GENE SPERLING, FORMER ECONOMIC ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT CLINTON AND OBAMA: And Lawrence, I`ll leave you with this which is I think the story behind the story and you can call this the Sperling rule of three. It said, if you do the match, if somebody even gets a third of all the delegates after Super Tuesday, they have to get to 60 percent of the rest of the delegates. If there`s even three viable candidates, the chances of a brokered convention are extremely high, and that is what we are seeing a significant chance of now.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: The Sperling rule of three. We`re going to be watching that one. James Pindell, Gene Sperling, thanks for joining us.
That is "Tonight`s Last Word." "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, two different venues, two different sets of personal recriminations, at times rambling remarks from the President, brandishing the headlines he likes along with the vicious and profane putdowns of his critics and accusers, and promises of retribution now that he`s been found not guilty.
Plus the man in the front row today. The President`s admiring Attorney General William Barr claiming absolute power over political investigations, and that would seem to include the Bidens.
And the Associated Press came out tonight and said -- winner in was three days ago. The Democrats have decided to count again, and the polling just out at this hour is from New Hampshire as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this Thursday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,113 of the Trump administration leaves 271 days to go until the next 2020 presidential election. Today Donald Trump made his first public comments after being found not guilty at his impeachment trial in the Senate.
While his voice was mostly low and his tone was mostly calm, his comments themselves were meandering, elation at one extreme, vindictiveness at the other, viciousness, bitterness, profanity in between. And we saw him today at two venues, both intended to be presidential, although one more reverential than the other. The National Prayer Breakfast, where Trump celebrated his narrow victory in the Senate and made pointed references to both Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi, the latter sitting there on the dais at the event.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your President have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation.
I don`t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong, nor do I like people who say I pray for you when they know that that`s not so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Hours later he appeared in the more regal confines of the east room at the White House surrounded by friends and family and staff and loyal members of Congress. There, he went after the House Speaker more directly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is really not a news conference. It`s not a speech. It`s not anything. It`s just we`re sort of -- it`s a celebration because we have something that just worked out. I mean it worked out. We went through hell unfairly, did nothing wrong. But this is what the end result is.
Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person, and she wanted to impeach a long time ago. When she said I pray for the President, I pray for the -- she doesn`t pray. She may pray, but she prays for the opposite. But I doubt she prays at all.
They took nothing. They took a phone call that was a totally appropriate call. I call it a perfect call because it was. And they brought me to the final stages of impeachment. But now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought a word would sound so good. It`s called total acquittal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tempers are still hot over Pelosi a decision to tear up the state of the union address, which started with Pelosi being denied a hand shake after all. Today she talked about the President, prayer, and the tone of his Tuesday night speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I don`t know if the President understands about prayer or people who do pray, but we do pray for the United States of America. I pray hard for him because he`s so off the track of our constitution.
I thought what he said about -- what he said about Senator Romney was particularly without class. He`s talking about things that he knows little about, faith and prayer. He has shredded the truth in his speech. He`s shredding the constitution in his conduct. I shredded his state of his mind address.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Pelosi and her House Democrats are now discussing next moves. Meanwhile, Trump`s House allies are moving into new leadership positions. Two sources telling NBC News that Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio will now be the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee under Jerry Nadler while Mark Meadows of North Carolina will replace Jordan as the top Republican over at the Oversight Committee. Both men have a near limitless capacity to defend this President at almost any cost.
Today at the White House, and as you hear the following, remember this aired in the noon hour Eastern Time on live television. The President delivered a full airing of his grievances about past investigations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Now we`ve been going through this now for over three years. It was evil. It was corrupt. It was dirty cops. It was leakers and liars.
We first went through Russia, Russia, Russia. It was all bullshit.
These are the crookedness, most dishonest, dirtiest people I`ve ever seen. They said -- this is Strzok. God, Hillary should win 100 million to one.
If I didn`t fire James Comey, we would have never found this stuff because when I fired that sleaze bag, all hell broke out. They were ratting on each other. They were running for the hills. Let`s see what happens. Let`s see what happens. It`s in the hands of some very talented people. We`re going to have to see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That`s our President.
