John Bolton breaks TRANSCRIPT: 2/17/20, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Anita Kumar, Katie Benner, Rick Wilson, Tamara Keith, Azi Paybarah

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

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on this Presidents` Day holiday, the current president takes his post-impeachment powers out for a spin even as a court prepares the next phase in the case of his old friend and convicted felon Roger Stone.

And just tonight, John Bolton has broken his silence on at least more stories from the inside.

Plus the transformation of the modern Justice Department and the colossal number of former feds, now over 2,000 of them, who are calling on this attorney general to resign.

And as for the Democrats, as they race to make sure the Nevada caucuses look nothing like Iowa, they debate in Vegas two nights from now, and that means Bloomberg might finally take the stage, and things are heating up between him and Bernie and Biden. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Monday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,124 of this Trump administration. That leaves exactly 260 days to go until the 2020 presidential election, and five days out now from the Nevada caucus.

Tonight in his first public remarks since the impeachment trial, John Bolton spoke out. He used an event at Duke University, the former national security adviser talked about his unpublished manuscript which reportedly contains details of the Trump/Ukraine scandal. You will recall the U.S. Senate voted not to hear from him during the recently wrapped up impeachment trial.

Our colleague, Carol Lee, was there tonight. She`ll join us in just a moment. She reports that when asked if Trump`s call with the Ukrainian president was indeed perfect, Bolton said, "You`ll love chapter 14."

He also said this about Trump, "I say things in the manuscript about what President Trump said to me. I hope they become public someday. He tweets, but I can`t talk about it. How fair is that?"

This unfolds as Trump and A.G. William Barr are both coming under attack for their efforts to lessen the government`s sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, longtime Trump friend, now a convicted felon awaiting sentencing. He`s supposed to be sentenced this Thursday, but over the weekend the judge scheduled an emergency phone hearing in the case.

The political controversy set off by the Stone case has more than 2,000 former Justice Department officials from both parties calling on Barr to resign. We have never seen anything like this before.

And, further, tonight, "USA Today" is reporting the National Association of Federal Judges will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss intervention in political cases.

Earlier on this network, vice president and 2020 candidate Joe Biden blasted Trump and the attorney general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This has been the most the greatest abuse of power I have ever seen at the hands of this president, who has no, no sense of decency or understanding of the constitution. And Barr`s facilitating it is beyond my comprehension.

No president has ever intimidated an attorney general into abusing power as much as this man has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: "The Washington Post" reports that Trump`s efforts on Stone`s behalf are part of the President`s attempt to rewrite the narrative of the Russia investigation as well as other inquiries into his conduct, "As his re-election campaign intensifies, Trump is using the powers of his office to manipulate the facts and settle the score."

Tomorrow the President makes a rare trip to L.A., he`ll meet with the 2028 Olympic Organizing Committee, and he`ll have a campaign fund-raiser. Then he takes his message to voters in three states, Wednesday, Arizona, Thursday, Colorado, Friday, Nevada. One day before the Democratic caucus, we know.

Colorado`s Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who is fighting to hang on to his seat, will join Trump at the Colorado rally. He`s among the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election to the Senate, as is Arizona`s Martha McSally, who was appointed to her seat in 2018. Today she took Trump`s side in accusing Democrats of spending more time in investigations and doing little else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY, (R) ARIZONA: They`ve been trying to investigate this President on everything.

People are tired of their obstruction and their investigations and their impeachments, they want them to get to work. There is a lot at stake. Arizona will be ground zero. We will make sure that President Trump wins Arizona and that I win Arizona.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: On that note and here for our leadoff discussion on a Monday night, Katie Benner, Justice Department Reporter for "The New York Times," Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor or POLITICO and NBC News Correspondent Carol Lee who`s with us from Raleigh, North Carolina tonight after covering that Duke event.

Carol, I`d like to begin with you. And even before I ask you the content, the headlines from the event, let`s talk about what Mr. Bolton said.

For the people who value principle over kindle will be rankled by hearing what he said tonight. Is he really in that naked an attempt to get people to read chapter 14, to sell books? And is he really in a titanic struggle over a case of over prior restraint with the White House? Is anyone threatening to kill his book entirely as opposed to making national security edits?

CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he certainly hinted that he believes that this book is being held up in a way that`s unfit. It`s not warranted. He said -- he used words like censorship. He said, you know, once we get through this censorship from the White House, you will see if - - you`ll see what`s in my book. At one point he said, I hope it`s not suppressed in talking about his book.

And he said he was asked very bluntly. Well, you know, why -- you were going to speak to the Senate that -- in their impeachment trial. You`re here now. You`ve written the book. Why can`t you just speak to us? And he said that he is -- because his book is under this pre-publication national security review in the White House and the White House is saying there`s classified information in this. And Bolton is saying there`s not, but because of that he can`t speak out right now.

And so he`s -- in his view, his hands are kind of tied. So he spent a lot of time tonight dropping bread crumbs and hints about different aspects of topics that are in his book and really kind of laying out how he`s going to basically tell all and -- on a number of topics.

WILLIAMS: For the folks at home screaming at their television sets, of course, they can`t stop him from speaking publicly, and, of course, after a life spent in this industry, in the intel and national security business, he knows what line not to cross, one would think.

Let`s move on now to the substance. And let me ask you to run through the headlines as you heard them and wrote them down.

LEE: Sure. Well, he talked about Ukraine. The first time we`ve really heard him speak about Ukraine publicly. He didn`t say much, but he said -- one of the things that he said was that the Ukraine is all the focus is on his -- what he wrote about Ukraine, but that`s just the sprinkles on the sundae, so there`s a lot more, which is another hint that he was giving.

He went through a number of policy issues where he said that Trump -- President Trump is just failing. He said their policy on Iran is a failure. He said it doesn`t live up to its bumper sticker headline of maximum pressure that the -- basically that the Trump administration is not doing everything it could be doing on Iran. He said that the president`s North Korea policy is a failure. In the last two years of trying to do diplomacy of Kim Jong-un is a waste of time. And he was critical of the President`s policy on Venezuela, also said that`s a failure.

And Brian, one of the most interesting things I thought he said was about Russia. He said that the President has not been tough enough on Russia. That`s not surprising that John Bolton feels that way, but he was asked specifically about the President`s meeting in Helsinki with President Putin. And when he did that, when he was talking about that, he said something to the effect of, you know, I worked for this administration to do what -- do what I could in terms of setting the right policies for the country, and I put up with a lot.

And so he -- and he says he writes about Helsinki in his book, but it`s -- what the suggestion was that Helsinki and the President Trump`s opposed to Russia was just one of the many things that he had sort of had to stomach to try to get policies that he wanted advanced.

WILLIAMS: All right. Having established that, Katie Benner, let`s go back up to Washington and the Cabinet department you cover. How unusual is it that this federal judge has asked for a kind of telephonic conference tomorrow in the Stone case, and what else do you know about it?

KATIE BENNER, THE NEW YORK TIMES JUSTICE DEPT. REPORTER: Sure. So I think that we should say that it`s extremely unusual not just that the judge wanted this conference call but also that we have now I think more than 2,000 former Justice Department employees, officials and prosecutors, all decrying the behavior that we saw last week coming out of DOJ.

They are extremely worried that the President has managed to kind of break through a barrier and completely politicize the Justice Department reaching in to influence two key cases from the Mueller investigation, two of his allies, one, Roger Stone, one of his close allies, and then Michael Flynn, who was his national security adviser. So we`re seeing what looks like the President applying pressure, some would say successfully, on the department in order to try to find ways to cut those guys a break.

And this is now so disconcerting that we`re seeing the sorts of people, judges, former Justice Department officials, former Justice Department attorneys, who are normally extremely restrained and do not speak out and do not complain about politics, now, making really public statements going so far as to say that the Attorney General Bill Barr should resign.

WILLIAMS: Well, Anita, now we go over across town to the White House. And has the White House perception of the attorney general changed at all, especially given his comments in the ABC News interview, over the past few days that you can tell?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. What we`re still hearing from, you know, the White House and also from people who are talking to the President is that he`s still supportive of the attorney general. A little bit surprising considering those harsh comments, but the President continues to have confidence in him. And, you know, remember this, Bill Barr is someone who a lot of Republicans and a lot of conservatives were very happy he was coming on board. And so you`ve seen a lot of people, you know, over time really be, you know, complimentary of him.

