WILSON:  It sure will.

WILLIAMS:  And you`ve recorded the audio book.  Great to see you.

WILSON:  I have recorded the audio book and looking forward to it.  Thank you for having me, sir, as always.

WILLIAMS:  One of the co-founders of today`s Lincoln Project.

Coming up for us, why so many of our fellow citizens spent this December night outdoors?


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, a couple of related items.  First off, in cities and towns and hamlets across our country tonight, on this eve of the impeachment vote, under the banner of the indivisible movement while also as small as the molecular local level, people marched tonight.

They marched in 27 degree snowfall weather in Maine.  They marched outside the offices of congressmen with names like Scalise and Van Drew, to name two Republicans.  From New York, to Georgia, to Oregon, on west to Alaska and Hawaii, they marched in cold weather and warm under clear skies and in the rain.  They marched in support of impeachment.

A related item, the folks at PolitiFact have arrived at an important decision, determining the lie of the year from among some of the 15,413 lies that "The Washington Post" has determined this President has told thus far in office.

PolitiFact`s honor this year goes to the President`s contention that the whistleblower got the Ukraine call almost completely wrong and because the opposite is true, because that is completely wrong, and because the President has predicated so much on that false statement.

And finally, on the eve of the vote tomorrow in the House, a look at where we`ve been, a reminder of the voices we`ve heard from in the long journey here.


WILLIAM TAYLOR, TOP US DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE:  I encountered an irregular, informal channel of US policy-making with respect to Ukraine.

ALEXANDER VINDMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL, DIRECTOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS:  It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and a political opponent.

GORDON SONDLAND, US AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION:  Was there a quid pro quo?  The answer is yes.

FIONA HILL, FORMER RUSSIA ADVISER, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL:  He was being involved in a domestic political errand.  And we were being involved in national security foreign policy.  And those two things had just diverged.

SONDLAND:  Everyone was in the loop.  It was no secret.  Everyone was informed via e-mail on July 19th, days before the presidential call.

MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE:  Such conduct undermines the US, exposes our friends, and widens the playing field for autocrats like President Putin.  Our leadership depends on the power of our example and the consistency of our purpose.  Both have now been opened to question.


WILLIAMS:  With that, that is our broadcast for this Tuesday night.  Thank you so much 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