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Trump lashed out TRANSCRIPT: 1/17/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Susan Page, Melanie Zanona, Paul Butler, James Stavridis

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, new evidence from the phone and files of Lev Parnas, Rudy`s former right-hand man, who says he was carrying out the President`s shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. More photos with Trump`s inner circle and communications with a top House Republican. More messages about spying on our own ambassador in Ukraine.

Plus, the President turns to the way-back machine to pick his television lawyers, why the tangled past of Kenneth Starr and Alan Dershowitz could create new problems for Trump`s defense.

And the words that our top national security officials have kept secret for years, all of it as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on this Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. At the end another week, day 1,093 of the Trump administration, which means we are now 293 days away from the 2020 presidential election. Tonight we are just over 72 hours away from the opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial, and another new trove of evidence has been released by House Democrats courtesy of Lev Parnas, the indicted Rudy Giuliani associate who spoke to Rachel Maddow for a two-part interview here this week.

Before we bring in our first guests to talk about this day, once again tonight we have asked our own National Political Reporter Josh Lederman, to dive into this new Lev Parnas evidence and tell us what the headlines are from tonight.

And, Josh, I heard you a little bit earlier on this network. It seems like it`s yet another mountain of material to go through.

JOSH LEDERMAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: A lot of new documents that we`ve been digging through in the last couple hours since this, unexpectedly, was posted onto the internet by House Democrats. One new piece of information that is taking a lot of people by surprise, Brian, is a photograph that was turned over by Parnas that shows -- basically it`s a photo of an event, and you can see the name placards at the table.

And you see right there, President Donald Trump seated, at least according to these placards, next to Lev Parnas at the same table with Brian Ballard, who is a lobbyist, who has also come into this story. And this is really undercutting the President`s continual claims that he doesn`t know Parnas, maybe only had met him briefly. At least judging based on this photo, it seems like they sat next to each other at, at least, one event.

The other big piece of information that`s coming out today, Brian, has to do with that story we`ve been talking about, about Robert Hyde, who apparently had some type of a surveillance operation on Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. And I want to walk you through the reporting we`ve done on this because it`s been quite a roller coaster throughout the day.

So first, earlier today, Robert Hyde on Twitter named a new person that he said actually had provided to him the information about Yovanovitch, that he then passed on to Lev Parnas. A guy named Anthony de Caluwe. So we said, all right, who is this Anthony Caluwe guy that Robert Hyde told me in a text message that this was someone he`d met at a Trump fundraiser, didn`t really know who he was but hung around Trump events.

So we went on to his Facebook, and we found all kinds of pro-Trump photographs, slogans, "Make America Great Again" type of stuff, showing he`s someone whose identity was really wrapped around his support of Trump.

But then, I got a hold of Anthony de Caluwe via email, and he denied this. He said, yeah, I was in touch with Hyde. He asked me for information on Yovanovitch, but I told him, no, that would be illegal. I`m not going to have anything to do with this.

Then comes the document dump from House Democrats, just a few hours ago, in which there are all of these WhatsApp messages that show indeed Robert Hyde did get this information from some unknown Belgian phone number that the House Democrats in their document dump didn`t identify. But we were able to do some digging, and we found that, first of all, we spoke to one of his friends who confirmed that Anthony de Caluwe is Belgian, spends a lot of time in Belgium, so that explained the phone number. And then, we were able to match a photograph from his Facebook page to the icon used in his WhatsApp text messages.

It`s the same photo from that unnamed Belgian phone number that the House Democrats had in their messages they turned over. And the nail in the coffin, Brian, was that we found another profile online for Anthony de Caluwe. And at the bottom there`s a phone number, a Belgian phone number, and the digits in the phone number exactly match the unredacted digits that we`re in the phone number of these text messages that showed up in the House Democrats` documents turned over by Parnas.

So long and the short of it, Brian, is that even though some people have been saying that this Robert Hyde guy might have just been making all this up, didn`t really have surveillance. There seems to be a lot more in the story, including a new character who was purporting to have surveillance on Marie Yovanovitch.

