LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: If all the candidates will just tell that simple truth that Elizabeth Warren told us on this program, the health care section of the debate would be much shorter and much more realistic. I`ll sign anything that helps. That is the real presidential answer, and that is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, House Democrats just hours away from their meeting that will get the gears of impeachment turning toward the U.S. Senate, where notably today Mitt Romney, loyal Republican, came out on camera in favor of witnesses and mentioned John Bolton. Three more like him, and impeachment is a different ball game in the Senate.
Plus, the President says the intelligence doesn`t matter in his decision to kill Iran`s top general, but a lot of people with fancy titles in D.C. would love to know where he got the idea that four of our embassies were targeted.
And tomorrow night`s Democratic debate will not be boring because of what Elizabeth Warren said tonight about what Bernie told her about women candidates. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this back-to- work Monday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,089 of the Trump administration, 295 days to go now until our next Presidential election.
This is the start of a big week in the impeachment case against the President. The importance of it underscored by this piece of reporting tonight from "The New York Times" that has been subsequently matched by "The Washington Post." The Russians have been hacking into the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the impeachment case, Burisma. The "Times" says the cyberattacks started back in early November just as we all started hearing more about this Burisma, about Joe and Hunter Biden, about Ukraine and ultimately about impeachment.
Biden`s son Hunter now famously served on the Burisma board, and Trump has been urging Ukraine`s President to investigate that as he admitted back in October.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Biden after your phone call? Exactly.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they`d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It`s a very simple answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In just about 10 hours, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be meeting with House Democrats to hash out the transmission of articles of impeachment over to the Senate. They may also vote on impeachment managers, the House members who will be making the case to the Senate for Trump`s removal from office. So no pressure there. Tonight, Pelosi was not sharing any details.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that the vote can`t be tomorrow because of the debate?
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER: I told, like I said, I`ll be discussing this with my colleagues tomorrow at the caucus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: But "The New York Times" says the Speaker is "expected to select four to 10 House members. People close to Pelosi say it`s all but certain that one of the managers will be Representative Adam Schiff, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York is also widely expected to be a leader of the group.
The President now seems to be calling for the Senate trial to be dismissed. Yesterday he wrote, and we quote, "Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no-evidence, no crime, read the transcript, no pressure, impeachment hoax rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat witch hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have. I agree.
But our NBC News team on Capitol Hill reports many Republican senators do not agree. In fact, most appear focuses on the debate over whether and when to hear from witnesses, including that man, John Bolton.
CBS News reports the White House is readying itself for Republican defections who are willing to hear from impeachment witnesses and willing to put their votes behind that.
The report identifies six senators on its list of possible defectors. Alaska`s Lisa Murkowski says one group of senators is talking about some sort of deal for a protected vote to allow for witnesses or documents. Mitt Romney of Utah says he`s also open to witnesses and to efforts to negotiate an agreement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you been working with Senator Collins on that? She mentioned there`s a small group of you who are working together to try to get witnesses at the trial.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R) UTAH: I let Senator Collins know where I stand, which is that I support the Clinton impeachment model, which is a vote on witnesses later. That`s something which I`m open to until after the opening arguments.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Including John Bolton?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Including John Bolton?
ROMNEY: Including John Bolton. Yes. Yes. I mean, he`s someone I would like to hear from.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So the numbers have moved on this quickly. Now a majority of Americans seem to agree. A new Quinnipiac poll finds 66 percent of respondents say they want to hear from Bolton.
Then there`s Iran, an issue still very much on the President`s plate even with his impeachment trial rapidly approaching. And this detail tonight, NBC News reporting that Trump signed off on the killing of the Iranian General Soleimani seven months ago. The directive apparently came with the condition that Trump would have a final say on an operation and only if Iran`s action resulted with the death of an American.
And this White House continues to face mounting questions about the intelligence use to justify the lethal drone strike that killed Soleimani. Among his many unusual and full-on undignified defenses on social media, the President`s re-tweet of a doctored picture from an unverified source of the Speaker and the Senate Democratic Leader Schumer in front of an Iranian flag, the two leaders are portrayed, for good measure, in traditional Muslim dress with the caption "Democrats 2020."
This afternoon the President responded to the growing criticism over his shifting explanations for Soleimani`s killing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think it`s been totally consistent. But here`s what`s been consistent. We killed Soleimani, the number one terrorist in the world by every account. Bad person, killed a lot of Americans, killed a lot of people. We killed him.