And here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor over at POLITICO, and 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."
Peter, I`d like to begin where the day started and with your account of what it was like in the room at the National Prayer Breakfast.
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Brian, you and I have covered these prayer breakfasts going back a long time. They`ve been going on in Washington I think since 1953, and they`re traditionally a pretty, you know, sedate affair. They`re meant to be bipartisan. Usually you hear talk of common ground and faith and issues that might be somewhat provocative but are usually along the lines of religious questions.
You don`t normally hear partisan attacks, and you don`t normally hear attacks at people who are literally sitting 10 feet away as the President did. It was pretty striking, I think, to have him do that. Even more so in some ways than his later, you know, rambling monologue at the east room. That was almost predictable.
But a prayer breakfast is usually kind of immune from that kind of rhetoric and conversation. But the President felt very strongly obviously, and he was in a mood. He wanted to express his feelings.
Now, for him to question the faith of Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi, both of whom are seen as very religious people, I think was a particularly strong shot, especially from a President who`s not known to be particularly religious. I think it concerned some of the faith leaders who are in the room or not in the room watching.
WILLIAMS: Anita, if possible -- and we note this week is not over -- can you sum up how this week thus far has changed this presidency?
ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, in some ways it`s exactly like we thought it would be, right? I mean I think this is why Nancy Pelosi last year were so reluctant to go down the path of impeachment in the very beginning, even before Ukraine, when they were being urged because we knew what the vote total would probably be, give or take a few. We knew that he would probably be acquitted, and he would be emboldened, and that`s what we`re seeing this week.
In fact, people that talk -- have talked to the President say that he`s -- and you can see it obviously, he`s very, very angry still. He`s been angry now for weeks even though he knew what the end result was likely to be. And now that he has been acquitted, there may be some pleasure there, right? There may be some happiness, but there`s a lot of anger.
And when you talk to people that are close to the President, they are saying that he`s turning that anger into a real drive, right? He`s really focused on the election. Obviously he was before, but he`s even more focused, that he wants to win. He wants to beat the Democrats both for his own race but other races as well. But the question is really whether that anger is going to last these nine months now, right?
You can be driven without having this anger for the next nine months, and that`s what we really don`t know. What is he going to be like for the next few months as the election goes forward?
WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi, we asked for you to be here with us tonight because of what I`m about to play you, some of the President`s other remarks about the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And I love the FBI, and the FBI loves me 99 percent. It was the top scum, and the FBI people don`t like the top scum.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Frank, your reaction.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: It`s painful to hear. I cringe when I hear it. and look, the FBI doesn`t like corrupt officials. I`ll just leave that there.
But what we saw today was someone who is going to continue to lash out and try to harm the very institution that protects Americans from harm. And while he`s doing that, the attorney general sitting in the front row today, yukking it up, he`s stripping away the FBI`s independence. He`s wrestling away the FBI`s ability to open a corruption case or any kind of -- campaign finance case or counterintelligence case against a presidential candidate, a vice presidential candidate, a sitting president. Now it`s clearly in the hands of the President`s henchman, Attorney General Barr.
So we`re seeing the FBI bashed, and we`re seeing Attorney General Barr strip the FBI of independence. And one of the critical institutions of our society is being damaged severely.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, Mitt Romney has paid a price for his faith over the years, politically and personally and the way those two merge. I suppose this chapter of that is now only beginning.
BAKER: Well, that`s right. You know, look, he obviously a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints, had to deal with that as an issue when he ran for president in 2008, 2012. And he talked more expansively about his religion than he normally does when he gave that speech on the floor during the closing arguments of the Senate impeachment trial. I think that that really struck people. Some people obviously reacted strongly to it in the negative. Some people thought, you know, it wasn`t appropriate to put this decision in the form of a religious question.