WILLIAMS: And perhaps a broader lesson about the people around this president. This is exactly why we invited Josh Lederman on our broadcast again tonight to start us off. And, Josh, our thanks for your reporting in just these past few hours.

We should note that earlier today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in two different radio interviews that he did not know Lev Parnas or know about the alleged surveillance of US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. He did say more than two days now after these initial messages became public that he would investigate the claim.

The House voted to impeach Donald Trump one month ago. The trial is now three days away. Tonight, we learned the makeup of Trump`s defense team, and it is made up in part of people the president watches defend him on Fox News.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, will lead the team. Then it`s back to the Clinton impeachment with former independent counsel Ken Starr and his successor, Robert Ray. Defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz rounds out the made for television element of the team, more on him and Mr. Starr in just a moment. They are joined by Eric Hershman, Miami defense lawyer Jane Raskin, who was part of the White House team handling the Mueller investigation, as well as former Florida attorney general and longtime Trump supporter Pam Bondi.

By the way, Bondi has apparently already encountered Lev Parnas. Earlier today, Parnas` attorney posted this photo as a convenience on Twitter. Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz are without a doubt the highest profile members of the team. Between them, they have appeared on Fox News some 350 times in the past year.

When Starr was leading the drive to prosecute Bill Clinton, note future Justice Kavanaugh there to the right, Trump was outspoken in his criticism of his work. He wasn`t always a fan, it seems.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I think Ken Starr is a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster. I hated the way the president handled it. It was a long and terrible process. I really think that Ken Starr was terrible.


WILLIAMS: Earlier on this network, Senator Patrick Leahy said this about the addition of Ken Starr to the defense team.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): I was fairly interested that they are picking Ken Starr. I mean, you know on your own network, Donald Trump called him a lunatic when he was going after Bill Clinton. I`m looking at as a former prosecutor, as a lawyer. I see Kenneth Starr, a man who pushed the weakest impeachment case certainly in my lifetime, and now he`s up here to defend the strongest impeachment case in my lifetime. That`s their choice, but it`s a weird choice.


WILLIAMS: We move on now to Mr. Dershowitz. He has a history of defending controversial figures including but not limited to OJ Simpson, who he helped to beat a double murder charge. Both he and Starr have represented convicted sex offender and accused child sex trafficker, the late Jeffrey Epstein, who also had dealings with Donald Trump.

This evening Dershowitz spoke with our colleague Ari Melber by Skype and seemed to be trying to distance himself from his role on Trump`s legal dream team.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR EMERITUS (via phone): I will not be involved in the factual aspects of the case. My sole responsibility is to analyze and present the constitutional arguments against impeachment.

I am not somebody who is strategizing with his legal team. I won`t be involved in the decision whether to call witnesses. I am doing it as a lawyer who is not in a lawyer-client relationship with anybody. My specialized role is to present the constitutional argument, the same argument I would present if Hillary Clinton had been elected and she were being impeached.


WILLIAMS: Meanwhile back at the White House today, the President was careful to adhere to business as usual, welcoming the LSU Tigers to celebrate their national championship. After the team awarded him with a jersey with a 45 on it, the President threw this in.


TRUMP: We`ll take pictures behind the resolute desk. It`s been there a long time. A lot of presidents, some good, some not so good, but you got a good one now. Even though they`re trying to impeach the son of a bitch, can you believe that?


WILLIAMS: With that, here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night after a long week, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, best- selling author who is now at work on a biography of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Jonathan Allen, our NBC News National Political Reporter, co-author of the best-selling postmortem of the Clinton campaign called "Shattered." And Melanie Zanona is here with us in New York, Congressional Reporter for Politico. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Susan, your candid reaction today when you heard the legal team would include Ken Starr and the man known affectionately as the Dersh.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, at first I thought, wow. And then, I thought, well, this is very much along the lines of maybe what we should have expected from President Trump. It`s kind of a made for TV -- it`s a made for TV, specifically made for Fox TV kind of team. I think that we`re not going to see -- perhaps we`re not going to see the most traditional kind of defense that we would see from a legal team in a situation like this.

