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Trump and Deomcrats ramp up campaigns in 2020. TRANSCRIPT: 1/10/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Melanie Zanona, Michael Bender, Kim Ghattas, Christopher Dickey

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight it looks like it`s happening, preparations for the impeachment trial as the Speaker is ready to release the articles.

And new reporting says Trump links support from wobbly GOP senators to the dicey decision to kill Iran`s top general.

Meanwhile, the administration keeps changing the story about what they thought the Iranian general was planning. It`s gone from vague to attacking our embassy to attacking four embassies now. That`s just in 48 hours.

Plus, just over three weeks now until the Iowa caucuses, why some folks covering this race are starting to think the Democratic presidential race could go on for a very long time. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this Friday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,086 of the Trump administration, and 298 days to go until the 2020 presidential election.

At the very top of our broadcast here tonight, we want to pause right quick for some breaking news that came out about 17 minutes before we came on the air tonight, and it is this. Iran has admitted to shooting down the Ukrainian passenger jet the night of the missile attack with 176 innocent souls on board. It was believed that as soon as the aviation world got its hands on the actual evidence, the wreckage, the black boxes, Iran`s story wouldn`t hold up.

Then just yesterday, that video, damning video came out appearing to show a surface-to-air missile hitting its target over Tehran. They are calling it unintentional. They are calling it human error, but this is a major rubicon tonight and a moment we should note. We`ll talk about it later on with one of our guests from the region.

Meanwhile, in things domestic, it appears tonight that we have passed something of a marker in this country, meaning we are looking at the start of an impeachment trial. Today House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her fellow Democrats in a letter that she has, "asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to be prepared to bring to the floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate."

As you know, this comes 23 days now after the House actually impeached the President, effectively ending the standoff between the Speaker and Mitch McConnell. Trump`s reaction came in this interview with Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s ridiculous. She should have sent them a long time ago. It -- it just -- it belittles the process.

Nancy Pelosi will go down as probably the least successful Speaker of the House in the history of our nation.


WILLIAMS: The President with Laura Ingraham from earlier today.

Pelosi`s decision means the trial could get under way sometime next week but we`ll also be discussing this with one of our guests tonight. These things start slowly at first.

And this finds the President presently caught up in the growing controversy about the shifting justifications for the drone strike against the Iranian general, Soleimani. Here is some of what we have heard from the President and his people just yesterday.


ROBERT O`BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We had very good intelligence that there was an imminent attack being planned --

INSKEEP: But time and place?

O`BRIEN: It was imminent. You know, you never know the time and place of these things with perfect particularity, but we had very good information that there were imminent attacks.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no doubt that there were a series of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qassem Soleimani. And we don`t know precisely when. And we don`t know precisely where, but it was real.

TRUMP: Soleimani was actively planning new attacks, and he was looking very seriously at our embassies and not just the embassy in Baghdad.


WILLIAMS: Then this morning, Secretary Pompeo was back before reporters with a slightly different account.


POMPEO: We had specific information on an imminent threat, and that threat stream included attacks on U.S. embassies, period, full stop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you were mistaken when you said you didn`t know precisely when and you didn`t know precisely where?

POMPEO: No. Completely true. Those are completely consistent thoughts.

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why can you say that here and the President can say it at a rally in Toledo, but no one said it to lawmakers behind closed doors in a classified setting as multiple senators have since said?

POMPEO: We did.

ALEXANDER: You said, so the senators are lying --

POMPEO: Yes. We told them about the imminent threat, all of the intelligence that we`ve briefed, that you`ve heard today, I assure you in an unclassified setting we`ve provided in the classified setting as well.

ALEXANDER: To be clear, you told them that embassies were be targeted? That was the imminent threat?

POMPEO: I`m not going to talk about the details of what we shared in the classified setting.


WILLIAMS: So that`s how that went. And not long after that, Trump divulged more information to Fox News.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Don`t the American people have a right to know what specifically was targeted without revealing methods and sources?

TRUMP: Well, I don`t think so, but we will tell you that probably it was going to be the Embassy in Baghdad. I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.


WILLIAMS: Lawmakers who were in the administration`s classified briefing earlier this week said this was news to them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is nothing that substantiates that claim either that has been provided by the President or the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense, either publicly or in our briefing.

SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN, (D-NH): There has been this evolving contradictory set of stories which, again, speaks to not only the need for us to have a full briefing, but it speaks to the importance of having a full-fledged discussion and debate about the War Powers Act.


WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, importantly "The Washington Post" reports a senior administration official and a senior defense official as saying, "they were only aware of vague intelligence about a plot against the embassy in Baghdad and that the information did not suggest a fully formed plot. Neither official said there were threats against multiple embassies."

The defense official added there was concern that there might be an attempt to place a bomb at the Baghdad embassy, a heavily fortified structure, in a secure area of the Iraqi capital."

The "Post" also says the U.S. tried and failed to take out another Iranian military commander, this one in Yemen, that the attempt on his life took place on the same day as the Soleimani killing.

The administration has imposed new penalties on Iran, today officially announcing new economic sanctions targeting exports and eight separate Iranian officials.

"Wall Street Journal" has new reporting about how Trump`s national security team handled the original decision to carry out the strike on Soleimani as well as on the President`s thinking. One of the authors of this piece, Michael Bender, is standing by to join us in just a moment. He and his colleagues report, "Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with General Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate."

Calling to mind something Trump said about Obama, this was back in 2011.


TRUMP: Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He`s weak, and he`s ineffective. So the only way he figures that he`s going to get re-elected and as sure as you`re sitting there is to start a war with Iran.


WILLIAMS: And because of the adage that there`s always a tweet, it has proven true in this case. In order to get elected, Barack Obama will start a war with Iran, back in 2011.

It`s been an eventful week to say the least, and the anxiety was plainly evident across the political spectrum.


REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): Nancy Pelosi does it again and her Democrats fall right in line. One, they`re in love with terrorists. We see that. They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That`s a problem.


WILLIAMS: So the ranking Republican on the Judiciary committee there, congressman Doug Collins, has since walked that back today, saying, "I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists, and I apologize for what I said earlier this week."

All of which brings us to our leadoff discussion on a Friday night. Three of our print colleagues who chronicle this story every day. Michael Bender, White House Reporter with the "Wall Street Journal," Annie Karni, White House Reporter for "The New York Times," and Melanie Zanona, Congressional Reporter for POLITICO. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Annie, I`d like to start with you with another clip from this Fox News interview. Here is how the President might view the sworn testimony of one Mr. Bolton.


INGRAHAM: Why not call Bolton? Why not allow him to testify? This thing is bogus. Why not allow Bolton to testify?

TRUMP: I have no problem other than one thing.

INGRAHAM: Are you going to invoke executive privilege?

TRUMP: Well, I think you have to for the sake of the office.


WILLIAMS: So, for future presidents, Annie, this is not the first time we`ve heard this. Are we to take this that the White House perhaps who not welcome John Bolton being sworn in?

ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean they`ve made it clear that they don`t want witnesses. Mitch McConnell has made it clear that his strategy is hand in hand with the White House. And his strategy is to avoid calling any witnesses.

So -- but one thing -- Nancy Pelosi`s stalling technique, she did not get everything she wanted by holding up the articles of impeachment. But one thing that did come out of here was during these weeks, we found out that Bolton is willing to testify, and that makes Mitch McConnell`s job of saying there will be no witnesses slightly harder when now there`s not a theoretical question, it`s a real person with real information we haven`t heard before who`s willing to come and talk, and he has to provide a reason of why that -- he doesn`t want that to happen that makes any sense.

So -- but, yes, Trump doesn`t want Bolton to testify. The White House doesn`t want -- has held up everyone from testifying, and that is the lead that Mitch McConnell is following.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Melanie, let`s talk about Susan Collins of Maine, mostly because it`s just so much fun to talk about Susan Collins of Maine. She`s in a very tight spot. She is not alone among that group of vulnerable Republican senators. How does a Susan Collins find a way to say, you know what, we`re good. We don`t need to hear from Bolton?

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think it`s going to be really difficult for her and other vulnerable Republicans who are up for re-election to say we don`t need to hear from witnesses, especially with someone like Bolton who, mind you, has a book deal. So some of this information could be coming out anyway, and it could backfire on her down the road with her voters if something salacious and damning does come out and she wasn`t pushing aggressively.

But right now it seems like she`s given herself a little bit of an out by saying we`re going to punt the question of witnesses to further down the road. But she is leaving the door open, queue calling witnesses like Bolton in the future. She told some local reporters today in Maine that she`s working with a handful of other Republicans to ensure that witnesses are called. We just don`t know yet who she would support and whether there would be enough support from other Republicans for that to actually happen.