And when the Democrats try and defend him, it`s a disgrace to our country. They can`t do that. And let me tell you it`s not working politically very well for them. So, we killed the number one terrorist in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We are also learning more about Iran`s attack last week on American troops stationed at military bases in Iraq days after the general was killed. Today our colleague, our Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, got a look at the aftermath of a direct hit at one of those military bases.
RICHARD ENGEL, CNN CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We were granted access to the western base in Iraq struck by more than a dozen Iranian ballistic missiles, some with direct hits where U.S. troops were living and working.
Officials say this shows how close the U.S. came to war with Iran. Captain Jeffrey Hansen (ph) had the wind knocked out of him by one of the first missiles, then rallied.
(On camera): So you were knocked on the ground.
CAPTAIN JEFFREY HANSEN: I was.
ENGEL: And slid under a truck.
HANSEN: I did. I went back to the shelter and knew that, you know, whatever was coming, it was much worse than we thought.
ENGEL (voice-over): Iran says it did not want to kill U.S. troops.
(On camera): You think this was lethal, lethal intent?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Definitely yes. Yes, I mean, you know, a lot of people would have died if we hadn`t moved.
ENGEL (voice-over): Thirty-nine soldiers were living in these quarters. Dozens more were posted nearby.
HANSEN: I think we were beyond lucky.
WILLIAMS: On that note, here with us for our leadoff discussion on a back- to-work Monday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, and Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for ""The Washington Post," who happens to be co-author with his post colleague, Carol Leonnig, of the new book "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump`s testing of America," which is due out a week from tomorrow. And something tells me we`ll be discussing it along the way.
Hey, Peter Baker, we`ll begin with you tonight. Your newspaper and reporting since matched by Philip`s newspaper, this Russia story about Russia attempting to hack into Burisma. When people portray this as a second Russian attempt to assist Donald Trump, will that portrayal be accurate?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don`t know for a fact what it is they were trying to do. We don`t know for a fact what they were necessarily trying to get out of these computers from Burisma. But it is certainly logical suspicion to wonder whether or not they were looking for some of the same information that Donald Trump had been asking the Ukrainian government to come up with, which is to say information that would, in fact, incriminate the Bidens in some way or another.
You know, with the timing of it, the scope of it, the target, they`re all too much to be a coincidence. This happened, as you point out earlier, starting in November at the time when there was a great deal of focus and intention on this here in Washington.
So, it begs the question. What were the Russians up to. This is the same unit, the GRU, the military intelligence that had been involved with the election interference back in 2016. And it can`t be -- it doesn`t sound like it should be seen as a coincidence that suddenly they`re looking at this otherwise pretty obscure Ukrainian company.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Jill, as no one needs to remind you, the President enjoys taking the previously unimaginable and then owning it, sometimes minutes later. He publicly requested that China look into Burisma on the South Lawn of the White House if I recall. It often can normalize, again, a previously outlandish topic. So what`s the chance he will welcome Russian intervention in Burisma?
JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I mean I certainly wouldn`t be surprised, you know, beheading with the President tomorrow for another rally and I would not be surprised at all if he were to do that kind of thing, calling for, you know, endorsing at least the idea that this company should be investigating, potentially suggesting that there are e- mails or other documents that might be of interest to him.
But of course the President has also been very careful over the years to try to distance himself, of course, from any allegations of Russian election meddling or Russian meddling in any of these processes because he still feels like they are an attack on the legitimacy of his presidency. So it`s still a difficult kind of -- you know, thread that he has -- or a needle that he has to thread here.
WILLIAMS: And Phil Rucker, you`ve written tonight about a credibility crisis that we can state in plain English, no one seems to know where the President got that bit about four of our embassies being potentially targeted.
PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: That`s right, Brian. At the Pentagon and elsewhere in the government, there are no answers. There`s no evidence to back up the President`s claim that he made last Friday with Fox News channel that there were threats of attacks on four U.S. embassies. He said he believed that there were threats on those embassies, and so that leaves the listener to wonder was he conveying actual intelligence that he`d received and studied and analyzed, or was he conveying his own personal belief, his own theory about what might have happened?