But I`m telling you can any of us wait for Tuesday to get here so that we can have the start of what is going to be a solemn and serious occasion, but one with some theatrics, I would suspect.

WILLIAMS: Jon Allen, what stands out to you about this legal team? And I have to add, we have one of our regular attorneys coming up later in the broadcast who is going to remind us these are formidable lawyers with formidable powers of language and persuasion. But what do you think viewers can expect, Jon?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Brian, what I heard today in that interview with Ari Melber that stuck out to me were the words "Hillary Clinton." Alan Dershowitz says he`s going to go present the case that impeachment shouldn`t have happened if Hillary Clinton had been elected and she had been impeached, that she shouldn`t be removed from office.

This is an indication, I think, of the trash talking, institution-bashing, carnival-like atmosphere that the president wants around this, which is very much in contrast with what the Senate wants, what Senate Republicans want, and what the design of the Senate is. There`s an opportunity for the President here to walk away quietly with a win. The Senate is an institution that is absolutely designed to essentially smother justice with that solemnity that Susan Page was talking about, and he could get out of there. But he wants to fight, that`s what Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr and Pam Bondi and the others say to me.

WILLIAMS: Melanie, talk about the target audience here, obviously, through the lens of television multiplied by several networks.

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICO": Well, the challenge for Trump`s defense team is that there are multiple audiences that they`re playing to. First and foremost, they`re trying to keep moderate Republicans in line from crossing over. That`s why you didn`t see some of Trump`s House allies come over and join the defense team. There`s a lot of concern they would turn off those moderates.

Then, they`re also trying to get some Democrats on their side. They want a bipartisan acquittal. They think that will help the President heading into 2020. And finally, of course, Brian, there`s Trump at home watching all of this, live tweeting his thoughts most likely. And so, they have to play to that as well. They want to please the President, but they also know they have a job to do, and that`s to convince these senators in this institution to acquit the President.

WILLIAMS: Susan, I`m reminded that it`s coming up at midnight. It will be exactly a month since the impeachment articles were voted on and approved. With your knowledge of the current Speaker of the House, do you think what was labeled the policy of impeach and hold was always the plan, always in the cards as, while we speak, we`re still pouring through evidence that may be submitted at trial?

PAGE: You know, I think that it was not always in the plan but, in fact, a little bit of a surprise even to some of her allies when she announced tonight at the House vote that she was going to hold on to the articles of impeachment. The fact that she held on to them as long as she did gave some Democrats some discomfort. But now I think once again, Pelosi`s strategy seems to have been vindicated.

By holding on to the articles of impeachment and taking some of the flak that she got, she gave them time and space to have developments happen like these extraordinary documents that the House Democrats are putting out now. I don`t think that she went into this knowing that that would happen, but she was leaving the opportunity for that to happen.

And, you know, if she had moved those articles immediately, we could have had a lickety-split trial that would be basically over by now. And instead she`s managed to put additional pressure on Senate Republicans to agree to witnesses.

WILLIAMS: Melanie, talk about, you know, the boring stuff, procedure and rules. But it`s absolutely crucial to talk about procedure and rules. Mitch McConnell is keeping, for now, the rules to himself. He has hugely way, he can turn the television cameras off. That chamber will go dark. I imagine we`re going to see procedural arguments take up much of the first day?

ZANONA: Yes. We`re going to see a battle over witnesses almost immediately on Tuesday. McConnell will finally unveil this resolution which will lay out details such as how long will they have for opening arguments, how long will they have for questioning, how many days will that be spread over.

And then importantly, we are expecting it, according to sources that I`ve talked to, to include an up or down motion on the question of witnesses. So it will be yes or no, do you think we need to see more evidence or not?

But we`re hearing Schumer and the Democrats are going to start making motions as soon as Tuesday to force votes on witnesses. And then, Republicans are also warning, people like Rand Paul, are saying we`re going to force some votes too. If you want to play hardball, we can do that and put your members in a tough spot too. So it could very quickly turn into the wild, Wild West of witness debates here. But I think the most consequential action will come in two weeks when they ultimately do turn to that final question.

