IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

MLK memorial TRANSCRIPT: 1/20/20, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Nancy Cook, Ron Klain, Rick Wilson

 

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, just hours to go now until the start of the impeachment trial in the chamber where majority rules, is the Majority Leader going to get away with these rules? For starters, a couple of 12-hour day is too much T.V. for Americans to watch including proceedings while most folks are asleep, Trump`s lawyers appear ready to argue they don`t dispute the fact, in other words, yes, he did it, but it`s not impeachable.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani appears in self-defense on cable news tonight just as new evidence puts him squarely in the middle of the arguments.

And Trump and Greta both in Davos, Switzerland, starting tomorrow, what could go wrong? All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Monday night.

Well, good evening once again as we start a new week here at our NBC News headquarters in New York. Day 1096 of the Trump administration, 288 days to go now until the 2020 presidential election. And the next presidential inauguration day will be one year from today.

Donald Trump`s impeachment trial gets under way just over 12 hours from now. He`s now on his way to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He will land less than 12 hours before the Senate is gaveled into session, 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Tonight the battle over how the case will proceed is heating up with just hours to go. Mitch McConnell, the leader in the Senate, has released the ground rules, and it`s clear he is ready to move swiftly while putting off consideration of witnesses until after opening arguments. Tomorrow he`s going to introduce those rules. There will likely be up to two hours of debate. Democrats will introduce amendments which will likely lead to more debate before a vote.

Then on Wednesday, 1:00 p.m., House managers and Trump defense lawyers make their arguments. They each get 24 hours over two days to do that, which could make for some very long days. That`s part of McConnell`s intention. After that`s done, senators get 16 hours to present questions in writing. Then they`ll consider and vote on witnesses and documents.

Unlike the Clinton impeachment proceedings, none of the evidence from the House will immediately come over to the Senate chamber as part of the Senate case. It will all have to be subject to a vote, more on that in a bit.

You may recall McConnell was pretty clear about his agenda with regard to the impeachment case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: Everything I do during this, I`m coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the President`s position and our position.

There`s no chance the President`s going to be removed from office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So that`s coordination. Tonight Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who`s been pressing four witnesses, slammed McConnell`s decisions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MINORITY LEADER: It is now certain that Leader McConnell is going along with President Trump`s cover-up hook, line, and sinker.

When you look at his resolution, it`s no wonder he delayed it till the last minute. He didn`t want people to study it or know about it. It`s clear McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through.

Tomorrow before the resolution is adopted, we will be able to introduce amendments. And we will introduce a whole series of amendments for witnesses, for documents, and other ways to straighten out what McConnell has done and make it a real trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Schumer at a small wobbly podium outside Penn State. On Friday we learned who would be defending Trump during the impeachment trial. A number of them have been Fox News regulars and are loyal supporters of the President.

Tonight the White House announced a group of Republicans from the House who will get Trump`s defense message out, not on the Senate floor but largely in the media.

This afternoon, Trump`s attorneys and the Democrat House managers had walk- troughs of the Senate as part of their preparation. Trump`s lawyers also released a legal brief refuting the articles of impeachment, calling on the Senate to immediately acquit him.

Over the weekend, House managers submitted their brief outlining the case against Trump and what they say as overwhelming evidence that he used his official power to pressure Ukraine, to interfere in our upcoming 2020 election.

It`s worth noting that has unfolded that since the House voted to impeach one month ago. We`ve seen new evidence, of course, from Rudy Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas, who last week here told Rachel Maddow that Trump knew what he was doing in Ukraine. Among that evidence, text suggesting a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine was under surveillance, a government watchdog agency found Trump broke the law by blocking aid to Ukraine, e- mails revealed discussions between the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon about holding off that aid that had been approved by Congress. And former National Security Adviser John Bolton said he was willing to testify in the Senate trial if subpoenaed. So it`s been a busy month.

Tonight, Rudy Giuliani is once again speaking out about the impeachment trial and his former pal and constant companion Lev Parnas. He says Parnas lied when he spoke to Rachel about their work for Trump in Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLF GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S PERSONAL LAWYER: In very large part did not tell the truth.

The man is a demonstrated liar.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Yes.

GIULIANI: The motivation is not to go to prison.

