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War Powers debate heats up in Congress. TRANSCRIPT: 1/9/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Susan Page, Jonathan Lemire, Mara Gay

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely. Lawrence, this is a question about message. The idea that someone can buy votes is not true. The question is, does a candidate, any candidate including me, have a message that`s differential, important, and can that person be trusted? And that`s a question that`s about grassroots and personality, not about money.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: OK. We`re into overtime. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, presidential candidate Tom Steyer. He`ll be on the debate stage next week. Congratulations on making the debate stage. Thanks for joining us.

STEYER: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: That is "Tonight`s Last Word." "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, a campaign rally during a tense time with a major military power. The crowd hears Trump make new claims about why he ordered that air strike that killed the top Iranian general. He also unleashes new and personal attacks on Congress while making his case about why he should be able to go it alone.

Plus, Iran lashing out again as some there are calling for further retaliation against Trump while their government tries to explain away what appears to be a horrible and brutal truth. Iranian missiles shot down that commercial jetliner full of innocent passengers just after takeoff the night of that missile attack.

And Speaker Pelosi says she`ll be sending over those impeachment articles to the Senate soon, but then there`s the matter of Congress leaving town for another long weekend as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,085 of the Trump administration, and 299 days until the presidential election.

Donald trump is making a new case for ordering the killing that brought the U.S. to the brink of a wider conflict with Iran. This morning in the Roosevelt room, Trump defended the drone strike that dispatched the Iranian commander one week ago now, and he continued to make his case tonight at his first rally of this 2020 election year in the critical state of Ohio.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We caught a total monster, and we took him out, and that should have happened a long time ago. We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy.

And he had more than that particular embassy in mind.

And he was looking very seriously at our embassies and not just the embassy in Baghdad.

He loved planting the roadside bomb. So now he`s gone.


WILLIAMS: Up until now, all this administration had said is that Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on Americans and U.S. interests in the Middle East. There was also the explanation top Trump officials gave Congress at that classified briefing yesterday. Democrats came out highly critical, and indeed so did some Republicans.

Late this afternoon, the House passed a war powers resolution that forces Trump to go to Congress for authorization before taking any future military action against Iran. The vote was 224-194, mostly along party lines. Tonight Trump blasted the vote and House Democrats` move to put a check on his powers to reassert congressional authority.


TRUMP: They`re all trying to say, how dare you take him out that way? You should get permission from Congress.

These are split-second decisions. You have to make a decision. So they don`t want me to make that decision. They want me to call up, maybe go over there. Let me go over to Congress. Come on over to the White House. Let`s talk about it.

We heard where he was. We knew the way he was getting there, and we had to make a decision. We didn`t have time to call up Nancy, who is not operating with a full deck.

Can you imagine calling crooked Adam Schiff? They want us to tell them so that they can leak it to their friend in the corrupt media.


WILLIAMS: As for the public, a new "USA Today"/Ipsos shows a majority of the public, 55 percent think the strike on Soleimani made the U.S. less safe. Less than a quarter say the U.S. is safer as a result.

Tonight one tragic result of this latest conflict has become clear. It appears Iranian missiles shot down a commercial jetliner just after takeoff on the very same night as that missile attack. We`ll have more on that a bit later on in our broadcast.

Meanwhile, Trump is trying to manage the fallout from all of this as he watches Mitch McConnell fight his battles on impeachment. NBC News reporting the two met yesterday at the White House to talk about it. Today McConnell issued this new warning to Pelosi, who has yet to transmit those articles of impeachment over to the Senate.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If the Speaker continues to refuse to take her own accusations to trial, the Senate will move forward next week with the business of our people. We will operate on the assumption that House Democrats are too embarrassed, too embarrassed to ever move forward.


WILLIAMS: It appears that everything will have to wait for Congress to come back from yet another three-day weekend recess. Pelosi, who is featured on the cover of this week`s "Time" magazine responded to McConnell and made it clear she`s not about to be pushed into making any moves.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We are concerned that the senators will not be able to live up to the oath that they must take to have an impartial trial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So are you willing to hold on to the articles indefinitely?

PELOSI: No, I`m not holding them indefinitely. I`ll send them over when I`m ready. And that will probably be soon. We want to see what they`re willing to do and the manner in which they will do it.

