Pelosi on Trump: All roads lead to Putin. TRANSCRIPT: 12/20/19, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams.

Guests: Susan Page, Lanhee Chen, Anita Kumar, Rick Wilson

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  -- you got to watch on Tuesday to see the rest at Christmas Eve at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, the "Last Word" holiday special.  That`s going to do it for tonight.  Thank you for watching.  "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams begins right now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, the President railing against impeachment in private and public, harnesses the power and image making of his office for a military photo op moments before his takeoff for Christmas break.  He leaves behind a Capitol hopelessly split, where the President has been impeached but not tried, and where that second step may be in limbo as Pelosi and McConnell engage in their fight.

And more on a report from a Trump White House source that says the President believed that conspiracy theory about Ukraine somehow meddling in our election because that`s what Putin told him.

Plus why Igor of Lev and Igor fame has a special agreement with Rudy.

And why Ivanka Trump inadvertently pulls a De Niro when talking about the President`s lawyer.  All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on this Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 1,065 of the Trump administration.  The newly impeached 45th President is now in Florida for the Christmas break, and in an Air Force hangar prior to taking off, he and the first lady employed home field advantage there at Andrews Air Force base and attended an event designed to highlight his role as commander in chief to end the most turbulent week of his administration by any standard.  As a military crowd looked on, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act.

As the President flew south, new reporting tonight about an issue central in his impeachment, military aid to Ukraine.  "The Washington Post" reports that Trump administration demanded that a portion of year-end spending legislation that referenced Ukraine be removed.  "The Post" reports it this way, "Senior Trump administration officials in recent days threatened a presidential veto that could have led to a government shutdown if House Democrats refused to drop language requiring prompt release of future military aid for Ukraine."

The report goes on to say, the language ultimately was indeed left out of the spending package that was signed tonight.  While that issue may be resolved, a standoff continues in the Capitol over a Senate trial for the President who`s now been impeached bit House.

The Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said the House is waiting to send those two impeachment articles to the Senate until there is clarity on the rules of the Senate trial.  She wants to know if there will be witnesses, and of course she and the other Democrats are hoping that Republicans get pressured into calling witnesses like one John Bolton.

Today the Speaker responded to these comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  Speaker Pelosi suggested that House Democrats may be too afraid, too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate.

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WILLIAMS:  While Speaker Pelosi told "POLITICO," "Fear is never a word used with me.  You should know right away, I`m never afraid and I`m rarely surprised."

Meanwhile, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and White House Legislative Affairs Director there on the right, Eric Ueland, who was great in Groundhog Day, were on Capitol Hill today during a walkthrough to prepare for a Senate trial.  The two also met with Majority Leader McConnell in his office.

Just last week McConnell said he was coordinating a Senate trial with the White House counsel.  Indeed he is.  Today the Majority Leader says he has no meetings scheduled with Cipollone over the Christmas break.

Meanwhile "The New York Times" has new reporting tonight on how the President has been handling impeachment.  "The Times" reports that by Thursday morning Trump was eager for information, watching T.V. for clues about what Pelosi might be up to, "Almost as soon as Pelosi said she might delay sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate, Mr. Trump started surveying advisers about what it could mean.  "Why do you think she`s doing that," he asked one person after another."

"The Times" also reports before the President was impeached, "Some of Mr. Trump`s advisers tried to convince him and themselves that Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not have the votes and might not even bring the articles of impeachment to the floor, despite warnings from the White House Director of Legislative Affairs, Mr. Ueland, that the votes were there."

When it comes to who the President has been listening to about Ukraine, "The Washington Post" reports that after speaking with Putin in July of `17 in Hamburg, Germany, including a meeting with no American interpreter present, just the other team, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine had worked to defeat him in 2016.

According to officials who spoke anonymously to "The Post," "The President`s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia indeed systematically interfered in our 2016 campaign, and the blame he cast instead on a rival country led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine`s culpability.  One former senior White House official said Trump even said so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because, "Putin told me."

"The Post" also says intelligence officials told lawmakers that Russian security services played a key role in spreading the false claim, the conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in our 2016 election somehow.