You know, I was struck, though, that you`re seeing some conservatives like Lou Dobbs and others start to criticize the attorney general and say, you know, don`t you realize what President Trump has been going through, Bill Barr. You shouldn`t be saying these comments. You shouldn`t have made those comments in the ABC interview.

And you know, as you know, the President is very in touch with what conservatives are saying on television and elsewhere, and I`m wondering what that`s going to be like if that, you know, drum beat continues. But so far all we`re hearing is that the President is still happy with the job he`s doing.

WILLIAMS: Katie Benner, let`s for a second go back and drill down on this Association of Federal Judges. Just about every profession has at least one professional association, and they are no different, though how unusual is it for them and how influential are they before the American Bar?

BENNER: Sure. Well, I can`t speak to how influential they will ultimately be because it`s very difficult in this era to sort of talk about how things used to be and whether or not they work in the way they did in the past. We`ve kind of thrown that all out the window under this administration and in this sort of environment that was created under this administration. But I will say that again, judges tend to be extremely apolitical. And it`s not just because that`s a character of a judge, it`s because it`s essential to the working of the justice system.

You don`t have a criminal justice system as we think of it in the United States, an impartial system under which all people are impacted the same way, as much as we`ve been able to believe that, and where all people basically have to adhere to a certain set of rules if politics seeps in. And part of the way we keep politics out is that figures like judges do not speak about politics, and they don`t speak out. So, again, that is why this is so incredibly concerning, and it is -- and it`s sort of an indication of what unusual times we are in.

The President has been trying to politicize the Justice Department since he took office. Under the Mueller investigation, so much of that was kind of cordoned off in the special counsel`s office, so the attacks were really sort of constrained to something that felt like, you know, ancillary to the department in some ways. But that is gone. The special counsel`s office is gone.

An attorney general who is willing to recuse himself from those matters, that is gone. That was Jeff Sessions. And so now it is really beating down directly onto the department and we are seeing people respond strongly because it is now feeling very, very grave.

WILLIAMS: And we especially note the concern and the seriousness in your reporting as we`ve come to know you.

Anita, one more note, and it veers into politics, rallies and fund-raisers, California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada. The latter three are rallies and attached fund-raisers, especially for vulnerable Senate races. What do you know about this trip? Anything in advance?

KUMAR: Well, I mean, we do know that despite how the President speaks generally, which is, you know, this tough talk where he`s really talking to his base, the Trump campaign is very much working towards expanding the electoral map. So they`re looking at states that President Trump didn`t win. He might have been close.

You saw a couple there that he, you know, lost to with Hillary Clinton in 2016, but they want to win those. They think they have a shot at them.

We`re always so, you know, thinking about how he talks and that he`s only talking to his base, but his staff is very much looking at winning back -- winning some states that they haven`t won.

Now, the question is what will his message be there? And I think his message is probably going to be the same message because he has the same message everywhere he goes. Tough talk on, you know, Mueller and impeachment, on Democrats, name calling, all that sort of thing. He`ll take it to those places where that may not be the message they want to hear. If your, you know, if you`re mostly a blue state or you`re trending that way, are you really going to want to hear that tough talk? So that`s really where this is going to be. This swing is going to kind of let us see what that message is like.

WILLIAMS: To Katie Benner, to Anita Kumar, and Carol Lee reporting on Tonight`s event down in North Carolina, our thanks to the three of you for starting us off tonight.

Coming up for us after our first break, the next contest of the 2020 race is now five days away. Already thousands of Democrats have voted, but at least it`s a caucus, so there`s still an ample chance that it will go haywire.

And later, one of the former DOJ officials calling on Barr to resign is here to talk with us tonight as THE 11TH HOUR has just getting started on this Monday evening.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four years from now, you think Nevada still has a caucus?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope this is the last caucus in the history of the United States.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Some in Nevada complain about the caucus process, and the National Democrats have good reason to be worried about it. The Democratic Party today announced that more than 26,000 people have taken part in early voting there, but it`s not that simple, and that`s not the end of the caucus process. There have been long lines already.