INGRAHAM: So let`s move on to the other allegation which was that you directed the surveillance of a sitting U.S. Ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch in Ukraine.

GIULIANI: Right. No, I did not. No. I can definitely tell you I didn`t -- in fact she directed the surveillance on me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: No one is investigating that last beat because there is no evidence to support it. However, the Ukrainian government is investigating the alleged surveillance of the ambassador by Rudy Giuliani`s associates.

It`s a lot, and here for our leadoff discussion for a new week on a Monday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, also happens to be co-author of the timely book Impeachment, An American History. Also with us, Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for POLITICO and Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon former Chief Counsel to House Intel. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Peter, let`s go over how this is going to differ, going by McConnell`s rules, how this will differ from the Clinton impeachment schedule?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are two main differences in the rules that Senator McConnell outlined today from the rules that were used in 1999. One of them is they`re going to push this opening argument phase of the trial into a tighter time frame. Last time, each side got 24 hours over the period of several days to make their case. This time, they`ll get 24 hours but only over the space of two days, meaning you either have to go 12 hours a day, or you`ll give up some of your 24-hour time in order to get this done. That would mean you would start the opening arguments on Wednesday and Thursday for the House managers, you`d have the White House presumably on Friday and Saturday. By the end of the week, you`d be done with that phase.

The other major difference between these set of rules and the 1999 set of rules is that it doesn`t admit the House report and the House evidence automatically. In 1999, the Senate simply accepted the material that was sent to them from the House as part of its impeachment inquiry and part of that -- they made that part of the Senate record, and therefore in front of the Senate.

This time, Senator McConnell is saying, well, not so fast. We`re not going to do that. We`ll take a vote on that after we`ve heard all these arguments and after we`ve had questions from the senators. Then we`ll decide whether or not we`re going to accept the evidence that the House wants to forward to us. That`s another significant difference.

WILLIAMS: Peter, couldn`t that mean that a piecemeal argument would break out over pieces of evidence as they come over so that both Houses can be reading off the same accepted set of facts?

BAKER: Yes, it`s an odd decision to make in the sense that, you know, what are we having an argument for if we haven`t got a record in front of us? But that`s -- they`ve sort of put the cart before the horse here. But then -- and you easily could see that kind of thing, Brian, right where they say, well, we`ll accept this evidence but not that evidence. We`ll accept this testimony but not that testimony. In that case, it becomes quite a circus and if you sort of break it down in that way.

It`s not clear that would happen, I mean it`s hard to imagine that they`re -- well, I should take that back. Everything is easy to imagine these days, I suppose. But it seems plausible anyway that there would be four Republican senators who would say, no we`re going to accept the evidence even if we choose not to convict the President. We ought to vote to have that evidence admitted to the Senate record. But maybe I`m wrong about that. We`ll have to see.

WILLIAMS: Nancy Cook, no one needs to remind you because it`s your beat. The lock cinch guarantee that the President was watching T.V. is when the White House staff assures us he was too busy to be watching T.V.

Let`s go ahead and speculate that he`s going to be watching as much as he can from Davos while attending whatever meetings he is supposed to attend. Additionally he has the White House Communications Agency to roll on everything he misses and play it back. How does that work in the schedule of this trip? And how long is he supposed to be away?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, the President is really -- this trip to Davos is a very, very short trip, you know, he`s traveling there. Tonight, he land, you know, first thing tomorrow morning in Tuesday, and be in a bunch of meetings. But the way the President consumes media is sometimes in realtime, but then he also has. You know, a lot of advance recording in the White House where he will record shows and record news programs and watch them. And I think that he does that with great frequency while he`s eating lunch, late at night. And so, I think that he`ll do that this week to keep up with the trial.

Even on the way to Davos, we saw the President tweeting from Air Force One about the impeachment and also about, you know, what he would do with the second term. So he`s definitely paying close attention.

And I would say over the last several weeks, the impeachment has really consumed him. He feels persecuted. He feels like it`s a stain on his presidency and potentially his legacy. And so even though he is abroad and meeting with world leaders, I think that we can expect him to slip on Twitter in between those meetings and definitely pay close attention to the proceedings. And he`ll also be back in the U.S. by the time the trial and the proceedings really start.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Jeremy Bash, what stands out to you from your reading of how McConnell wants to proceed?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: A couple things, Brian. First of all, it`s clear he wants to rush this by condensing the opening arguments phase. In effect, he wants to also make a lot of the cases put forward kind of during the late hour. I mean if you think about a 12-hour shift starting at 1:00 p.m., that means a lot of material is going to be covered between, say, 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. in the morning.