We need to see the arena in which we are sending our managers. Is that too much to ask?


WILLIAMS: She has used that word before. Her concern about the arena has to do with whether or not there will be witnesses called or allowed at Trump`s trial. That`s a matter McConnell wants to settle after things get under way.

Former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton is someone the Democrats and maybe a few Republicans are eager to hear from, and he`s agreed to testify if, indeed, he receives a subpoena.

Today trump sounded somewhat hesitant about the prospect of this particular former employee under oath.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a problem with John Bolton testifying in the Senate trial?

TRUMP: I`d have to ask the lawyers because we do have to -- to me, for the future, we have to protect presidential privilege. When we start allowing national security advisers to just go up and say whatever they want to say, we can`t do that.


WILLIAMS: So it`s about future presidents, just to have that down.

And here with us for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for "USA Today," best-selling author who, on the heels of her biography of Barbara Bush, is currently at work on a biography of one Nancy Pelosi, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon, and Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Jeremy, on the national security front, I`d like to begin with you. Talk about the actual serious business that the gang of eight is charged with and how seriously in normal times they take those roles.

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, the chairs and vice chairs or ranking members of the Intelligence committees and the congressional leaders from both Houses and from both parties are eight members of Congress, the so-called gang of eight. And they are charged with overseeing the most sensitive intelligence activities and sensitive intelligence operations.

And as Congress asks pertinent questions tonight about whether or not the information about Soleimani can be shared with Congress. What are they asking? They`re asking, number one, is why was this so imminent? What information did the United States possess?

And I think hereto for, the answers have been vague and they have been unspecific, and they have been therefore unsatisfactory to members of Congress who are trying to discharge their responsibility for oversight.

But I think they`re also going to ask the intelligence community a broader question, which is are we indeed safer? Is all well as the President said on the night of the ballistic missile strikes against our forces in Iraq? Is, in fact, Iran going to retaliate in other ways beyond that overt missile strike? Or are they going to engage in proxies and surrogates, terrorism, building out their nuclear capability and cyberattacks? And these are all questions that have to be debated, which is why Congress passed this important War Powers Resolution Act tonight.

WILLIAMS: And, Susan Page, indeed, talk about how safe or unsafe we feel. Talk about public opinion as you wrote about it today.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: You know, this was a surprise to us, the level of concern that we found Americans felt about what was happening in the wake of the drone strike that killed Soleimani. You know, usually these things often they just divide along party lines, so Republicans would say everything was great. Democrats would express concern. That`s really not what we found.

By more than two to one, Americans said we were less safe. A majority of Americans said that the President was acting recklessly when it came to Iran. So we saw a high level of concern about the repercussions, not that defense of Soleimani. Nobody is defending Soleimani as someone who didn`t deserve to die, but about the repercussions of the action that the President took.

And then we saw the President take a very different tone yesterday than he had taken in the previous couple days. And I wonder if the White House, which is constantly doing its own polling and survey work, understood the chord that the President had touched with his more provocative rhetoric of the previous days.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, let`s take that point from Susan Page. Have you seen a migration of attitudes and talking points from the President, from the White House? Is it clear that anyone told him anything about the after effects of this unilateral decision?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, THE ASSOCATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, this is a decision that was made rather hastily at Mar-a-Lago last week. And I was there as part of the presidential poll for a few days. There were group of reporters who travel with the President.

When there`s, you know, he had given a series of out -- of options. He -- to the surprise of his advisers took the most dramatic line. He ordered the strike that killed Soleimani. They spent a couple days sort of going over options. They went back to another time. He went for it.

There was some certainly discussion of what the aftermath could look like, but I think the people that we`ve talked to, reporting we`ve done, it was - - that`s not where the President`s focus was. He was much more interested in sort of looking tough, striking out, you know, defending American interests. You know, he compared it to the raid that killed -- that he authorized to killed Al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader thinking that that showed America`s rich that you`re not safe from us anywhere in the world, you know. And that there were certainly the campaign have sprung to life as well.

They thought this was probably good for his re-election chances, the sort of projecting of American leadership. And, you know, he forged forward. But instantly, there was not a real instinct from this President for this to devolve into a significant shooting war. He was looking very quickly for an off-ramp. You know he made the statement. There was an understanding that Iran would retaliate.

