Sanders leads Dems TRANSCRIPT: 2/18/20, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Matt Zapotosky, Elisabeth Bumiller, Julia Ioffe, Charlotte Alter

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Dan Pfeiffer, Jennifer Palmieri, thank you both very much for joining us on the eve of the next presidential debate. Really appreciate it.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: President Trump has today declared he is the nation`s chief law enforcement officer. That title normally goes to the attorney general, but as we`ve noted, these are not normal times. In fact, if you believe the story just out tonight, that same attorney general is mulling over quitting if the President keeps tweeting.

Plus as another Trump friend and ally faces some serious federal prison time in a celebrated case, the President flexes one of the more awesome powers of his office by stepping into pardon criminals involved in some notorious corruption cases.

We`ll also look at what is motivating the youthful surge in support of Bernie Sanders.

And we have a preview of tomorrow night. It won`t look like any of the other Democratic debates because of the new man onstage as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,125 of the Trump administration, which leaves 259 days until the 2020 presidential election, exactly 4 days until the Nevada caucuses. There is breaking news tonight as you just heard from the embattled U.S. Department of Justice.

"The Washington Post" is on the board with the story, reporting that the attorney general is considering leaving, "Barr has told people close to President Trump both inside and outside the White House that he is considering quitting over Trump`s tweets about Justice Department investigations." One of the reporters who broke this story will join us to talk about it in just a moment.

Tonight the DOJ says Barr has no plans to resign. And just this afternoon the President was asked about Barr`s complaints.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said that your comments on Twitter are making it impossible to do his job. Are you making his job impossible?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, but in the last day -- yes, I do make his job harder. I do agree with that.


WILLIAMS: Even so, Trump is making it clear he`s not standing down amid the controversy over his involvement in federal law enforcement. Today, in fact, after he again tweeted about a sitting federal judge, the President handed himself a job description usually reserved for the attorney general.


TRUMP: I`m allowed to be totally involved. I`m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.


WILLIAMS: That declaration comes just ahead of a host of pardons and commutations we learned about, wiping away the crimes of some once powerful public figures. Trump commuted the sentence of former Illinois Democratic Rod Blagojevich, a onetime contestant on Celebrity Apprentice. He served eight years of a 14-year sentence after being convicted of corruption for straight-up trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois vacated by Barack Obama. Part of that effort was captured by FBI wiretaps.


EOD BLAGOJEVICH, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: I`ve got this thing, and it`s - - golden. And I`m just not giving it up -- nothing.


WILLIAMS: Trump pardoned former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, a close associate of his friend Rudy Giuliani. Kerik had pleaded guilty to eight felony charges including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.

And the man once known as the junk bond king, Wall Street financier Michael Milken has also been pardoned. He pleaded guilty in 1990 to securities fraud and conspiracy. Today Trump explained the reasons for these decisions.


TRUMP: Rod Blagojevich, he served eight years in jail. That`s a long time. Bernie Kerik, a man who had many recommendations from a lot of good people. We have Mike Milken, who`s gone around and done an incredible job for the world with all of his research on cancer, and he`s done this, and he suffered greatly. He paid a big price, paid a very tough price.


WILLIAMS: Trump also pardoned David Safavian convicted in the Jack Abramoff scandal, and Edward De Bartolo who covered up corruption involving the former governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards.

Trump`s acts of clemency are now raising the possibility once again that he`ll do the same for Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, or Michael Flynn. Today the President was asked about his intentions regarding Mr. Stone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you planning to pardon Roger Stone?

TRUMP: I haven`t given it any thought. In the meantime, he`s going through a process.


WILLIAMS: "New York Times" has this on this topic, "In conversations with advisers, Mr. Trump has raised the prospect of commuting the sentence of Roger Stone." And some Democrats say they can see how this plays out.


REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: He`s trying to create a lot of noise. He`s doing a lot of pardons and clemencies. And when he said, oh, I haven`t even thought about Roger Stone, that`s laughable.