But a lot of others, I think, took it as a very, you know, heartfelt and authentic expression of how he struggled with this question. He`s the only Republican to break from his party in the Senate and vote for conviction for his President, the only in fact United States senator now in the history of the United States to ever vote to remove a president of his own party. And obviously he made very clear on the floor how much he was wrestling with that question.
He choked up. He appeared emotional, and he`s going to pay a price obviously. He`s already, of course, immediately taken the blowback not just from the President but his family and his friends. Don Jr. said he should be expelled from the Republican Party. He knew that.
He knew that when he made his decision. He told my colleague, Mark Leibovich, he expected that, that he`s a grown man, he`ll live with that. But he couldn`t live with making the vote the other direction. So I think that Romney is going to be an interesting person to watch for a while, see where that goes. He wasn`t able to lead other Republicans to his position, but does he play a different role now that he has broken so thoroughly with this President?
WILLIAMS: And by the way, just as a coda to that, Mitt Romney already back home in Salt Lake, gave this interview to a local television station on this very topic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I believe that when I swear an oath to God, I have responsibility to be exactly truthful. And I am truthful. And did what I believe was absolutely right for our country. And hope that going forward, people will say, well, whether I agree with him or disagree with him, at least he did what he thought was right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Anita, we`re talking about potential retribution for a guy like that. Talk us through the potential kaleidoscope of retribution and potential revenge that we could be looking at here.
KUMAR: Well, obviously the first thing we`re going to see is a lot of comments about him and lashing out. But, you know, I think Mitt Romney said the other day sort of what are they going to do to me? You know, he`s past 70 years old. He`s got years until he runs for re-election. He`s already run for president and lost. What can President Trump do to him? You know, really look at that.
We saw the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today say, you know, not much about it. He said, well, the next -- the thing that counts next is the next vote. So he`s sort of moved on from that.
You know, I think what we`re going to see from the President is he`s going to continue to talk about him. He`s going to continue to try to ostracize him. He`s going to try to turn other people against him, the Republican Party maybe, the apparatus, the organization, other people. But what can he really do for his, you know, for his Senate job? Probably not much.
You know, but with this President, what we`re going to see is what we`re hearing a lot of and what we`ll continue to hear.
WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi, put a finer point on your previous answer and let`s merge it with what I just was talking to Anita about. A lot of talk about retribution, consequences for the people who got the President involved in these investigations in the first place. Talk about the consequences for the FBI, senior ranks and rank and file.
And as we always try to point out, the whole world is watching. We never hear Putin talk about the upper echelon of a division of government that reports to him, but the whole world can hear and see this.
FIGLIUZZI: Yes. So externally our adversaries and our allies are looking at this and wondering whether the FBI is wounded by it, whether they need to still cooperate. People like Vladimir Putin and his intelligence service directors are looking at this, applauding that they believe that Trump has turned on his own intelligence and security agencies.
But here`s what we`re going to see. You saw a hint of it today with the repeated phrase from Trump let`s see what happens, right? And he said that in reference to what the A.G. and John Durham in Connecticut are doing in their inquiry into the origins of the Russian counterintelligence case. So this thing, let`s see what happens, is going to be repeated right up until the election.
We`re going to have this case hanging over our heads as the American public where we`re all going to continue to doubt, boy, how bad is this going to be? Are they going to start arresting FBI executives, right? Here`s what I say to that. Bring it on.
If you`ve got charges to bring, let`s get them in front of a grand jury. Let`s have an American citizen grand jury decide whether a handful of FBI executives had it in for this President. If you don`t have it, shut up and move on. But instead what we`re going to see A.G. Barr do is the President`s dirty work. We`re going to hear this right up to the election. He`ll pull it out of his pocket when he needs it.
You`re going to see perhaps a low-level attorney who fudged an e-mail in a FISA on Carter Page, not connected to the special counsel inquiry. Let`s get him indicted if he needs to be indicted. I`ll condemn him. But let`s do it and move on.
WILLIAMS: Some days are more challenging than others. This was one of those days. And our thanks go out to Frank Figliuzzi, to Anita Kumar and to Peter Baker after the day we`ve just had.