The missile strikes on the Iraqi base the other night thankfully did not cause any casualties. And, you know, some of that perhaps by design by the Iranians. Although certainly we shouldn`t suspect that they will not try to retaliate again.

But at least the time being, they didn`t. There was no loss of life, no real damage. And the President was able to sort of claim victory.

And, yes, this is a crisis largely of his own creation. Let`s not lose sight of that. But at least in the short term, he got to have it sort of both ways. Or it`s his risking -- it`s his foreign policy gamble. This is what he does, where he sort of talks tough. He doesn`t really want to have involved military action. And then he tries to claim victory even if it`s just returning to the status quo.

In this case, he did of course kill an Iranian general. We`ll have to see whether Tehran will freeze for the moment seems like it`s willing to take down the temperature, whether that continues.

WILLIAMS: And so, Jeremy Bash, we`ve seen movement. I used the word migration on the talking points. Suddenly, today we learned that the definition of imminent strikes was this guy was planning to try to take out our embassy in Baghdad. Tonight the President switches to plural embassies.

So Lawrence O`Donnell asked Democratic Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, you were in the big briefing on the Hill, was this ever mentioned? Here`s what transpired a few minutes ago on this network.


SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): We did not hear about blowing up the embassy yesterday in that briefing. And I sat through it from beginning to end.


WILLIAMS: So, Jeremy Bash, why on earth would the story change in 24 hours, and why wouldn`t you share information like that with the United State Senate?

BASH: Well, the fact that this story changes is a red flag. And second, if the President can announce it at a political rally or at a political event in the White House, certainly, they could tell the members of Congress in a sensitive, compartmented information facility in the basement of the Capitol when all members have checked their cellphone phones at the door and it`s a classified briefing. You`ve got the chairmen, the Secretary of Defense, the CIA directors standing there.

So first of all, the President maybe to echo Jonathan, he`s trying to have it both ways as well. He`s trying to trickle out details for political purposes, but he`s not willing to brief members of Congress who have the constitutional responsibility to oversee these activities. And he`s also trying to say that this was totally imminent but in fact he`s also saying that this should have been done long ago. The story is not adding up. And I think it`s going to invite a lot more scrutiny, a lot more conversation, and a lot more resolutions like we saw from the House of Representatives tonight.

WILLIAMS: Susan Page, so many of our print friends on this broadcast come on this broadcast. They`re deadline journalists by day and go home, and they are knee deep in a book project that puts them in another subject entirely. I ask this knowing you are in your hours away from U.S. Senate Day knee deep in the subject of Nancy Pelosi. Talk about the ongoing effect she is still having on this President, who again tonight, went deep and went personal against her to cheers at that rally in Ohio?

PAGE: Well, you know, there`s some division. There`s actually some concern, I think among Democratic ranks about exactly where she`s going with withholding the articles of impeachment. How long she`s going to hold on to them whether she has an end game in mind? But she has an extraordinary control of her caucus that is really quite remarkable, much more significant than the control her previous Republican speakers had over their ranks. You know they had dissidents as you have in the Democratic Party who are much more public.

Now you had -- today you had a House Chairman, Adam Smith of the Armed Services Committee, say in an interview this morning that he thought it was about time to turn over these articles of impeachment.

By the afternoon, he was tweeting that it wasn`t at all time. He wanted to do whatever Pelosi wanted to do. She has definitely, and whatever else this withholding of articles of the impeachment has done, it has gotten under President Trump`s skin. It clearly bothers him in a way it does not bother Mitch McConnell.

And so, for some Democrats they`re saying, well, we don`t know what else to -- what else the strategy is for Nancy Pelosi, but that for Democrats is a good thing.

WILLIAMS: And, Jonathan Lemire, to take off on that, Democrats have marveled at the unity of the Republicans, and that Committee Chairman, that exact episode is Republican-seeming under Trump more than it is Democratic. Can the Democrats, will the Democrats try to duplicate that kind of stick- togetherness?

LEMIRE: Well, it was a rare break for the Republicans yesterday where Senator Lee and --


LEMIRE: -- Senator Paul questioned that briefing on the Iran strike.