Meanwhile, "New York Magazine" has reporting on what President Obama is saying in private so much for the private about the Democratic Party hopefuls. A source who speaks to Obama tells the magazine that if a Democrat wins the nomination outright, Obama will back that person in full, "His biggest dilemma is if Bernie is at 35 percent to 40 percent of the delegates and no one else is at 20 percent. Does he say, "You have to go with who won a plurality of the delegates and who looks to be the true front-runner?"

Here with us tonight to answer some of these tough questions, Rick Wilson, long time Republican strategist, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, the Super PAC created by conservatives with the aim of defeating Trump and Trumpism. His new book is, "Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump and Democrats from Themselves."

Rick, thank you for coming on. First off, take on that dilemma if these Obama quotes are anything in the realm of real. Take on what he`s talking about.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICN STRATEGIST: Well, the difficulty for Barrack Obama right now is that as the elder statesman of his party, as a guy who won two smashing electoral victories for the Democrats and who was one of the most popular and remains one of the most popular political figures of either party in the country, he has enormous power reposed in him right now. And the question that must be burdening him is what they said, do you take a Bernie, who can put together 30 percent or 35 percent of the delegates and the rest of the peanut butter is spread too thin to have any other person as the obvious, you know, competitor? Does he spend his political capital to do that?

Now, I`m not a guy who`s been famous for giving Barack Obama advice, but I would say if he`s thinking this through that, you know, if you want to keep the House and you want to compete for the Senate and you want to win the presidency, you run like hell for Bernie Sanders. And you start taking steps sooner than later to consolidate the field. And that may mean, he has to make a phone call to Joe Biden at some point in the next couple weeks or a phone call to Pete or a phone call to Elizabeth Warren and say, listen, for the good of the order, you know, there is now a lane where it`s Bernie versus every other kind of Democrat.

And Bernie not being an actual Democrat is going to cause, you know, this party, in my view, to -- I call him this in my book. He is Trump`s re- election insurance policy because everything that -- the Republicans around Trump are giggling and dancing a victory dance already. They`re popping bottles in the thought it`s going to be Bernie Sanders.

WILLIAMS: Talk about the Sanders effect in your view on down-ballot races.

WILSON: Sure. Well, in down-ballot races, a lot of the places that are competitive in 2020 are not super woke states. They`re not hyper progressive states. You know, North Carolina is a reddish-purple state, trending more purple, but it`s not there yet for the Democrats. If they have Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket in places like North Carolina and Arizona and Michigan, you`re probably going to ensure the Republicans pick up those seats.

And so those competitive races suddenly look less competitive. Nancy Pelosi has been eyeballing the exits a little bit too, wondering what it does to her House majority because, again, Bernie Sanders is an incredibly divisive figure with people who are not Bernie bros, with people who are not Bernie Sanders fans. And it gives, you know, the Trump guys a caricature that is so vivid and so loud, and so crazy that even some of those moderates who drifted away from the GOP are going to go, oh, god, here`s another terrible binary choice. I`ve got to pick either this jerk Donald Trump or the communist grandpa. And so, it`s going to be a tough ride, I think, if they make Bernie the nominee. And you know, R-I-P, my time line now for saying all this.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I was going to say, you may hear from somebody on social media. I`m not sure while you`ve been talking.

WILSON: I`ve been proud (ph), yes.

WILLIAMS: Or even talking. We`ve been showing Bernie, who is live at an event in Tacoma, Washington, 8:22 p.m. local time.

WILSON: OK.

WILLIAMS: I also saw a headline from "The Wall Street Journal" that you liked on social tonight, and it reads, "Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg have very different theories of what Democratic voters want in 2020. Sanders thinks they are ready to overthrow the system. Bloomberg thinks they simply want to beat Trump." But Bloomberg, as you well know, has other hurdles to getting there in this party in 2020.

WILSON: Sure. Mike Bloomberg is not wrong in the predicate that the primary mission of the Democratic nominee is to make the race a referendum on Donald Trump and to beat Donald Trump. Everything else is secondary. There is an underpinning magical reality to the Bernie people, or magical realism to the Bernie people, where they think out there in the heart of the country in those swing states, in the seven or eight major swing states and the 15 total swing states, they think that there`s this like progressive movement ready to rise up from the corn fields to the Midwest and storm the bastion and put the aristocrats in the tremble and take them to the guillotine. It doesn`t exist. It`s in their brains, but it doesn`t exist.