WILLIAMS: And Michael Bender, it is occurring to people who saw your byline today and the piece below it, that your piece drawing the first link between impeachment and the air strike in Iran really gets to the nub of impeachment itself, the use of U.S. foreign policy toward a political aim or goal.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, definitely. And it gives it a little bit of an insight into how Trump is thinking about both issues quite frankly. And, you know, and this also just sort of opens up a bit of a Pandora`s Box for Trump. Iran, I think there`s going to be a couple of story lines coming out of this one as we`ve sort of backed away from the brink of war here, but there`s an open question of where the next -- when or if military -- there will be another military escalation.

The second one is whether or not Trump bent the intel here to justify his own action. I mean, it`s hard to overstate what that would do to -- or what a big piece of Trump`s political brand that is. I mean I just like -- to remind you of 2016, everyone remembers how Trump took down Jeb Bush and everyone remembers calling him low energy. But the policy that Trump really tied around Jeb`s neck was WMDs and his brother`s decision to go into Iraq based on faulty intel.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Annie Karni, tell us about what you know to be the President`s immediate foreign policy circle these days, and please add your reporting today on Mr. Kushner.

KARNI: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo clearly won the battle. There was a rift in his foreign policy circle between John Bolton and Pompeo. Pompeo won that battle and is very close with the President. O`Brien, the new National Security adviser, is close with Jared Kushner, is close with Pompeo, is close with the President. Esper is also a former classmate of Pompeo. So this is a group that`s tight amongst each other and have the President`s ear and don`t -- unlike previous people who have held these jobs, aren`t challenging him in the same way or -- are more going along and trying to enact what he wants.

I wrote a story that was in today`s paper about a voice that has been central to Middle East policy since day one of this administration, Jared Kushner, the ubiquitous son-in-law who has been notably absent from anything to do with this Iran strike from the -- whatever planning seat of the pants or not that went into it to the meetings in the situation room afterwards, he hasn`t been there, and that`s a sign. That would have been not the case in the first two years of this administration, especially when Tillerson was the Secretary of State.

But now we see that Jared`s role in the Middle East has receded as people who the President trusts more have taken on the actual official Cabinet- level jobs on the foreign policy team here.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Melanie, I`ve got a job for you and let`s give people a chance to open the calendar apps on their phone. Walk us through the calendar of what impeachment -- the early stages, the early days is going to look like. The first day we could hear a gavel in the Senate chamber. Who needs to get sworn in? How long does that take breaks the whole deal?

ZANONA: Well, I would caution that it`s not going to start off with a bang just letting your viewers know. It`s going to be a slow process to begin with. The House will vote as early as next Tuesday or Wednesday on a resolution naming impeachment managers and sending those articles over. After that, the Senate has 24 hours to begin their trial, but the first stages that need to happen are some logistical details that they still need to iron out.

First Chief Justice Roberts will be sworn in. Then he will deliver the oath of impartiality to the senators. Then they have to vote on the rules package to set up the parameters for the debate.

And after that, both sides are going to get a chance to submit trial briefs. In the Clinton days, it was three days they had to submit those. Then both sides were then allowed to submit a reply. So we`re actually not expecting the real action to take place until after the MLK day, the following week. But, you know, we`re buckling in for at least two weeks of a trial here. I think it just depends on whether or not they end up calling witnesses.

WILLIAMS: And of course they want this all wrapped up by the time the President walks down the aisle of the House chamber next door to deliver the State of the Union.

Michael Bender, I`m going to share with you and everyone watching tonight a bit of Mr. Hannity from earlier this evening.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Members of the U.S. Senate, especially you Republicans, you need to end this for the sake of our country and our constitution and frankly for the sake of future presidents.


WILLIAMS: Michael Bender, end this now for the sake of your country. Are we going to be hearing and seeing the President and McConnell say that same thing with any real seriousness going forward?

BENDER: Well, to a degree, right, I mean -- and he mentioned earlier some of the benefits of delaying the articles of impeachment from Pelosi. One of the things it did was, for Democrats, is gave room to some Republicans to say, hey, maybe we should try to have at least some impartiality and wait to hear the facts before we make a decision. But that hasn`t really done anything to put any light between McConnell and Trump over these last couple of weeks.