I think it`s also important that there`s no evidence in this trial. So we`re calling it the trial of Donald J. Trump, but until there`s actually evidence, you can`t really call it a trial.

A trial is a formal examination of evidence, of witnesses, of documents. We`ll hear opening statements. We`ll hear sort of an opening brief, if you will, but it won`t be a trial until those senators can vote that evidence should be admitted.

WILLIAMS: And Peter Baker talked about these Republicans that the White House has added to their team, though, not their legal team tonight.

BAKER: Yes. This president all along wanted somebody like Jim Jordan, like Mark Meadows, like Ratcliffe from Texas to get out there and aggressively make his case.

Lawyers that he have had hired for the Senate trial itself are not the same kind of combative figures, as polarizing as Ken Starr might be to any of the country. He`s actually a very low key type of individual. He`s not, you know, he`s not going to be as aggressive as Jim Jordan would be.

So the President wants these House members who have been defending him so aggressively, so staunchly over these last few months to be a part of the team.

Now, Senator McConnell didn`t like the idea of these guys being on the Senate floor. The idea of House members on the Senate floor in general is anathema to the Senate under the best of circumstances. He didn`t think, Senator McConnell, that they would be a good idea for the President to have on the Senate floor this time. So they`ve got this sort of ancillary, you know, role, the sort of adjunct team, if you will, to go out to the sticks, go out to the cameras and really make the case for those who might not be following it hour by hour through the long night, but to kind of sum up the President`s view of how the case is going in a very aggressive way.

WILLIAMS: Nancy, you spoke eloquently about the President`s state of mind, his feelings on the persecution of him in the legal and political realm. Have you -- do you have any evidence that his expectations have changed along with kind of the rolling reality of this, or do you think he`s getting assurances from his majority leader down on the Hill steady as she goes?

COOK: Well, I think that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the whole time has been very invested in the details of the process, the Senate rules, the format of the trial, and he has been trying to urge President Trump to stay off Twitter, to not target some of these Republican senators like Senator Mitt Romney, who may not do -- go along with the trial exactly how President Trump would want it.

But that said, President Trump tends to do what he wants. He really is a presidency of one. And I think that we will continue to see that tension throughout the next two weeks with, you know, Senate leadership on the Republican side really wanting President Trump to just damp down and let them handle it.

And President Trump meanwhile being very reactive, reacting on Twitter, reacting in realtime to the news coverage, reacting to how his own staff and White House lawyers are defending him on T.V. And he does react so much to media coverage that I think that we`ll see that unfolding over the next two weeks.

And I think how his staff performs on T.V. will be a very key thing that he will be watching as opposed to necessarily the substance of the trial and what people are actually saying about the evidence and the witnesses and what the charges actually are.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, as a lawyer yourself and someone who has served government in various capacities, I need your honest reaction to what appears to be the methodology that these White House lawyers are going to use, and that is not to dispute the facts. Is that just another bonfire on the death of irony? Do you think that can be true and still get to an acquittal if Dershowitz gets up there and just claims, sorry, it`s not impeachable?

BASH: Well, it`s the only defense they have because the facts really are not in dispute, and the facts were presented during the House process in a very clear, straightforward manner. And the President and his Republican allies didn`t dispute a single witness. They didn`t dispute a single fact.

In fact, the basic defense is, yes, we did it, get over it. If the President did it, it`s not illegal. In effect, they`re saying that what`s in the national interest is the same thing as the President`s interest. It`s sort of very definition of corruption. The President can`t do something illegal because he`s the president. It`s sort of the Nixonian defense, and it`s really antithetical to the American concept of the presidency.

So I don`t think that when senators really look inside their own hearts and their understandings of the constitution, they`re going to agree with it. What they do at the end of the day, we`ll have to see.

