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Senate Impeachment trial officially begins. TRANSCRIPT: 1/16/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Ashley Parker, Tamara Keith, Andrea Bernstein, Mara Gay

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

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, members of the U.S. Senate have taken a sworn oath to do impartial justice. The unusual sight of the Chief Justice presiding, it means the impeachment trial is underway.

Meantime on Twitter, the leader of the most powerful nation on earth said, I just got impeached for making a perfect phone call.

Later in the day, President Trump says he never met Lev Parnas and doesn`t know the guy, all evidence to the contrary including the mountain photo graphic evidence of their time spent together.

Lev was back at it tonight, part two of his interview, adding to the mountain of new material. And by the he says he was with Trump when he ordered the firing of our ambassador to Ukraine.

Also tonight, Lindsey Graham sounding very unlike the Lindsey Graham we`ve come to know. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets underway this Thursday night.

Well, good evening, once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,092 of the Trump administration. That means we have 292 days to go until the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump`s impeachment trial is underway right alongside his reelection campaign and even as we continue to sort through a mountain of new potential evidence from a man initially described as a bag man for Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas. Parnas has been indicted in the Southern District of New York, the feds in New York on campaign financial charges.

In his telling of what happened and what he was up to, what he is describing and off the book shadow foreign policy run by a former big city mayor at the direction of the Trump White House, it reads if true, like elements of some sort of criminal enterprise, yesterday Parnas talked to our colleague Rachel Maddow. Last night he described in great details how Trump directed him through Rudy to pressure Ukraine to open investigations on Trump`s political rival, Joe Biden. He offered new detail just tonight in part two of the interview that goes against Trump`s claims that he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine somehow.

Parnas describes how there were efforts to stir conversations with President Zelensky, in Ukrainian officials towards the topic of the Bidens.


LEV PARNAS, RUDY GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: -- they would, like, agree and then they would walk it back.

So they announced something about corruption that he`s going to get corruption but Giuliani blew his lid on that saying that`s not what we discussed. That it wasn`t supposed to be a corruption announcement. It has to be about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and Burisma.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: He said the name, Biden, needs to be spoken, was his insistence?

PARNAS: Always. Always.


WILLIAMS: Parnas also straight up alleged tonight that former Secretary Energy Rick Perry have been told by Rudy to convince the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation into Joe Biden. Parnas described those and the President`s immediate circle as a cult. And he says he spent two years in Washington and never left the Trump hotel.

He said he was with Trump, as we mention, when he first ordered the firing of our Ukraine ambassador. But today the President said he doesn`t know and has never met this Lev Parnas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s your response to Lev Parnas, who says that your efforts in Ukraine were all about 2020, you just wanted Joe Biden out? What`s your response to that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don`t know him. I don`t know Parnas other than I guess I had pictures taken which I do thousands of people including people today whom I didn`t meet. But just met him.

I don`t know him at all, don`t know what he`s about. Don`t know where he comes from, know nothing about him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he says that you knew what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine, that you knew what he was doing.

TRUMP: I don`t even know what his plan is rather than, I guess he attended fund raiser so I take with him. I`m in a room, I take pictures with people, I take thousands and thousands of pictures with people all the time. Thousands during the course of the year.

No, I don`t know him. Perhaps he`s a fine man, perhaps he`s not. I know nothing about him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He describe a situation that was more than just taking picture, Mr. President. He says that --

TRUMP: I don`t know him. I don`t believe him.


WILLIAMS: The normally, dependably Trump friendly daily mail of all places took the liberty of putting together a photo collage of some of the photos of the two men together.

And today, the lawyer for Parnas released this video of the two men together at Mar-a-Lago back in 2016. And again, Parnas also offered up new details about what he says were the President repeated effort to fire our then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.


PARNAS: He fired her privately -- to my knowledge at least four or five times to differ. He even had break down and screams to fire her, to nagging his assistant, to secretary before he fired. And she said, Mr. President, I can`t do that.

MADDOW: He was directing the State Department to remove her and the State Department was refusing?

PARNAS: Correct.

I spoke to the President once about that -- or twice -- once or twice. Once directly at our dinner when -- he fired her actually at the dinner which was the most surprising thing ever.