WILLIAMS: Jon Allen, Chris Collins, former member of Congress from upstate New York had been a guest on this broadcast in the past at least once. He came to fame nationally as the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump. Learned today he`s getting 26 months of federal time. His crime sounds like a script from a television show.

He was using his cell phone from the White House lawn. He got a tip that a stock was about to go south. He called his son and, in effect, said get out of it, run the other way. The FBI got him on that, and he committed that cardinal sin of lying to the feds. They got him on that.

My question to you, in addition to his face being added to the graphic of people in Trump world who will be doing time, what`s the impact on Trump world, do you think?

ALLEN: Well, Brian, soon you`re going to be able to build a Trump property that`s essentially a federal prison to house all of the people who are close to the President that are in that prison. You know, we won`t get an indication, though, until the next election of what the effect is on Trump. You know, we just have that every four-year indication from the voters of whether they won`t put up with it.

But the President ran as an outsider, somebody who wanted to drain the swamp, and so many of the people who are around him have played the swampiest of insider games. Here is a congressman making calls from the White House lawn to benefit himself through insider trading. It doesn`t get more inside than that.

And, you know, the White House lawn is beautiful. I don`t want to call it a swamp. I`m a Washington native. But it is, in the President`s terminology, the center of the swamp.

WILLIAMS: Back in 1880, the White House lawn was not a pretty place, so you would have been absolutely correct. Susan Page, Jonathan Allen, Melanie Zanona, it`s been a long week for all of us, our great thanks for hanging out with us on this last night of the week.

Coming up, reaction to the President`s never-before-seen insults on his military commanders. And later, will John Roberts follow in the footsteps of history, follow in the footsteps of the last guy who had this lofty task, as "The 11th Hour" is really just getting started on a Friday night.



KENNETH STARR, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: The President and his administration asserted three different governmental privileges to conceal relevant information. They delayed and impeded the investigation.

With respect to this phase of the investigation, the administration has been uncooperative. Perhaps we live in such a litigious age that that`s the new way of doing things. I disagree with that.


WILLIAMS: Kind of amazing to see Kavanaugh in that same frame. That was, of course, former Independent Counsel Ken Starr talking about the Clinton impeachment. You`d be forgiven if you thought that was a current sound bite considering the Trump administration has not cooperated at all with the current impeachment investigation. And of course as we mentioned, Starr is now a member of the Trump defense team, fast forwarding a few years.

Back with us again, we`re happy to say, is Paul Butler, a Georgetown Law School Professor, and importantly, Paul is a former federal prosecutor who specialized in public corruption. His prosecutions included a former US senator, three FBI agents, and for good measure, other law enforcement officials.

And, Paul, it was you I was paraphrasing, truth be told, in the first segment because one of your tasks tonight is to come on and remind us these are formidable attorneys no matter how many Fox News appearances they`ve done that the President has loaded up his team with.

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: That`s right. So Trump now has his TV lawyers, these celebrities who will leave the well of the Senate and go on Fox News and MSNBC. But importantly, these are credible people. They`re not like Rudy Giuliani.

Alan Dershowitz is an Emeritus Professor at Harvard Law School, Ken Starr, a former federal judge, and so they have credibility. And they`re also known for zealously representing their client and getting good results.

WILLIAMS: There are -- I`m just going to say that the State Department is finding out -- and this I think bumps up against your former realm. The State Department is reading along with us that this Parnas evidence existed.

If you take the Secretary of State at face value, he is just learning about this surveillance operation. Who`s going to get ticked off here? Are the feds in New York going to get in trouble for not touching all the bases?

BUTLER: So all of this -- you know, first of all, makes the point that every day, new evidence comes out. I think one of the reasons that Dershowitz is going to make this legal argument about the constitution is try to support McConnell and Graham`s outrageous idea that there could be a trial without any evidence and without any witnesses.