Coming up for us, we still don`t have a winner of the Iowa caucuses. But we do have new polling released just moments ago about the next one, the approaching first primary.
And later, as impeachment ends, now it`s the Republicans` turn to launch investigations into all things Biden related. And so it goes. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`ve got enough of Iowa. I think we should move on to New Hampshire.
And it is really sad that the Democratic Party of Iowa, if I may say so, screwed up the counting process quite so badly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It was back several nights ago at this very hour on Monday night, we should have known who won the Iowa caucus to the senator`s point. As of tonight, 100 percent of the results are in, but we still can`t do you the favor of declaring a winner because the news organizations who would normally declare such a thing don`t yet fully trust the numbers that are in. Both Pete and Bernie are declaring victory as a result.
With us tonight for more, Alexi McCammond, Political Reporter for Axios, covering the 2020 campaign and John Heilemann, National Affairs Analyst, co-host of "The Circus" on Showtime, editor in chief of "The Recount". Good evening and welcome to you both.
OK, Alexi, do you think the Democrats realize the extent of the damage and embarrassment in equal measure from what happened in Iowa?
ALEXI MCCAMMOND, AXIOS POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, first, Brian, I just want to say congrats to you and the team for the excellent coverage on a wild night on Monday.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
MCCAMMOND: I was watching from Iowa, and it was as insane in person as it probably feels for viewers watching all over the country actually being there in the state. But, you know, the DNC and Tom Perez and others from the National Democratic Party have been working hand in glove with the Iowa Democratic Party throughout this week to try to get to the bottom of what went wrong and to try to get to the bottom of the most accurate results to reveal to the American people, not just in Iowa but around the country.
I think Democrats are keenly aware of how embarrassing this has been. They`ve seen the ways in which President Trump and his re-elect campaign have already tried to weaponize this against Democrats and, you know, say that they`re incompetent and they can`t even handle something like a caucus. But, you know, there`s some truth to that. There`s a lot of things that went wrong, especially because of the new rules that were introduced to address the transparency issues and concerns over the Iowa caucus results in 2016. But unfortunately it looks like those new rules and the app that they used this year just really made things more difficult for everyone involved.
WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, a dual question for you. Do the Democrats have a guy who can beat Trump, and which Trump would they rather run against? State of the union Trump or today`s model of east room Trump?
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: All right, well, that`s the easy question, Brian. The first one`s really hard, and the second one`s really easy. So I`ll take the second one first. They`d much rather run against the Trump from today than the Trump from state of the union.
I think, you know, the Trump from state of the union was a liar, but they`re used to that. He`s also the one that gets to talk about the economy and talk about kind of generally optimistic. He sort of stuck to the script. That`s the Trump that the Democrats fear.
They are lucky in one respect is they don`t get to see him that often. You rarely see Trump that disciplined. And so the Trump they saw today, the one who`s acting out, the one who`s reminding voters in the middle of the country, who are not especially ideological, who are not the Trump haters and not the Trump lovers, but the people who are just weary of the nonstop chaos and craziness of this White House, that`s the stuff that is going to help Democrats in the middle of the country where the election will be won or lost in that handful of states. Those are the ones who are like, make it stop.
I just don`t want to see this kind of crazy town stuff anymore. And Donald Trump today, after having had a pretty good run of luck this week, Mr. Donald Trump today reminded them of all that bad stuff, and that`s the thing Democrats are going to want to seize on. They hope they see that Donald Trump from today every day and three times on Thursday.
WILLIAMS: John, did you take a swing at, can you name a Democrat who is going to beat this President?
HEILEMANN: No, I didn`t.
WILLIAMS: Please take a swing at that.
HEILEMANN: I didn`t take a swing at it. I got to say, Brian, you know, I`ve been in Iowa and now in New Hampshire, but in Iowa a lot in the last month, and now I`ve been here ever since Tuesday morning. And I talked to a lot of voters, and I think the question is -- that question is bedeviling them right now.