But based on the information that we know right now, what the President said about four embassies was either an unfounded theory or an outright fabrication, and it is up to the administration now to come forward with some more information to either support his claim or explain where he might have heard that from.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, someone we both know, Mike McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, has written an op-ed in "The Washington Post" warning about a Russian disinformation campaign. Russians and elsewhere, I suppose. During the impeachment trial, as a veteran of impeachment trials, can you imagine Russian fomentation on top of the bile that it normally surrounds the partisan debate of an impeachment trial?
BAKER: Well, there are a lot of things we couldn`t imagine just not too long ago that now seem to be kind of normal as you pointed out earlier, and that would be another example of that. The Russians trying to find a way to stir the pot even as we, the American system, is debating basically the most fundamental question under our constitution, whether a President is fit for office and should continue to the end of his term.
It wouldn`t surprise us given what we`ve seen obviously these last few years. It`s possible that the story my colleagues had tonight and the post matched on the Russian, you know, hacking of Burisma was in preparation for some sort of, you know, disinformation campaign. We don`t know that. I want to be careful from going too far.
But it`s something, you know, as Ambassador McFaul is saying, it`s something to be prepared for because they`ve made very clear the Russians - - that they are willing to do what they can to disrupt our faith in democracy, our understanding of facts, to spin out wild and unfounded conspiracy theories just to disrupt us. And that`s the goal that Vladimir Putin started off with, I think, way back in 2014-15 when they got started with this election campaign, and they`re still at it.
WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin, what do you imagine it`s like to be Mitch McConnell right now?
COLVIN: Mitch McConnell, of course, has a tremendous amount of power here and somebody the President is relying on very closely as we move into the next phase and we start to learn what exactly the Senate trial is going to look like.
Look, throughout this process, McConnell has been trying to convince the President that it is not a good idea to have a long, drawn-out trial, that even though the President would like to see a parade of witnesses, would love to see Hunter Biden up there, would love to see, you know, Joe Biden up there, would love to see Adam Schiff up there, that`s actually not the best -- in the best interest of the President or the Republican Party.
The President has sort of gone back and forth on that question, and we even saw over the last couple of days this idea that the White House and allies of the President floated of potentially just having an outright dismissal, not even really beginning a trial. It seemed today from senators as they returned to the capitol today that there is not enough support for just a dismissal. It seems like there is some interest certainly in calling witnesses, but they`d like to see that happen later on. But it`s up to Mitch McConnell now to try to keep Republicans in line and to try to keep the party together throughout this process.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Phil Rucker, I want to read a tweet from one of your colleagues, Aaron Blake wrote this. Before 11 a.m., this is today, Trump has tweeted four typos including Bernie Sander`s, Pocahontas, and we`ll let you read that. I`m not going -- I guess ratical and eminent. He has re- tweeted a photoshopped image of Schumer and Pelosi in Muslim garb. He re- tweeted an imagine of a corpse. He tweeted several false claims about GOP and health care and tweeted about Bloomberg`s height.
Phil, given that the title of your forthcoming book is "A Very Stable Genius," are serious people, right about now, asking serious questions about his stability?
RUCKER: It`s a good question, Brian. First of all, that title is the President`s own words. That is what he has called himself numerous times, a very stable genius. And throughout these three years of the presidency, people who`ve been observing this president closely have had concerns about his stability.
You know, we see with his tweeting pattern, with his social media pattern, that whenever he feels under siege, as he is right now having been impeached by the House of Representatives and about to stand trial in the Senate for possible removal from office, he is threatened. He is under siege. He`s on the defensive. And you`re seeing him lash out. And he does so on Twitter.
You`re going to probably see that tomorrow night at that rally when Jill goes up to Milwaukee with the President. And it may be a shaky few weeks to come as this trial gets under way.
WILLIAMS: It will all be interesting. We`ll be here for all of it. And thanks to our three friends for joining us tonight. Peter Baker, Jill Colvin, Philip Rucker, much appreciated.
And coming up for us, the majority of Americans now tell pollsters they want to hear from John Bolton, not Michael Bolton, mind you, but John. So what are the chances he`ll testify?
And later, it had to happen, and now tonight the inevitable reports of friction, even a disagreement between two big-name Democrats on that debate stage tomorrow night. All of it as "The 11th Hour" is just getting under way in view of the West Wing on a Monday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID WRIGHT, HOST, ABC NEWS: So if the Senate does not subpoena John Bolton and other witnesses, will the House move to subpoena them?