What they`re going to argue, these new lawyers, is that even if you take all of the allegations and the articles as fact, it still doesn`t rise to the level of impeachment, the high crimes and misdemeanors that are spelled out in the constitution. I think legally, constitutionally, that`s incorrect.

But one concern is that people like Dershowitz and Starr, who are credible, will give Republican senators some cover first to vote against witnesses, so to vote against hearing from people like Parnas, people like --

WILLIAMS: Like Bolton.

BUTLER: Yes, exactly, like Bolton. And also ultimately give them cover to vote against removing the President from office. They`ll say it`s not just the White House counsel, it`s not just his paid regular private lawyers, it`s also these well-respected folks like Starr and Dershowitz who are saying that the President should not be removed from office.

WILLIAMS: You`re one of the people we talk to when there`s a fear that we`re getting numbed out, that we`ve forgotten what normal is and where true north is. The Parnas interview with Rachel Maddow over two nights, you could isolate any minute of it, and it would be a lead story during normal times. Just the notion of hearing this guy say the President is lying. I want to play for you and our audience what he said about Attorney General Bill Barr.


LEV PARNAS, FORMER ASSOCIATES OF RUDY GIULIANI: There`s a lot of Republicans that would go against him. The only reason -- if you take a look and you know very well because you`ve been following, the difference between why Trump is so powerful now -- he wasn`t as powerful in `16 and `17. He became that powerful when he got William Barr.


WILLIAMS: He became that powerful when he got William Barr. He went on to describe the atmosphere around the President like a cult. What does this say to you about the attorney general? And I know as a DOJ loyalist, it pains you to have to criticize a sitting attorney general, I imagine.

BUTLER: You know, when I joined the Department of Justice and was doing public corruption cases, I had friends who are cynical. They said, Paul, you know it`s going to be political. You know whatever administration is in power, they`re going to go after the folks on the other side. That`s not how it worked.

I was there for the Bush administration, for the Clinton administration. In terms of our priorities, the way that we brought cases, it didn`t matter the party. That`s not true anymore. The attorney general now does not appear to represent the interests of the United States, he represents Donald Trump. So Donald Trump has the attorney general of his fantasies, but unfortunately that`s not in the best interest of the United States.

WILLIAMS: Counselor, thank you for coming. It`s always a pleasure. Paul Butler here with us in our New York studios.

Coming up, new details about a very tense moment for our national security, we`ll talk about it when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Just going off The New York Times review of the book that isn`t out until Tuesday from two of our friends from The Washington Post, we are in for a heck of a ride when all the information is out there. The book is called "A Very Stable Genius." It`s written by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, both frequent guests of ours. And in it, they write about a kind of intervention that Trump`s advisers staged for the President. This was July `17.

He was a -- It was a critical meeting at the Pentagon early on in his presidency. Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn tried to inform the President why America`s safety hinged on alliances, trade deals, military bases around the world. They used maps and graphics to try to stop Trump from getting bored. But the President was not impressed by the presentation with leaders of the military branches around the table. The President railed against the war in Afghanistan for starters, and then things got worse.

In an article adapted from their book, Rucker and Leonnig write Trump`s comments, "Stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now. I wouldn`t go to war with you people, Trump told the assembled brass. Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, you`re a bunch of dopes and babies".

Back with us tonight, Admiral James Stavridis, he is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who retired with four stars on his shoulders. He is the former head of the U.S. Southern Command and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. His recent book is "Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character."

Admiral, I have to say when I read this story and I`m fairly confident there`s more like it in the book, I thought about two impacts. The very deep personal impact it would have on those in the room with many stars on their shoulders themselves, but also the impact externally. The world hears this stuff, and if our enemies heard the way our guy spoke to our men and women.

Indeed the authors talk about this, and I quote further from them. This is about the people in the room. "They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. How does the commander in chief say that, one thought. What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?" Admiral, your reaction?

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS, U.S. NAVY (RET.): Well, first, to all the military officers who sat in that room and maintained their professionalism through that tirade, I say, boy, you should get another medal in addition to all the medals you have already received for your heroic work defending our country. To call people like General Joe Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, at the time the Chief of Staff of the Army, dopes and sissies is really kind of staggering.

