RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, that`s a real president breaker and I think there`s some difficulty there ahead.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: We`ll leave it there. Thank you to both of you for joining me on a Friday night, Yamiche Alcindor and Rick Wilson.
That is tonight`s "Last Word." Tomorrow, MSNBC`s live coverage begins at 6:00 a.m. with Ayman Mohyeldin and Yasmin Vossoughian.
And "The 11th Hour with Brian Williams" begins right now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, more bloodshed in the Middle East. American forces launched another air strike, this one on the outskirts of Baghdad, killing Shiite militia leaders, all just hours before pro-Iranian militias are scheduled to protest near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Plus, what happens now? The American troops are on the move. The President says his strategy was to eliminate a threat and stop a war, but lawmakers have questions and some are calling for a vote.
And after the attack, what is the impact on the already chaotic politics of 2020? All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this Friday night.
KORNACKI: Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams.
Day 1,079 of the Trump administration and tensions in the Middle East are dramatically higher tonight after yesterday`s U.S. air strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The United States is on a heightened state of alert in the regio and there are concerns in Washington about the potential for war with Iran.
There is also word tonight from an Iraqi security official to NBC News that a second U.S. air strike was carried out in Iraq several hours ago. According to the official, the attack took place north of Baghdad and targeted Iranian-backed Shiite militia leaders. There are reports that six people were killed.
Our own Richard Engel points out that Shiite demonstrations are planned in Baghdad where it is already Saturday morning right now, and he warns that those events could turn violent.
As to the timing of yesterday`s air strike, senior State Department officials tell reporters that Soleimani had been planning what they said were quote, "immanent" attacks targeting U.S. diplomats, Military personnel and facilities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East a short time ago on Fox News.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the President`s action against Iran is part of a plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The criticism has been that`s no strategy. That`s willful blindness. There`s been a deep strategy that President Trump laid down now, goodness, almost three years ago. We`ve been delivering against that strategy. And to your point, a central part of that is building out a coalition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Today, from his resort in Florida, the President had this message for Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Robert Costa of "the Washington Post" reports, "Earlier Friday, several White House officials, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, discussed a possible primetime address by the President, but those plans did not materialize, per an official and GOP lawmaker familiar with the talks. There was internal debate in Florida about how to handle it all."
The Iranians have also been discussing how they intend to respond. Today they vowed to seek revenge for Soleimani`s death promising, "Harsh retaliation."
NBC News reports the Pentagon is tonight sending another 3,000 soldiers to the Middle East from a brigade of the 82nd airborne division. Several hundred were deployed earlier this week.
On Capitol Hill tonight, lawmakers are deeply divided over the President`s decision to kill Soleimani. Today, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the President does not have authority for a war with Iran. He also said he was not briefed on the air strikes despite being a member of Congress` bipartisan Gang of Eight.
Today, the President retweeted conservative filmmaker Dinesh D`Souza who offered up this controversial theory on why Schumer was not told about the attack. He wrote this, "Neither were the Iranians and for pretty much the same reason." Now, Schumer was kept in the dark. His Senate colleague Lindsey Graham revealed today that he was briefed by the President a few days ago. And tonight Graham told Fox News why the President went after Soleimani.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): He miscalculated Donald Trump. After the contractor was killed from Shia militia controlled by Soleimani, the President made a decision he would not tolerate anymore attacks against American interests. And we caught the guy red handed planning another attack. And the President killed him and the world is safer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Democrats meantime are considering their next steps. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia told our own Andrea Mitchell that he intends to try to force a debate over war with Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): I will file a resolution pursuant to the War Powers Act of 1974 to try to force Congress to have a debate about whether or not it is in the United States` interest to be at war with Iran.
I don`t think it is. Some of my colleagues may think otherwise. But we can`t let the President make this decision on his own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky posted today this quote. "If we are to go to war with Iran the constitution dictates that we declare war."
For the very latest now, we begin with Ali Arouzi, NBC News Tehran bureau chief. He joins us from the Iranian capital where as we said, it is now Saturday morning.
Ali, thank you for joining us. Let me start with this news tonight of a second air strike, a second air strike just outside of Baghdad. What do you know about that? And does this indicate that the scope of operations here is broader than we understood it to be?
ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF: Hi, Steve. Yes, we are also hearing reports of a second air strike in Baghdad. Now, there are conflicting reports coming in as to who was hit. Iraqi mobilization organization fronts are saying that this was not senior leadership that was hit but a group of medics.
So it`s still kind of murky what`s going on. Nonetheless an attack was launched on them. So these are ongoing operations. They are still trying to hurt Iranian proxies and allies in this region. And that`s only going to ratchet up tensions even further.
Iran is now on a state of high alert. When I arrived back in Tehran, there was a strong security presence, not to mention pictures of Qasem Soleimani all over the city. And Iran is now planning their next move. They are deciding how they are going to take retaliatory action, although, I don`t think they are going to make some sort of knee-jerk reaction on what they do.
But all of these attacks are going to stiffen the resolve of Iran and their militias in this region. And it`s also going to make them want to show that they can hit back at some point, that even though Qasem Soleimani, a cult-like figure that was controlling all these militias, has been assassinated, they want to show the United States that they`re still strong, that they`re still operational and they still pose a major danger.
So we are in uncharted territory here right now, Steve, after the killing of Qasem Soleimani. It`s unclear what the next steps are going to be, even though there is a general consensus here in Iran that there will be a next step and it will probably be quite a strong strike by Iran.
You know, looking at Iranian media feeds here and everything, there`s been criticism that maybe Iran wasn`t harder against America in Syria in the past. So they are now re-evaluating how to deal with the United States.
And let`s not forget there`s also been a new commander appointed to the Quds Force. The Quds Force is the international arm of the IRGC which Qasem Soleimani was the head of. The new head of the Quds Force has been usually some pretty serious threats on the United States. So he will probably want to act on those at some point.
KORNACKI: All right. Ali Arouzi in Tehran, thank you for joining us.
And here now to discuss all of this, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," and retied U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs. He received the Medal of Honor for his combat actions in Vietnam. He is also an MSNBC military analyst.
Thank you all for being with us tonight. Peter, let me begin with you. On the dispute that has emerged in Washington today over the role or I should say lack of role for Congress in what has already played out in the last 24 hours and what may play out in the days to come, what is your sense, what is your understanding tonight of what the administration is willing to communicate with Congress and what role the administration is willing to let Congress take here?
PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that`s a great question. The tweet that you showed from Dinesh D`Souza that the President retweeted I think gives you all you need to know about their attitude towards Democratic leaders, they view them as the political opposition. They view them as akin to the enemy. They`re arguing to go the public that Democrats can`t even be trusted with national security secrets.
Now, it`s not entirely unprecedented for an administration to take military action without telling members of Congress in advance. If I remember correctly, I don`t think the Bill Laden raid was, you know, briefed out to Congress before it happened. But usually afterwards there pretty quick move to try to bring Congress in to make sure that they`re on board with it as much as you can.
The administration says it will organize, in fact, a classified briefing for all senators next week. They did go to the Hill today to talk to the Armed Services Committee but they didn`t give very much information. What remains the biggest unknown at this point is this imminent attack that administration officials are citing as one of the key reasons for carrying out this strike. They haven`t told us what that strike -- what that imminent attack might be other than to say it would be in neighboring countries in the Middle East and that hundreds of Americans could have been killed. That`s not necessarily going to win over a lot of the skeptics who think that the administration might be, you know, ginning that up.
But some senators, at least Republican senators, are saying there was some intelligence and that they are convinced anyway that there might have been reason to act.
KORNACKI: Susan, given what Democrats are saying about the lack of, in their view, the lack of appropriate consultation, the role they would like to be playing, the role they say they should be playing in this, is there anything they can do in response to this? Is there anything they`re prepared to do?
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, you know, I guess they could try to put a hold on money. They could try to force a resolution on -- or excuse me, force we heard Senator Kaine talked about. I think those are unlikely steps to take at a time that Republicans control the Senate.
This -- and this is of course a familiar push and pull. The Trump administration pushes it a little harder, pushes the edge of the envelope more than previous administrations, but in fact previous White Houses have also clashed with what is Congress` role when it comes to taking military action.