HEILEMANN: I think the -- it`s the most urgent question. They`ve now gone through a year of this contest, and I think there`s still a huge amount of uncertainty over that central question. They look at -- you know there are many -- Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden all have many devotees. But even among their devotees, they have -- there are some who have concerns about whether they could take on Donald Trump.
And certainly among -- the ones who are fans of a specific candidate, they look at the others. They have deep misgivings. And although all Democrats say things like, we will rally behind whoever the nominee is -- and I don`t necessarily doubt that in most cases. I think all of them have a little knot in their stomach right now that none of these candidates have yet quite shown that they`re the one who -- there`s not confidence, like we found our person, our man, our woman. We`ve got that one right now. I don`t think that`s there yet.
WILLIAMS: Here are the numbers we were waiting for. We knew we were going to come out during our broadcast, this new "Boston Globe" WBZ tracking poll out of New Hampshire. Bernie sanders holding steady since Iowa. Joe Biden took a hit, dropping seven points since Iowa. No change for Warren substantially. But it`s Pete Buttigieg who saw the biggest jump from 11 percent to 23 percent, 12 points in three days.
Alexi, we didn`t see any dropouts after Iowa. And this is when our job becomes a little bit gross because it`s -- let`s face it, it`s part death march. Jet fuel, as I always point out, is really, really expensive. Do you anticipate dropouts after New Hampshire?
MCCAMMOND: I mean I think there are a number of campaigns looking to Nevada and South Carolina, which are demographically totally different than Iowa and New Hampshire, which as we all know on this panel, are incredibly white. That favors people like Pete Buttigieg. So far as we`ve seen, Bernie Sanders as we`ve seen, Joe Biden`s campaign likes to say that they`re looking ahead and looking forward to Nevada and South Carolina because they think they do well with black and brown voters, and they do, do well with those voters according to polling, especially compared to someone like Mayor Pete or Senator Amy Klobuchar.
You know, I think a lot of the campaigns have plans through Super Tuesday according to the conversations that I`ve had with them. Someone like Amy Klobuchar is interesting to watch, though, because after New Hampshire if she doesn`t perform well, you have to wonder what her strategy might be looking ahead to those states where she`s not polling well with voters in those areas.
WILLIAMS: I know how hard you`re both working. You look alarmingly well rested, so I`ll have what you`re having. To Alexi McCammond, to John Heilemann, thanks guys for visiting our broadcast. Let`s do this often as we get closer.
Coming up, the attorney general`s new rule that may impact this campaign cycle when "The 11th Hour" continues.
WILLIAMS: Didn`t take long. Senate Republicans are moving full speed ahead with investigations into -- wait for it -- Hunter Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee says the Treasury Department has already handed over documents related to the younger Biden`s business dealing in Ukraine. In a statement, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden`s office says, "Applying a blatant double standard, Trump administration agencies like the Treasury Department are rapidly complying with Senate Republican requests -- no subpoenas necessary -- and producing evidence of questionable origin. The administration told House Democrats to go pound sand when their oversight authority was mandatory while voluntarily cooperating with the Senate Republicans` sideshow at lightning speed".
Well, that leaves us with a legal issue. And here to talk about it is Berit Berger, former Assistant U.S. Attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York. Berit, can the administration apply separate standards to freeing up Republican requested documents and/or Democratic requested documents? And if not, as we used to say when we were kids, who`s going to make them?
BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, obviously, they should not be able to apply a different standard whether the request is coming from a Democrat or a Republican. But that doesn`t mean they`re not going to do it. As we know, they have been putting up, you know, an epic battle about turning any information over in response to Democratic requests. In fact, the very department that we`re talking about here, the Treasury Department, is now litigating this in front of the Supreme Court because they refuse to give Trump`s tax returns or financial information over.
So they are fighting tooth and nail on one hand and then willingly giving information over in response to Republican requests. So people are of course confused, scratching their head, and it definitely makes this look much more political than principled.