First of all, these are both people who have led in combat with deep courage. Secondly, Mark Milley is a graduate of Princeton, the number one school in the country in terms of academic rankings. And Joe Dunford is a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the top school of international relations where I was the dean at one point through some kind of computer error. These are two super smart, super courageous men. They represent all the men and women of the Armed Forces.

And above all, what has to strike anybody who knows President Trump`s background is the irony of the comment, I wouldn`t go to war with dopes and sissies. He just wouldn`t go to war. He had this deferment as a result of bone spurs, stayed out of the Vietnam War. So I found the comments, Brian, both personally shocking and demeaning to officers I know and deeply respect.

And then to your point, professionally, it`s an act of malfeasance to berate your top leadership like that. I`ll close by saying I worked for two presidents who could not have been more different. George bush, a Texan, Republican, and Barack Obama, a cosmopolitan Democrat, African-American. Could not be two more different.

But every time I was in a room with either one of my commanders in chief, they were steady. They were calm. They were smart. They were centered. They were people with real gravitas. Our enemies knew that. I think that this is not a good chapter in the Trump presidency.

WILLIAMS: And when I say the whole world is watching, they can also read that report, Admiral, that was out this week that said the DNI recommended the Senate and House Committees not hold their threat assessment hearings as usual because it might anger the President.

STAVRIDIS: This is another act of real professional malfeasance, and our Acting Director of National Intelligence is a retired three-star Admiral Joe Maguire, a SEAL highly competent. I don`t know if that reporting is true or not, but here`s what I do know, Brian. The American public needs to hear that annual threat intelligence report. We always do that.

It`s a way to inform the public so people can make decisions as prosaic as whether they want to go on a vacation to a certain part of the world. They can be part of a kind of global neighborhood watch. They know what to look for, what to worry about. They can help inform decisions about businesses all around the world.

I work now for the Carlyle Group. We think about the global business and the impact. We all need that report. It is a mistake. And if it is being withheld because of the President`s temperament and blowback, he does us a disservice there.

WILLIAMS: Final question. I`m imagining you weren`t surprised to learn that 11 of our service members suffered from concussions the night of the missile strike by Iran into our facilities. What does that tell you about their intent and targeting?

STAVRIDIS: Anytime there`s a major concussive series of events, Brian, either in a big area with a large ballistic missile or in a smaller area because of a tactical explosion, perhaps from an improvised explosive device, IED, the danger of that concussive effect often called traumatic brain injury is deep and penetrating and often causes full, 100 percent disability, for example, among our veterans. So early reports out of the White House and the administration saying that there were no injuries have now been disproven.

WILLIAMS: Admiral Stavridis, it`s always a pleasure to have you on the broadcast. Thanks for joining us again this Friday night.

STAVRIDIS: My pleasure, Brian. See you next time.

WILLIAMS: Coming up, they are the voters that Trump tries to claim, but the numbers are telling a different story. We`ll be back with the politics of this right after this.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I looked at the audience. It was largely African-American. I say, vote for me. What the hell do you have to lose? Remember? Right? And some of my people didn`t like it, but I said, I have to say it because it`s true. And they did vote for me.


WILLIAMS: Despite that last claim there, black voters did not actually vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Exit polling at the time showed us he won only 8% among black voters compared to Clinton, who got 89%. Three years later, polling suggests much the same dynamic. Nine in 10 black Americans disapprove of his job performance. Over 8 in 10 believe he is a racist.

Here to talk about it, Karine Jean-Pierre, chief public affairs officer for MoveOn and an alum of both the Obama campaign and the Obama White House. Also happens to be the author of the new book, "Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America."