MADDOW: Tell me more about it.

PARNAS: Basically at that dinner we had a conversation, there was like six of us there. It was intimate dinner.

MADDOW: At the White House?

PARNAS: It was at the Trump hotel, but it was at the private like area there. It looks like a little White House.

MADDOW: And the President was there?

PARNAS: Oh, absolutely, yes. The President was there, his son Don Jr. was there.


WILLIAMS: And let`s backup. There was another big headline today. We learned today that the non-partisan government accountability office concluded the Trump administration broke the law when it ordered the months long hold on that military aid. The money to Ukraine approved by Congress. This is an extraordinary finding by an agency like the GAO.

Then there was this and let us not forget how this day got underway for just the third time in our nation`s history, an impeachment trial is now underway in the U.S. Senate. Here is some of what he witness.


MICHAEL STENGER, SENATE SERGEANT OF ARMS: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States, articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, President of the United States.

The managers on the part of the House will now proceed.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Donald J. Trump, President of the United States is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

The House adopted the following resolution which would permission the Senate I will read.

President Trump used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The presiding officer will administer the oath to John J. Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Will you place your left hand on the bible and raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that in all things that pertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, President of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the constitution and the laws, so help you God?


Will all senators now stand or remain standing and raise their right hand. Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, President of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the constitution and laws, so help you God?



WILLIAMS: Again, that`s how this day got underway.

And here for our lead off discussion on a Thursday night, Annie Karni, White House Reporter with "The New York Times," Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post" and Shannon Pettypiece, Senior White House Reporter for us at NBC News Digital. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Annie, I`d like to move quickly to your new reporting on what was going on inside the White House as that was getting underway.

ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, as that was getting underway, Donald Trump had on his schedule a public event in the Oval Office where he was supposed to be celebrating, announcing a new rule on prayer in schools. That ended up being delayed by about an hour because John Roberts was being sworn in and the senators were going through this long role call that was taking at the (INAUDIBLE). And Donald Trump was spending his day in meetings and following along on television.

When he finally came out, we saw someone who tried to -- who said basically this should be the week where we`re talking about my trade deals, the China trade deals sign yesterday. The USMCA that pass the Senate today. Instead, he`s bogged down in what he called a hoax.

He`s trying to dismiss and say there is no story here. In reality, while the end result of this Senate trial, most people are assuming he`s going to be acquitted, there is a lot of unknowns for something where we know the end and Donald Trump is very aware of that. And he`s been talking to allies expressing concern about his own legal team and whether they`ll look aggressive enough in a televised trial.

He is concerned about not being able to call witnesses even though he`s following Mitch McConnell`s advice to keep the trial short and that witnesses are only more unknowns. And he is just worried in general about Republican senators not defecting. He needs only one more to say we do want to call witnesses and he`s nervous about that happening and holding Republicans on his side. So there`s a lot of unknowns and he feels uncertain about what`s coming his way.

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Ashley Parker, last night must not have been a great night for team Pence as Lev Parnas dropped the Vice President`s name like a led balloon. Tell us about your new reporting on that front.

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, our new reporting sort of takes what Lev Parnas` said and it`s worth noting that the allies of the President including the White House Press Secretary, Vice President Pence`s chief of staff have called into question his credibility as someone who is facing criminal charges.

That said, what he`s been saying is also backed up by a trove of documents and text messages and calendars released by the House. so we sort went inside all of that. And what we can see from that is what starts off as sort of an irregular shadow campaign to pressure Ukraine to do Trump`s bidding. And this has been spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani and Lev Parnas. And it`s happening outside the traditional corridors and channels of government.

There comes a moment when that sort of intersects with official U.S. policy. And that moment is when President Pence -- or sorry, President Trump orders Vice President Pence to cancel a trip that was planning was underway for two Ukrainian, for President Zelensky`s inauguration.