WILLIAMS: And more about that sitting federal judge, Trump is continuing to criticize Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the Stone case, despite Bill Barr`s plea that he refrain from commenting about ongoing Justice Department matters. This morning, the President sent out this message quoting comments from Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, as one does, "Judge Hackson now has a request for a new trial based on the unambiguous and self outed bias of the foreperson of the jury. Pretty obvious he should get a new trial."

Judge Jackson today refused to delay Stone`s sentencing on felony charges. That will still take place on Thursday. Last week Barr backed up the Justice Department`s handling of Roger Stone`s trial.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. GENERAL ATTORNEY: I thought that was a righteous prosecution, and I was happy that he was convicted.


WILLIAMS: And on the 2020 campaign front, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg will make his onstage debut, as one does, in Vegas. Bloomberg qualified for tomorrow`s debate just today after a new poll showed a 15-point surge on his part, putting him nationally now at 19 percent. As you see, that puts him behind Sanders and in front of Biden, et al. So far he`s put about $400 million of his own money into this presidential campaign. That is a notable record for traditional media spending, and as they say, there is more where that came from.

We are going to begin tonight, however, with the breaking news story we mentioned at the very top. It`s about the attorney general. It`s a four- reporter byline. One of them is here with us tonight. Matt Zapotosky is National Security Reporter for "The Washington Post" covering the Justice Department.

Matt, as best you can, can you begin with your reporting that speaks to the state of mind of the attorney general and the state of his job vis-a-vis the President?

MATT ZAPOTOSKY. THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So the attorney general has been telling people close to the President both inside the White House and outside the White House that he is considering resigning if President Trump keeps tweeting about justice department criminal cases. Maybe not that surprising because he kind of, you know, threw a fast ball up around the President`s chin when he gave an ABC News interview recently and said the President`s tweets were making it impossible to do his job. But he`s also warned the President about that privately. And more recently he`s told close advisers to President Trump that he`s considering resigning.

Now, some people see this as maybe him just sort of posturing, right? Like trying to convince the President, please stop with these tweets. He clearly hasn`t resigned yet. His spokesperson tonight put out a statement that says he has no plans, I think were her exact words, to resign. But he has been telling people in President Trump`s orbit that that`s a thing he`s considering.

WILLIAMS: Let`s back up over that possible posturing argument. I do note that there are now over 2,500 signatures of former feds calling on him to step down. What is the chance this is part of a carefully crafted P.R. campaign to portray this tortured man by day, who also by day has become just the most trusted ally the President has in this government and who has not suffered a day of self-doubt?

ZAPOTOSKY: I think we`ll have an answer on that if the President continues to tweet and if Attorney General Bill Barr remains in his job. If he does, then these representations that he`s made to Trump advisers will essentially have been hollow. He`ll have been sort of just completely posturing. You know, oh, I`m going to quit. I`m thinking about quitting. I`m thinking about quitting, and then not. So, I mean time is going time is going to answer this question about how real what Bill Barr is telling everyone recently is.

WILLIAMS: Matt Zapotosky, as we said the first name on a list of four journalists attached to this story, out front tonight on "The Washington Post" front page. Matt, thank you as always for making time for us here on this broadcast.

And let`s now move to our discussion on a Tuesday night. Elisabeth Bumiller back with us, Assistant Managing Editor for "The New York Times," and Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon and notably former Chief Counsel to the House Intel Committee.

Well, Elisabeth, I realize it`s the cross town competition that has tonight`s exclusive. But let me ask you if you believe Bill Barr has a red line, and could you make an argument that that`s been crossed a number of days ago?

ELISABETH BUMILLER, THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, I think it was crossed a number of days ago. Certainly we`ve confirmed the story with the Justice Department that -- yes, we`ve confirmed it with a senior administration official that, yes, he is considering resigning. But I do think as Matt said, there`s a certain amount of posturing going on. It`s a message to Trump, as he said publicly last week, that the tweets are making it impossible to do his job.