WILLIAMS: Well, gang, don`t worry, I`ve been assured it will be a light work week. Peter Baker, Nancy Cook, Jeremy Bash, we greatly appreciate you starting off this new week with us here tonight.

Coming up for us, the Trump lawyer who predicted impeachment would be good for him, not necessarily the President.

And later, a household name from the Russia scandal admits to giving the order that put the heat on two DOJ employees and their personal lives. Laid it all bare in public as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on this Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: Senator McConnell repeatedly promised the senators, the public, the press that his rules for the trial would be the same as the rules in the Clinton impeachment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A trial where there`s no evidence, no existing record, and no new evidence, no witnesses, no documents, that isn`t a trial at all, it`s a cover-up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: John Bolton sits atop the wish list for witnesses that the Democrats and maybe, just maybe, a few brave Republicans want to hear from. But tonight "The Washington Post" is reporting, "Trump`s lawyers and GOP allies in the Senate are working to ensure Bolton does not testify publicly."

According to the "Post," one option being discussed would be to move Bolton`s testimony to a classified setting. That proposal discussed among some Senate Republicans in recent days is seen as a final tool against Bolton becoming an explosive figure in the trial.

Here with us tonight to talk about it, we are happy to have Ron Klain back on the broadcast. Among his many titles and achievements, former Chief Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee, former Chief of Staff to Al Gore during Clinton impeachment, former Chief of Staff to Joe Biden, who is these days a formal adviser to the Biden campaign.

So, Ron, having Bolton testify in a classified surrounding, can you decode this for us? Does that mean as far as the public and the media are concerned, it happens at all?

RON KLAIN, FMR. CHIEF COUNSEL TO SENATE JUDICIARY CMTE.: Yes. You know, if in -- to paraphrase an old joke, Brian, if impeachment were a restaurant, what you`d say right now the proposal is the food will be horrible and the portions will be small. I mean I think that the Republican position oddly enough is that even if Trump is guilty of all these things, it`s not an impeachable offense. Oh, but by the way, we`re not really interested in you presenting any evidence about whether or not he`s guilty of all these things.

And I think that the effort to keep Bolton from testifying in public is kind of paradigmatic of this. I mean if it doesn`t matter, if it truly doesn`t matter to President Trump and his allies that Trump did all this stuff, if it`s not impeachable, then why are they working so hard to keep Bolton`s testimony from being publicly heard? It just doesn`t make any sense.

WILLIAMS: I know you`re on the other side. Hypothetical question is, if it`s going to be in a classified setting, how does Susan Collins, who I just saw has a 52 negative rating in her home state, go home and say to Mainers, I voted to hear him, but we just can`t share it with any of you?

KLAIN: Yes, I think -- yes, I think you`re exactly right, Brian. I mean, I think that is a challenge. I mean, again, it`s a little bit of wanting to have it both ways. If there are senators -- if Senator Collins in fact is in that situation, Senator Romney, Senator Gardner, others, the Republican senators say, oh, no, I want a real trial with real witnesses, oh, but by the way it`s going to be in secret and, yes, I can`t tell you what they said. I think they`re just trying themselves up into knots.

Look, it`s time for the so-called moderate Republicans to make a choice. Do they really want to have a real trial? Do they want to tell their constituents they heard evidence, they weigh the facts carefully, or is this just going to be a big sham? And I think, you know, this idea of having Bolton -- having secret testimony, double secret probation testimony, it just really lays all that bare.

WILLIAM: You and I are old enough to remember what McConnell was saying upwards of a month ago. I`m going to play this for you. This is how his talking points on following the Clinton impeachment model have migrated. We`ll discuss it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNEL: The basic organization of the first phase of this trial will track with Phase One of the Clinton trial.

All 53 of us have reached an understanding very, very similar to the one that was achieved at the beginning of the Clinton impeachment trial.

That was good enough for President Clinton. So it ought to be good enough for President Trump. Fair is fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: But, Ron, the cagey Kentuckian has changed the rules on the eve of displaying the rules. What do you think has changed?

KLAIN: Well, I think what might be changed is he`s worried that he doesn`t line up the votes. I mean, Senator McConnell, the one thing about him is he counts. He counts votes, and he counts very carefully. And if he put these rules forward to push the key votes off to the back of the trial, at least that`s the effort here, to try to keep the votes on witnesses, the key votes from happening until the end of this proceeding, it is probably, Brian, because he doesn`t have the votes at the beginning of the proceeding.