PELOSI: Well, it`s not excluded. It`s not excluded, but we`ll see what they do. But we do think that there`s enough evidence to remove the President from office. But we`ve done our job. We have defended the constitution of the United States. We would hope that the Senate would do that as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We`re getting a preview of what the President`s team will look like during this Senate trial. Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" reports, as she does, "The basic configuration of the team defending the television-savvy president in a made-for-T.V. congressional event has been established. The two constants will be Pat Cipollone, the White House Counsel, and Jay Sekulow, who has been Mr. Trump`s personal lawyer" -- a lot of people operating under that title -- "since 2017. Both are expected to have speaking roles during the trial".
With us to talk about all of it, I guess a woman who qualifies as our personal attorney, Maya Wiley, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, these days with the New School here in New York.
So, Maya, I`m -- listening to what the Speaker said, I guess there`s nothing preventing the Speaker from saying, OK, Senate Republicans, if you choose not to be the Democrats` best friends, we`re going to call this guy -- you have to assume Bolton`s going to respond -- we`re going to call this guy and maybe even concurrently have him testify. Is that a possibility?
MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. In fact, she could do a couple of different things, right? She could say, either you have him testify, or we will, she could say, we`re going to have him testify no matter what you do, which is actually what I think she should do because she doesn`t know whether or not they`re going to even have witnesses, right? She`s got no commitment. She`s got no trial plan.
We know that Republicans, even Mitt Romney although he has publicly come out and said, yes, I do want to hear from John Bolton, and he has suggested that perhaps there are more votes for that. But that either way they`re going to wait until they have heard the presentation of the case from the House managers, meaning them putting their impeachment case on for the Senate, before they make a decision about witnesses.
One might argue that they have oversight authority. They have the, in fact, the obligation to make clear what happened with regard to Ukraine whether or not there`s an impeachment.
WILLIAMS: It`s their case.
WILEY: It`s their case. But it`s also their job as legislators. Remember one of the fights that we`ve been seeing play out between Congress and the President in terms of getting, you know, even his tax records is about their authority and ability to consider legislation and just have general oversight over the administration that doesn`t have anything to do with impeachment. So I would argue that they -- the House should go forward and subpoena John Bolton.
He has made it clear that if he`s going to be willing to comply with the subpoena in the Senate, what are his arguments for not complying with the subpoena in the House to say what he knows? But even if he does, I think they should fight around their prerogative as Congress in terms of the separation of powers. It`s what the constitution designs the powers between the executive and Congress, and it`s so that we, the people, have some insight into what our government does, how it does it, and so that we can make decisions.
WILLIAMS: They often forget we`re the people, and we ourselves forget that we are the people. You and I talk about Rudy a lot and I`m not going to --
WILEY: But we`re the people, we know that.
WILLIAMS: Yes, just us. I`m not going to break that streak tonight. Do you think there was kind of a who`s going to talk to dad moment when there were reports for the last couple of days Rudy has been raising his hand to be on the impeachment defense team in the well of the Senate. Do you think they just went to him and said, look, you`re a possible witness, so we just can`t -- we can`t run that risk?
WILEY: You mean you don`t think they went and said, no, you`re a hand grenade?
WILLIAMS: No, or a drug deal?
WILEY: Or a drug deal. So, look, worst thing they could do, worst thing for the President would be to have Rudy Giuliani behave as a personal attorney when he`s demonstrated, number one, he doesn`t do that very well. I mean he`s made public statements that have actually been incriminating to the President when it comes to impeachment.
WILLIAMS: There`s that.
WILEY: There`s that. And the fact that, yes, most defendants don`t want lawyers who would otherwise be witnesses at their trial.
WILLIAMS: Not a good look.
WILEY: That`s not a thing that usually happens. But, yes, they don`t want - - if -- unless the Senate is willing to say that they know -- remember that Giuliani is a witness that the House wanted to hear from, did not -- wanted to hear from --
WILEY: -- was a fact witness. They decided not to take the route of fighting about him because of the issues of attorney-client privilege. You can make lots of arguments there, but it would be a bad look.
WILLIAMS: Counselor, happy New Year.
WILEY: Happy New Year.
WILLIAMS: Great to see you.
WILEY: Great to see you.
WILLIAMS: Great to have you on our friend, Maya Wiley.