In fact, Trump is really deferring to McConnell every step of the way here. He`s not talking about dismissing this case out of hand anymore. He does want witnesses, but McConnell doesn`t, and the White House by all accounts is willing to go along with that.

So if anything, they do feel like they have a little bit of wind at their backs right now with a handful of Democratic members saying, you know, it`s time to send these articles over. The White House is not used to Democrats telling Nancy Pelosi what to do. We`ve heard Trump quite often complain that Republicans don`t lock arms quite as tight as Democrats.

But, you know, we`ll see how long this wind lasts behind the back of the White House here. They have to name their own impeachment team in the Senate. It sounds like Jim Jordan and John Ratcliffe are all but assured to be members of that.

Watch for Alan Dershowitz, there`s some people in the White House who really view him as a legal expert and really like his resume, not just the President. But Alan has his own legal issues, and it will be interesting to see if the White House is willing to overlook those as they head into the impeachment trial here in the coming days.

WILLIAMS: We are much obliged to our print colleagues after this unwieldy and exhausting week of news coverage. To Michael Bender, to Annie Karni, to Melanie Zanona, our thanks for coming on tonight.

And coming up for us, the Iraqi government wants our troops out. At least that`s what their resolution said. Days ago it sounded like we were coming out anyway. And now Trump and the Secretary of State have both weighed in on this.

And later, the four-letter word the 2020 candidates cannot stop thinking about. "The 11th Hour" is just getting started on this Friday night.



INGRAHAM: The Iraqi prime minister has notified Mike Pompeo about potential plans, drawing up plans for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, period. You ran on pulling out of the Middle East.

TRUMP: I don`t --

INGRAHAM: Why not use this opportunity to say we`re done?

TRUMP: I`m OK with it. By the way --

INGRAHAM: You`re OK with removing our troops from Iraq?

TRUMP: Listen, just so you understand, that`s what they say publicly. They don`t say that privately.


WILLIAMS: That exchange with the President tonight does call for a reminder. Iraq is our ally. We broke it, we bought it. We`ve had troops there for just about a generation, while it`s also true that the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution this week calling for the removal of our forces.

It`s also true that a letter on Department of Defense letterhead leaked that talked about us moving on from Iraq. But now our State Department says they do not wish to discuss troop withdrawal with the Iraqis. Thank goodness we have two journalistic veterans to talk to about this tonight.

With us tonight from Beirut, I understand we`re fighting a substantial satellite delay is a Kim Ghattas, a former BBC correspondent who covered the Middle East and the State Department. She these days is a senior visiting fellow for the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace and the author of the book "Black Wave" on the rivalry between Iran and the Saudis.

And here with us in New York for a rare stateside appearance, Christopher Dickey, a veteran foreign correspondent, journalist, and author himself. We normally see him high above the Champs-Elysees in Paris where he is based as the world news editor for "The Daily Beast." Thank you both for being here.

Kim, because we`re talking to you the farthest distance away, I would like to get your reaction to the Iranians doing the only thing they could do in the face of all the evidence, admitting unintentionally but admitting that this was a shoot-down, this civilian jetliner by one of their missiles.

KIM GHATTAS, FMR BBC CORRESPONDENT: You know, Brian, when I woke up that morning in Beirut to the news of both Iranian missile strikes against bases in Iraq and the news of this downed civilian aircraft or, you know, the civilian aircraft that had crashed, I did immediately wonder whether it had mistaken been downed. And to hear the Iranians admit now that it was unintentionally brought down by an Iranian missile strike is just tragic.

I mean it is already tragic that so many civilians died in this crash. But it is now also an eerie and tragic -- it has an eerie, tragic parallel to 1988 when the "USS Vincennes" mistakenly brought down an Iranian civilian aircraft with 290 Iranians on board.

The parallels are just really awful and eerie. And it`s terrible for Iran and it`s terrible for Iranians to think that in all those years with all the conflicts that we`ve seen and all the standoff between the U.S. and Iran, it is really Iranians who continue to pay the price, Iranian civilians who continue to pay the price as so often in the region, it is always the civilians who pay the price for this.

I think it`s going to give everyone a real moment for pause. Remember in 1988, that incident with the "USS Vincennes" and the civilian Iranian airline in essence was a turning point in the Iran-Iraq War. The U.S. at the time said it was a tragic mistake, and the Iranians felt that this was not enough, and they really felt abandoned by the world as a population. And they felt that there was simply no way that they could win the world`s sympathy, and it made them move faster towards agreeing to a cease-fire between -- in their war with Iraq.