It`s a lot to take on.  And here with our lead-off discussion panel with us on a Friday night, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for "USA Today" who notably is currently at work on a biography of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Lanhee Chen, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, former presidential campaign adviser to both the Rubio and Romney efforts, and Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, and former Chief Counsel to the House Intel Committee.  Good evening and welcome to you all.

Susan, what do you make of this Pelosi method, this Pelosi strategy that`s been called impeach and hold, which every day it`s under way keeps the President from that acquittal he so badly wants.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY":  You know it was a little bit of surprise I think on Wednesday night right after the impeachment vote when Speaker Pelosi raised the possibility that she might do this.  But it does keep for Democrats -- maybe their only big piece of leverage when it comes to the Senate Majority Leader, to try to force him to make a deal on what the rules are going to be for the Senate trial.

I think that Democrats in general and Pelosi in particular were alarmed when Mitch McConnell said that he did not see his role as that of an impartial juror but rather as someone who was going to try to make sure that the President was acquitted.  So this is -- this lent some uncertainty to the process that`s ahead.  We know that the President wants this trial to happen.  He wants to get acquitted, he thinks that`s important.

And actually I think that Speaker Pelosi also would like to have this off the plate, that if he`s going to get this acquittal which we think he will, probably, from the Republican-controlled Senate, she would like that to happen so Democrats can get back to talking about things like health care.  So, we`ll see.

You know, it`s not really a delay for another two weeks because Congress is out of town.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

PAGE:  Nothing is going to happen until January 6th in any case.

WILLIAMS:  Lanhee, do Republicans-- do any Republicans that you know take this Pelosi strategic move seriously?

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR ROMNEY-RYAN CAMPAIGN:  Not really.  I mean, I think the challenge for Speaker Pelosi is that ultimately she`s probably going to have to send this impeachment over to the Senate.  The question is not if but when.  And so I think a lot of people are puzzled by what the end game is.  You know, they say you don`t take the hostage unless you`re prepared to hurt the hostage.

And in this case it seems to me that Speaker Pelosi is probably not prepared in any way, shape, or form to hold this process from going forward, precisely as Susan said, because she would much rather Democrats move on to an agenda I think that`s going to be much more compelling as they seek control of the Congress and control of the White House in 2020.  So it`s unlikely in my mind that the end game here is anything other than this going over to the Senate with the rules that Mitch McConnell is going to put in place, because McConnell has indicated he`s not interested in budging, he doesn`t see the need to budge.  And so this trial is going to go forward in precisely the way that McConnell and the Republicans want it to.

WILLIAMS:  I want to return to that very topic in just a second.  Jeremy, first off, did the White House step in it again with this bad Ukraine optics in the funding bill?  And is it just bad optics or is your fear that it masks something very real?

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Oh, what Congress tried to do, Brian, in the legislation was require that the White House release future aid to Ukraine and the White House amazingly insisted that that provision be dropped, ostensibly because they claim the President had the sole power to meter out that aid.  But of course what would appears is that the President continues to want to hold military aid over the head of the Ukrainians until he can get the Ukrainians to do what he wants.  And so in some very real senses, this issue, which of course the President was impeached on, is now -- continues to be a live issue.

WILLIAMS:  And Jeremy, court justice, a reminder for our viewers, who does it help if the Ukrainians don`t get the military aid or live under the threat of losing it?

BASH:  Well, so much testimony came forward during the impeachment inquiry.  The Russians are the main beneficiary when the U.S. withholds the aid because of course that aid is used by Ukrainian forces to repel Russian federation.

WILLIAMS:  Susan, we`re seeing more and more polling with the number of Americans supporting, hearing witnesses during the Senate trial is now above water.  This is the Morning Consult poll on same, 54 percent, yes, 27 percent no.  What do you make of the public migration, and it`s been a quick one, there are -- there`s polling with even higher approval numbers, the public migration on this question in just the space of a few days.