WILLIAMS: And then some.

LEMIRE: And they called it basically a disgrace. And leave Lee said it was one of the worst briefings he`s heard. But, yes to that -- beyond that, there are few exceptions where the Republicans are willing to break for the President. Helsinki was another. But, there are few in far between, they`ve largely marched in lock step with him and seem to be here on impeachment as well.

The Democrats is a different group. They`re more of a diversity of opinions, it seems. There are some certainly some characters who are not afraid of speaking their mind and nor should they be. But speaking, there`s a testament and, excuse me saying, Speaker Pelosi`s control over the caucus, where we had a few voices in the last 24 hours.

So, they start to see him nervous. But, it`s time we have to send these articles over. It`s time to transmit them, and suddenly that went away.

Some of members of the other chamber too. Senator Blumenthal within the --

WILLIAMS: Tim Kaine.

LEMIRE: Yes, Tim Kaine, within a few hours reversed themselves. Why don`t we get this process going. Well no, let`s wait and see. We trust the Speaker. She`s in charge.

Into this point, she`s handled it pretty masterfully. And yes, the end game is uncertain, but if it is simply to annoy the President, she has succeeded.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Jeremy Bash, a lot of the standard stuff at tonight`s Clinton`s rally up at Clinton rally, Hillary Clinton was called crooked Hillary again and again and again. You heard chants of lock her up at the Trump rally in Ohio. But then, there is this "Washington Post" headline I wanted to raise with you. "Justice Department winds down Clinton-related inquiry once championed by Trump. It found nothing of consequence."

Jeremy, where does that leave us?

BASH: Well, I think it leaves that U.S. attorney who made that conclusion probably wondering whether he`s going to have a job tomorrow because of course Bill Barr and the leadership of the Justice Department has played such an active role in advancing President Trump`s conspiracy theories and his attacks on the Clintons and the Obamas and anybody else. So it`s an unusual vindication here, but of course the investigation was bogus to begin with and probably should never have been launched.

WILLIAMS: Three of our very best, just one of whom is knee deep in Nancy Pelosi. Susan Page, Jeremy Bash, and Jonathan Lemire, our thanks.

And coming up tonight, the view from Tehran as Iran tries to convince the world they didn`t shoot down a civilian aircraft, all evidence to the contrary.

And later, with just 25 days, sorry, we had to say it -- 25 days till Iowa, another Democrat has reached the threshold and will be on the stage at the next Democratic debate. "The 11th hour" just getting under way on this Thursday night.


WILLIAMS: The more we learn, the worse it looks for Iran tonight about that Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed in Tehran just two nights ago. Just hours after Iran fired that volley of missiles at those Iraqi bases that housed American forces. U.S. officials tell NBC News that the intelligence evidence suggests strongly the Boeing 737 was indeed shot down by Iranian missiles by mistake.

The jet`s last signal was recorded two minutes after takeoff 6:12 a.m. There is new video tonight that "The New York Times" says appears to show a missile hitting its target, they presumably the aircraft near Tehran`s airport. All 176 souls onboard perished, including 63 Canadians.

Today the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he wants a thorough investigation.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. This may well have been unintentional.


WILLIAMS: We are so happy to be able to talk to Ali Arouzi tonight, our NBC News Tehran Bureau Chief. He was with us the night of the attack. He`s with us from the Iranian capital where, as you can see, it is already well into Friday morning.

Ali, here`s -- there are many problems for the Iranian side in this story. Number one, if you have a mechanical issue, engine failure, you don`t lose radio, GPS, and radar all in the same instant. That`s what happens here, and that`s why it`s believed to be a catastrophic failure. And, number two, his was the most watched piece of real estate that night in the world. You had every piece of American optics and many of our allies looking via satellite and other means at the airspace over Iran because we were fearing, suspecting, and they were, enemy aircraft to be launched and to attack Iran. So that makes it very difficult to believe their excuse that this is somehow psychological operations by the CIA selling this story that it was shot down.

ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF: That`s right, Brian. Good evening. That`s right.

Iran is one of the most watched places, America`s biggest adversary, and during a time when they`re launching attacks aimed at U.S. troops, even more eyes and ears are on this place. But with that said, Iran is strongly denying that missiles hit that plane. They do admit that the plane went dark immediately, which is very unusual, but they are sticking to their story.