Coming up, is there no privacy among progressives? Did Bernie really say that to Elizabeth? We will talk about the issue energizing tomorrow night`s debate stage when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Less than 24 hours, only six Democratic presidential candidates will share the stage for the last debate before the Iowa caucuses, and it could be very uncomfortable for two of them.
Earlier today, Senator Bernie Sanders fiercely denied reports that a year ago he told Senator Elizabeth Warren that a woman could not win the presidency. After initially declining to comment, well, tonight Elizabeth Warren weighed in herself. In a statement she confirmed the one-on-one meeting with Sanders in December 2018, writing, "Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win. He disagreed. I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry"
With us tonight, Alexi McCammond, Politics Reporter over at Axios, and Jason Johnson, Politics Editor over at The Root. Good evening and welcome to you both. Alexi, it is all on you. How much does this come up tomorrow night? Will it be a thing? How big a deal if at all?
ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS: As the one woman on the panel, I will gladly take this to be all on me, and happy New Year to you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Happy New Year to you. Thank you.
MCCAMMOND: It`s good to see you to the TV screen. You know, I kind of have a contrarian take. I think this will certainly come up at the debate tomorrow. The CNN moderators will surely bring this up, but it`s a question of how they bring it up. They`re not going to turn it into a situation of he said/she said because that will not make anyone smarter and that will only per perpetuate the discussion that we`ve been having already which is Bernie denies it vehemently Elizabeth Warren says that he said it and he disagreed.
It`s about whether or not Senator Sanders believes that women are capable of beating someone like Donald Trump, and the evidence he would have to the contrary if he thinks that they cannot. Obviously he has the experience from the 2016 presidential election, so maybe in this conversation if he feels like elaborating on the debate stage, he could talk about the experiences he witnessed with Hillary Clinton`s campaign going against someone like Donald Trump who has made sexist remark remarks about women among other things. But it would really take some explaining to you rather than just saying did you actually say this or did you not?
I actually think that others will be going for someone like former Vice President Joe Biden over his foreign policy judgment and experience and record because that`s something we`ve seen from Bernie and others on the stage tomorrow night. And that`s an issue that he`s been really pitching to Iowa voters and the lead up to his closing argument before the Iowa caucuses.
WILLIAMS: OK, Jason Johnson, the following is now on you. Today`s political news was the departure from the race of Cory Booker, who was just a Democratic Senator from New Jersey standing in front of an electorate, asking them to love him. Not enough love broke out. He`s out of the race.
Question to you is tell me how the Democratic Party in 2020 is going to end up tomorrow night with an all-white debate stage and the richest billionaire isn`t even on the stage. The backup billionaire will be on the stage tomorrow night.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS REPORTER, THE ROOT: Yes. I mean, literally the Democratic stage tomorrow, Brian, is going to be less diverse than some of the stages for the Republicans in 2012 and 2016. Look, some of this has to fall on the shoulders of DNC Chair Tom Perez. This sort of continuing rising tide that he made it more and more difficult for people to compete. Some of this has to do with the sort of anxiety on the part of the Democratic voters that they wanted somebody safe.
Some of this has to fall on Cory Booker himself. Look, he ran a campaign on love, and the electorate really is anxious right now. No one wants to love us out of babies in cages. No one wants to love us out of white nationalists shooting up shopping malls. No one wants to love us out of people`s economic anxieties, black, white, Hispanic, and everywhere else around the country. So I think his messaging might have been a couple years too late.
I will also say this, and I think this is important about what we might face tomorrow with Booker not being there and several other people. This does necessarily fall to whether or not Bernie Sanders said it, whether or not Elizabeth Warren said it. It falls to what you feel about these candidates in general. It falls to, do you believe them? It falls to, look, I will raise my hand right now. If you had asked me in 2006, would America ever elect a black man, I would have said no.
So if Bernie Sanders said I don`t think a woman is going to get elected because I think America is too sexist, that`s fundamentally different than him saying I don`t think a woman should be elected. So, a lot of what we`re going to see tomorrow is going to be a reflection of how these questions are framed and how defensive these candidates get with only 20-something days before the first primary.
WILLIAMS: Alexi, Bloomberg wrote an op-ed today that says Iowa and New Hampshire are getting a way disproportionate amount of political influence and that it hurts especially the Democratic Party. Is this something you are hearing from folks, actual living, breathing Americans on the road?