And to be clear, I talked to senior administration officials who say Vice President Pence may very well not have known why his trip was being canceled. He did not know they say about any of this shadow back channels with Giuliani and Parnas. But when Pence decides not to go to Ukraine, that is the moment when the Ukrainians who initially were a little skeptical of Parnas, didn`t really know who he spoke on behalf of -- certainly didn`t think he actually spoke on behalf of the President realized these people, these unofficial channel is quite serious and it`s official channel. And so you have Giuliani kind of overtaking and subsuming U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy with Ukraine and Pence. Unfortunately for him it is sort of in the middle of that whether or not he actually did anything wrong.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NBC NEWS.COM: Shannon, we have staffers on the Hill, senior staffers at that working 12 to 24 hours shifts waiting through the Parnas material, getting it ready for potential Senate trial. What are the Republicans you speak to in the Trump camp saying about these two elements, the timing and tonnage of what Lev Parnas has put out there?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NBC NEWS.COM: Well, I actually spoke to a few Republican allies of the President today and they at least on the surface said they`re not too concerned about Lev Parnas actually. They said first of all, he`s repeating what a lot of witnesses have already said. They don`t feel like that much is necessarily new.

Now the stuff about the Vice President might be a bit new. Some of the things he said about Rick Perry are new. But they feel it`s mostly in line with the narrative that is already out there. And the Republicans feeling is that the narrative out there already is not hurting the President`s support with Republicans and for the most part split 50/50 between Independents.

And a couple of -- sort of the outside advisers to the President I spoke to today said they actually think they could use it to their advantage if Lev Parnas was called as a witness because they feel like Republicans would be able to cross-examine him and attack his character in a way that it could potentially backfire on Democrats. So, bringing up the fact that he is indicted, bringing up, you know, his shady past which we`ve already seen them trying to do in their pushback today.

And reiterating this argument that they`ve made for other witnesses that he doesn`t necessarily have firsthand knowledge or firsthand contact with the President. Though, tonight we seem to get a sense of, you know, him being at dinner and having bit more of firsthand contact. But I don`t think they think it changes the dynamic too much at least.

WILLIAMS: Annie Karni, join us in watching a little bit of a refresher in what has happened in the past to former members of the Trump`s circle when he makes the decision to hit the button and distance himself from a slew of different people in his life.



I never met Putin. I don`t know who Putin is.

James Comey, I hardly know the man.

Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time.

I don`t know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker work for Jeff Sessions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Cohen, tell me about his relationship with him?

TRUMP: Well, he was a lawyer for me for one of many.

Not somebody that was with me that much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gordon Sondland --

TRUMP: Let me just say I hardly know the gentleman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What conversations have you had with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman?

I don`t know those gentlemen.


WILLIAMS: So Annie Karni, in plain English, what`s that about, what we just witness, that aspect of this man`s personality and his being?

KARNI: It`s about survival. And the minute looks like someone close to him is going to cause him trouble, he cuts them off.

One -- it`s been interesting to watch that one person he has not pull the I hardly know him card with ever, even though many White House officials wish he would is Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, who caused him a ton of problems, not just with regard to Ukraine, but you`ll remember where the part of the Stormy Daniels story. Rudy has gotten him a lot of trouble and he always continues to be close to Rudy. But this is the general pattern of when someone gets in trouble with the law who`s close to Trump, Trump distances himself.

WILLIAMS: Ashley, the Parnas telling of the numerous attempts by the President to have our ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch, fired kind of border on pathetic in the telling of Lev Parnas. Why do you think there were repeated attempts by the guy at the top of the administration that were unsuccessful, why was he rebuffed in his efforts having made the decision that she had to go?

PARKER: Well, I think he was rebuffed because a number of people in his administration including some who recently went up on Capitol Hill and testified under oath about this felt that this was a very bad, if not, dangerous and problematic idea. So that`s one of the reasons he was functionally rebuffed.

But in Lev Parnas` retelling, it was also a very interesting in advert in a window and to just how this administration functions and operates generally. When you look at some of the people who Parnas said Trump told to fire the ambassador, he`s not necessarily going to the State Department, he`s turning to his personal assistant, a young woman in her 20s and telling her to fire Yovanovitch. She`s turning to a, you know, a White House -- mid-level White House political aid at the dinner at the Trump hotel and telling him to fire Yovanovitch. And that`s not how things traditionally work in government.