They are saying that this was a mechanical failure. They say the plane, shortly after takeoff, caught fire. The pilot tried to make a hard turn back to Imam Khomeini International Airport. And during that turn, it crashed tragically killing everybody onboard.

Now, the head of Iran`s Civil Aviation initially had said that the black box wouldn`t be available to parties concerned. Now, he`s coming out and saying that the black box is available to all the parties that are concerned in this flight. He even said Boeing can come and check the black box out for themselves.

Now, there are Ukrainian officials here on the ground working alongside Iranian officials, going through the debris, checking the wreckage, seeing what they can come up with, and all sorts of reports are coming out of this that are unconfirmed. But there are some reports here that fragments of a Russian-made missile was found on the ground.

Again, the Iranians deny that that`s been found. But the Iranians do buy a lot of their missile defense systems from the Russians, so that`s looking a little bit odd. But the national Security Council here said this is psychological warfare to turn the Iranian people off their armed forces.

WILLIAMS: Of course the debris will tell us almost instantly if there`s the presence of an explosive.

On the other front, Ali, are we girding, do you think, for Iran to launch any further attacks, or is it the Iranian surrogates that the west is likely most worried about? I know there are calls within Iran that that shouldn`t be enough retribution.

AROUZI: That`s right, Brian. Well, you`ve been here. You`ve reported from here, and you know how the authorities here like to talk tough, and that`s exactly what they`re doing.

The man that came out of the shadows and replaced Qassem Soleimani said that he is going to follow his predecessor`s path, that those rocket launches against U.S. forces was just the beginning of getting America out of this region.

Iran`s president warned if there`s any more misadventure by America, revenge will be even tougher than we`ve seen up until now. And Iran`s supreme leader said that that attack was just a slap in the face for America, and the real revenge is still to come.

But, Brian, as the dust has settled after those attacks, it looks like it was more symbolic than anything else, designed for domestic consumption and to show some strength, to say to the Americans that we have the missile range to hit your targets in this region. But I don`t think they wanted to invite an all-out reprisal, and they`re going to revert to their old playbook of using proxies in this region to fight America.

WILLIAMS: Ali Arouzi reporting from the center of this story, early morning Friday in Tehran. Our thanks, Ali, as always.

Coming up for us, Democrats are holding their seventh presidential debate just days from now. It looks like, let`s say it this way, one candidate might have just spent his way onto the debate stage.



SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`re easily one of the most competitive campaigns on the ground competing for your vote, but the folks in D.C. in our party say you shouldn`t be on the stage.


WILLIAMS: Cory Booker is among the Democrats who likely will not be standing on the debate stage next week. So far, just six candidates have qualified, one of them a bit of a surprise. Two new Fox surveys out tonight from South Carolina and Nevada have billionaire Tom Steyer polling at double digits, enough to land him a spot on next Tuesday`s stage. He was on this network just the last hour and defended his style of campaign spending.


STEYER: If your point is that I`m taking on the biggest problem I see in America and putting everything I have into it to try and solve that problem, including my money, then I`ve done that for 10 years, and if that`s the worst thing you can say about it -- about me, then I`ll take it.


WILLIAMS: Back with us for more on all of these tonight is our friend Mara Gay, former City Hall Bureau Chief for The Wall Street Journal, who these days is a member of The New York Times Editorial Board. I have so many questions for you. First question is if he can buy his way on the stage to use the pejorative, where`s Bloomberg?

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think he`s right on his heels actually. I think Bloomberg has spent nearly $130 million so far. He jumped in later.

WILLIAMS: That`s lunch money.

GAY: Lunch money. Bloomberg jumped in much later, but yet he`s, I think, already tied for third place in some polls.

WILLIAMS: And he`s not taking donors, which is -- which complicates the rules, right?

GAY: That`s right. Bloomberg`s not even trying to actually compete by debating on the stage. He has a different pathway to victory. Listen --

WILLIAMS: Why are you smiling?