MCCAMMOND: It`s something that you hear from the activists of the Democratic Party, especially folks of color who are aware of the, you know, problematic nature of having a place like Iowa, a state where nearly nine and 10 Iowans are white, be the first state to cast a vote because that obviously sets the tone for the rest of the primary race and ultimately the nominating contest. Winning begets more winning. If you win in a place like Iowa, and New Hampshire, what does that mean for the rest of the cycle?
There are obvious questions about that coming up from a certain group of Americans around the country, again mostly people of color. It is interesting for Mayor Bloomberg to say this for two reasons. One, because when I was in Akron, Ohio with him last week, I asked him this question. I said, you know, Mayor Bloomberg, do you think that Iowa should still be the first state to vote in the nominating contest, and he told me, yes. And then a couple of days later, he publishes this op-ed. So I don`t know what has changed between now and then, but something has clearly changed.
And the other thing is that it`s a very convenient talking point for the Bloomberg campaign because that is literally their entire strategy. He has enough money to ignore Iowa, ignore, maybe it`s harsh, but look past Iowa and focus on Super Tuesday in delegate heavy states. So that obviously comports with his strategy. I mean, what is he going to say?
WILLIAMS: Jason, same question.
JOHNSON: Look, I think it`s kind of crazy. And, look, we just saw this in playoff weekend. You can`t win the game in the fourth quarter as much as you may think you can. So when Michael Bloomberg is sort of saying, well, you know, I want to play so Iowa doesn`t matter, but I don`t think Iowa should be there, it`s because he`s under this sort of bizarre philosophy that somehow he can spend enough money and end up catching up later on in the campaign. Tom Steyer had the same strategy but notice he`s actually now, latest polls, in second place in South Carolina and very competitive in Nevada.
So I think some of this is Michael Bloomberg trying to get attention for himself, but the reality is this. How you perform in Iowa, how you perform in New Hampshire will end up making a difference. Do I think they will be absolutely predictive? No, not in a campaign year where your top four candidates have so much money they will all fight through until Super Tuesday, and you`ve got two millionaires who aren`t going to quit. But at the same time, you can`t dismiss the significance of these states.
And again, ultimately this will fall on Tom Perez. Will he take the advice of Bloomberg, of Elizabeth Warren, who has occasionally talked about this issue, of Julian Castro and say, look, maybe we need to rotate these primary states. Maybe we need to re-evaluate what these states are doing because they`re impacting the rest of the contest and maybe we`re not getting the best competitive candidates.
WILLIAMS: Since you invoked football, I`m a Giants` fan. We just want to win five games some year. Two friends of this broadcast, Alexi McCammond and Jason Johnson, thank you both of you very much for coming on and happy New Year.
Coming up, the Democratic candidate Rick Wilson calls Trump`s re-election insurance. We`ll have the author of a new book when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The sooner we can coalesce about a cabinet, the sooner we eliminate the traditional circulate firing squad in the Democratic Party where we just pop away. That hurt Hillary last time, having Bernie go on and on and on and on. So we got to end this thing, and we have a chance to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Our next guest shares those sentiments in his brand-new book which comes out at the top of the hour at your favorite nighttime bookseller. Rick Wilson writes, "Democrats cannot afford to let Bernie drag this into the late summer of 2020. Bernie is Trump re-election insurance. If he`s the nominee, I say to my Democratic friends, get ready to lose 45 states." Further endearing him to Bernieland.
With us tonight, Rick Wilson, longtime Republican Strategist. Happens to be the author of that new book "Running against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump, and Democrats from Themselves", which hits bookshelves tomorrow. Of course, Amazon anytime. You have the best blurbs. One of them I couldn`t help but read --
RICK WILSON, CO-FOUNDER, THE LINCOLN PROJECT: That guy Brian Williams.
WILLIAMS: -- says you`ve gone and written the Democratic briefing book. Why would you do a thing like that as a longtime Republican?
WILSON: You know, Brian, as I think I`ve demonstrated over the last couple years, my political preferences and my ideological predicates don`t matter in the face of a guy who could destroy our country and is rapidly working to do so.
WILLIAMS: Because you`re a patriot.