I do think this could not end well. But I do think right now that Trump needs him more than he needs Trump. And so I don`t think that there`s a resignation imminent although God knows in this -- in Trump world, you know, I could be proven wrong tomorrow. But I do think that right now he`s been -- he`s got an excellent record from Trump`s point of view as a defender of Trump. The interpretation last week was that he told Trump to lay off the tweets because -- stop tweeting so I can do my job protecting you.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, we always want to keep compassion foremost in our minds and hearts, and in fact it drives what has become a new kind of prison reform agenda in our country. That said, there is celebration tonight in the homes and among the family members of some people who were, in their day, spectacularly corrupt. What is the broader message of the pardons and commutations issued today, if there is one?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, first and foremost, I think I would say you ain`t seen nothing yet because this is a prelude, I think, to President Trump taking out his pardon power, trying it on for size so that he could deploy it vis-a-vis Roger Stone, vis-a-vis Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, and even Rudy Giuliani.

One of the individuals who was pardoned tonight was Bernie Kerik. As you note in your set up a longtime associate of Rudy Giuliani. Somebody who Giuliani has looked after and Kerik has returned that favor by being a forceful advocate, a political advocate in favor of the President. And so I think in pardoning Kerik and the others, the President is signaling that he`s moments days away from pardoning the others, including potentially preemptively Rudy Giuliani.

WILLIAMS: Elisabeth, I want to play for you former governor Blagojevich on camera tonight in Denver. We`ll discuss on the other side.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH, (D-IL) FMR. GOVERNOR: I just want to say again that I want to express my most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump. He didn`t have to do this. He`s a Republican president. I was a Democratic governor. My fellow Democrats have not been very kind to him. They`ve been, in fact -- they`ve been very unkind to him.

If you`re asking me what my party affiliation is, I`m a Trump-ocrat (ph).


WILLIAMS: Elisabeth, is that a thing?

BUMILLER: No. That`s the first time I`ve heard that.

I do think it`s quite interesting, first of all his hair has turned color in the years he`s been in prison. I think that what`s interesting about the pardons, you know, for crimes related to, you know, fraud and corruption and lies, is how much of the -- how many of these crimes are similar to either what Trump has done or been accused of. And I think it`s Trump throwing down the gauntlet. I mean, he`s also, you know, softening the ground for potential pardons of Roger Stone and Paul Manafort and others.

But I do think it`s Trump saying that he does not have any trust in the criminal justice system, that these were people who were wronged. Again, their crimes are very similar to what he has been accused of. And as he said, you know, today, he`s the chief law enforcement officer of this country. He did not go through the process that normally presidents go through for vetting through the Justice Department. He just did it himself.


WILLIAMS: And Jeremy Bash, you`ll agree it`s right up there on the list of awesome presidential powers. You invoked Rudy Giuliani. For those who remain in the picture, here`s Rudy walking around under federal investigation. Does this mean a kind of portable, de facto form of immunity for him?

BASH: It does, and so Rudy can act with impunity. Herein lies the nexus of what`s going on with Bill Barr because of course Rudy giuliani was to work with Bill Barr in this alleged Ukraine investigation into the Bidens. And I think, you know, one of the things about pardoning and commuting sentences is that it really is demoralizing for prosecutors. And so Bill Barr is contending not only with all of these tweets from the President, but he`s contending with these actions by the President.

And we opened this segment by asking, you know, has this crossed a red line for Barr. In my view, if Barr is worried that the President has been emboldened, he should look in the mirror, and he`ll see the person who has done the emboldening. Barr has been the enabler here, working with Giuliani and others.

WILLIAMS: And, Elisabeth, you concede that we could all -- we`ve all seen enough television to come up with a plot line. Here`s Bill Barr. The level of signatures today surpassed 2,500. Not inconsequential that 2,500 former feds have signed on to this opinion asking you to step down. You`ve decided to look a little vulnerable, look tortured. Every day you spend on the job, you are totally obedient to the man who appointed you.

BUMILLER: Right. So what is the question? You`ve summed it up quite well.

WILLIAMS: We could come up with -- you spent any time in Washington, you could come up with a plot line like that.