And I think that, you know, it is a flashing yellow light that some of these moderate Republicans may be considering voting to hear live witnesses not in some secret SCIF or in the dark of night but live on national television.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Ron, we`re going to be televising hours of this, of course, tomorrow and on through to the conclusion. A lot of working people can`t make time at 1:00 in the afternoon Eastern Time to watch the proceedings. They may see it on their phone. They may, if they`ve got dinner on, throw on the television in prime time tonight. Respectfully, is the Democratic team smart enough to treat this as a televised event and put material in that prime time tomorrow evening that they want highlighted?

KLAIN: You know, Brian, of course, I hope everyone watches T.V. at 11:00 at night right here on MSNBC.

WILLIAMS: You and me both.

KLAIN: Yes, exactly. So, look, I do think this is a case where McConnell may have outsmarted himself. They think that by running this trial into the nighttime, it will suppress viewership. But of course people that know about television, know that more people watch T.V. at night than during the day because people work of course, because, you know, people watch T.V. at night. And so this effort to push the trial into the night, which is seen as doing Trump a favor, may just mean that the key facts, the key messages are broadcast while people are watching T.V. And that`s at night in prime time. There`s a reason why you call it prime time. And I think McConnell`s move to push this into prime time may well backfire for that reason.

WILLIAMS: Ron, indeed, the Senate and you have a lot of experience in and around that body, is a majority rules institution. But to our viewers, especially those who are concerned and worried and watching on the left- hand side of the political ledger, what are the levers that Chuck Schumer has to pull and exert and gum up the works, if you will? What -- how can he exert power without 51 votes?

KLAIN: Well, it`s hard without 51 votes, there`s no question. But I think that the senator`s institution really it`s every man and woman for themselves in many respects. You have a lot of Republicans in key states that are up for re-election. And senator Schumer`s fundamental power is the power to put on public pressure, to make people accountable for their decisions.

There will be no hiding where people were on whether or not witnesses will be heard. There will be no hiding on whether or not people were on whether or not they wanted a fair trial.

And at the end of the day, the power really is in the hands of the voters of Maine, of Colorado, of Arizona, of these swing states where the Republican senators are going to have to vote one way or the other. That really is -- I mean, you know, at some levels, this is corny, but it is a democracy. It ought to believe the voters decide. And that`s really what this comes down to over that couple of days.

WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, a guy who knows his way around what we are about to watch transpire in Washington. Ron, always a pleasure. Thank you for coming on very much.

KLAIN: Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, the one person, Lev Parnas, wants far away from the federal case against him, more on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was the Attorney General in on whatever was going on there in the Ukraine?

RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have never spoken to Attorney General Barr about this investigation, ever. I have been circumspect, carefully, exceedingly careful. Not only that, Parnas knows that. I told Parnas several times that I would make sure I would never go to the attorney general with it so I wouldn`t compromise him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That`s Rudy on Fox News tonight making his own case while his indicted onetime buddy is doing the same. Lev Parnas` attorney today requested that Attorney General William Barr recuse himself, take himself out of the federal campaign finance case against Parnas. He`s also calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor, claiming prosecutors have refused to meet with him and receive information on the President, on Giuliani and the other significant players.

Here is a reminder of what Parnas told Rachel Maddow about the role that Bill Barr played.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Do you know if Mr. Giuliani was ever in contact with Mr. Barr specifically about the fact that he was trying to get Ukraine to announce these investigations into Joe Biden?

LEV PARNAS, ASSOCIATE OF TRUMP ATTORNEY RUDY GIULIANI: Absolutely.

MADDOW: Mr. Barr knew about that?

PARNAS: Mr. Barr had to have known everything. The difference between why Trump is so powerful now and -- he wasn`t as powerful in `16 and `17. He became that powerful when he got William Barr.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That gets your attention as they say. And with us for more tonight, Maya Wiley, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now with the new school here in New York. And Rick Wilson, longtime Republican Strategist, Co-Founder of The Lincoln Project, a Super PAC created by conservatives with the aim of defeating Trump and Trumpism. His new book goes a long way toward that very idea, "Running Against The Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trumps and Democrats from Themselves." We welcome you both tonight.