Today we see this happen with the Iranian missile strike bringing down a Ukrainian plane with Iranian civilians on board, Iranian-Canadians, many other nationalities. It is really going to give everyone a moment for pause to really understand the cost of this continued standoff between the United States and Iran in the region.

WILLIAMS: Christopher Dickey, as an American in Paris with all of this in mind, I`d like you to go big and tell us from your perspective, not over the course of our lifetimes but just recent decades, how views of the United States and how the United States` own behavior has changed.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, WORLD NEWS EDITOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, I think if you look back, say, to 2000, you were looking at the United States as the most powerful country in the world, the richest country in the world, and also the country that had the most ability to do good, to fight climate change, to spread democracy, to do all kinds of things that we think are virtuous in international affairs.

And then we had 9/11. President Bush was in office, and we basically blew it. We invaded Iraq. We didn`t need to invade Iraq. We set out on these endless wars that we pursued.

And we set out on this global war on terror, which has done a lot more to undermine American values and undermine American prestige in the world than we could ever have imagined.

I mean compare the country in 2000 with the country today. Look at the divisions that exist in the United States today. Look at American credibility today. Look at the credibility of the American President. Nobody can even figure out what he`s saying anymore.

This is really, really a very sad state of affairs, and I think people in Europe feel it very much. You look at the ratings, the popularity ratings or the approval ratings of the American President in Europe. They are abysmally low. You talk to leaders in Europe, and they say almost publicly and certainly privately, they laugh at the President but they`re laughing to keep from crying.

So I think that American prestige is on the wane, and I think people like Vladimir Putin are very happy about it, because they see this as an opportunity for Russia to once again be an ascendant power, and the Chinese are much more quiet, but they are the big winners in this.

WILLIAMS: Can we put the artwork on the screen? You -- since you invoked Putin`s name, a depiction of the President today in Russian media. That`s the outline, of course. The symbolism is supposed to remind us of blood drenched missile warheads. For folks who don`t know the politics of the media, Christopher, what`s that kind of trolling about?

DICKEY: Well they actually picked that up from a Twitter feed allied with the Supreme Leader of Iran. But they loved it on Russian television. They kept showing it on Russian television to show it was a slap in the face of the United States, these missiles that Iran launched against those American-allied installations in Iraq. And it was just one more way of saying the United States has been humiliated and we in Russia are very pleased to see that.

WILLIAMS: Kim, you should get the last word. Should Americans, and we don`t want to frighten people, we`re yet to go to bed here, you`ve got your whole Saturday ahead of you there, should Americans` worry be Iran further aggression or all of their surrogates, which really can circle the globe?

GHATTAS: You know, I would say probably both. I don`t expect to see a full- on war between Iran and the United States. No one in the region wants to see that, including America`s allies like Saudi Arabia. They have been calling for de-escalation.

Iran will likely continue to use its proxies in the region, but I really must say that after this admission that they unintentionally brought down the Ukrainian civilian aircraft, I think there is going to be a moment of pause.

I would just like to follow up on what Christopher said. I agree with everything he said as I always do. But I would like to point out that in the region, people are watching very carefully what President Trump is going to do. President Trump did run on the promise of bringing down or with -- or drawing down America`s presence in the region, but he seems to be taking actions that only increase America`s role in the region.

And I must say that in the current context, America`s allies are not displeased, and even people who usually criticize the United States are not necessarily displeased with that because I can tell you one thing. What a lot of people have on their mind here is not only America`s role in the region but Iran`s role in the region and its very aggressive expansionist policies. So in private, Iraqis are probably telling the United States that they`re not too keen on seeing American forces withdraw too quickly.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Kim, I learned a long time ago to agree with everything Christopher says. Our thanks to Kim Ghattas, to Christopher Dickey. We greatly appreciate you both coming on.

And coming up for us, 24 days to go until Iowa. Back to domestic politics we go, and a new name is atop the latest poll. Steve Kornacki, who has the best numbers, will join us in the studio after this.


WILLIAMS: Got to say it. Duty bound. Twenty-four days away from the Iowa caucuses. Can you believe it? And tonight brand-new polling out of the Hawkeye State that is making headlines.