BUMILLER: Yes. Well, that seems to be what is happening before our eyes. I just don`t know where this ends. I do not know if Bill Barr will be attorney general this summer, if he`ll be attorney general next week. I just don`t see this ending well. But I do -- I think at the end, in these situations, Trump usually wins.

WILLIAMS: Honesty in reporting and analysis is all we can offer. To Elisabeth Bumiller, to Jeremy Bash, our thanks for coming on and talking about all of it tonight.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, the man who engineered the Obama victory for the Democrats will tell us on the eve of tomorrow night`s debate what the Democrats need to do to beat Donald Trump.

And later, the enormous support for Bernie from an enormously important demographic. THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this already busy Tuesday night.



TRUMP: I`m allowed to be totally involved. I`m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.


WILLIAMS: So there`s that. And just for historical reference, as we mentioned at the top of the broadcast, that title normally conferred upon the attorney general. But see above reference these are not normal times.

There was this earlier tonight from a former senior man at DOJ about how these pardons and commutations add to what he sees as the existing case against this President.


NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Yes, the president`s gotten away with so much, but I have news for him. The law is going to come after him. What he`s doing is lawless. It`s unprecedented. It breaks every rule in our constitutional democracy, and the law will find a way to catch up with him.


WILLIAMS: A great place to have our next conversation with two of our friends, Jason Johnson, a veteran of campaigns who happens to be the Politics Editor at "The Root" and a professor at Morgan State University, and Julia Ioffe, we point out always because it`s germane, a Russian born American journalist, more on that later, and correspondent for GQ. Welcome to you both.

Jason, let`s take right up on Neal Katyal`s point and let me ask you rather rhetorically, OK, so who do we see about this?

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR THE ROOT: Well, we can`t go to the manager because we can`t go to the upper house because they`ve made it clear the President can kind of do what he wants. I`m rarely in a position of disagreeing with Neal, but I don`t know that I think this is going to catch up to the President. I don`t know where is the guardrail at this point. Where are the individuals who are going to stand up to him?

I don`t think I ever could have said this in 2012, but only -- if we`d only have a Senate full of Mitt Romneys, but we don`t. You know, there does not appear to be anyone in this administration who will hold the President accountable for not only pushing around different individuals who are supposed to be defending the law, but also by exacting revenge on who he wants. So, again, he has committed and continues to commit offenses that may be impeachable, but I don`t know that we have the structure anymore in the government to hold him accountable.

WILLIAMS: Again, Julia, I always mention where you`re from because it so often informs your writings and your thoughts. So if I tell you our President has decided to overall our court system in prominent cases of large-scale corruption, what does that tell you given who you are and where you`re from?

JULIA IOFFE, GQ CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s not just where I`m from but it`s, you know, what I`ve studied and reported on for so long. And just to piggyback on the previous point, Neal is a good friend, and he is brilliant, but I disagree with him here as well because as we`ve seen and, and you know, as my fellow guest pointed out, we can`t go to the manager. He has been basically allowed to go like this and to do whatever he wants.

And furthermore, what happens if he`s, let`s say, voted out of office in 2020 or he leaves office in 2024 after a second term? Our norms dictate that we don`t pursue those people because we don`t want the next president coming in and pursuing his political enemies, right? So one of the few norms we left, would we want to destroy that because this President has destroyed so many other norms?

The other thing I want to say is that, you know, getting back to your question is, look, we`ve wondered for a long time what it could be that Vladimir Putin has on Donald Trump because he just seems to like the guy so damn much. Well, this is why Donald Trump likes the guy so damn much, because he wants to rule the country like Vladimir Putin rules Russia, like Kim Jong-un rules North Korea, like Recep Tayyip Erdogan rules Turkey, Duterte rules the Philippines, et cetera. He feels this is how a president or the head of state is. He`s the chief --


IOFFE: -- and he`s not just the commander in chief but the chief law enforcement officer even if he isn`t, that he can just do whatever he wants. We`re seeing this kind of -- before we saw a norm-breaking, rule- breaking Trump going into the impeachment, now we see a kind of imperial Trump coming out on the other side of it.