There is no sign of a massive progressive groundswell out there in the country. They`re making this thing up. And it sounds great on paper, but like a lot of revolutions, it`s going to fall flat when reality comes and collides with them like a freight train.

WILLIAMS: Rick Wilson of the printed page, and he`s about to learn tonight of social media fame as well. Rick, always a pleasure, thank you for coming on.

WILSON: Thank you, sir.

WILLIAMS: And speaking your mind.

WILSON: You bet.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, one of the thousands of former U.S. Prosecutors calling for the resignation of the attorney general. Her unique perspective on where the Justice Department could go from here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICOLLE WALLACE, DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE, ANCHOR: Would it be your mind-set to investigate this President. Congress hasn`t really been able to get very far because of this stonewalling? Would you direct your DOJ to examine the Trump Organization and reaching themselves or would it be your instinct to try to turn the page?

BIDEN: You try to turn the page in the sense that you do not direct. You do not direct the Attorney General`s Office to engage in certain investigations or prosecutions. Let the attorney general make that judgment based on evidence that comes before him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That right there was the voicing of an old-school, one-president- ago norm where our Justice Department is concerned. It was just days ago the current President wanted to remind the world he has the legal right to interfere in the Department of Justice after tweeting out to 70 million people that he thought the proposed prison sentence for his friend Roger Stone was a miscarriage of justice. That was right before Barr got involved and the recommended sentence was reduced.

Our next guest, because of all of it, is among those calling on the Attorney General to step down. Back with us tonight is Jill Wine-Banks, Attorney and Former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel. She has also just written down her own story, and there it is, "The Watergate Girl: My truth -- My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President", due out on February 25th.

Jill, the norm, as I said, that you just heard Biden voice was the previous norm that we`ve seen get knocked down. It wasn`t always the norm, but where did we get the modern-era idea of separating -- staying out of politically sensitive cases if you were a -- someone have responsibility in the federal government?

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: It goes back a long way, and I guess I`m old-fashioned because I completely agree with Vice President Biden that you do not get involved, that is completely inappropriate. I don`t know. I haven`t done the research to say that legally the President can`t direct it, but the President has never done anything other than give policy advice.

It`s OK to say, I think the Department of Justice should spend its time looking at antitrust or should spend no time doing antitrust cases. Those are policy judgments that the election has consequences and can be carried out. But you can`t have the President say, and you should investigate ITT, which was an issue in the Nixon administration, or that you should go after Amazon or you shouldn`t go after Amazon. Those are things that are left to career prosecutors who look at facts and evidence and make judgments based on that.

What Barr did in this case and in so many others, because remember it`s not just his interference in the Stone sentencing, which is to help the President, but it`s also what he did with the Mueller report and how he released it and set the tone for it before the truth was able to come out about what it really said. And there are many other examples of things that I think are completely inappropriate, and that`s why I was happy to sign the letter with my colleagues calling for the resignation of the Attorney General.

And it made me think that maybe we need to have a different system of appointing an attorney general, that maybe the Attorney General is too sensitive a position to have be a political appointee of the President, and maybe it needs to be, as it is in the states, an elected position on its own. I served as Deputy Attorney General in Illinois to an elected attorney general of a different party than the governor, and the system worked very well there. And I just -- I`m thinking we need a new sheriff in town, and it`s not William Barr.

WILLIAMS: Jill, let`s talk about the remedy, though, other than hopefulness, other than a change at the ballot box, what part of the Congress you`re currently looking at indicates to you that they would be willing or able to take on a legal remedy?

WINE-BANKS: Unfortunately I`m not seeing that there is a real energy for that. Impeachment is possible of the Attorney General, and he certainly deserves it. But having just been through an impeachment process, I don`t think there`s an appetite for that by either the Democrats or the Republicans. And so I don`t think that`s going to be the solution, and yet there`s a lot of damage that can be done between now and the election and, even more, between the election and inauguration.

WILLIAMS: Jill Wine-Banks is a lawyer and about to be an author and we learned tonight is also a sheriff. Jill, always great to see you. Thank you very much for coming on our broadcast.