PAGE:  You know, I think that Americans have firm views about whether they -- what they think ought to happen to President Trump.  But Americans in general are in favor of a fair trial.  And I think that the idea that the Senate rules are not going to amount to a fair trial is a powerful argument to make.  I take Lanhee`s point that in the end I think Speaker Pelosi probably is going to send these articles of impeachment to the Senate.  But she could put kind of a squeeze on McConnell to try to defend rules that may not seem fair to a lot of Americans, to 71 percent of Americans who say, yes, maybe we would like to hear from witnesses.

WILLIAMS:  And Lanhee, as promised, tell me how Republican senators, especially those who are up and vulnerable, but certainly those who are more middle of the road, tell me how they`re going to hear, who wants to hear from John Bolton, conservative foreign policy icon, and then say, no, no thanks, we`re good?

CHEN:  Yes.  I mean, this is the dilemma of, frankly, a lot of these Republicans who have tight elections next year as well as those more moderate or those who might be inclined to disagree with President Trump every once in a while is that we`ve come to a point in this conversation where it is even difficult for these Republicans to say we ought to have a process that allows for people to hear from these witnesses, or to go even farther and say, you know, President Trump did something that was improper here, whether it`s impeachable is another question.  That would seem to be the ground that a lot of these Republicans who are electorally vulnerable want to get to.  But I don`t think President Trump is going to let them get there.

And not just President Trump, by the way Brian, I don`t think other Republicans in the Senate who are supportive of President Trump are going to let them get there.  So this was a real challenge for the Susan Collins, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Cory Gardner of Colorado, all Republicans who have tough reelection campaigns next year.  They`re going to find themselves in a challenging spot here as this situation migrates to the Senate.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, what danger does it pose to our society to hear public officials, elected officials, Republicans at that, repeating what are straight up Russian propaganda talking points, a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian involvement in our election?

BASH:  Well, these are right out of the Russian covert action or active measures as the Russian federation likes to refer to them, playbook.  This is the way the Russian intelligence services tried to deflect.

And think about it, your enemy is coming at you and so what the enemy does is says, oh, we`re not the ones who are attacking you, it`s these other people, the Ukrainians who are attacking you.  It`s designed precisely to have us drop our defenses.  So every time the President or any of his allies say, no, it was the Ukrainians who attacked us in 2016, not the Russians, in essence we`re rendering ourselves defenseless.

WILLIAMS:  And Susan Page, you`ll reserve a chapter on this strategy, the Pelosi versus McConnell TBA, the fight that`s going on now?

PAGE:  Yes, well, you know, she`s never afraid and she`s rarely surprised.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, so I heard.  To Susan Page, to Lanhee Chen, to Jeremy Bash, thank you all, happy holidays to you all.  Greatly appreciate you coming on, as always.

And coming up for us, the President fires back after a scathing editorial that reveals something of a split perhaps in evangelical support.

And later, the continued legal question surrounding the President`s T.V. lawyer, that guy, and his two pals, Lev and Igor, as "The 11th Hour" is just getting started on this Friday night, looking at the West Wing.

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FRANKLIN GRAHAM, SAMARITAN`S PURSE PRESIDENT:  People say, frankly, how can you defend him when he`s lived such a sordid life?  I never said he was the best example of the Christian faith.  He defends the faith.  And I appreciate that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Christian evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the legendary Reverend Billy Graham, found himself once again defending President Trump today.  This time after the publication "Christianity Today," which by the way founded by his father, ran an op-ed with this headline, "Trump should be removed from office."  Pretty much tells the story right there.

It goes on to denounced Trump`s actions in Ukraine as "not only a violation of the Constitution, more importantly, it is profoundly immoral."

The President attack the evangelical publication calling it, "very progressive" and saying, "The fact is, no president has ever done what I have done for evangelicals or religion itself."  Then he said, "I won`t be reading ET again."

By the way, perhaps he`s referring to CT, which is "Christianity Today."  ET is either Entertainment Tonight or a little guy who phones home.

Franklin Graham released his own response to the op-ed revealing that his father voted for Trump in 2016.  He added, "my father Billy Graham would not agree with their opinion piece.  In fact he would be very disappointed."

Earlier on this network the editor who wrote the piece in question responded to the evangelical filthy to Donald Trump.