GAY: I`m smiling because it`s so frustrating to me that you can really come into a race and no matter how good your candidacy is, you can just spend a lot of money and -- WILLIAMS: Or bad --

GAY: -- or how bad. And you can make a lot of headway. But listen, OK, so in South Carolina for example, they`ve had years now of Tom Steyer`s ads. So I think for Democrats who haven`t really been paying attention, they`ve seen the ads and they`re about to see Bloomberg ads if they haven`t already.

And, you know, look, money talks. Money has an impact. We`ll see what happens once the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire race unfolds. I think then we`ll get a better sense of how these Democrats play on the ground and the retail politics will more come into play. But right now, money gives you a huge advantage. Bloomberg spent $300 million to win his city hall campaigns, and you can really make an impact.

WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about a guy like Cory Booker.

GAY: Sure.

WILLIAMS: Can`t crack 5 percent. We had so many candidates on the stage, it took us two nights early on in this race. There are still that many candidates in the race. This stage has slimmed down. Are these rules designed to anger the entire field except for those on the stage?

GAY: Well, it is --

WILLIAMS: We got to make an edit somewhere, I guess.

GAY: You have to. Cory Booker`s candidacy has been interesting because he has in some ways just as much experience, if not -- well, he has more than someone like Pete Buttigieg, the Mayor, and yet he hasn`t really cracked that 5 percent threshold. There are several reasons for that.

You have to raise money. And when you call a donor at this point, you know, donors are kind of tapped out. There`s a lot of candidates to go around right now, and so that`s part of the problem. But right now, Cory Booker needs a moment. He needs a breakout moment. We`ll see if that can happen.

WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about the state by states. Michigan is interesting where you spent four years as a wolverine.

GAY: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Wisconsin is interesting. Do you buy end -- are these any state by states you look at and think, OK, I buy that as a real take it to the bank trend for the snapshot in time that it is?

GAY: Yes. Here`s what`s interesting. I think the most important status to look at what happened in 2018 in the midterms. Both Wisconsin and Michigan elected Democratic governors that year. The turnout was massive in those states, and I think Trump wasn`t even on the ballot. So really Democrats should be looking at both Wisconsin and Michigan and also Pennsylvania as opportunities for pickups. Same with Virginia. And so they really need to drive up turnout.

He margin of victory for Trump in 2016 was something like 11,000 votes. So you need to win over more white working-class voters, but you also need to go to your base, which is both young people and people of color, black Democrats, and you need to drive them out to the polls.

WILLIAMS: I am duty-bound to point out the Clinton campaign.

GAY: She didn`t show up. So that`s rule number one. Show up if you`d like to win a vote.

WILLIAMS: I`m going to quote you on that. Mara Gay of The New York Times Editorial Board, they have an interesting editorial coming up at some point on who they`re going to endorse in this race.

Coming up for us, could the Trump campaign be taking a critical state for granted?



TIM RUSSERT, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, NBC NEWS: As goes Ohio, I believe as goes the nation in the presidency. In 2000, I said Florida, Florida, Florida. I think 2004 is Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.


WILLIAMS: Our friend Tim Russert was right back then and more generally where would the presidency be without Ohio? The State of Ohio has given us eight presidents in our history. They`re also very good at picking the next winner.

Since 1896, Ohio has voted for the winner 29 out of the last 31 times, maintaining a perfect record since 1960. Ohio went for eight points for Trump over Hillary Clinton, which might explain why Trump was in Toledo just tonight.


TRUMP: I`m thrilled to hold the first rally of 2020 right here in the great state of Ohio.

BRAD PARSCALE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: As the Democrats almost, have almost admitted now, Ohio is Trump country.


WILLIAMS: Well, we want to welcome to the broadcast one of our political road warriors and we will get to know them all, believe me, over the next 10 months. Monica Alba is an NBC News Political Reporter. She covered the President`s rally tonight just as she covered the 2016 campaign on the road and the administration as part of our White House coverage team.

Monica, how do the Democrats view Ohio versus the Trump campaign? Is the Trump campaign showing perhaps too much confidence at what is really a genuine swing state?

MONICA ALBA, NBC NEWS POLITCAL REPORTER: Hey there, Brian. Well, they were certainly projecting a lot of confidence tonight, of course, given as you mentioned how they did in 2016. But of course former President Barack Obama won the buckeye state in 2008 and 2012.