You know, they`re still working off the 2002 authorization of use of force passed in the aftermath of 9/11. That is a measure that has gotten a big workout in the years since it was passed in 2002. And there are any number of serious members of Congress who think it`s really time for a more serious look at getting Congress to buy into the use of force in cases like this one. But I think it is hard for Congress to make that happen.
KORNACKI: Colonel, I want to ask you what you`re thinking, what you`re expecting here. You heard that report from Ali Arouzi in Tehran, saying there`s -- it seems his expectation from what he`s picking up over there is not just a response but I think he said a strong response from Iran.
Do you think that that is what`s likely to happen here? What might a strong response look like? And I think the third part of the question, not to make this too complicated is, does the degree of what the United States just did, which I think surprised everybody, including apparently Iranians, does that raise the possibility at all that Iran might think twice before launching a strong response?
COL. JACK JACOBS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, yes, it`s a very -- the last part is very interesting, because they`ve been pushing, Iran has been pushing the envelope quite substantially since Trump took office, admittedly at least partially because Trump started off his administration by talking about how we were going to withdraw from the world stage. We`re going to be isolationist. We had no business being in the Middle East and so on.
And so they started to push the envelope properly to achieve what their longer term objectives were in the Middle East, to influence it more clearly and so on.
The trouble is that they didn`t expect a disproportionate response from their attacks. Now they do have to think a little more clearly about what happens next. They`re going to attack, there`s no doubt about it. And that can take lots of different forms. A cyberattack, for example, many cyberattacks. They`re pretty good at it and we`re not very good at defending against them.
Attacks to -- on our locations in the Middle East, allied locations and all the rest of that. But they`ve got to be very, very careful because the administration has already demonstrated a disproportionate response and they don`t want to engender a disproportionate response from anything that they do. So I think you are going to see attacks and you are going to see them probably from their allies, from their proxies and so on.
You know, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations today said, hey, something`s going to happen but it has nothing to do with us, plausible deniability and so on. There is something in the offing. Probably several attacks, harassment of ships in the straits and so on and so forth. But it`s probably going to be a while before they do it because they got to figure out -- they have to do the calculus to figure out what the result is.
KORNACKI: Here`s the other question too. And Ali mentioned this, the Quds Forces which Soleimani was in charge of, the Iranian forces as well as this network of sort of loosely-affiliated Iranian-backed militias, taking him out of the picture, somebody else has now been installed. Is this an interchangeable part here? Can you just throw somebody else in and the whole operation keeps going? Or have Iran`s capabilities here been, for a period, diminished?
JACOBS: Well, in most circumstances and in most armies, there is great interchangeability and it almost doesn`t matter who you have as the head because he`s going to rotate out in two or three years in any case to be replaced by someone else. This is a very much a different situation. Don`t forget that Soleimani has been there for a long, long time, in excess of 20 years.
His deputy, who has now taken his place, Qaani, has been with him -- he had been with him for a long, long time, but he`s no Soleimani. You can expect that all those Soleimani was on a long, long leash. He was a semi- independent operator who could more or less do whatever he wanted outside Iran. Qanni is not going to be that guy. He`s going to be on a very short leash.
KORNACKI: Peter, one of the criticisms here of what the administration is doing is that it`s a impulsive, in some way, this is not part of a well thought out strategy, that`s one of the criticism. What is your sense from your reporting of what is taking place behind the scenes? Is there a cohesive strategy behind the scenes that is being implemented here and coming into public view or is this being more improvised?
BAKER: Well, it feels more improvised. There is not yet, at least publicly, any discussion of what comes next or how they follow up on this. There is talk of de-escalation. You heard the President say I did this in order to stop a war, not start a war. It`s hard to imagine how we proceed in that direction if that`s what he really thinks is going to happen now. He certainly hasn`t outlined anything.
You know, the point of his strategy all along, there was a strategy. The strategy was maximum pressure in order to get Iran to come to the bargaining table and re-look at the nuclear agreement that the President abandoned from Barack Obama`s tenure and to look at other issues that Iran has been involved with. But that obviously hasn`t happened.