And these people spend a lot of time around the President sort of understand he says things, he`s angry, he`s frustrated and sometimes their job is to sort of ignore him, placate him, put off the decision, diffuse the situation and hope that it will ultimately goes away. In this case she ultimately was recalled.

WILLIAMS: And Shannon, a critical question that speaks to the people you spoke to today. In your reporting, is the thinking inside the White House, inside the Trump`s circle migrating from not, if there will be witnesses, but which witnesses, who will be called?

PETTYPIECE: I think it is, you know, privately which witnesses will be called? I think there is an increasing certainty that there will be a vote on witnesses. And I think it is probably split 50/50 whether or not those witnesses are called.

So, while the White House is trying to portray this public image that they don`t think there will be witnesses, certainly, their allies in the Senate are preparing for witnesses and trying to think of who will be called and how they are going to manage that.

WILLIAMS: If it was a long day for us here, I know it was a long day for the three of you, great thanks to the three of you for joining us this late at night, to Annie Karni, to Ashley Parker, to Shannon Pettypiece.

Coming up for us, the President tries to keep a nation focused on his reelection and not his impeachment trial in the Senate.

And later, accused felon, Lev Parnas, said he should be the Senate`s number one witness. But is there proof for all the things he`s saying and for that matter, again, what about witnesses? "The 11th Hour" is just getting underway on this Thursday night.


WILLIAMS: A Republican senator from Arizona was having none of it when CNN`s veteran Capitol Hill Reporter Manu Raju approached her for a comment shortly before the impeachment got underway on Capitol Hill.


MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator McSally, should the Senate consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial?

SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY (R-AZ): Manu, you`re a liberal hack. I`m not talking to you.

RAJU: You`re not going to comment, Senator, about this?


WILLIAMS: Senator Martha McSally of Arizona. And soon after that abrupt exchange, the Trump was room posted in its own video of the encounter with the caption that read "Three cheers for Senator Marttha McSally. This is how you handle fake news CNN. Donate to Martha now."

They are using her remark as a fundraising vehicle for a reason. Back home in Arizona, her challenger for Senate, the former astronaut, Mark Kelly, has $13 million in the bank, McSally is far behind with $7 million.

Last hour, McSally appeared on Fox News.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you regret what you said?

MCSALLY: No, Laura, I do not. And I said it again. Actually as I went in I said, you`re a liberal hack buddy. As you know -- I mean these CNN reporters, about many of them around the Capitol, they are so biassed. They are so in cahoots with the Democrats. They still can`t stand the President. And they run around try to chase, you know, Republicans and ask trapping questions.


WILLIAMS: With us for more tonight is Tamara Keith, White House Correspondent for NPR.

Tamara, first of here, Manu is one of those few reporters who is well liked by, I guess we can exclude the Arizona senator, well-liked by the vast majority of people on the Hill who served there and cover the news there.

Second, for a senator who once marketed herself as a moderate Republican, as a kind of cautious conservative, this is a new look and I guess she`s taking the chance that this will sell back in Arizona.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NPR": Well, you know, Manu Raju had something of a hallway in the Capitol bromance with John McCain. And -- so it`s quite a turn for Martha McSally to be -- senator from Arizona and to talk to Raju in that way.

But here is the thing, not only is she looking at a general election in Arizona, but first, there could be a primary. She does not have a challenger yet or a serious one. But the filing deadline is not until May. And so, you know, for a lot of these Republicans who are running for reelection in 2020, there is this very big question of how do you deal with President Trump and the impeachment time is particularly paralyze for them. But most have determined that putting space between yourself and a very popular president and the Republican Party doesn`t really help your reelection chances.

WILLIAMS: Tell us about your current understanding of the current Trump campaign plans to deal with the rare confluence of a reelection campaign during an impeachment trial. What is their plan?

KEITH: Their plan is to be a rapid response team for the President of the United States as he faces impeachment. But you know, at the same time that this impeachment trial is happening, there are primaries, there`s caucuses coming in Iowa and primary coming in New Hampshire. The campaign is going to be in both of those states with a big presence.