Maya Wiley, in normal times, would Lev Parnas have a lock cinch deal with the Feds in New York? Would there be an investigation launched as in do you hear what this guy is saying about people at the highest levels of our government?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: That`s a hard question to answer quite honestly, Brian, and here`s what I mean by that. I don`t think there`s any question that William Barr has earned himself an impeachment inquiry. So that`s clear, and that starts from his misrepresenting the Mueller probe report before it`s released, knowing that Robert Mueller has some issues with the way he`s handling it. That goes to the fact that he, himself, has personally flown around the globe helping to kind of try to stir up some of the dirt that Donald Trump wants.

All kinds of reasons that we could list about why William Barr himself deserves some scrutiny and some oversight. That`s very different from saying in a different world where Donald Trump was not president, Lev Parnas would be -- would have some kind of cooperation agreement or where William Barr, I`m sorry, was not attorney general. And that`s because we just don`t know enough about all the evidence that the U.S. Attorney`s Office has.

WILLIAMS: OK.

WILEY: If you`re in the U.S. Attorney`s Office and someone just doesn`t have anything to offer you, if they cooperate, meaning you don`t believe they`re telling the truth or you have so much evidence that you don`t believe they can add to the evidence that you have, or both, you would have a legitimate reason not to enter into a cooperation agreement with someone. And a Lev Parnas, we should remember, a Lev Parnas is -- has some of his assertions in the Rachel Maddow have documents. Those are documents that the U.S. Attorney`s Office had, and enabled him to share.

There are other allegations that he makes that he says he believes, but he doesn`t necessarily offer any directed, specific knowledge to suggest that he could offer anything more substantive. So I think we have to separate out whether -- there`s huge issues of public trust with William Barr, and there`s a question about whether, I think, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Berman, should recuse with regard to Rudy Giuliani because he is the one who recommended Rudy Giuliani for a U.S. Attorney spot with Donald Trump and appearance of a conflict or appearance of impropriety is enough to recuse because we have to have the public believing in the institutions. But I don`t want to go so far as to say that just by definition because Lev Parnas is saying he should have a cooperation agreement, he should have a cooperation agreement.

WILLIAMS: Rick Wilson, at a more basic societal level, when you think about it, in the last seven to 10 days, we have come to know a landscaper from Connecticut who pardon the double negative Lev Parnas said he has never seen him not drunk. And now the European guy in the MAGA hat with a Belgian I.P. address, how is it that we come to meet these characters surrounding, in the orbit of, the President of the United States?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There is some mystical gravitational force surrounding Donald Trump that attracts the worst grifters, skels, scumbags, you know, roadside hobos, incipient serial killers and weirdos. These guys are attracted to him because they`re like the "d" and "e" and "f" level operatives in this world. And for whatever reason, they feel empowered.

And it`s pretty easy. You show up at the Trump hotel. If you can afford the $22 cocktails, you`re in the club. And so that`s why we see guys like Hyde showing up. That`s why we see all these other sort of odd ball characters always surrounding Trump.

And it`s also because, you know, most of the people that are in this Rudy- Parnas orbit in particular, you know, they come out of this eastern European -- whatever version of hustle they`re running is always inflected with whatever the sort of post-soviet corruption vibe. And it seems to be very much, you know, definitional to Trump`s orbit.

WILLIAMS: Rick, starting with you, I want you and Maya to answer the same question, and I hate that it`s in a negative vein. About the impeachment trial, what are you girding for or resigned to?

WILSON: Well, I`m girding for Mitch McConnell to choke this thing out as quickly as he can. There`s no other option for McConnell right now. If the dam breaks on any vote -- and the reason he didn`t go for an immediate dismissal vote obviously as everyone else has covered was that he knows if he loses one, it shakes the idea that he can control this process completely. So he`s going to be very careful. He`s going to move as quickly as he possibly can. He`s going to try to make this as dull as he can, which I think is, you know, why, as Klain was saying to you earlier, he thought he was going to win by moving it into the night. I think there`s enormous public interest in this.