WILLIAMS: Talk about these new rules that give Attorney General Barr supposed new power. And correct me if I`m wrong, any investigation into an active presidential candidate must get signoff and be followed by the A.G. A, how much of a change is it, and, b, does anything worry you?
BERGER: So it was never easy for a prosecutor or the FBI to just open up an investigation on either a political candidate or a public official. There were checks that you had to go through. There were steps you had to walk through throughout the Department of Justice to pretty high levels. This is a change to have to get the Attorney General`s personal signoff to even open an investigation into one of these candidates.
Now, on paper and at first blush, people might think, well, OK, that`s, you know, we want to make sure it`s all being done fairly. The problem here is that we`re not sure that, you know, you have Attorney General Barr, who is going to apply an impartial standard for all of this. So the idea that Bill Barr, who has not taken an impartial view with really anything relating to the Trump presidency is now going to be determining not only whether investigations can be started into the Democratic opponents, but into Trump himself theoretically, I think is deeply troubling.
WILLIAMS: Let me just toss out a name that you and I have discussed in the past. One, Rudolph Giuliani, nowhere to be found in the President`s audience today, nowhere to be found in the President`s thank you remarks today. Could a rule like this, newly undertaken and embraced by the Attorney General, have any impact on Rudolph Giuliani?
BERGER: Hard to say. I mean, look, he wasn`t specifically mentioned by the President in the remarks today although the President has been highly complimentary of Giuliani, has taken really many opportunities to praise, what a good mayor he was, what a great effective prosecutor he was. So at least up until recently, it has definitely seemed that the President was still very much in camp Rudy.
You know, it`s unclear what will ultimately happen with Rudy. There were reports that the Southern District was investigating. We haven`t seen anything come from that, but we do know that there may be trials coming up about some of Giuliani`s associates, Parnas and Fruman. So, perhaps his name will be circled in some of those trials or in the discovery period leading up to that.
WILLIAMS: Final question about your beloved Justice Department. When people talk about just the notion of a slapdash investigation into a public official, remind folks how file happy, process happy, chain of command happy, how much rigor there is, during normal times, inside DOJ?
BERGER: Absolutely. I mean, no investigation is started, you know, on a whim. There are procedures and especially in a case involving, like I said, political figures or government offices or people running for President. This is not something that could just be started because somebody feels like they want to that day. You obviously have to meet not only legal standards but department and attorney general standards. So, it is a process, and it`s -- you know, there is due process and both, you know, Department of Justice process. So for good reason.
WILLIAMS: Counselor, thank you for always putting it into English for lay people to understand. Berit Berger, our guest again tonight.
Coming up, new polls signal a slowdown in momentum. Does Elizabeth Warren, for one, have a plan for that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For Elizabeth Warren, this is essentially a home game. I think the question for her in this race is if she doesn`t beat Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire and she doesn`t in Iowa, where in the next three or four places does she beat Bernie Sanders? How does she overtake him?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So she has campaigned as the woman with a plan for that. Less clear is her plan for post-Iowa. "The Washington Post" writes, "Like many candidates in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Warren was spending more money than she was taking in. She had just $13.7 million in cash on hand going into January". Paper reports Warren has pulled nearly half a million dollars in television ads in Nevada and South Carolina this week.
With us tonight from our temporary headquarters up in Manchester, New Hampshire, is one of our veteran road warriors, Ali Vitali, who`s covering the Warren campaign for us. Ali, middle of the pack is a great place to be in the middle of the Daytona 500 when you want to just run your race, shield yourself from wrecks around you, not necessarily a great place to be right now, between these two key contests and heading into two more key contests. So what is the Warren campaign saying about the position we find them in?
ALI VITALI, POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS: So, look, it`s easy to be the candidate with a plan for that. Right now, though, the plan is kind of hard to execute because this primary has been really messy and convoluted. And in fact, in talking to my sources on the Warren campaign tonight, messy and convoluted is sort of what they`re banking on at this point because the plan is delegate strategy. Stay into these primaries. She picked up delegates in Iowa. She`s hoping to pick up delegates in New Hampshire. Stay in these primaries long enough and keep scooping up delegates as you go.