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MARK GALLI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "CHRISTIANITY TODAY":  A lot of my conservative friends, they continue to support him for those reasons, saying we don`t like his behavior, we don`t like his morals, but he`s doing these good things.  They`re doing the balancing thing.  And it`s my judgment in the last couple of weeks that that balancing no longer works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  With us to talk about all of it tonight, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor for POLITICO, and Rick Wilson, long-time Republican strategist and author of the forthcoming book "Running Against The Devil" due out mid next month.  He`s also as of this week the co-founder of the Lincoln project, a super pac created by conservatives with the aim of defeating Trump and Trumpism.  Good evening and welcome to you both.

Hey, Anita, what got the President so worked up about this, what he calls ET, what a lot of people call CT, Christianity Today?

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICO":  I think there were a lot of people that were surprised that he went after them so forcefully.  This is a publication that doesn`t have all that many, you know, subscribers.  So, it was a little bit surprising.

But I think what I`m hearing is partly it`s, let`s face it, he`s a little bit on the edge of this week.  He`s a little bit upset this week about the impeachment vote, but it`s more than that.  I mean, obviously evangelicals are a huge part of his base.  He can`t lose any part of that base for his next election.

And, you know, there is some fear there that this could catch fire and others could, you know, could agree.  It doesn`t appear that that`s happening.  But I think that the President was quite concerned about that.

You know one of the silver linings of this really bad week that he had was that he kept all the Republicans in the House in line.  And that was very important to him.  There was no break at all.

And I think that he is very much feeling like he needs to keep everybody in line for the reelection.  And that`s very important to him at this particular time.  And so, I think it was a combination of those things that he was really feeling the pressure from this editorial.

WILLIAMS:  Rick Wilson, fact check us on two things.  Number one, when do you think the last time was the President curled up with a copy of "Christianity Today?"  That`s question one.

Question two, it`s always dangerous when we use demographic groups to lump peoples together who a within their category.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  So, when we say he love saying the evangelicals, what percentage do you think are of a mind as this editorial?

WILSON:  Well, I think that what I can observe, and I`m not an evangelical so I`m sort of on the outside looking in, but from what I`ve observed from their statements about why they support Trump, what I`ve seen in focus groups and what I`ve seen in a lot of the research, that line they used of, you know, he`s doing what we want, he`s giving us these worldly results politically that we could not achieve by the power of our gospel or our ministry, so he`s giving us these judges, he`s giving us this sort of revenge culture against people that they feel threatened, the hegemony of evangelical Protestantism.

I think they`re going to stick with him.  I think a lot of them are going to look at anything he does.  Frankly -- I mean, Brian, I don`t want to put too fine a point about this, but there is -- a lot of people have talked about Trumpism as a political cult, but we may be seeing a sort of schism in Christianity of a sort populist Trumpist Christianity now that he would be happy to lead this new church on his own, because his ego is that big, it is that overweening.  So I think that there`s going to be a large fraction of those evangelical Christians who supported him in 2016 are going to stick with despite the sort of passion and correctness, I think, of this article today.

WILLIAMS:  And over on the other side of the aisle, Rick, what did you make of the Democrats and the discussion of purity testing and wine caves last night, and it came as it did 24 hours after impeachment, seven Democrats onstage, and without the kind of purity testing we saw last night, simple question is, how else are they going to thin the herd?

WILSON:  Well, the herd is going to thin itself.  I mean, I think we`ve seen this sort of rise and fall of Elizabeth Warren as the, you know, competitive frontrunner to take on Joe Biden.  You know I think the field is sort of Biden and that static group just beneath him, three or four, with Klobuchar making a bit of a move here in the club house turn.

So, you know, I think we`re looking at a field that`s kind of, you know, you come out of that debate last night, who do you want to be in that debate?  You want to be Joe Biden.  He had the best possible night he could have there.  You had Warren and Buttigieg going after each other hammer and tongs.

And -- but again, I think there`s a broader thing that a lot of the lower tier people in the field missed last night, that is this referendum on Trump.  The election is about Trump.  So fighting about which Democratic donors have a wine cave, you know, does not sell the idea that you`re the most competitive person to go after Donald Trump.  The whole furious whine about oh, the billionaires, or a fundraiser in a cave, it doesn`t seem to be a way you`re going to communicate to people, I`m going to go out and take a stick to Donald Trump in a few months.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Anita Kumar, we look for your byline around here and couldn`t help but notice the headline on your piece tonight.  "Family Feud, Trump still grumbling about witness-free impeachment trial."  Tell us what you know.