Coming up for us, a major voice in Nevada politics has this message. Don`t count this guy out quite yet. We`ll tell you who said that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Former longtime Nevada Democratic Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is weighing in on the Democratic primary ahead of his state`s caucuses on Saturday. Reid, who has served as both majority and minority leader in the Senate and may be the most famous person ever from searchlight, Nevada, had this to say over the weekend about his former colleague, Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: I think it`s way too early to count Joe Biden out. As I`ve said here this morning several times already, Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the country. He`s going to do well in Nevada. He`s going to do extremely well in South Carolina. So people should not be counting Joe Biden out of the race yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Here to talk about all of it, Tamara Keith, White House Correspondent for NPR, and Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Professor of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at, Hook `em Horns, the University of Texas. Thank you for coming on tonight, both of you.

Tamara, let`s start this a little differently in a question I like to ask. What could go wrong? And my question refers to both the debate stage Wednesday and the caucuses on Saturday.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, let`s start with the caucuses. The Iowa Democratic Party is trying something new this year, and what they`re doing is early caucusing. So there are caucus sites all over the state where people are showing up and registering their preferences. They are putting down their top three choices, up to their top five choices in ranked order. And then all of those paper ballots are going to be added to the caucus system as part of the regular caucus scheduled for this coming Saturday. There is a lot of uncertainty about how this will work or whether -- because it`s brand-new, whether there could be glitches though the Iowa Democratic Party says that they`ve got it all locked down.

WILLIAMS: Yes. And let`s throw into the fact they`re using iPads that were just given out, and they`re using a Google application to tally all of the formal votes. Again, it`s why we love asking what could go wrong.

Victoria, what are you going to be watching as Saturday`s vote comes in, if we ever are sure of Saturday`s vote in Nevada?

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Brian, there are so many unknowns when I look at Nevada. To begin with, the polling is infamously off given the nature of the population in Nevada that tends to be transient and the off hours that people hold. We also see the fact that caucuses, by their very nature, aren`t as predictable as primaries, as your traditional electoral contests.

And lastly for me, Brian, and perhaps the biggest issue is the fact that we don`t have the centering force of a union endorsement. So in 2008 we had a very strong union endorsement from the Culinary Union that has the largest membership in Las Vegas and in Nevada in general, endorsing President Obama. In 2012, they did not endorse, and we saw a lot of frenzy over, is it Sanders? Is it Clinton that has that support? And to this day, we really don`t know, for example, who Latinos, who make up the majority of the union, went for.

Today, we again see a lack of an endorsement from the Culinary Union. So this makes the unknown of who is going to surface to the top even more. We see in the polls that Sanders is doing well, so, you know, if I`m a betting woman, I`m going to say that Sanders has the advantage. But the real question mark is where is Biden going to land?

So I think that, for me, is the biggest question and also understanding that the Latino population, that Sanders has been getting a lot of support from is young. And young folks and Latinos traditionally are the ones with the lowest turnout rates. We`ve seen them increasing in the last election, but this is yet again another unknown if they`re going to walk the walk of saying, I`m going to turn out for this person.

WILLIAMS: Tamara, the Professor raised a great question there, and that is with the pointed lack of an endorsement by the Culinary Workers Union, the men and women who make Las Vegas go, and their pointed criticism of Bernie, do they open a lane for someone? Does the lack of endorsement mean good news for any of the Democrats in this race?

KEITH: Well, somewhat counter intuitively. I would argue that it was actually good news for Bernie Sanders that they didn`t endorse. Because although they were pretty pointed in their criticism of Medicare for All and that aims both at Sanders and Warren to a somewhat lesser extent, the fact is they ultimately didn`t come out and endorse someone. They didn`t pick anyone from, you know -- I`m sort of thinking of this race now as there`s the Bernie Sanders lane and there`s the everyone else lane. And they didn`t pick someone from the everyone else lane.

And so, you know, there is not certainty from the Culinary Union about who they would want their members to support. I went to an early caucus location at the Culinary Union headquarters. Interestingly, most of the people that came in to early caucus were not members of the union, but it was just a convenient location for them. But clearly the union is, you know, facilitating, polling -- or -- not polling places but caucus sites in various casinos on the strip making sure that their membership is able to caucus even though it`s pretty inconvenient and comes in the middle of the workday for a lot of people on a Saturday.