And so back at the big board for us tonight, get used to seeing him there. Our National Political Correspondent Steve Kornacki. Hey, Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian. Yes. And we finally have new numbers out of Iowa. Not been a lot of polling despite the importance of iota and the early states. Here it is.

Des Moines Register poll tonight. Des Moines Register, they call it the gold standard poll of Iowa. Sanders, the headline. Bernie Sanders ahead in this Iowa caucus poll three weeks before the big night. But also keep in mind, four candidates here, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Biden within five points of each other. So Sanders does have the lead, but four candidates within striking distance of the lead in this and potentially victory.

We are expecting -- we`ll talk about this a lot the next few weeks -- astronomical turnout for this thing. Interest among Democrats in Iowa by all accounts has never been this high. And there`s that question of, will one group be a little bit higher than the other.

Let me show you why that so key. Look inside this poll. For instance, the age gap. Democrats in Iowa under 35, Bernie Sanders is running away with this thing. He`s practically doubling up Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden is barely registering with Democrats under 35, just 4 percent there.

Flip this around, though, 55-plus. Suddenly Biden`s in first place. Suddenly it`s Bernie Sanders who`s back in single digits. Huge difference there between younger and older voters. Who is showing up more? Who is showing up at a surprising level? That could be key. Also an ideological question among moderates, Biden leads. Buttigieg right behind him. Sanders and Warren lagging.

Get to liberal voters. Suddenly Sanders takes the lead slightly over Warren. And then get to very liberal voters, and again, Sanders, Warren running away with it. Biden barely registering it. Some huge, seismic gaps in this thing. So turnout, and who`s turning out, Brian, we always say it`s a cliche, but it`s true. Big deal.

WILLIAMS: Steve Kornacki, we`ll be rejoining you in just a moment.

For right now, we are joined by Stephanie Ruhle, Veteran of the Investment Banking and Business World who happens to host the 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. hours here on this network. And happens to be our newly named NBC News Senior Business Correspondent. Where does she find any time to live? And Charlie Sykes, Founder and Editor-at-Large of The Bulwark and a frequent guest of ours. Good evening to you both and welcome.

Steph, your reporting this morning on one Michael Bloomberg gave a lot of Democrats a reason to fill their lungs with air. Can you share it with the good folks watching tonight?

STEPHANIE RUHLE, SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Without a doubt. Mike Bloomberg is in this campaign, in it to win it. You know he has spent a tremendous amount of money, but he made an announcement that is going to positively impact the entire Democratic field. He has hired 500 people across six battleground states, set up field offices, and has employed those people through the election. That is through November.

And if Michael Bloomberg doesn`t win the primary, if the Democratic voters say, you`re not our pick, he will take that apparatus and devote it entirely to whomever that candidate is. He will also take hawkfish. You`ve probably read about hawkfish. That is his huge digital operation, the only digital operation that rivals President Trump`s run by Brad Parscale, and take that and devote it because when Mike Bloomberg decided to run, even before, he said back in August his number one goal was to get Donald Trump out of office.

He believes any of the Democrats in the field would make a better president than President Trump: He, himself, think he`s the most qualified, but if it`s not him, he is still devoting this massive machine to getting Trump out.

WILLIAMS: Here`s a gross question. Have you been surprised to see what money can buy, what the two billionaires have been able to buy themselves? You`ve got people who have been in this race for months down there at --

RUHLE: Years.

WILLIAMS: -- 2 percent, 3 percent, and suddenly these guys can rocket to second place in South Carolina, for example, for Steyer?

RUHLE: Brian, money works. We know that. And we hear Democrats every day disgusted with how much money is in the process, but here`s the thing. Those are the current rules. Hate the game, not the player. You`re going to be running against Donald Trump, who is going to have a huge amount of money and effort behind him.

So one of these Democrats wants to take that position in the White House, great. And when they`re the next president, they can change the rules. But for now, money is having an impact. Mike Bloomberg has only been in this race for six weeks. He`s already polling at fifth. Look at Tom Steyer.

WILLIAMS: Charlie Sykes, it`s been way too long since we`ve spoke. I`m curious to hear what a guy like you thinks of a guy like Bernie Sanders and his presence in the Democratic Party right now and where, this time around, where this goes for him.

CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it dovetails with what Stephanie was just talking about because, you know, Democrats say they think that Donald Trump poses an existential threat to the future of the Republic, but they don`t necessarily behave that way. And I think that when you see Bernie Sanders at the top of the list, I have to ask myself how serious are you about winning this general election?