KUMAR:  Well, we`ve heard the President say he is fine with going along with no witnesses at the Senate trial.  Remember, that`s what Mitch McConnell and the Senate leaders want.  They want this to be quick as possible, no witnesses, and that`s why Nancy Pelosi is upset, right, she wants it to be more of a fair trial with witnesses.

Well, the President has been telling lots of people, friends, supporters, that he wants there to be witnesses.  He wants a big splashy trial.  He wants the whistle-blower called.  And even though he has said I`ll go along with whatever, you know, Mitch McConnell wants, he really still wants that.  He thinks that if he has the whistle-blower and he has other people testifying that he will -- that the American public will see that he did nothing wrong and he`ll be exonerated.

So this is not about merely getting acquitted, it`s everybody to see that he didn`t do anything wrong.  He also thinks that it will embarrass Democrats.  So that is what he is talking about.  He has a lot of people calling him up saying, you should push Mitch McConnell to have witnesses.

So, we`ll see what happens.  In the end he`ll probably give in, but it`s going to frustrate him to have a trial that doesn`t have any witnesses.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, largely because he`s been told, don`t worry this will be a slam dunk among other things.

Our friends have both agreed to stay with us over the break.

And coming up, another conservative publication making a case against Trump.  This one sounds a lot like something the Speaker of the House once said.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  The President threatening to grant or withhold certain privileges, certain military assistance, voted on by the Congress, to Ukraine, which is in our national interest to do so, because they were fighting the Russians, that`s why I say all roads lead to Putin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  It was kind of a print version of a Trump rally.  In his error- filled six-page letter to Speaker Pelosi, the President wrote this week, "You tied the impeachment effort directly to the completely discredited Russia hoax, declaring twice that all roads lead to Putin, when you know that is an abject lie."  But today the conservatives over at The Bulwark wrote this.  "Everyone knows that President Trump takes his talking points from Fox.  But did you ever wonder who you`d find if you looked a little further upstream?  You`ll never guess.  OK, you probably will.  It`s Russia.  It`s always Russia."

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This network almost sole-handedly reported on the possible falsifications by CrowdStrike.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Where is the server?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The server, maybe in Ukraine.

TRUMP:  It was taken by somebody that I guess it`s CrowdStrike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Where is the server from the DNC?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  While he was vice president, Joe is actually helping his son who is on the board for a Ukrainian natural gas company at Burisma at the time.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP:  And Joe bragged that he got the prosecutor general fired.

LEE STRANAHAN, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST:  Hunter Biden has no visible qualifications or whatsoever.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  No experience, energy, oil, gas.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA):  What did Hunter Biden do for the money?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Ah, the networks, ah, Russia today.  Back with us, Anita Kumar and Rick Wilson.  Rick, why isn`t it more distasteful, why isn`t it more straight up disgraceful to hear Republican office holders using talking points that are translated from the original Russian?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, the biggest factor there is the -- Trumpism requires a total lack of shame.  And these guys have embraced Trumpism with a gusto that is truly remarkable.  And the idea that they`re taking to these talking points directly from Russian propaganda, 25 years ago would have been grounds for expulsion from Congress, certainly from the GOP.  And 50 years ago they would have slapped you in prison.

These guys have decided that to protect Trump, they`re going to protect the guy who runs Trump`s life from the home office in Moscow and they`re going to emulate the sort of agitprop style that the Russians are dumping across here.  And look, they`ve got RT and they`ve got Sputnik, these other allies (ph) in the U.S., that are now stuck with a bunch of semi-disgraced conservatives, ex-conservative journalists who are, you know, putting the pretence of an English accent or American accent on Russian propaganda.

WILLIAMS:  Hey Anita, the most newly-minted Republican in the land.  He`s been a Republican for about 10 minutes as a gentleman from my beloved home state called Jeff Van Drew, who was previously a Democrat.  He had a kind of a conversion ceremony in the Oval Office this week.  We`ll play a little bit of that and talk to you about it after that.