That`s a good plan in theory to get you to the convention. But the reality is at some point you have to win something. If not in New Hampshire, certainly it wasn`t in Iowa, and she was asked this tonight. If you can`t win in either of those two places, where can you win? Elizabeth Warren tonight didn`t actually give the names of any states that she thought that she could win in. And so this is the problem. This is a campaign who has been in protracted primary as part of the strategy for several weeks now. They`ve long touted the fact that they have over 1,000 staffers in more than 31 states, and that`s great if you want to build out an infrastructure where people aren`t yet ready to build out an infrastructure ticking further down the calendar.
The problem with that is, you talked earlier in the show about jet fuel is expensive, so are staffers. And so in order to keep an operation like this running, it`s top heavy. You`ve got 1,000 plus people on payroll. You need the money to be able to do that. I think a few red flags were raised this week when we saw her start pulling ads from the airways in places like Nevada and South Carolina. I`m told that`s helping the campaign stay nimble. They want to see where this primary goes.
But certainly, when you start hearing the candidate and your sources on the campaign use words like, we have to be careful with the money we have, that sets off a few red flags, especially at this point when, you`re right, this is the time to be coming around and starting to make your play to win, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Ali Vitali up in Manchester, New Hampshire. We wish you as much sleep as you can get and certainly safe travels as you continue on about the trail, something you know a lot about.
Another break for us. When we come back, a warning from a career foreign service officer we have come to know about the approaching danger she fears here on home soil
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tell me, why isn`t Germany paying money? Why isn`t France? Why isn`t United Kingdom paying money? Why aren`t they paying money? Why are we paying the money?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President there claiming several European countries are not helping Ukraine, but as a "New York Times" fact checkpoint out, those countries "provide more development and humanitarian aid to Ukraine than the United States does, though the United States is the largest provider of military assistance".
But let`s not forget how Lev Parnas, of all people, contributed to the President`s limited understanding of the situation in Ukraine. We know this, thanks to the recording, April 2018, that his lawyer confirmed to NBC News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEV PARNAS, ASSOCIATE OF RUDY GIULIANI: All the pipeline goes through Ukraine.
TRUMP: Ukraine has oil?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course. Number one in Europe.
PARNAS: Yes, exactly
TRUMP: How come they --
TRUMP: They don`t have any money.
PARNAS: The biggest problem there I think where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador. She`s still left over from the Clinton administration.
TRUMP: Where the ambassador, where Ukraine?
PARNAS: Yes. And she`s basically walking around telling everybody, wait, he`s going to get impeached, just wait.
TRUMP: What`s her name?
PARNAS: I don`t remember.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t have her name of back.
TRUMP: Get rid of her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct.
TRUMP: OK, get her out tomorrow. I don`t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out, OK?
TRUMP: Do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Just today, that former Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post" saying despite these turbulent times, she remains optimistic about the future.
With us for more, Mike McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. His book is titled "From Cold War To Hot Peace: An American Ambassador In Putin`s Russia." Michael, I imagine it makes your blood boil a little bit every time you`re forced to hear that recording. Marie Yovanovitch is out of the game now. She is free to talk. But think about what it must have taken for her to write what she did.
AMB. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Yes. First of all, that tape, Brian, there`s so many pieces of what they`re exchanging that aren`t true. Ukraine doesn`t have a lot of oil. She`s not a leftover from the Clinton administration. Why is the President of the United States taking advice from Lev Parnas? It makes me so nervous about all the other dinners and casual conversations that we`re not hearing about Saudi Arabia, Russia, Azerbaijan that`s going on. That`s the first thing.
But second, I do applaud Ambassador Yovanovitch for her piece today. She is trying to point to the long stretch of history. She is trying to encourage those young foreign service officers that are going to be sworn in February 14th to say stay the course and to know that people will do the right thing in the government. I`m not as optimistic as her.