But, you know, one of the things is that Mike Bloomberg has made a very clear that he actually does think it`s an existential threat and he`s going to put his money there. And I say that as somebody who has been very, very critical.

Look, Democrats have some fundamental decisions to make. It`s very much a battle for the soul and the heart and the future of the Democratic Party, and we`re going to see this play out very, very carefully. But, you know, Bernie Sanders represents the far left wing of this party. And if, in fact, Democrats, as we`ve been told, are really focused on electability, I think they`re going to have a moment where they`re going to step back and say, all right, you know, how important is it to defeat Donald Trump as opposed to electing a Democratic socialist president? And we`re going to see that over the next several weeks play out.

WILLIAMS: Charlie -- yes?

RUHLE: Brian, it is Senator Sanders or Warren, will they take Mike Bloomberg`s support? And if they don`t, is there number one priority --

WILLIAMS: Excellent question.

RUHLE: -- to get President Trump out of office?

WILLIAMS: Charlie, I have watched your journey, and I`ve read every word you`ve written about it. I haven`t asked you, however, do you think Donald Trump is beatable?

SYKES: Yes, Donald Trump is definitely beatable. There`s no question about it. But he`s beatable by someone who can appeal to this fundamental decency and a desire to return to normalcy. I`m not sure that Americans want more revolution or more struggle. But, yes, Donald Trump can be beaten. He will be beaten in places like Wisconsin where I`m sitting right now in the upper Midwest if the Democrats nominate an electable candidate.

WILLIAMS: Alliteration fans should know, Steve and Steph and psychs are staying with us over this break.

Coming up, more on what else we should expect from the campaign trail over these 10 months to come. That little kid`s face said it all for all of us.


WILLIAMS: As we mentioned at the top, we are now 298 days away from Election Day in November. It only gets busier from here on out. Fresh off last night`s raucous 2020 kickoff in Toledo, the President is scheduled, you`ll be happy to know, for two more campaign rallies before the end of this month. Still with us, Stephanie Ruhle, Charlie Sykes, and here in New York, Steve Kornacki as well.

Charlie Sykes, it appears the President and his folks would like very much to expand the travel ban. During `18, they ran on the caravan that was coming north to somehow get us all and take over our economy. Do you have - - can you see especially the vulnerable Republicans trying to run on the expansion of a travel ban?

SYKES: In some areas of the country, yes. But that really -- you go back to 2015. Remember that moment where Donald Trump says, I, Donald J. Trump, I`m proposing a complete ban on Muslims in the United States, that was a real litmus test for the Republican Party. Remember how many Republican voices were raised against all of that. But now the party has completely acquiesced to that sort of thing.

But this is an indication that Donald Trump is not necessarily reaching out to the Senate. This going to be a base-only election, and it may play well in some parts of the country. I`m not sure how well it plays in the upper Midwest where the election is going to be decided, though.

WILLIAMS: Stephanie Ruhle, because we have not congratulated you on the air for your new title, which includes supreme allied commander, I will ask you how is the economy, and it`s in the context of, if you were in charge of prognosticating re-election chances for a Republican incumbent president, how`s the economy?

RUHLE: Listen, if the economy holds in the way that it is, that`s a very big positive for the president. But think about expanding this Muslim ban. What is that? That is part of a culture war, because the culture war speaks back to the have-nots. Those who voted for President Trump the first time around, who said I`ve been economically left out of the system, it`s not working for me.

Well, that system still isn`t working for those people. If you go to some of those battleground states, things aren`t better for industrials. They`re not better for manufacturing. They`re better for people who own stocks.

Look at unemployment. Unemployment is at historic lows, but wages have barely gone up. We got the jobs number today, and wages rose by 2.9 percent. We haven`t seen it less than 3 percent in 18 months. With unemployment where it is, we should see wage growth at 4 percent, but we`re not because there`s no pressure,

When you go to McDonald`s, when you go to CVS, what are they investing in? Kiosks. Self-check out. That`s not employing people and pushing wages up.

WILLIAMS: Yes, we used one just yesterday. Steve Kornacki, here`s a dated throwback to something invented in this building. When you talk, I am the RCA dog. I never miss any of your numbers. I am right there. I`m attentive, and I have noticed in all of your segments, Trump`s numbers have stayed pretty steady. Does foreign policy, does this Iran business have the potential to move his base number more than you`ve seen it thus far?