And so the question is whether there is some recalibration that has to happen at this point. There`s only one year left in President Trump`s term before the election. And that the idea that there`s going to be any kind of sit-down diplomacy now seems to be pretty ephemeral.
So where do we go from here? Is this, you know, is this going to lead us to more, you know, military action, a continuing series of escalations? It`s easy to see how these things get control. Or will there be a continual set of provocations back and forth that remains violent and dangerous but not a full-blown confrontation? It`s hard to see at this point.
KORNACKI: And, Susan, is your expectation that the administration will be forced to be more specific in terms of details of this what have they say was an imminent threat, the details of what led to this action and however the scope of this ends up? Is it your expectation they`ll be forced to provide more information soon on that?
PAGE: Enormous pressure on the administration to make their case. They say they`ll brief Congress early next week. Members of Congress will be very interested in seeing that intelligence information. Interesting to see President Trump, who has raised so many doubts about the value of the national intelligence reports in the Russia investigation now putting a great store by them, because there is a suspicion that they decided to undertake the killing of Soleimani not because there was an imminent threat that was different from the constant imminent threat that he was posing to Americans with the actions that he`s taken over the past decades.
So yes, I think there will be a lot of pressure on them to show their hand. And I think there`s a great sense that the administration has failed, the President has failed to think through the consequences of the action he took. You know, it seems quite at odds with his general approach to military entanglements in the Middle East, where his case, since the 2016 election has been, he`s going to get us out of these wars and not get us into a new one.
KORNACKI: Susan Page, Colonel Jack Jacobs, Peter Baker, thank you all for being with us.
And coming up, a ground view of the global fallout over Iran.
And later, the President says the military strike was carried out because an attack was imminent, the impeachment trial is also imminent. Well, probably. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Friday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POMPEO: We identified a risk. The President talked about today that Soleimani, the terrorist, was engaged in active plotting. There was an attack that was imminent that could have killed hundreds of Americans. We found an opportunity and we delivered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: According to several U.S. officials today, the imminent attack the Secretary of State referred to there involved planned attacks against American military diplomatic and financial targets in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.
Here with us now by phone, Rukmini Callimachi, correspondent for "The New York Times" covering ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Rukmini, thank you for joining us. So again, the administration here, the Secretary of State there in that clip we just played, saying hey, there was an imminent attack, that is why this decision was made. What have you learned about the why of this decision?
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, THE NEW YORK TIMES FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Steve. I`ve spoken to a couple of key sources tonight, and one of them described the administration`s rationale as razor thin. This is the intelligence that was shared according to this particular source.
Number one, Soleimani was seem to have a pattern of travel that took him into these three countries, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, where he allegedly had meetings with Shia proxies that are known to have an offenses and enemy-like relationship with the United States.
Number two, he sought approval from the supreme leader of Iran for something. And there was a messaging back from the supreme leader stating, no, that he would have to come back to Tehran for guidance. And number three, a pattern, as we have seen in the last couple of days and weeks of growing attacks against American interests in Iraq
And based on these three things, the administration allegedly concluded that there was an imminent threat to American interests and personnel. My source is one of the entities that is pushing back against the administration and saying that this does not add up to an imminent threat resulting in possibly an attack that would have claimed hundreds if not thousands of lives.
KORNACKI: We have been talking a lot tonight, last night as well, about Soleimani, about the power that he exerted inside Iran, the power he exerted regionally through that network of Iranian-backed militias. Talk a little bit about the role he has played in this region for more than a decade now.
CALLIMACHI: It`s hard to overstate the role of Soleimani. This was one of the most important operators I would say in the Middle East. His method of working is through a series of proxies, through a series of Shia proxies, Hezbollah and Lebanon, also in Syria, and a number of Iran-backed militias in Iraq.
Through these proxies, he has been able to carry out numerous attacks, numerous military actions that have indeed claimed thousands of lives.
What is important to note here is that even though the administration is of course describing him in terrorist-like terms, this is in the end somebody who was part of a state, who was an important official, by some accounts the number two official in all of Iran. So the United States has taken out what would be the equivalent of possibly the vice president of the United States or I`ve also seen him described as the chief of staff of the U.S.