And you know, really what they are saying is, you know, they`ve been doing rapid response in crisis communications essentially for three years. Three plus years. And so, you know, for President Trump, he has a very well- funded organization and outside organization, his campaign that can amplified his message, can push its own message, can run an ad during the Super Bowl that could, if the trial goes more than the two weeks at the White House wants, could well be an ad that is played in the middle of impeachment.

WILLIAMS: And by going to Iowa and New Hampshire on the eve of Democratic primaries, he will get media time and attention and kind of a platform for his views.

KEITH: Well, and something that you know well is that all of the political reporters in the universe are going to be in Iowa right before the caucuses.


KEITH: And then New Hampshire right before the primary. And so here you have the President of the United States coming in and consuming a little bit of that auction -- oxygen, counter programing. And the campaign also sees this as an opportunity to sort of practice and do dress rehearsal on based mobilization.

WILLIAMS: Tamara Keith, the reporter and the voice behind the same Tamara Keith we know from NPR. It`s always a pleasure having you. Thank you so much.

KEITH: Great to be with you.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, more new allegations from the man, who the President says, he does not know when we come back.


WILLIAMS: There is the man of the hour during part two of his interview with Rachel Maddow tonight. Lev Parnas revealed that he was urged not to cooperate with the investigation on Capitol Hill.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You got a request from Congress, for you and Mr. Furman to come testify in the impeachment investigation.


MADDOW: You were inclined to say yes.

PARNAS: Yes, absolutely. I have nothing to hide. We`re not doing anything legal.

MADDOW: Your lawyer John Dowd, however, advised you not to cooperate and said the President would give you cover for not cooperating?

PARNAS: It was a little bit more than that. I was brought into John Dowd`s house and we -- he got Jay Sekulow on the phone and also Rudy and Victoria and then basically they came up with a situation that said that because I work for Rudy and because I work for Victoria and because Rudy works for the President. We have three-way privilege and that basically (INAUDIBLE) was going to be writing a letter to Congress telling him to that nobody is cooperating and that would protect us under the same order and being followed up with that.

Again, this was the President of the United States, so I mean -- I thought, OK, here`s all the information I have. I did my duty, I gave him whatever paper work I had.


WILLIAMS: That`s a laugh right there. And without delay, let`s bring in Barbara McQuade, veteran federal prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. All right, Barbara, let`s start right there. Is what he just described at all part of the normal legal world?

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: There actually is some validity to what he`s saying there. Imagine if your lawyer has a secretary or a paralegal who works for him, that person would fall under the realm of the attorney-client privilege just as much as the lawyer would. So if Lev Parnas was working as an assistant to Rudy Giuliani, as a translator, whatever he was, he could be part of President Trump`s legal team. Now, that`s one thing.

The other is to then say, we`re all going to assert privilege. Nobody`s going to talk. That`s a different thing, because he has a right to his own counsel here and to his own independent legal advice. What`s best for President Trump is not necessarily what is best for Lev Parnas. And so if his lawyer is giving him advice that`s not in his own best interest, then that is unethical on the part of the lawyer.

WILLIAMS: And I need your help and how we should view this. We`ve had the better part of two hours of Lev gripping TV over two nights with Rachel and I hear proper names and titles flying out of this. I hear mentions of the President, the Vice President, Cabinet officials, with someone under indictment, who is in the hands of the Feds. Do you take what he`s saying and put it in two different buckets provable with evidence unprovable? And is there any rule that people with nothing to lose, make effective witnesses or does it cut both ways?

MCQUADE: Yes. So someone like Lev Parnas is actually not unusual in the criminal justice system. You get people who come in who say they want to cooperate and they give you all kinds of information. That sounds potentially valuable, but you really have to work to pin it down because as you suggest, Brian, there is some potential bias here. If he is seeking to get a deal with the Southern District of New York to reduce his own sentence, then perhaps he feels some incentive to fabricate extraordinary information that could be perceived as very valuable.

I don`t know that I would call him as a witness, at least not at this point, but I would consider him to be very valuable for lead purposes. He provides a lot of information about conversations with Rick Perry and Rudy Giuliani. He suggests that there was an additional quid pro quo here to get Dmitry Firtash off in exchange for part of this deal. He is someone who`s been under indictment by the Justice Department for bribery and faces extradition.