WILSON: I am. You know what? As unsentimental as I am, I`m a patriot first. I believe in this country first. I believe Donald Trump is a proximate threat to this Republic. I believe he is an existential threat to our politics in this country, and it`s not because I miss being in power or any of that garbage. It`s because I feel this man is a danger to us that must be faced by every citizen of good will and every person who believes that this country needs to be protected from people who would abuse its systems and abuse their power. He does so every day.
So I`ve written a book basically telling the Democrats, here are the tricks and the traps that guys like me who still work for this man will set for you. Here`s what they will do to try to lure you off the path to election. And there is some of it that`s some pretty tough love including the Bernie stuff. And I won`t get -- I know I`m about to go into twitter hell because I mentioned Bernie.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Making today so different from every other day.
WILSON: But I truly believe that he is -- if I were still doing the Republican job that I used to do, I would be rubbing my hands together and dying for Bernie Sanders to be the nominee. He`s the most easily caricatured and beaten character out there. He is every crazy socialist like cliche in the world. It is going to get ugly. And as much as they want to go after me on this, I have the advantage of having been around the block a couple times. And the guys that are so far out on the edge are the guys that lose.
WILLIAMS: Jim Messina --
WILLIAMS: -- Trump 2012 campaign manager, Democrat, agrees with you. POLITICO interview, "If I were a campaign manager for Donald Trump and I look at the field, I would very much want to run against Bernie Sanders. I think the contrast is the best. He can say, I`m a business guy. The economy`s good, and this guy`s a socialist".
Additionally now we have this dustup. Elizabeth Warren says Bernie said to her a woman can`t get elected. We are reminded from history a woman got 4 million votes more than --
WILLIAMS: -- Bernie Sanders. What particularly is it about Bernie that you feel, with apologies to Bernie nation, is so damaging potentially to the party?
WILSON: Bernie is every cliche the Republicans want to run against. He`s a northeastern liberal. He`s 375 years old. He just had a heart attack. He comes across -- he doesn`t scan as a president. He scans as an associate professor of poetry at Pennington Community College.
He does not come across as the guy you want to have in charge of 7,000 nuclear weapons. He doesn`t come across -- and, look, the lesson of Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K., it should press on the minds of Democrats.
Boris Johnson, an unpopular guy leading an unpopular party, beat Jeremy Corbyn because Jeremy Corbyn is Bernie Sanders with an English accent. He`s all those edge case things that the party doesn`t --
WILLIAMS: A rambling wreck of a candidate.
WILSON: Right. And, look, Bill Clinton ran and won as a centrist Democrat. Barack Obama ran and won as a non-threatening -- as he said, a suburban Republican practically. He was talking about fiscal discipline.
WILSON: And the edge cases in this country, especially in the Democratic Party, are bait for guys like me who used to -- you know, the things I used to do, I could make 100 ads about Bernie Sanders without breaking a sweat, and I could turn them on to the Fox nation, and they would feel like this guy was ready to put them at the guillotine because the Aristos must all die.
And he is every cliche. I know I -- oh, my gosh, I`m about to just -- but - -
WILSON: the hell that`s descending on me right now on social media is intense. But I mean this for Democrats in the best possible way. I`m not trying to pick your candidate. I`m just telling you this guy is absolute poison for you, and you will lose 45 states. They might even lose like Washington state if this guy`s the nominee.
WILLIAMS: We`re going to get some Kevlar for our guest, and he`s going to have two minutes to look at his phone. Enjoy out there. We`re going to take a break. Rick will stay with us.
Coming up, Rick`s dark warning to the Republican Party over what he calls its cult-like obedience to Donald Trump. It gets better.
WILLIAMS: Rick Wilson`s finger prints are all over that ad, targeting Colorado`s Republican Senator Cory Gardner. So our Rick Wilson`s palm prints and a complete set of his DNA. As an ad guy he`s rightfully proud of it as ads go and its message is underscored in Rick`s new book where he writes, and we quote, "The Party of Lincoln is now the party of Trump, a weak, cowardly, amoral, and faithless husk of a once great party of ideas and leadership. Their cult-like obedience to him has consumed their honor, and their souls".
The author remains here with us. Do you still believe that impeachment is really dicey business for the Democrats?
WILSON: I still believe it`s impossible to get him removed from office by impeachment. The numbers are not there. Look, we`re struggling mightily. We`re working -- in Lincoln Project, we`re working to pressure a few of those Republicans to do the right thing, to feel some like tiny prickling in their inner soul to do the right thing and uphold their oaths. But getting to two-thirds is an impossibility. There`s no pathway there right now.