KORNACKI: I want to put up a tweet you wrote earlier today, you said that we have crossed the Rubicon, it`s something that you had -- that line, we have crossed the Rubicon, that is a line you heard from an intelligence official. You say, I hope that is wrong but it`s hard to see how this would not be an escalation that we won`t be able to control. Talk about what you meant there.
CALLIMACHI: If the information I`m getting from sources tonight is correct, and the intelligence was only these three points, which to me indicates business as usual for Soleimani rather than an imminent attack on multiple American related targets. This is an enormous escalation. It`s an enormous escalation even if the former was true. And it`s hard to see how the supreme leader and how Iran as a state is not going to retaliate in kind. Now, what the retaliation is we don`t yet know.
And I think that that will obviously dictate what is to come. If the retaliation is indeed against American personnel or facilities in some major way, it`s hard to see how the U.S. will again in turn not retaliate to that, and there you have it. We would then be in a conflict that many of us would have hoped would not occur.
KORNACKI: Rukmini Callimachi, thank you for joining us.
And coming up, another 3500 members of the 82nd airborne division are leaving for Iraq tonight. Our next guest, a retired four-star general, warns that we may be on the brink of another Persian Gulf War, when "The 11th Hour" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Watch closely what happens tomorrow in Baghdad. The same Shia militias that were allied with Qasem Soleimani, the same Shia militia whose leaders were attacked, maybe six of them killed in a convoy of vehicles just north of Baghdad, those Shia militias tomorrow are going to be holding mourning celebrations for their leaders not far from the U.S. embassy.
And if they try and go into the green zone, crossing this one bridge in particular and go into the green zone, U.S. forces there could open fire on them and then we could have a cycle of violence like this country hasn`t seen in years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: It is already about 7:30 in the morning in Baghdad right now. Baghdad of course where tensions are running high following two days of U.S. air strikes. Iran has warned of imminent, "harsh retaliation" for yesterday`s strike that killed Iranian General Soleimani.
As NBC News reports, Iran has several options to consider. One is said to include, "inflicting damage on America`s Persian Gulf allies by hitting oil facilities and tankers at sea."
Back with us again tonight, retired four-star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, a former battlefield commander in the Persian Gulf, now an MSNBC military analyst.
General, thank you for joining us. So much talk here about is there a response from Iran that`s imminent, if so, what will that response look like? What is your thinking like on that subject?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, who knows? You have to anticipate there will be a regional response by the Iranians using surrogates, probably a direct attack on our embassy, diplomatic people, American citizens in the region. It`s unknown.
Look, here`s the bottom line, it seems to me. Taking out this very dangerous Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force, I actually applaud. I mean the intelligence service was very clever in sorting out where he was, special operations nailed him, that was a good thing.
If it had been a covert operation, perhaps, and as part of an open diplomatic negotiation channel, but if you sort of back off this and look at the larger picture, we`re in a very weak position.
The Iranians look at Trump and they say, look, he`s lost his European allies on dealing with us, the Russians and the Chinese are actively supporting our naval maneuvers in the Indian Ocean. On the ground the Americans are there with scattered minimal forces and a vulnerable embassy, and, you know, Trump could be gone next January. He`s under impeachment. So I don`t see why we`re not in a very tricky position.
All we`ve got going for us, it seems to me, is massive air and naval power. They can definitely threaten the Iranian homeland. But I think we`re about to see escalation throughout the region.
KORNACKI: Well, staying on that point, you mention massive air and naval power that the United States has. Does the combination -- is there a scenario at all were the combination of that power and the fact that the United States just took out somebody that it sounds like surprised pretty much everybody that they were willing to do this, does the combination of the willingness to do that and that kind of power give Iran pause in any way?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I hope so. I actually think the Iranians clearly do not want war with the United States. By the way, this isn`t going to turn into tank battles and U.S. ground combat units. That`s not what`s at stake here.
What is at stake is the Iranians, without any question, can close the Persian Gulf to all oil tankers, including those out of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. And if they do that, then the U.S. Navy and Air Force should have to figure out how to reduce and free up that economic commerce. And it`s going to -- and it would involve an air campaign of three months to six months against Iranian homeland. We`d have to wreck their antiaircraft system, take out their fighter aircraft, sink the revolutionary guard naval elements that control the Persian Gulf. It would be a hard fight. And the Iranians are used to absorbing punishment.