So he offers an awful lot of information. But when you ask him about how he knows it, he says things like everyone was in the loop. You know, he -- you can`t really pin him down, or at least we haven`t yet heard him pin down on, tell me who told you this, when did it happen, where were you, what documents do you have to support it? Are there other people who are present who could confirm that this also occurred? So I`d want to spend a few days with him to try to pin down all of those things. And it may be that I would use those other people as witnesses and not Lev Parnas himself.

WILLIAMS: And finally, the title you once held which we throw around in some form or fashion on this broadcast every night. United States attorney, that`s a presidential appointment. Put yourself in your old job, if you were U.S. attorney, and this guy whose investigation is part of your purview shows up for two nights on MSNBC and then other interviews. What are you feeling?

MCQUADE: I am feeling that he is likely desperate for attention. I don`t know what the Southern District of New York has told him about whether he is a cooperator. I worry about his ability to keep his story straight. But it is also sort of the ultimate crucible. If he can go on national television over multiple nights and tell a consistent story that is consistent with what he`s telling me, then that does tend to corroborate him.

I think that most U.S. attorneys and lawyers are very reluctant to see people talk publicly this way. But in some ways, it sort of bolsters his credibility.

WILLIAMS: And that ladies and gentlemen, that`s why we always asked to talk to former U.S. Attorney, Barbara McQuade. Barbara, thanks as always.

MCQUADE: Thanks, Brian. Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, a new book calls it a "Marriage of Money and Power". There are new revelations about the Trump`s and the Kushner`s which we`ll get to when we come back.



BRIAN BENNETT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "TIME" MAGAZINE : A new book coming out is reporting that your grandfather lied on his immigration form, used a different name. Took the name Kushner to come in. Does that make you more sympathetic to immigrants who are facing immigration violations now?

JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Look, I have my personal opinions, my personal sympathies but I work for the President of the United States and, you know, my job is to, when he asks my advice on things, give him my advice. But then when the President makes a decision, my job is to help him execute that decision.


WILLIAMS: It`s a voice we seldom hear. He may be the most powerful man whose voice Americans would not recognize. TIME Magazine sat down with Jared Kushner for a rare interview, just as his father-in-law`s impeachment trial is about to get underway.

The new book they`re talking about right there is "American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps and the Marriage of Money and Power". Its author is with us tonight. Andrea Bernstein is a Veteran Journalist and Co-host of the podcast conveniently, Trump Inc., produced by WNYC Public Radio here in New York.

It`s so interesting that that puts the story in this book into circulation. Tell the immigration story of the Kushners, why it`s germane to who he`s become. And would he ever have been the organic choice for a job search for the role he`s in work not for marrying the President`s daughter?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN OLIGARCHS": So lot of questions there. Let me break that down. So Jared Kushner`s grandparents were Holocaust survivors and they survived Nazi Germany`s living some of the time in the forest in Poland camping out, hiding out from the Nazis. After the war, they fled the Soviet Union, which it was then and ended up in Italy and displaced person`s camp could not get a visa to the United States or anywhere. They were stuck stateless.

So they struck upon this idea where Jared Kushner, his grandfather would take on his father-in-law`s name. He was born Yossel Berkowitz, and he changed his name to Joe Kushner. And as such, taking on the role of his father-in-law`s son, he and his family were able to immigrate to America.

WILLIAMS: And why is that germane, on the topic of immigration --


WILLIAMS: -- to what Jared Kushner has become?

BERNSTEIN: It`s germane because -- I mean, I don`t think there`s anybody that wouldn`t be sympathetic to them. They lost everything in the Holocaust.


BERNSTEIN: They had no property, no documents, nothing and they had nowhere to go. Why it`s germane is because they did what they had to do for their family to survive and thrive. Their grandson ended up one of the most powerful people in the United States. In an administration where immigration is now being restricted and refugee quotas are being restricted to historic lows.

WILLIAMS: How unlikely or likely in life is it that one Jared Kushner has such incredible proximity to the President of the United States, and incredible power, a lot of which has been here for undocumented.

BERNSTEIN: Right. I mean, I think that he is someone, when you think about it, who has survived so many people, Kelly, Priebus, Bannon, Mattis. The list goes on and on, McMaster, Flynn. Jared Kushner has survived all these people because he has an incredibly loyal to his own family but also to his father-in-law`s family.