So the Democrats would tell you this is a swing state certainly where they would like to be competitive, but this is probably one of the tougher ones to turn back blue, and that`s exactly because of some of the comments that Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale made tonight, which you referenced, which he basically said to the crowd, help me write this state off and help me to not spend money here, citing internal polling that the Trump campaign won`t share the specifics of, but saying they feel very confident in a place like this.

But the other thing to sort of look at is where we are. We`re in northwest Ohio, so we`re so close to the border with Michigan that the Trump campaign sort of strategically feels that while this checks the Ohio box, they can also attract voters from a nearby state that he won so much more narrowly that will be also so important in the upcoming election, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Because not all of us journalists can be where you are and certainly not the people watching tonight, I want to ask you a few questions about atmospherics at an event like tonight. What got, for example, the largest crowd response, mentions of the conflict with Iran or impeachment? You could call it the conflict with Pelosi.

ALBA: Sure, or the double "I"s there, which actually the President sort of portrayed as intertwined concepts, which is sort of how this rally crowd reacted. And when the President was sort of bashing Democrats on one, in the same breath he would mention the other. And that`s certainly what got the crowd most riled up.

But what`s also notable to hear about is that the rally also was sort of a bit of a -- sort of call and response atmosphere. And the other thing that was notable, which we hadn`t really seen in a while, was the sustained protest. There was actually a couple people with banners that very pointedly in this moment, actually won of them said, no war, certainly a reference there to Iran.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I watched as much as I could live, and I heard the President thanking security for taking people out.

I have to ask you because --

ALBA: Right.

WILLIAMS: -- we ran one of the clips tonight where he focused the attention of the entire crowd. He said if he had briefed the Gang of Eight, they would only leak it to the dishonest media. Katy Tur wrote a whole book about this dynamic in effect. What is it like to be in there and suddenly, as a press corps, be the subject, the visual target of his comments?

ALBA: It is certainly unnerving, and I think what`s very strange about it is that it`s almost become routine since this has happened now for so many years, we`ve kind of become accustomed to it. So you sort of become more intense in terms of focusing on your work and plowing ahead and sort of straight through it. But I think what is sort of concerning is that what`s more notable now or more newsworthy is if the President of the United States is not attacking the media and not attacking reporters. And that is unfortunate, but it`s really just a symbol of where we`re at this time, Brian.

WILLIAMS: With miles to go before she sleeps, Monica Alba in the great state of Ohio tonight. Thank you for staying up with us on a cold, windy night in Northwest Ohio. We appreciate it. We`ll see you along the way.

And coming up for us, the man who literally wrote the book on presidents and war joins us after this.



SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Do you know what else goes right back to George Washington? It`s George Washington`s view that the President`s inherent authority can be exercised without Congress insofar as it`s necessary to deal with an imminent or presently occurring attack. But following that, in order to engage in a more sustained military effort, it does require the approval of Congress.


WILLIAMS: The very energized Senator Mike Lee. Our next guest says there`s a good reason the constitution gives Congress a say in whether the nation should go to war. He says the nation`s founders worried that presidents might be prone to do so to help themselves.

And with that, we are so pleased to be joined once again by Presidential Historian and prolific Author Michael Beschloss. His latest work is "Presidents of War", imagine that, "The Epic Story from 1807 to Modern Times."

Michael, by way of welcoming you and wishing you a Happy New Year, I`d like to start with a very simple definition. Do you define Donald Trump as a wartime President?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: A wartime President, yes, because there -- he came into office with wars going on, and that has continued to be the case. And I think we have seen, you know, the other night you always look for a crisis that`s going to bring out certain qualities in a wartime president. And I think we saw some of them the other night.

WILLIAMS: What were the founders` worries about what we now know as war powers?

BESCHLOSS: They always worried that, one, if you put the war power in the hands of one person as president, that person might be prone to get involved in wars to make himself more popular or perhaps to expand his or someday her power as president.

They felt that it was not right for one person to be making those decisions. They look back to Europe, a lot of the monarchs of Europe, when they got unpopular or they began to worry about their longevity, they would get involved in a war that would allow them to unite the country.

And so that`s the reason they made very sure in the constitution that unless you`re applying, as Senator Lee was talking about to, you know, an attack that you have to do very quickly, that the war power remained with Congress, not with presidents, and that Congress would have to declare war.