But on the optimistic side, there will always be more information coming, and these senators are not blind to the fact that Trump lies to them all the time and that every time they think they`ve gotten to the bottom of something with Trump, there`s worse things below it. So I think you`re going to see some skepticism building, especially as the outside coverage continues to roll on in terms of both the Parnas story and the other revelations about the Ukraine situation.

WILLIAMS: I can offer you, Maya, upwards of 30 seconds before I have to take our first break.

WILEY: I agree with Rick.

WILLIAMS: Wow. With time left over. Our returning champion, Maya Wiley, Rick Wilson both staying with us through this break.

Coming up, how one Trump lawyer previewed how he would argue Trump`s impeachment case years before the President was ever impeached. We`ll play you the tape. Look at that still photograph when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Would I be your favorite client?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AMERICAN LAWYER : First of all, you`d be second to O.J. Simpson.

TRUMP: Love the guy.

DERSHOWITZ: The Claus von Bulow.

TRUMP: Great guy too.

DERSHOWITZ: Mike Tyson --

TRUMP: There we go.

DERSHOWITZ: -- and Bill Clinton.

TRUMP: You`re crazy like a fox because it makes your job easier.

DERSHOWITZ: No. It makes my job better because if you get yourself indicted --

TRUMP: Right.

DERSHOWITZ: -- or impeached, I have a real job and you`re helping me enormously. Everything you say, everything you do makes it more likely you`re going to get impeached.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Comedy Central, 2017. Important to note there just to be sure, Dershowitz was in on the joke. Fast forward to today and he really is now one of Trump`s impeachment lawyers. He spent the last few days previewing how he plans to defend the President in the Senate trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DERSHOWITZ: My conclusion, which I will present in a systematic way, is that the framers of the constitution did not permit impeachment on grounds like abuse of power or obstruction of Congress. My position is you don`t need necessarily a technical crime, but you need criminal-type behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So you heard the man. Nothing to see here, Maya Wiley and Rick Wilson. Maya, you go first on the dersh (ph).

WILEY: Dersh (ph) is wrong, wrong, wrong. Couldn`t be wronger because essentially what he is saying is you can violate the constitution and not be held accountable for it. It`s just silly. There was no implication of a crime when Andrew Johnson, the first President who was impeached by the U.S. Congress, went to trial in the Senate, was ultimately acquitted, but he was impeached for abuse of power, and there was no underlying crime or criminality. It was about ignoring Congress, not doing what he was supposed to do as President after the civil war.

There`s simply -- I could go on and on and on. But the bottom line is he is not making a credible argument. And if his argument were to succeed, it would essentially mean that the impeachment clause has no more meaning and that once again there is an argument that a president, that Donald Trump made -- he made the argument that he has absolute power over foreign policy. He would have absolute power over foreign policy.

WILLIAMS: So Rick, he`s not Lev or Igor, or a landscaper guy or guy with the Belgium IP address. He`s Alan Dershowitz Harvard professor. Your reaction.

WILSON: I agree with Maya. Look, Dershowitz here is engaging in what a lot of folks around Trump do. It is performative B.S., he is playing the role of the TV lawyer that Trump wants to see. He knows full well -- and look, I`m no fancy Harvard lawyer, but I can say this. A bare reading of the constitution of any kind, abuse of power does not have to be in the U.S. code for it to be an impeachable offense. They refer to it as an offense.

And so this idea that the President has unlimited latitude and unlimited power and there`s no possible accountability for him is frankly reasonable. And this is an absurdity, but this is Dershowitz doing this because he has been hired to be a prank character on a TV real -- a reality TV show, primarily airing on another network that involves a lot of Fox, you know, lawyers in air quotes who are playing a role for him and shaping the reality -- in shape in the reality show.

WILLIAMS: Maya Wiley, we received this tweet from the President today. It was exactly three years ago today, January 20, 2017, that I was sworn into office. Wait for it. So appropriate that today is also MLK Jr. Day. African-American unemployment is the lowest in the history of our country by far. Also best poverty, capital letter youth and employment numbers ever. Great.

He later went to the monument on the wall with the Vice President. Your reaction to how he comported himself this day?