WILLIAMS: We have called you here before as an expert witness on Donald Trump because of your years in media in New York. Given that, given your understanding and deconstruction of him, how is he likely to react in real time? We`re just getting underway in the Senate trial next Tuesday.

BERNSTEIN: Well, what I can see in my book from looking at Donald Trump is he has a history of evading legal consequences, whether it be cajoling prosecutors or charming FBI agents or giving donations to the favorite causes of district attorneys. He escapes legal consequences again and again, as has his family. And we see, for example, Muller testified. It was kind of a dud, the very next day President Trump called the Ukrainian President and said do us a favor, though. He is emboldened by not having consequences.

And I think there`s a real question about what happens to the Republic. If he`s acquitted and believes he simply cannot be held to account in any forum.

WILLIAMS: The word, the term oligarchs, in my view, did not originate in our home language. It is a notion that we learned about -- the people were called overseas. It is now more and more being applied here in this country. Is it something that really came to the fore with the arrival of Donald Trump and the business minded?

BERNSTEIN: Well, it`s really been decades in the making, because we in this country have made decisions collectively to allow more and more money into politics. And each time you allow more money into politics, you create a system where the wealthy can tilt the democracy towards their direction. It`s we see it with Trump every day.

Wealthy people patronize his hotels, they go to his golf courses, they pay him in some way and he gives them a favor and that kind of system is an oligarchic system and it`s where we are headed. If there`s not some serious reckoning about the restrictions and disclosures and transparency, we have about who is able to contribute to the President.

WILLIAMS: And let`s go ahead and say it without using too broad a brush, the Harvard Business School crowd of hyper educated, rather earnest, culturally moderate Republicans, time and time again goes with this guy, because it`s good for business.

BERNSTEIN: Right, absolutely. He is making them money. And as a result, they are giving him money and he has a record breaking campaign coffers. And that`s just him. That`s just Donald Trump, it doesn`t count all the PACs and the Republican Party committees that are supporting him.

WILLIAMS: On behalf of all of your listeners, thank you for coming.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much.

WILLIAMS: It`s great to see you again.

BERNSTEIN: Always to great to talk to you.

WILLIAMS: Good luck with the book. Andrea Bernstein is the author, it is called "American Oligarchs: the Kushners, the Trumps, and the Power of Money -- Marriage of Money and Power". Let`s get it right. It`s just on the markets, so there`s plenty of time to rack up at standing on Amazon.

Coming up, the latest Democratic candidate to work his way into the President`s mind and thoughts when we come back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rudy was truly an outstanding mayor. As an example, his endorsement of Bloomberg -- he got Bloomberg elected. He wouldn`t have even been mayor.


WILLIAMS: At first, it may seem out of place for the President to bring up Michael Bloomberg at a religious freedom event today. But according to The New York Times, "The President himself has been closely watching Bloomberg unnerved by his campaign spending". And then there`s his suggestion that he may spend $1 billion of his own fortune opposing Mr. Trump even if he does not emerge as the nominee.

One of our favorite guests is here with us tonight to talk about it, Mara Gay, importantly, former New York City Hall Bureau Chief at the Wall Street Journal, now a member of The New York Times Editorial Board. They will announce their endorsement for the Democratic nomination on Sunday. We`ll get it out of her tonight. No doubt.

Mara, you`ve already got a billionaire in the race. Tom Steyer has the plaid tie the needlepoint belt. That`s all done. Second billionaire enters the race. Why would Trump be so interested in Mike Bloomberg?

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Oh, my goodness. This is -- you know, they`re both New Yorkers. Let`s start there.

WILLIAMS: OK. And so Donald Trump is somebody who grew up in Queens always wanting to be a member of New York`s Inner Sanctum, high society in that social world was never quite accepted. Even when he got rich while he was born rich, but when he got richer, he still wasn`t ever accepted in the society that Bloomberg plays in. And I think this just must stick in his craw so much that the former mayor has decided at the last minute to jump into this race along with all of his money.