That Iran/Iraq war was a million dead over eight years. So I remember when Mr. Trump said he was worried he`s going to cause 200 casualties, went after the antiaircraft site that shot down the U.S. drone. For god`s sake, these Iranians are -- have been at war for, you know, the better part of 40 years.
We didn`t think through this. There`s no strategy here. They want the Iranians to cave in public. They`re not going to do it. We got to get private, convincing, diplomatic engagement with these people before we end up in a high intensity war.
KORNACKI: What is the -- your sense of the timetable here in terms of an Iranian response? You mentioned in the past in the `80s that Iraq/Iran war the willingness to endure so much carnage there. Is there a timetable that Iran might be willing to wait here in your view?
MCCAFFREY: Well, speculation all day, I notice -- and all of it uninformed, is -- you know, it will be weeks, it will be months, it will be surrogate attacks. I`m not too sure about that. Richard Engel is more likely to have it right that sometime in the next 48 hours we`re going to see a tricky situation with our vulnerable U.S. embassy.
And I might add, with no questions in my mind, if there`s an attempt by mobs of thousands to penetrate the U.S. embassy, we will use lethal force. It will be a real nightmare.
And by the way, you know, in the background, there`s no Iraqi government, a caretaker regime there that has declared three days of mourning for the people we killed in the air force strike a few days back. Those Iraqi generals, both army and police, are trying to sort out what they ought to do. They don`t know who they`re working for. So it`s very possible Iraqis right in the middle of this will tell us get out with your 5,000 troops, and we would then be in a withdrawal situation.
KORNACKI: General Barry McCaffrey, thank you for joining us, appreciate that.
MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you.
KORNACKI: And coming up, the President`s biggest foreign policy crisis is unfolding under storm clouds of impeachment. What you might have missed on that front, when "The 11th hour" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): President Trump should get the same treatment that every single senator thought was fair for President Clinton. Just like 20 years ago. We should address mid-trial questions such as witnesses after briefs, opening arguments, senator questions, and other relevant motions.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): All of my fellow senators, Democrat and Republican, should take stock of the leader`s word and remember the commitment he made on national television to take his cues from the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Today brought dueling floor speeches in the Senate but little obvious headway on what a Senate impeachment trial might look like. Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked on whether more documents can be subpoenaed and if more witnesses can be called.
Lawmakers in the House meantime are about to get their hands on some new information. NBC News reporting today, "A Rudy Giuliani associate awaiting trial on campaign finance charges can turn over evidence requested by House impeachment investigators, a federal court judge in New York ruled on Friday."
Lev Parnas is expected to hand over a trove of documents, including phone records involving Giuliani and other key players in the impeachment investigation.
With us now for more, Mieke Eoyang, attorney and former staffer for both the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees and Jonathan Allen, NBC News national political reporter.
Thanks to both of you for being with us. Jon, let me start with you. The Democrats have a strategy they have been talking about here of trying to ratchet up the pressure on Mitch McConnell to allow witnesses and have what they say would be a robust senate trial. McConnell took to the floor today. Decode what you saw. Was that a man feeling the pressure?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It`s a man who is making political arguments right now to cover for the fact that he doesn`t have 51 votes for anything in terms of going forward on a trial. He doesn`t have 51 votes to go forward with a trial that doesn`t have witnesses. He doesn`t have 51 votes to go forward with a trial that does have witnesses.
And so what he`s doing is throwing insults at Chuck Schumer, he`s throwing insults at Nancy Pelosi, he`s throwing insults at the process. But the truth is, if Nancy Pelosi were to send those articles of impeachment to the Senate right now, Mitch McConnell would look pretty bad because he wouldn`t be able to do the constitutional duty that the Senate has, which is to take them up and start a process, at least he has not shown that he has that ability right now. And that`s his issue.
KORNACKI: Well, Mieke, that raises an obvious question. Why doesn`t Nancy Pelosi just send them over?
MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE STAFFER: Look, I think she needs to know more about what form the Senate trial is going to take before she can send those articles over. Part of the thing that she needs to be able to do is appoint impeachment managers. And it`s a very different set of people you would send over there if they`re going to be questioning witnesses or if they`re just presenting evidence.
She`s got a group of people that she can choose from but once those impeachment managers are set, that`s who she`s got. And so it`s fair for her to say, I need to know what I`m sending my people into before I send these articles over there.
KORNACKI: Is that -- Jon, to follow up though, it`s an interesting point you`re raising, and I`m wondering, the question has been asked where the leverage is for Democrats if McConnell in your view would look bad right now if they were sent over, are Democrats missing leverage that`s right in front of them?
ALLEN: Well, I should note, Steve, when I say he doesn`t -- McConnell doesn`t have 51 votes for a trial with witnesses -- he doesn`t have 51 votes for that -- within his Republican conference. If he was to open it up to the Democrats, if he was actually to put something on the floor that was intended to involve all the senators, of course he would have 51 votes or probably would have 51 votes for that because a lot of the Democrats, all of the Democrats would vote for that, if it was the witnesses that are actually involved from the White House.
And so the Democrats are looking for leverage and the leverage they`re looking for is more information. We saw last week there was more information that came out about the meeting in the Oval Office involving Secretary Esper and Secretary Pompeo where they went into the Oval Office and told the President they thought it was against U.S. interests and John Bolton also there, against U.S. interests to withhold money from Ukraine. We are now going to potentially see information from Lev Parnas transmitted to the House of Representatives.
So longer Pelosi holds on to those articles, the more information we`re going to see and perhaps the more pressure there is on McConnell. Certainly, we won`t have less information over time.
KORNACKI: Well, Mieke, that news about Lev Parnas, what kind of information could be learned there?
EOYANG: I mean, we`ve seen a tremendous amount of information come out about communications on text messages from Bill Taylor and from others. So Lev Parnas is someone who was in contact with Giuliani, he`ll have Giuliani`s end of his communications on his phone. There`s a lot of information that can be gained off of Lev Parnas` phone, metadata information, text messages, was he in contact with the president or other people in the White House.
The House Impeachment investigators are really interested in this information, and it`s information that could and should be presented in a Senate trial.
KORNACKI: All right. A quick break here, but Mieke and Jon are staying with us. Coming up, how Trump`s strike against Iran is creating a new divide in the race to replace him, when "The 11th Hour" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, the administration has said the goal of killing Soleimani was to deter future attacks by Iran. But the action almost certainly will have the opposite impact.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you don`t have a plan or know what you`re doing when you act, when there could have been another way, taking out a bad guy is not necessarily a good idea.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to restore sanity to our foreign policy.
ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The vast majority of Americans want nothing to do with a war in Iran.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a dangerous escalation that brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Tonight, Jonathan Allen writes this quote, "When President Trump ordered the killing of Qassem Soleimani, he put his 2020 Democratic rivals in a tough political bind. Democrats are worried that Trump is touching off yet another war in the Middle East, and at the same time wary of failing to condemn the assassination of a figure who was roundly viewed in the United States as one of the world`s leading bad guys.
Still with us, Mieke Eoyang and Jonathan Allen who write the piece we were just quoting from. And since we were doing that, Jon, I will begin with you, what we are hearing from Democratic presidential candidates, there seems to be a common combination among them to talk about Soleimani being a terrible person responsible for American deaths. But then, the question, the wisdom, the strategic wisdom of making this judgment, it seems though that a slightly different note perhaps, was struck by Bernie Sanders.
ALLEN: Absolutely, Steve. Most of the Democrats running for president preface what they`re saying with this guy was a bad dude, and that nobody should mourn him. And then, they move on to this is a bad strike or that this is something that`s going to lead the United States into war or all of their other concerns about it.
Bernie sanders just stood up and started talking about the problems that he foresees happening. And so that distinguishes him from Joe Biden. And I think that this is going to be an issue as the Iowa caucuses near, the Iowa Democratic Caucus electorate traditionally is a pretty dovish one.
And yet, the Democratic Party electorate over, you know, as they`re judging these candidates, there`s a divide here. Obviously, you know, the left is going to look at this and say, you know, we`re potentially heading off to a war in the Middle East, again or at least there`s an escalation here and that`s dangerous.