But also this question about turnout is -- and whether polls can be accurate in this state is thrown off even more because what is a likely caucusgoer already in the first two days of early caucusing, 26,000 people have turned out.

WILLIAMS: Yes, so we read. Victoria, are we correct if we bill this as, in effect, the debut of minority voting in the 2020 cycle?

SOTO: It is. If you look at Nevada where we have 30 percent of the Latino population, they make up 20 percent of the electorate. This is much more of a mirror of who America is. The African-American population is still relatively low compared to the average nationally, but you see the preferences of Latinos coming out.

And let me just say that Latinos are not a monolith. There`s diversity within the Latino community ideologically speaking in terms of partisanship. But at least we are getting the voice of this segment of the population heard at this point.

WILLIAMS: To Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, to Tamara Keith, thank you both, a terrific conversation. We could keep going with ease. Greatly appreciate your contributions.

Coming up for us, assuming he makes his stage debut in Vegas this week, Mike Bloomberg does have a debate history. And while it`s local and not national, there is video. We`ll show you after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: In some ways Bloomberg is a terrible retail politician, and people are going to learn that. I mean, when he has all of this money to put out ads and kind of avoid the kind of vetting that traditional candidates get, you know, what you don`t learn until later is that he`s somebody who hates parades. He`s somebody who isn`t really great at shaking hands. He`s somebody who says the wrong thing. I mean he is a 78-year-old billionaire who kind of came up on Wall Street, and he can be kind of a jerk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: He hates parades. That was my favorite part. The always candid Mara Gay there of "The New York Times" covered Mike Bloomberg when he was mayor. That same Mike Bloomberg is now one poll away from qualifying for Wednesday`s debate on this network in Las Vegas.

Indeed, a spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign confirms, "If Mike qualifies, he will debate." To get a sense of what to expect, we looked back at some of the former New York City Mayor`s past debate performances.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE EVANS, EYEWITNESS NEWS: Mr. Bloomberg, you have admitted in the past that you switched to the Republican Party because you wanted to run for mayor and also because the Democratic field was pretty crowded when the race began. Is this being a political opportunist?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYORAL CANDIDATE: Well, I was a Democrat up until about a year ago. It was obvious that I could not run for mayor in the Democratic Party when there were four candidates who had spent their lifetime working in the Democratic Party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four years ago, you warned against obscene spending. How did you define obscene spending then, and how do you define it now?

BLOOMBERG: Look, Dave, what I`m trying to do is get my message out to everybody, every community, every single person regardless of where they live. I`m doing it by buying time on television and radio and in print.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To spend this exorbitant amount of money to distort my record. He knows it`s not true.

BLOOMBERG: If it`s so wrong, give back the money. Why don`t you give back the money? That will solve all the problems and there won`t be the appearance of maybe you got a favor in return for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A recent economic impact statement done by Jerry Nadler and the economic agency shows it`s cost effective, and finally it`s good for downtown and all of Brooklyn because it reduces by 1 million truck trips that are now rattling the streets and houses and polluting Brooklyn.

BLOOMBERG: I`ve got to tell people what we`ve done, what we would do, and why they should continue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aren`t you saturating the airwaves with that message?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I don`t know whether you saturate them or not. We`re going to find out on November 8th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So it`s not quite side eye. It`s kind of above eye.

With us back again tonight is Azi Paybarah. He writes the New York Today Column for "The New York Times". He`s a veteran New York Metro reporter who`s been covering one Mike Bloomberg since about 2003. You and I were chuckling at some of the past greats of New York City politics and near greats. What did you see in that montage that is maybe triggering, that is the qualities and traits you know about this guy?

AZI PAYBARAH, METRO REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It`s sort of like a time machine. You have Mike Bloomberg who is facing a very crowded Democratic field, and in 2001, his option is to run as a Republican. This year, that`s not really an option. But what he says about spending money is kind of fascinating. When he does it, it`s for virtuous reasons. It`s to give people more choices so they can hear about his record against people that have spent their entire lives in politics.

Well, what he`s negating to really mention is that he -- is that it`s hard to have a choice when people don`t hear from as many of the other people out there. And he also criticizes every other candidate for fund-raising, which is one of those necessary evils until public financing takes place. So when Mike Bloomberg is spending all the money, it`s for virtuous reasons. When other people get donations, it`s something nefarious that gives the appearance of something improper.