And I think, honestly, Michael Bloomberg is actually the self-made billionaire that Donald Trump pretends to be. And so I think it`s got to be quite unnerving for sure. And so this is kind of, I think, what we call mind games in politics.

WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about what`s going on on the Democratic Party. What we saw transpire on stage in De Moines, was it two nights ago or a year ago now? And the calls for a ceasefire between Bernie forces, Elizabeth Warren forces, this goes back to a deeply held fear that things like a fight on the far left and purity testing at all these events would open a path big enough to drive a truck through or in this case, big enough to drive Joe Biden through.

GAY: It was hard to watch, for me. I have to say I think a lot of American voters especially Democrats really want the candidates to put the infighting aside. You`re normally on a primary. It`s quite normal, right? As we know, you`ve covered many campaigns. It`s a normal thing to go after your opponent in primary.

The problem is this isn`t a normal election. It`s not a normal time. And the differences between the Democrats are miniscule compared to the differences between Donald Trump and the Democratic view and vision for what this country should be. And I think the focus really does need to be for Democrats on talking about what Trump has done wrong, what they can offer the country instead. And frankly, finding as many voters to turn out to the polls as they can, and this is a sideshow that is going to turn people off and keep them at home and not at the polls and it`s just -- it`s really bad for the country.

WILLIAMS: Given your status as a member of the New York Times Editorial Board. You may know this is coming. I`ll raise the name Peter Hamby. Peter Hamby is a Veteran Journalist. I first came to be aware of him when he was with CNN. He is with Vanity Fair, and he works at Snapchat. And he writes, "Editorial board endorsements, mostly left-leaning, only fuel bad faith attacks on the biased media and confuse modern readers on what the press does and is supposed to do. It`s not 1957, communities no longer look to editorial boards to tell them how to think, how to vote".

Mara Gay, that is a shot across your editorial bow. How do you defend your profession?

GAY: You know, I would say that we`ve learned over the past several years that information is not the same thing as knowledge. And I think there`s absolutely a huge value in having a newspaper and journalists everywhere who are trained at what they do, and looking out for the public interest to ask questions, tough questions of candidates.

And I think it`s really important to just understand that what we do, we do in the service of readers and in the service of voters. We don`t do it in the service of candidates. And so I think that`s the message that we`d really like to send and there`s value in that.

WILLIAMS: And as soon as you say that, I should remind our viewers that The New York Times endorsement comes out in the Sunday paper on the web, I guess, late Saturday night.

GAY: It`ll actually be -- well, you can stay tuned to our television show "The Weekly," which premieres on FX at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday.

WILLIAMS: Thank you. Thank you for coming.

GAY: Thanks for having me, Brian.

WILLIAMS: It`s always a pleasure.

Coming up for us, comments from Lindsey Graham that don`t sound like the Lindsey Graham we`ve come to know.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, here`s the headline, Lindsey Graham coming out in favor of calling witnesses during an impeachment trial. But don`t take our word for it. Here is Senator Graham making the case for witnesses in his own words.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Why do you need a witness? The whole point that we`re trying to make is that in every trial that there has ever been in the Senate regarding impeachment, witnesses were called. The big problem I have, if we don`t get the call meaningful witnesses, direct witnesses to the point, is that you`re basically changing impeachment. Impeachment in the House is not the trial.

You can have three days of lawyers talking to each other on both sides, 16 hours of questions, and basically bore everybody to death, talk everybody to death. But when you have a witness, who was there, who was engaged in it, who was in the middle of it, telling you about what they were doing and why, it`s a totally different case. And it`s the difference between getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


WILLIAMS: Oh, that there that explains what was going on. That was 1999 Lindsey Graham when he was impeachment manager in the Clinton impeachment, but we`re here to assure everybody, nothing`s happened to Senator Graham. He`s fine. He`s back to normal. This was him tonight on Fox News.


GRAHAM: If you want to witness, then do what Ted Cruz says. Everybody gets witnesses. If you want to turn the trial into complete circus, you`re allowed to do that, but not with my vote.


WILLIAMS: Lindsey Graham to play us off the air tonight having taken a sworn oath today to do impartial justice in this upcoming trial.

That is our broadcast for this Thursday evening, thank you so much 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