KORNACKI: So it`s interesting. If you look at his approval rating right now, the average of all the polls, he`s sitting just a tick south of 45 percent. That`s actually up about two points since the impeachment saga started. So I think that surprised people a bit. It`s also significantly lower than if you just looked at the economy. Normally a president presiding over this kind of economy would be in the 50s or the 60s. So he`s not meeting that sort of typical level that a president gets, but I think it raises an interesting question.

We haven`t seen enough polling after the events of the past week yet to see if there`s going to be any kind of a bounce here. But I think if Trump is going to get re-elected, he probably needs to be about two points above where he is right now. I think that really starts to put him in the game if he can get to 47 percent. If you look at the winning numbers he got in `16. So he`s not far off of it right now. See if he can find it somewhere.

RUHLE: He`s also working hard to tell the American people, even if the economy isn`t great for you, any Democrat is going to tank it. And people are afraid of that.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I imagine we might hear that once or twice over the next ten months. We promised folks would learn stuff tonight. I think we`ve delivered. With thanks to Stephanie Ruhle, to Steve Kornacki, and to Charlie Sykes.

Coming up, things got sporty yesterday on the deck and the bridge of a U.S. Navy destroyer. More on a high-stakes, high seas encounter when we come back.


WILLIAMS: U.S. Navy said today a Russian warship aggressively approached a U.S. destroyer in the North Arabian Sea. This was Thursday. The Navy released dramatic video showing the Russian vessel advancing on the USS Farragut and at one point the crew of our destroyer sounded five short warning blasts to signify maritime danger.

The Navy said the destroyer requested the Russian ship alter its course. The Russians initially refused but ultimately turned away, avoiding a collision.

At one point these two ships were only about 60 yards apart. You don`t like that. Another video released by the Navy shows the Russian ship crossing our destroyer`s wake. The Navy said in a statement, while the Russians eventually altered their course indeed, the delay in complying with international rules increased the risk of collision between these two vessels.

Russia denies that their ship aggressively approached the U.S. destroyer, said it was the U.S. Navy ship, in fact, that acted unprofessionally. Most people feel the video may tell the story here.

Another break for us. And when we come back, who would like to end the week on some good news? Stay with us for one more round.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come here, you. Come here. Look at this genius. Genius.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight has to do with that movie clip and full disclosure, this segment until late today was designed to be an appeal to your decency, an appeal to your sense of cinematic history.

And to be completely honest, I was going to appeal to anybody with a love of said history and a large checking account. That`s because all day today, we thought Neir`s Tavern in Woodhaven Queens was being forced to close this weekend. And here`s why this would be a shame, and we`re not shaming anyone who has never heard the name Neir`s.

Their own menu says it`s the most famous bar you`ve never heard of. It`s known as the oldest continuously operating bar in New York City. That means not even prohibition stopped them: Neir`s opened when Woodhaven Queens was mostly farmland, 1829. Across from a racetrack, which explains their logo to this day. And it may not look fancy from the outside, but inside around that 190-year-old mahogany bar, if it looks familiar in there, here`s why.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did I tell you? What did I tell new? What did I tell you? You don`t buy anything. You hear me? Don`t buy anything.


WILLIAMS: You see, Jimmy told them they weren`t supposed to buy anything fancy or flashy on account of the heat being on them all for the Lufthansa heist. And that is among the great scenes in "Good Fellas" filmed inside Neir`s Tavern.

And what did I tell you? Did I say we had good news to report tonight? Neir`s is owned by a guy name Loycent Gordon, there he is. He`s a lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department.

Just days ago he announced to the regulars that after a huge rent increase by the landlord, he couldn`t keep up. Neir`s was going to have to close this coming Sunday. But then late today, something went right in New York City. It took the mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, and the local councilman, but Neir`s is staying under a new five-year lease.

So the next time you`re in Queens, the next time you fly into Kennedy, take a cab over to Neir`s, order the shine box burger. I`m not kidding. And the beverage of your choice because, what did I tell you? Neir`s Tavern will remain a part of New York City film hiss, meaning hundreds more customers are going to be able to post photos from the exact spot where De Niro looks at Ray Liotta and says, come here you.

That is our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week. Thank you so much for being here with. Have a good weekend and 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