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REP. JEFF VAN DREW (R-NJ):  I believe that this is just a better fit for me.  You have my undying support.

TRUMP:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

VAN DREW:  And always.

TRUMP:  And by the way, same way.

VAN DREW:  Thank you.

TRUMP:  I`m endorsing him.  OK?  We`re endorsing him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  OK, Anita.  So he used the magic two words, "undying support."  But let`s say you`re a Republican in South Jersey with an eye toward running for Congress, defeating, or so you thought, the incumbent Democrat named Van Drew.  He`s been a Republican long enough to have a cup of coffee.  And the President further goes on to endorse him.  That`s not going to go over well.

KUMAR:  It isn`t.  But remember this -- Congressman Van Drew was right there for President Trump, and, you know, on October 31st when this impeachment inquiry first started, he voted against moving forward.  And the President and the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy went after him right away, thinking that there might be room for him to move into the Republican Party.

Look, you know, people that are going to break with the President can`t be -- I mean, if you`re a Republican, you have to be with the President.  If you`re a Democrat, you had to be voting that way on impeachment.  So it`s a very partisan time right now.  And as you saw, there was only a few Democrats that broke with the Democratic Party.  The President had all Republicans on his side, so that was important for him to invite him to the Oval Office and to greet him.

I saw Mike Pence was also there.  He said welcome to the Republican Party.  So, you know, they`re welcoming him, and to anyone else who wanted to run, this is the guy that they`re supporting now.

WILLIAMS:  Hey Rick, because I follow you on social media, I know the back story of the bandage I couldn`t help but see on your forehead.  It`s rather remarkable that someone watching you on television saw something --

WILSON:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  -- got in touch with you, and take the story over there on the behalf of our viewers.

WILSON:  A Twitter friend who is a board certified dermatologist said was watching you in high res and you`ve got a basal skin cell -- or basal cancer cell on the side of your head and you might want to go have it looked at tomorrow.  I did.  They said yes, we`re doing this right now.  So they whacked a bit of it off here and a bit of it off there.  And the lesson of that is sometimes Twitter is actually a force for good in the world.  And the second lesson is, see a dermatologist, get checked.  Skin cancer is imminently treatable when caught early, so a good thing.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  We`re going to have you around a good long time anyway.  To Anita and Rick, thank you both for coming on tonight, happy holidays to both of you.

WILSON:  Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  We very much appreciate it.

WILSON:  And you see you soon.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, what the President`s daughter Ivanka thinks about her dad`s TV lawyer friend, when we come back.

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MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS HOST:  In your opinion, do you think he`s getting good counsel from Rudy Giuliani, the President`s personal attorney?

IVANKA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP`S DAUGHTER:  I know Rudy Giuliani in a very different context, as one of the greatest mayors in the history of this country, and a real hero in New York.

BRENNAN:  It was his actions in Ukraine and the investigation in his continued claim that he is working on behalf of your on these projects, and it`s created a lot of news and new storylines that the White House has had to respond to, that have only complicated in many ways moving on.

TRUMP:  That`s your assessment.  So I don`t know that I want to validate that comment.  It is what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And the minute she said that right there, it got us to thinking we`ve had heard that somewhere before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It`s what it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What it is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It`s what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Let`s bring in someone who can answer some of the legal questions surrounding the President`s personal lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent a quarter century as a federal prosecutor.  Joyce, do you draw any inference from Ivanka`s answer that may shed light on the tonnage of legal jeopardy Rudy may be looking at?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  So I thought it was a very interesting answer, because it wasn`t an answer at all.  And here we have the President`s daughter, we should always stop and pause and sort of take a moment to appreciate the fact that this is the best advice that the President of the United States gets, not from a career professional, but from a woman who is completely unqualified to be working in the White House, and that she`s talking about what appears to be the President`s equally unqualified lawyer, someone who if anything has dragged him into impeachment rather than protecting him.  But I was struck by the fact that she would neither disavow Rudy as her father`s lawyer or do anything to encourage that assumption that he was working for him.  It was remarkable for its studied failure to answer the question.