WILLIAMS: So, Jason, when Rod Blagojevich gets out of prison and says he is a Trump-ocrat, is that along the same lines of what Julia is saying?

JOHNSON: Well, yes, Brian, because the goal is Donald Trump wants to use all of these sort of pardons and these commuting of sentences in order to create a commercial. It`s theater. I`m the benevolent king. I can put my thumb up or down like a powerful emperor. Look at all these people I can rescue.

And when he does that and people come out like Rod Blagojevich and they say, oh, hey, I owe him this or I`m going to give school to that person, it allows him to sort of demonstrate that he`s got an imperial presidency.

Look, I have this conversation with journalists all the time. Kwame Kilpatrick from Detroit, it is highly likely that the President would consider releasing somebody like him right before the election in an attempt to sort of distract or suppress or engage African-American voters. The President uses the legal system and his power as the President of the United States in order to create these performances, to weaken judicial norms, and to engage in campaign advertising.

It is disturbing. It`s distressing. There don`t appear to be any guardrails and it`s up to all of us to point out what it is he`s doing so that the public isn`t convinced that this is how the government is supposed to operate.

WILLIAMS: Just to give our -- go ahead, Julia.

IOFFE: No. Recall the Super Bowl ad. I mean the --


IOFFE: -- poor woman --


IOFFE: -- he released earlier through a presidential pardon thanks to Kim Kardashian West`s lobbying, which is a crazy sentence to say. He made it into a Super Bowl ad that was very clearly targeted at black voters to say, like, you know, who`s got your back? Who`s helping you guys?


IOFFE: So, yes.

WILLIAMS: Just to give our viewers something to think about over a break, both of our guests have agreed to stay with us.

Coming up, what to expect from tomorrow night, the newcomer on the stage, other than the warm welcome he will certainly get from his fellow Democratic candidates, which goes without saying.


WILLIAMS: The new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll out today gives Senator Bernie Sanders a double-digit lead over his Democratic competitors. Here it is, and we`ll stay on this for a bit. He`s now at 27 percent followed by Biden at 15 percent and, notably, he is down 11 points since January, Biden is. Then look at third place. Michael Bloomberg surges ahead to 14 percent, all a result of television ad spending and free media coverage. He is now tied with Elizabeth Warren at 14 percent. She`s been in this race, of course, and slugging it out from the start.

And our usual warning applies. That`s a national poll. We don`t hold national elections. We hold 50-individual state elections. And there are new numbers tonight from the largest of them, California, where 415 delegates are at stake two weeks from today. Sanders, 32 percent, lapping the competition. We`re down to Biden at 14 percent, Warren at 13 percent, Bloomberg, Buttigieg have 12 percent each, Klobuchar at 5 percent.

Still with us tonight, Jason Johnson and Julia Ioffe. I want to read, Jason, one more poll. National poll from our polling. Trump 47 to 50. What should those numbers do in the heart of Democrats everywhere do you think?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that they need to make everyone very cautious and very nervous. Brian, I`ve said this all along, that all of these national polls that we`re showing, that all of the top four or five Democrats could beat Donald Trump are not true. Those only exist in a vacuum. All of these candidates aren`t created equally.

Another key thing to remember with these latest polls that have come out, Bernie Sanders is now leading the pack. He`s now leading amongst the Democrats, anywhere from 27 percent to 30 percent depending on the poll. But if you look at more polls that have come out recently, he is still maybe second or third when it comes to actually beating Trump. Head to head, Donald Trump still seems to lose more often to Mike Bloomberg, more often to Joe Biden. All of this means is that this race is incredibly fluid, that we still have to fight state by state, that the leader in the delegate count is Mayor Pete, who only has 22 delegates to Bernie`s 21.

So I think anyone who is trying to make a massive sort of hot take prediction, OK, I know it`s going to be Kansas City, anybody who thinks they know what`s going to happen doesn`t know. And we could begin to find out what`s going to happen depending on how Mike Bloomberg performs in the debate tomorrow or how Bernie Sanders performs tomorrow at the first time of him actually being a complete front-runner.