When he gives donations to candidates he likes, he was asked about giving a donation to Cory Booker in one of those debates that we saw. And he said, well it`s because I like him and I support him. So he has a reason for why he spends, and he questions other people for why they accept money.

WILLIAMS: We can hear the sighing. We can see the looking up to the ceiling --

PAYBARAH: Yes.

WILLIAMS: -- when he`s obviously POed or bored. Has he gotten better at this? Would you refer to him as a good debater, or is he -- is his skill set as limited as any guys who`s made a couple of billion dollars?

PAYBARAH: He has gotten better. The clip where he is rolling his eyes and all that, that was 2001 when he was first coming into the political arena. He has run three mayoral campaigns, successful ones. I think by that measure, we can call him a politician.

What he likes to do is sort of set the bar low and then when he comes in to debate, he`s actually quite good because if there`s one thing Mike Bloomberg really believes in, it`s data and research, and he has an army of people that can dig up information, that can dig up records, and we saw recently they can dig up lots of tweets, put them into an ad. So when he goes onto a debate stage, he can point to somebody, and he may not get the words exactly right, but he is probably preparing an attack line for each and every person on that stage.

Now, he`s focusing on Bernie Sanders. They`re each other`s best foils. A socialist versus a capitalist. But he is going to be well prepared. And one thing that people often forget, because Bloomberg creates this narrative that he`s not a politician. He`s not used to debating. He`s not used to some of the things that we expect politicians to go through. When he gets on that stage, he`s probably going to be better than those very low expectations that people have set for him.

WILLIAMS: He`s -- is he very woke at all? Rick Wilson loves talking about wokeness on the left and how it`s now a necessary.

PAYBARAH: I will leave it to Rick Wilson to talk about wokeness, and I will not. But Mike Bloomberg tries to position himself as someone who if -- is - - someone who can at least understand that other people need to be helped by government at times. He very much believes in having a role for government to do certain things but wants to limit it in certain ways. Bernie sanders would like to have government be a much more active role in people`s lives.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

PAYBARAH: Bloomberg will pay homage or pay -- will understand and accept that some people need assistance, but his answer to most problems are for the private sector to grow the economy and help people through that.

WILLIAMS: We could do an hour easy, just the two of us. Thank you so much. Pleasure to have you back on the broadcast. Azi Paybarah of "The New York Times".

Coming up for us, combining two dangers, the risk of a fast-growing fatal illness. And as if that`s not enough, the risk that we are indeed living in a post-truth society.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, Arkansas Republican Senator and loyal Trump ally Tom Cotton has waded into trouble by commenting on the coronavirus, which is proving virulent and deadly and is spreading fast. "The Washington Post" headline puts it this way. "Tom Cotton keeps repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked." Here are his latest comments in question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM COTTON (R-AR), SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE: So we don`t know where it originated, but we do know that we have to get to the bottom of that. We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China`s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.

Now, we don`t have evidence that this disease originated there, but because of China`s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says. And China right now is not giving any evidence on that question at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Cotton has been criticized by public health professionals for giving just the whiff of credibility there on television and on social media to a conspiracy theory going around that the coronavirus originated and was perhaps manmade inside a lab in China. Perhaps even as a bioweapon and was released either intentionally or unintentionally deployed. There is no evidence to support that.

There is evidence exacerbated by China`s closed-off society and media, that the initial response, detection and dissemination of information were likely botched and botched good. The problem with all of it is the truth. The facts are bad enough.

This is from "The Wall Street Journal" updated yesterday. The last paragraph in the article quotes a Harvard professor as saying, "I think it is likely we`ll see a global pandemic. If a pandemic happens, 40 percent to 70 percent of people worldwide are likely to be infected in the coming year. What proportion of those will be symptomatic, I can`t give a good number".

The article spells out there`s no immunity, no vaccine. The experts say to control the virus, you literally have to stop its spread. An attempt to block over 60 percent of all possible human transmissions, that may mean stopping human interactions where the risk is high.

Truly wishing we had better news for you on this holiday Monday night. That is our broadcast as we start a new week. Thus, and 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