And I don`t think Mitch McConnell wakes up in the morning yet and feels like he`s going to lose his majority. If he did, Trump would be impeached tomorrow. But I don`t think it`s politically advantageous to count your whole hopes on trying to get him out of office. However, the process of revealing who Trump is and the corruption that`s endemic in everything he touches and everything he does, does have a political merit to it. It exposes him to the people of this country for being a guy who`s willing to suborn the government, to corrupt the government, in order to gain personal political benefit. And that benefit was his attempt to extort the Ukrainians into running a phony operation against Joe Biden.
And I think that that behavior deserves impeachment. I was a skeptic for impeachment prior to that, but that`s a bright line test. Now, continuing that investigation, getting those witnesses out there, I think that`s vital.
WILLIAMS: What is purity testing doing to the Democratic Party? And I note an all-white stage tomorrow night with the backup, the less wealthy of the two billionaires in the race will be on the stage.
WILSON: Right. Look, the Democratic Party right now has had a very strong sorting problem. Normally by now you would not have 15 people still nosing around the race. You`d be down to five or six serious people.
Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are spending money. The bonfire of their political vanity is so intense that it boggles the mind. And the real question is, you know, Mitch McConnell has to raise about $300 million for the Senate this year. Mike Bloomberg could have put that money in that, into the Senate, changed the whole political landscape of this country.
Now, it`s still difficult to see how Mike Bloomberg gets the Democratic nomination for a whole host of reasons. But, you know, if he sticks with his commitment to use that money to register voters and keep the infrastructure around, you know, maybe that`s a net positive. But right now the field is so jammed and it`s just so -- it`s stuck between this progressive fight between Harris and -- between and Warren and Bernie, that it`s going to be a mess for a while yet.
WILLIAMS: Good luck with the work.
WILSON: Thank you, my friend.
WILLIAMS: And --
WILSON: Appreciate it.
WILLIAMS: -- safe travels on book tour.
WILSON: I will do it.
WILLIAMS: Which is not inconsequential. Rick Wilson`s new book is "Running Against the Devil." It is in stores starting in about seven minutes.
Coming up, it`s now apparent that one didn`t love getting blindsided by one`s grandson. And tonight, one has indeed spoken about it, as much as one allows herself to do when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight comes from the U.K. And if we`re being honest, more Americans are into this story and following this story more closely than many of the weightier matters we have talked about this past hour. There`s more news from that wonderful and wacky royal family.
And in our last episode, we saw Harry and Meghan deciding to leave and create a new life. And now tonight, after an unprecedented family meeting, the Queen has weighed in, as one does. Our report on the crown tonight from NBC News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella.
KELLY COBIELLA, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS (voice-over): Tonight, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have the Queen`s blessing to strike out on their own. The agreement announced after an unprecedented royal meeting. Princes Charles, William, and Harry gathering at the Queen`s secluded country home with the media camped outside. Reports Meghan may have dialed in from Canada too.
The Queen releasing a rare personal statement, calling the talks very constructive, saying the family is entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan, and although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the royal family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life. The couple`s bombshell announcement last week sparking endless headlines and speculation about why they wanted to leave royal life and whether a rumored brotherly rift between William and Harry was the cause.
That rumor was fueled by an unsubstantiated report in a British newspaper alleging Prince William`s behavior drove the Sussexes away. But this morning, a sign of public unity from the brothers, who issued a joint statement calling the report false, offensive, and potentially harmful. Tonight there are still no details on what Harry and Meghan`s new role will look like, but the Queen wants final decisions in the coming days.
CHRIS SHIP, ITV NEWS ROYAL EDITOR: People are looking at the monarchy not just in the U.K. but in America, in Canada, thinking why can`t they sort it out? Why do they look so dysfunctional?
COBIELLA (on-camera): There will be a transition period as the two sides work out things like finances, taxes, citizenship. But the couple has cleared the first big hurdle, winning the Queen`s approval. Kelly Cobiella, NBC News, London.
WILLIAMS: That`s our broadcast for this Monday night. The moment tomorrow night`s CNN debate comes to a close. Our whole team will be here along with our team in Iowa for coverage and analysis. Please join us for that.
In the meantime, thank you for being with us tonight. 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