WILLIAMS: And Jason, you know the argument. Tomorrow night is designed to be a kind of purity test. What do they do? Democrats attack each other.


WILLIAMS: To listen to you, however, they`re all in the fight against an existential threat.

JOHNSON: Yes. Well, and there are two existential threats. One is what do you do about Mike Bloomberg? Now -- Look, Mike Bloomberg has plenty of policy issues about race, about what he said about class, about stop-and- frisk, and he is a cartoon villain for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He is Lex Luthor, the mayor of New York City.

There are plenty of ways they can attack him and that they should attack him. But the question is are you going to waste all of your time going after Mike Bloomberg when he`s not the front-runner. The front-runner is either Mayor Pete or Bernie Sanders. So I think someone like Elizabeth Warren who is actually third in delegate count right now, has to be very careful about how she goes into tomorrow`s debate because she`s still in a position to improve and I don`t know that it makes sense to do a suicide pact to take out Mike Bloomberg when that guy hasn`t even gotten on the ballot in the next two states.

WILLIAMS: Julia, I don`t say this often. You are the author of one of the best quotes I`ve read over the past several weeks. You wrote this over the weekend, "The Democrats ought to debate policy differences about as much as they should be debating how to cook unicorn meat". Please expand.

JULIA IOFFE, CORRESPONDENT, GQ: I`m so glad you caught my unicorn recipe. So, basically political science shows that these kinds of very contentious primaries are very damaging to the party in the general election. Sometimes by double digits. And the worst kind of primary according to this research is a primary where purity, ideological purity becomes an issue. So basically this primary.

And going back to your earlier question, I agree completely with Jason. Democrats should be nervous looking at Trump`s approval and disapproval numbers. We keep -- or Democrats keep looking at this as if it were 2016.


IOFFE: And saying, well, Bernie could have beaten him in 2016 or Biden could have beaten him in 2016. It`s not 2016 anymore. It`s 2020.


IOFFE: He`s an incumbent who`s gotten his act together organizationally. The economy is doing better. And basically everybody has decided at this point how they feel about Donald Trump. There are no more Republicans who are on the fence about him. There are no more Independents who are on the fence about him. Everybody kind of knows how they feel about Donald Trump.

So there`s very few people who I feel are up for grabs, and the Democrats are just -- they`re not even shooting themselves in the foot. They`re, you know, shooting each other in the foot, calf, knee, and, you know, debating unicorn meat.

WILLIAMS: Our guests -- there`s no depth to the friendship of our guests. They`ve agreed -- again, another quick break for us. They`ve agreed to take our questions for one more segment.

And coming up, we`ll do that. What Bernie had to say about Bloomberg just tonight on stage?



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Bloomberg has every right in the world to run for president of the United States. He`s an American citizen. But I don`t think he has the right to buy this election. I`m worth $60 billion. I have more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. I`ll buy the presidency. That offends me very much.


WILLIAMS: Less than 24 hours to go until six Democrats face off in tomorrow night`s debate hosted by this network. And this ought to be interesting because Bloomberg joins the stage. Despite the fact that he`s not on the ballot in Nevada. His fellow candidates already welcoming him with open arms.

Here`s Elizabeth Warren`s greeting. "It`s a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate. But at least now primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration of how we will each take on an egomaniac billionaire."

Remaining with us for round two, Jason Johnson and Julia Ioffe. And, Julia, I`m going to put together a cascading series of events that we will then discuss. First of all, here is Donald Trump voicing sympathy for Bernie.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It just seems unfair what`s happening to Bernie Sanders to be honest with you. I watched it happen four years ago, and always be careful what you wish for. And I`m not wishing for anything. Whoever it is, I`ll be very happy.


WILLIAMS: And then Mike Bloomberg, not to miss anything, tweeted at the President. "Why do you want to run against Bernie so badly?" The President answered back, no, it`s you I want to run against.