WILEY: Well, first of all, just on the optics, that looked like a drive-by. It did not look like a sincere and thoughtful pause on what the meaning of celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. means. But just going back to his point, he loves to take credit for black unemployment. We are all thankful that unemployment rates are low in the country, but we have to remember two things. Black unemployment is twice as high as white unemployment. Donald Trump just cut food stamps for, quote, unquote, able- bodied adults despite their struggle to make ends meet and feed themselves. That is going to be a huge impact on all races, particularly low-income black men and women.

And I just want to say Martin Luther King absolutely stood for ending poverty as well as racial justice. And Donald Trump has actually probably done the most for Frederick Douglass because he`s a great guy.

WILLIAMS: Well, I`m hearing a lot of great things about him.

WILSON: As one does.

WILLIAMS: Maya Wiley and Rick Wilson, our thanks. We covered a lot of ground with two of our favorite guests. Appreciate you both coming on, on this Monday night --

WILSON: Thanks Brian.

WILLIAMS: -- before it all gets under way.

Coming up for us, what Rod Rosenstein just admitted to doing and why it doesn`t end there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA PAGE, FMR FBI LAWYER: The President`s attacks and insults are one thing, but this is my institution. This is my Justice Department betraying us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: We now know who released the private text messages between former FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein admitted it was his call to release hundreds of their private messages to reporters. The texts were personal. They were political. They were television jet fuel to outlets like Fox News because they spoke to the deep-state theory among other things. Both Strzok and Page have launched lawsuits of their own against the department for violating their privacy.

Rosenstein`s admission came in a five-page declaration as part of the Justice Department`s defense. the Department`s Public Affairs Office suggested giving the messages to reporters before Rosenstein`s scheduled testimony before the House Judiciary Committee because, quote, some congressional members and staff were expected to release them intermittently before, during, and after the hearing, exasperating -- exacerbating, forgive me, the adverse publicity for Mr. Strzok, Ms. Page, and the department.

But according to Politico, Strzok and Page have noted that the set of fewer than 400 texts sent to the Hill and shared with reporters that night was just a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of messages the pair exchanged on work topics as well as personal matters. Speaking to Rachel Maddow a few weeks back, Lisa Page offered this assessment for why the messages came out when they did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAGE: This was not a great time for the Justice Department. You had Attorney General Sessions constantly beleaguered and being lambasted by the President for failing to sufficiently protect him. You had Rod Rosenstein going to the Hill early the next morning. I think it served a useful foil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And don`t forget this. Lisa Page said her decision to speak out was prompted by an offensive and over-the-top comedy performance by Trump during a campaign rally last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I love you, Peter. I love you too, Lisa. Lisa, I love you. Lisa, Lisa, oh, god, I love you, Lisa. And if she doesn`t win, Lisa, we got an insurance policy, Lisa. We`ll get that son of a bitch out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As for Lisa Page, this is her response to Rod Rosenstein. "All I can say is this. I very much look forward to Rod`s deposition."

Another break for us. Coming up after the break, it may be the definition of adding insult to injury, and we will take you there after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, protesters on the streets in Puerto Rico today. And as you look at these pictures, remember it was the citizens there who drummed the last governor out of office. And if she`s not careful, the new governor, Wanda Vasquez, could face the same fate. They are protesting because of a Facebook video that`s been viewed close to a million times on social media showing a warehouse containing pallets of now expired drinking water, pallets of disposable diapers, baby formula, wipes, tarps, portable stoves, propane gas, and air mattresses.

Keep in mind that some of the places not yet rebuilt after the hurricanes have now been hit by earthquakes, and many people are still sleeping outside. The supplies in the warehouse were withheld from storm victims, and as a result of this, the governor has now fired the head of emergency management and three other cabinet officials.

The people of Puerto Rico, American citizens all, are fed up, and no one on earth can blame them. If hurricanes Maria and Irma weren`t enough and for the record they were, then came the recent earthquake and the near constant nerve-shattering swarm of aftershocks. And to be fair, they have been victim to rampant corruption there for years. It`s proven hard enough to get aid approved following natural disasters, aid that they deserved. The people who have been suffering through this did not deserve for this to happen to them.

That is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you so much for being here with us. Our special coverage, a reminder begins at 9:00 a.m. Nicolle Wallace and I are back on the air in 11 hours, at 11:00 a.m. eastern time in anticipation of the 1:00 p.m. start of the Senate trial. So for now, 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