WILLIAMS:  I want to show you something from The New York Times that talks about a legal arrangement you are familiar with, less so we civilians, this has to do with Rudy and one of his two now-famous wing men, and a joint defense agreement.  If we have the text, there we go.  "Mr. Giuliani said that his and Mr. Fruman`s legal teams entered into an agreement about two months ago allowing them to share information."  So, Joyce, this is Igor Fruman.  What do you think this is all about?

VANCE:  Right.  So this is a joint defense agreement.  We`ve seen this before.  There was actually some reporting, ironically it was Rudy Giuliani who let it slip, that during the Mueller investigation, the President was involved in a joint defense agreement that let them talk with other potential subjects or targets of the investigation.  And that`s what a joint defense agreement is for.  It`s for people who believe that they`re about to be indicted, probably in a conspiracy together, and it lets them share information without taking that information outside of the attorney- client privilege.

The information is still protected while they`re sharing it.  They can coordinate on a defense strategy.  They can learn what people are telling prosecutors.  This is what you do when you think that you`re going to be indicted.  And this is what Rudy Giuliani, the President`s lawyer, is doing.

WILLIAMS:  Joyce, you have said that delay is the Democrats` best friend, on the subject of impeachment.  It does indeed, in addition to the built-in delay, Congress isn`t back until the 6th of January, let`s call this a holiday cooling-off period.  Why do you think delay is the Democrats` best friend?

VANCE:  The constant trajectory of the Trump administration has been for bad information to continue to drop over time.  You know, we hear a story, it sounds like something that`s questionable.  If you stick around for 72 hours, more information comes to light.  There always seems to be someone in the White House who is willing to talk, or as in this case, the whistleblower who comes forward.

So there are a lot of -- you know, I think we always call them known unknowables in this situation.  For instance, there -- all of these witnesses who the President has kept from testifying.  We don`t know precisely what they would say, but Brian, I think you and I both assume that it`s not good for the President or he would have trotted them out to testify immediately.  So perhaps some of that information comes forward.

In the meantime, perhaps, John Bolton begins to tell his story.  Perhaps documents that the President has scrupulously withheld from Congress begin to come forward.  I think as time goes forward, more information comes out in a drip-drip-drip fashion, and it`s never good information for the President.  Does it influence folks in the Senate?  Does it lead to more votes to remove the President?  You know, that seems unlikely at this point, but you never know until it happens.

WILLIAMS:  Always make us think, as you have again tonight.  Wishing you happy holidays to you and your family, Joyce.  Thank you so much for coming on.

VANCE:  You too, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up for us, after a tense week, the President accepts an invitation from the Speaker of the House.  Wields a mighty gavel.  More on that when we come back.

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GWEN IFILL, NBC NEWS:  Bill Clinton`s campaign to save his presidency officially began today.  But tonight it takes center stage as he delivers his seventh State of the Union Address.

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WILLIAMS:  The late, great Gwen Ifill reporting the story back then.  And for the second time in a modern U.S. history, a President will deliver a State of the Union Address under the cloud of impeachment.

Just two days after the House vote to impeach, Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Donald Trump to address a joint session of Congress on the 4th of February.  It could happen in the midst of a Senate trial.  Either way, it will be an arresting visual to go with this one when we see the Speaker over the President shoulder once again.

We are pleased tonight to be joined once again by our friend and Presidential Historian and prolific Author Michael Beschloss.  His latest work, which we don`t mind point out, is perfect for any history buff on your gift list, "Presidents of War: The Epic Story from 1807 to Modern Times."  Michael, thank you very much for coming on.  If this President were in receive mode, what could he learn about Bill Clinton`s State of the Union Address in `99?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, NBC NEWS:  Well, one thing he could learn is that Clinton made a big effort, and you remember this very well because you were covering him the whole time.  Clinton made this big effort to compartmentalize, to say, you know, I can be President at the same time that this impeachment goes forward and Americans don`t have to be always reminded of it.  And you saw that discipline in his State of the Union Address which did take place during that impeachment trial.  The address was an hour and 18 minutes long.  He never mentioned impeachment or trial, and he actually calls on the Speaker for bipartisanship and civility, something I`m not sure that we`re going to see from President Trump whenever this happens.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, I know you`ve been asked about this, but in the President`s relation with what has become the Trump Republican Party, have we ever before seen this kind of fealty, supplication, this kind of lickspittle obedience in what Rick Wilson says is now much more of a cult than a political party.