Karine, how is this a cautionary tale? Let me lead you into this mine field by hand, for what the Democrats are doing right now, and that is deciding - - starting the long process of deciding on a nominee?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, FORMER CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL FOR BARACK OBAMA: Well, Democrats have to understand if you want to be the nominee, you have to have overwhelming support from African-American voters, from black voters. And if you want to win, if we all want to win, Democrats want to win in 2020, in November 2020, we have to have overwhelming support from the black community. And we see that time and time and time again. And that cannot be forgotten.

And here`s the thing. When you -- just listening to that clip, Brian, where he said, what do you have to lose, black voters understand that they have everything to lose. The thing is we have to be 100% clear here. Donald Trump is the most outwardly racist president that we have seen in generations, and African-American voters understand that. They see that. It is not -- they`re not blind to it. He uses his megaphone to divide people. He uses it to spew racism and to give cover to white supremacists.

So what Democrats need to do is they need to show up. They need to show up, and they need to gain those voters, and they need to be -- they need to not just give lip service. So you have to show up. You have to be there. You have to really work for those votes because what Donald Trump is going to do is he`s going to suppress the vote. He doesn`t want African-American votes or black votes. He`s going to suppress the vote. We saw the Russian - - with Russian interference in 2016, that`s what they did. And now Donald Trump`s campaign has the money, has the finances to do that. And they`ve been doing that on Facebook. So that`s what we`re up against.

WILLIAMS: I want to read you a quote from Hillary Clinton, who says, "For Democratic voters, try to vote for the person you think is most likely to win because at the end of the day, that is what will matter. And not just the popular vote, but the Electoral College." What is she saying there, and does this speak to the balance between head and heart that the party`s always up against? And does this speak against the kind of purity testing you and I have talked about that we`ve seen especially this cycle?

JEAN-PIERRE: So I think it`s both. I really, truly believe it. I`ll tell you why, Brian. I think, yes, polls after polls after polls show that what voters want -- and we`re talking about black voters -- as well is they want to beat Donald Trump. That is clear. We`ve seen this in the last three years in the electoral process and how Democrats have come out in record numbers and what Democrats have been able to do in key, key races.

But the thing is we need a movement to win in November, and I say this all the time. And what I mean by that is we have to have a lot of people come out. We need overwhelming numbers of people. We need that coalition, young people, black voters. I mean everybody to come out. And so to do that, there has to be a little bit of heart. There has to be a little bit of enthusiasm. There has to be a candidate that can connect with voters.

So, yes, you have to be pragmatic, and I think that`s what you`re seeing from black voters, the pragmatic of it, being -- understanding that it`s not just popular vote. You also have to get that Electoral College. You`ve got to get to 270. But you have to get everyone else in, and that`s where the heart comes in. You have to have a movement in November to win and Democrats want to win,

WILLIAMS: And that -- that ladies and gentleman is why we invite Karine Jean-Pierre to be on our broadcast at regular intervals. Karine, thank you. Have a good weekend.

JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, Brian. Thank you. Have a good weekend.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, as we head into what may be the most consequential single week of the Trump presidency, and that`s saying a lot, we ask a historian to put into perspective what we`re all about to witness.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: As the U.S. constitution states, when the president of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside. That`s about all the framers left us with right there. There are no precise rules as to what that looks like. It remains to be seen how Chief Justice John Roberts will approach the duty starting next week. Following the Clinton impeachment, William Rehnquist famously said he, "Did nothing in particular and did it very well."

Back with us tonight is Joanne Freeman, history professor at Yale University. Her latest book "The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress," we`re hoping to avoid that next week, "and the Road to Civil War." Ditto.

Professor, so the framers didn`t say anything about cell phones, but McConnell has had the wisdom to ban them from the trial, ban their use by senators. Ditto the Chief Justice. As they say in black box theater, is he just going to explore the space? Do you think he feels he has leeway?