On the other hand, there`s a concern about looking weak on Iranian aggression. And you see Joe Biden sort of moving in that direction. You heard Pete Buttigieg there also prefacing his comments with what a bad guy Soleimani is.
And then, you had Elizabeth Warren in sort of a slightly different place. She sounded a little like Biden and Buttigieg in her first comments on Thursday night. Then by Friday morning, she shifted to where Bernie Sanders is. I think pretty attentive probably to where the left is on this. You know, this is something that`s tough for these candidates.
KORNACKI: Mieke, I wonder when international news, when an international crisis, US military action suddenly take stage, a center stage in a presidential campaign, I think there`s a certain conventional wisdom there that candidates who have extensive experience in that realm perhaps benefit for folks who are looking for reassurance that the person in charge will know what they`re doing.
Is there an advantage, perhaps, for Joe Biden just given his depth of experience in the United States Senate and as vice president compared to say Pete Buttigieg who`s only been the mayor of South Bend, which hasn`t necessarily dealt with these many foreign policy issues?
EOYANG: Yes. I think a lot of people look at Joe Biden and he`s been in the situation room when the government has had to think through these things. In fact, when the government has thought through whether or not to kill Soleiman before and making the assessment that, hey, this is a really bad guy but it`s not worth the risk because of what`s going to happen in terms of retaliation.
I think people understand that Joe Biden is someone who can make the calls to sound out our allies, to coordinate these things, and to come up with a plan. He`s actually been very thoughtful about how American national security policy can target people who are bad while not trying to get us dragged into full-on wars.
I don`t think there are other candidates who have that kind of experience. And so if the American electorate is really concerned about the President`s reckless moves and are looking for someone who`s a steadying grown up hand on foreign policy, that`s Joe Biden. That`s frankly why Barack Obama picked him as his vice president.
KORNACKI: All right. Mieke Eoyang, Jonathan Allen, thank you both for joining us tonight.
And coming up, Congress will make history when it returns next week. This doesn`t have anything to do with impeachment or Iran by the way, we will explain what it does have to do with when `The 11th Hour" continues.
KORNACKI: And the last thing before we go tonight, there is going to be a new member of the United States Senate sworn in on Monday. There`s technically one vacancy right now. New senator will be sworn in on Monday and it`s going to mark a milestone in the history of the United States Senate
Let me tell you when -- let`s go back here almost 100 years, 1922. This woman here, Rebecca Latimer Felton, her name, this is the first woman to serve in the United States Senate, 1922. She was appointed for one day. It was a ceremonial one-day appointment, Rebecca Felton from the state of Georgia. That`s the first woman ever to serve in the United States Senate.
Remember, woman had just gotten the vote about 100 years ago, so this was a milestone back then. Over the next number of decades, there weren`t many women who served in the Senate. They were a few but in fact, if you fast forward 70 years from that day to 1992, not that far in our past, two women, two women were in the Senate, one Democrat, one Republican, Mikulski and Casey Braun (ph) were their names back in 1992.
`92, they called it the year of the woman because for the first time there was an explosion in female candidates for the Senate so much that after that election, there were six women in the US Senate, six women at the end of 1992 in the US Senate. Here was the picture of them.
This was such a culture change. This is only a generation ago in American political history. Having six women in the Senate was such a culture change, then check this out, this was the headline.
December 29, 1992, the U.S. Senate, now they have six women, they`re going to have to install a women`s bathroom. The Senate didn`t have a women`s bathroom until 1993 basically. So, you had six women in the Senate starting in 1993, that was a major breakthrough.
And now, we say Monday of Milestone, this is what the Senate is going to look like on Monday when Kelly Loeffler of Georgia appointed senator, Republican has sworn in, that will make 26 female senators, that is the most women who have ever served at one time, the United States Senate, more than one quarter of the United States Senate will be female. It is not a 50/50 split but again, just go back a generation, they didn`t even have a women`s restroom in the US Senate, 26 women senators on Monday.
That`s our broadcast for tonight. Brian will be back on Monday. Thank you for being with us and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END