You know, we saw some people do courageous things, incredibly courageous things, like Masha, like Ambassador Yovanovitch. But we saw a lot of other people not do such courageous things, and none of them would have been exposed to say the right things were it not for the whistleblower, remember that. None of this would have been known without the whistleblower. So, you know, good news/bad news story. Hope we`re in the right direction over the long term, but I`m nervous about the short term.
WILLIAMS: I`m reminded one of the quotes in the piece she wrote. It is, "We must not allow the United States to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act". And now I gently transition to a story on Bloomberg news tonight by Jennifer Jacobs. "White House weighs ouster of aide who testified against Trump". It appears from the available evidence that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is up for reassignment back over to the Department of Defense.
Ambassador McFaul, I ask you all the time what it`s like to be in the Kremlin watching this, including, by the way, the Democrats screwing up nine ways from Tuesday just voting Iowans and their presidential preferences, but also including this. Putin never comes out and calls the top echelon of his top law enforcement agency scum. But Putin can hear our President say that about our FBI.
MCFAUL: And I think it`s music to his ears. Everything you just said, Brian. When he sees the President of the United States being vindictive against his own people, right? We`re talking about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman works for the United States Army. He is a member of the government. He`s been there for 25 years.
When you see him going after the son -- back to your previous story just a few minutes ago -- the son of the former Vice President, saying, we`re going to investigate him now, that is troublesome for our democracy. And that is good news for Putin. And I wish the President would think a little bit more strategically that when he weakens us domestically, when he challenges our institutions, when he makes it look like he`s not afraid to use his presidential power in unconstrained ways, that weakens us domestically, and that strengthens our adversaries externally, including Vladimir Putin.
WILLIAMS: And give us an idea of any of the content in the State of the Union address that a Vladimir Putin would be more interested in than something else.
MCFAUL: Well, most importantly, to the credit of the President, Vladimir Putin wants President Trump to be re-elected. He did not get all the deliverables -- that`s a State Department term -- that he had hoped for when President Trump won his first term, right? He did not get sanctions lifted. He did not get Crimea recognized. He did not get us to pull away completely from Ukraine. That`s because President Trump in his first term had people around him that disagreed with President Trump vis-a-vis all those things.
And what I think President Putin is hoping is in a second term -- if there is a second term -- President Trump will do precisely those things because he will be -- he`ll say he`s got an electoral mandate. He doesn`t need to listen to all the gray beards and all the national security establishment people. He`s going to do it his way. That will be good news for Putin, and that speech for him was a pretty powerful speech about presidential re- election. Again, I think President Putin will welcome that.
WILLIAMS: Ambassador Mike McFaul out on the campus of Stanford University in California. Thank you as always for joining us again tonight.
Coming up for us, one of the few annual presidential events in Washington with a purpose higher than politics. That`s when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight is a question. What would make Matt Miller, a former Department of Justice spokesperson and a contributor on this network, to say this earlier today? And I quote, it always cracks me up watching how Trump`s brain just can`t grasp religion or genuinely religious people at all. He went on to say, it`s like watching a dog try to understand math.
Well, Matt Miller said that after the President`s performance this morning at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which like so much of what this President does, was so strikingly different from any Presidents we`ve ever seen at this statement point in their presidencies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we come together every year, we live aside the debates of the working day.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These moments of prayer slow us down. They humble us. To come together as brothers and sisters and seek God`s face together.
TRUMP: They have done everything possible to destroy us.
OBAMA: We can`t leave our values at the door.
TRUMP: I don`t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.
BUSH: I appreciate the friendship and the kindred spirit. All of us believe in the power of prayer.
TRUMP: Nor do I like people who say, I pray for you, when they know that that`s not so.
BUSH: We`re thankful for the goodness and character of our fellow citizens.
OBAMA: And I believe in God`s command to love thy neighbor as thyself.
TRUMP: When they impeach you for nothing, then you`re supposed to like them. It`s not easy, folks. I do my best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual Washington tradition to take us off the air tonight. And that is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so much for being here with us and good night from our NBC News headquarters in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END