WILLIAMS: And now, let`s take on what we`ve seen as kind of a modern continental drift as war power has moved away from the legislative and toward the executive. And if you will along the way, talk about the role of one Jacob Javits, veteran former New York Republican senator in drafting the modern War Powers Act.

BESCHLOSS: Right. Well, in the 20th century, the war power continued to move really quickly from Congress to presidents, largely because Franklin Roosevelt proved to be right in saying that we had to fight the imperial Japanese and Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s, early 1940s, whereas Congress was very isolationist.

And then after World War II, 1950, Harry Truman, who was otherwise someone who was a Senate man, was asked after Korea was invaded and he sent Armed Forces to Korea, when are you going to go to Congress to ask for a war declaration, and Truman said essentially, you know, I`m with James K. Polk. I think that Congress should just be told to go to hell, he said.

And Lyndon Johnson did the same thing, never asked for a war declaration. The last time Congress was asked to declare war was 1942. We`re -- so we`re in this habit. 1973, Jacob Javits, as you rightly say, the senator from New York, thought that was a bad thing and that you had to have legislation that would move the pendulum back toward Congress, and that`s the reason he came up with the War Powers Resolution, which was passed over Richard Nixon`s veto.

WILLIAMS: I was thinking about your line of work tonight, and I heard Frank Rich tell Lawrence O`Donnell his strong view that when Trump is out of office, whatever time that is, the truth will come out. It may roll out slowly, but we will learn the truth someday, and I suppose even in this era where you don`t have very many presidential papers, per se, to go through, where a lot of it is ephemeral, electronic communication --


WILLIAMS: -- you have to hope and pray that truth comes out so that you and your colleagues can chronicle it.

BESHLOSS: That`s right. And there are always records, and there is a Presidential Records Act, and it takes a while. And that`s why when people say what will history say about Donald Trump or Barack Obama, you know, we have to wait at least 40 years because we won`t have the kind of hindsight we need to have to have a historical judgment as opposed to a political judgment. And the other thing, as you rightly say, is that we won`t have those kind of documents fully to make really a full assessment.

WILLIAMS: If you have a 40-year wait before writing about this era, is there a multi-vitamin you could suggest to your anchor or our audience?

BESCHLOSS: I think we should look for one, Brian. I think that would be helpful for a lot of reasons.

WILLIAMS: There`s an idea.

BESCHLOSS: Including getting through this week.

WILLIAMS: Michael Beschloss, author par extraordinaire. Thank you so much. Always great to have you on the broadcast.

BESCHLOSS: Same here. Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, there is a reason it turns out why. You or someone you love may have recently complained that it`s just impossible to keep up.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight is about something you hear as a complaint these days, and it`s really brand-new to American life over just the last couple of years. And here it is. There`s too much TV, way too much to watch. Just can`t do it.

Now, we say this while fully aware that we play a minor role in the whole too much TV issue. We contribute what we believe is a manageable five hours a week. But we also note we say this from a building as part of a company that produces a lot of TV, better known by the preferred sterile, unromantic label of content.

But we digress with apologies for wasting even a moment of the time you have devoted to content consumption this week. What got our attention was this story in The New York Times, no slouch in the content department by the way. It says there were 532 scripted TV shows in 2019, and that of course is a new record.

But let`s choose to digress here to talk about how new this all is. Children born today will not know a world without hundreds of available television shows. Children born 50 or 60 years ago remember three networks, and they aired television shows. And if your favorite television show was on, say, Tuesday night at 8:00 and you missed it, you were out of luck. Maybe it would re-air as a rerun months later, but pretty much it was gone from your life.

Now there are networks or streaming places that also ship paper towels to your house. Some of them are named after types of cheese or a noise, and it`s pretty true that whatever you`re looking for is out there behind one of those logos. And make no mistake, a lot of it is really good.

More than that, it`s what the unromantic business school types call premium content, and that`s their highest praise in this business. Bottom line, the number of shows has doubled in six years, and when you include reality shows, that number doubles again. It`s a lot. Oh, and "Homeland" starts back up February 9th.

Thank you for your time. That is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you for being here with us. Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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