BESCHLOSS:  I think the Republicans have a loyalty to President Trump that a lot of other Republican presidents would have envied very much.  It is something I think we`ve never seen before.

WILLIAMS:  Do you think that the party in the post-Trump years, and they will come eventually, is capable of -- like a supernova that blows up reforming, relearning what its core is, and perhaps reforming more in the model of what it was right up until a few years back.

BESCHLOSS:  Parties evolve in time.  As you know very well, the Democratic Party of the 1920s was the southern party, was the party with very different views from the Democratic Party of today.  So, there`s absolutely no reason why it couldn`t follow that precedent.  But the way things look today, it`s almost hard to imagine, isn`t it?

WILLIAMS:  Yes, it is.  You have written about some great House speakers who have served our country.  Talk for a bit about the Nancy Pelosi we saw in action this week and Nancy Pelosi`s likely place in American history.

BESCHLOSS:  Well, not only of course is the first female Speaker but as Speaker who was very strong and consequential serving twice.  And I think one thing that you can see is exactly what we`re seeing right now which is that many other speakers would have said the articles of impeachment have been passed.  It`s time to ship them off to the Senate.  There`s every sign that she thinks that it`s the moment not only to do that but to use perhaps a delay in sending it or a threat not to send them at all though I can`t imagine that that would happen, in order to get some greater assurances from the Senate of the kind of trial that she would like to see.  That`s what strong speakers in history have done.

WILLIAMS:  We could also see another bit of history get made here, and that is that heretofore no president has ever been on a ballot post-impeachment.

BESCHLOSS:  That`s right.  So, you know, we`re trying to look at history and say what can we see that would predict what we`re going to see during the next little bit less than a year until the election.  And there`s nothing in history that can show us.  We have never seen a president campaign under the incubus of impeachment.  And that`s why that State of the Union from President Trump this year or this next year is going to be so interesting because I don`t think we`re going to see Clintonian restraint.

Can you imagine Donald Trump giving a State of the Union and never mentioning impeachment?  We may see something that is more along the lines of that six-page letter that he wrote to Nancy Pelosi.

WILLIAMS:  It does boggle the mind.  Michael Beschloss, happy holidays to you and your family from all of us here.

BESCHLOSS:  Thanks.  Same here, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you for coming on.  Always great to see you.

And coming up for us, why the spy business between two super powers has been in rare full view just these past couple of days.

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WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight has to do with spy craft.  It goes on while we`re sleeping.  It goes on when we`re awake.  It`s the way we know if the Russians are being bad or good.  And it became public this week for goodness sake.

First, there was this, a sharp-eyed aviation buff and flight tracker saw an unusual flight pattern, tight circles out over the Atlantic.  As explained by these superb military blogger Tyler Rogoway, it was an E 6B, retrofitted tricked out, all white 707 loaded with science and listening devices and transmitters.  It`s an American set of eyes and ears and a rare midair refuel able command post.  And when it communicates with our nuclear submarines below the surface of the ocean, it can spool out two antennas behind it.  One of them is five miles long made of wire, and it flies behind the plane.

It is a remarkable piece of engineering which is probably how the Russians regard their own spy ship which has been prowling off our coastline along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.  It is full of surveillance and communications gear.  And our coast guard has declared it to be operating in an unsafe manner out in the Atlantic.  It`s making erratic moves.  It`s not responding to radio contact.  And it`s not running with lights on in low visibility conditions.

And mariners in the area have been warned to keep a sharp look out and use extreme caution.  And of course it got us to wondering if there might not be a relationship between the spy ship and the spy plane, two pieces in a cat and mouse game that goes on 24/7, 365 days a year which brings our week here to a close.

That is our broadcast for this Friday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with this.  Have a good weekend.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

 

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