JOANNE FREEMAN, PROFESSOR HISTORY, YALE UNIVERISTY: Well, you know, the fact that we`re asking this question is, as a historian, it`s fascinating because there`s so much. I think people think about the constitution as going into such detail about so many things, and it actually is more of an outline than anything else. And there`s so much about it that it really isn`t until you do it, that your impeachment happens so rarely that this is what we`re experiencing now -- that the details are worked out. There`s kind of a spirit of improvisation about parts of the constitution, which isn`t to say the parts that are there should be overlooked or not taken seriously because --


FREEMAN: -- that`s who we are. That`s our government. But still if you go all the way back -- actually go all the way to the first presidential election even, people were figuring out how the process was supposed to work. Things like -- things we take for granted like advice and consent. The Senate should give advice and consent on treaties. Look at the first time that happens, George Washington goes to the Senate with a treaty, has it read out loud to the Senate. The Senate that can`t -- they`re not quite sure what to do. I think one senator stands up and says, we couldn`t quite hear them when they were reading the treaty because there was a horse outside, so could someone read them again. And it`s read again, and then finally the senators said, we`d kind of like to talk about it a little bit, and Washington throws a presidential fit. This isn`t why I came here. I didn`t come here for this. And he storms out of the room and never goes back with the treaty and a precedent is set.

But in a way the moment that we`re in has that same kind of improvisational flavor to it and that we`re figuring it out step by step. And we as Americans are watching that happen.

WILLIAMS: In the same week, in the space of just one week, the President re-tweeted a photoshopped image showing Schumer and Pelosi in Muslim garb and 99 senators, all those president, stood and took an oath from the Chief Justice and then lined up in groups of four to sign a book for all time. Do you think decorum will prevail in this atmosphere?

FREEMAN: Wow, you`ve asked me a tough question.

WILLIAMS: You teach at Yale, so, you know, advantage you.

FREEMAN: Do pass, do pass (ph). You know, I don`t know. and in a sense, I`ve just used the word "improvisation" and perhaps that was the wrong word because it suggests informality, and it may even make some people think of comedy, and there`s nothing comic about the situation that we`re in right now. You know, I think -- and this is going to sound dire, but I think it should. In some ways, the fate of our republic really is going to be hinged on some of the decisions being made now and in the very near future. And so I can only hope that the people making these decisions are going to think about things like decorum, or are at least going to -- some of them are at least going to assume some sense of responsibility and act accordingly. But like everyone else, you know, all we can do is watch and hope that some understand the historic significance and the potential impact of what`s going on now.

WILLIAMS: Are you going to be watching every second, and will any of this work its way into your course?

FREEMAN: Yes and yes.

WILLIAMS: Thank you. It`s always such a pleasure to have you here.

FREEMAN: Thanks for having me.

WILLIAMS: Joanne Freeman of Yale University. Lucky students up there who have her class.

Coming up, an update tonight on Americans in peril finally getting help but with strings attached to that. We`ll tell you the story when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, the only thing Puerto Rico hasn`t been hit by is a meteor, and that almost happened today. Meteor streaked across the skies over Puerto Rico, broad daylight. It was picked up by security cameras and by any folks in the middle of taking pictures of something else outside. There`s an unconfirmed report it landed in the water off the coast of San Juan.

And let us please spare a moment tonight to talk about the people of Puerto Rico, American citizens all, and ask the question, how much can they be expected to be able to withstand? On an island where the earth is still bare in spots after hurricanes Irma and Maria back in 2017, they were just hit by a 6.4 earthquake back on January 7th, and so many aftershocks every day since that a lot of people have been sleeping outside ever since.

The concern is structural integrity, construction standards. The big shakes have collapsed and closed and weakened homes and public buildings like hospitals and schools. Some bridges are in trouble. The famously rickety power grid took an additional hit. And don`t forget the tragic death toll after the storms, estimated to be just under 3,000 souls.

And while Washington is sending help to our fellow citizens after the quake, "The New York Times" reports the Trump administration imposed severe restrictions on billions of dollars in emergency relief to Puerto Rico, including blocking spending on the island`s electrical grid and suspending its $15 an hour minimum wage for federally funded relief work. It was immediately branded as cruel and disdainful and contemptuous after hard contemptuous after hard times in Puerto Rico, they`re again having a hard time getting what they need from their fellow Americans.

That is our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week. We thank you for being here with us. Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Have a good weekend.

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