And then tonight the Bloomberg campaign got in the game. This is Bloomberg`s campaign manager. "The opposition research on Bernie Sanders could fill Donald Trump`s empty Foxconn facility in Wisconsin. It is very damaging, perhaps even disqualifying". Talk about a brushback pitch, Julia. What do we reckon is going on here?

IOFFE: Oh, I think several things are going on here. First of all, Trump has loved playing Bernie like a wedge -- playing him up to be a wedge in the Democratic Party, which he kind of was in 2016, and obviously Trump wants him to play the same role in 2020. I think Bloomberg is a perfect foil for Bernie and for Elizabeth Warren. And Warren had a campaign slogan for a long time which was "The Best President Money Can`t Buy." Bernie outlined exactly why he felt he was kind of a perfect foil for his message and his platform.

Also I just want to say, you know, you brought up my Russian heritage and my Russian expertise. You know, I keep thinking about this when I look at Bloomberg as well. Bloomberg, for those of you who may not recall or who didn`t live in New York City at the time, changed the law so that he could get a third term when his two legal terms ran out. So we keep worrying that Donald Trump is going to try to do that past 2024, but now we`re going to have somebody onstage in the Democratic debate who has actually done that.

WILLIAMS: Yes, there`s plenty of that to go around. Jason, your take?

JOHNSON: So it`s interesting what Elizabeth Warren says, you know, now the primary voters will get to see how we go up against a billionaire. Remember, Trump`s not a billionaire. Mike Bloomberg makes that very clear, that there`s a difference in how rich they are.

Look, I think going into tomorrow, there`s a very, very interesting set of paths the people will be going through. We don`t know who Mike Bloomberg is going to go after. He may go straight for Bernie Sanders. He`s been the only person to criticize Bernie Sanders not just philosophically but how he runs his campaign, how his staffers have behaved, how he`s communicated with people, whether or not he`s particularly divisive. Will Sanders feel the need to respond to that?

What I think is most compelling is this, and this is something that primary voters really do care about. They care about who they think can win. They care about who they think can unify the party. And one thing that I find particularly challenging -- it will be interesting to see how Sanders frames himself in this.

Look, if he can take out Mike Bloomberg, that`s great. He can demonstrate that my message works. But at the end of the day, Bernie Sanders makes the fall election not a referendum on Donald Trump but a referendum on how we`re going to function as an overall economy. It`s ironic that a guy whose campaign slogan is "not me but us" will actually make this fall`s election about him versus Trump. And in that kind of argument, I don`t know that a sharing, more open economy is going to work against America`s addiction towards capitalism. And that may be what this debate ends up being about tomorrow. We`ll have to see who is going to make a better sort of evangelizing message about that and I don`t know if that`s going to be Bernie Sanders yet.

WILLIAMS: Thank you both. And we should tell our viewers why we burdened you with three separate segments. David Plouffe was to join us tonight and yet the studio we had booked for him in San Francisco painfully close to Silicon Valley, basically the originators of information dissemination, we couldn`t technically get that together. We had a failure.

Our friends came along. To Jason Johnson, to Julia Ioffe, thank you for terrific effort and a great conversation tonight.

Coming up for us, as Bernie Sanders climbs in the polls, we have just laid out for you tonight, a look at a key component behind his momentum.



CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Everybody knows half the U.S. Senate`s run by Republicans. It will be half run by Republicans next time, and it takes 60 votes to get any of this stuff through. And yet nobody just says the obvious. Bernie, you`re full of it. None of this is going to get passed. You`re going to be a miserable president, frustrated from the first day because you`re not going to get Medicare for all. You`re not going to get free college tuition for public universities. You`re not going to get payoffs of all student loans. None of this is going to happen.


WILLIAMS: Chris Matthews spoke his own truth on the matter of Senator Sanders on this network this afternoon. His view is not shared by the spectacularly loyal and energized base of support for the senator from Vermont. Chris Matthews noted again today, as many do every day, that Bernie is a Democratic socialist. And that right there, the "s" word, has a powerful, especially generational meaning.

In fact, it`s a terrific place to start with our next guest, who has written this in her new book, which I came across last night on page 216, and I quote. Boomers think socialism is a relic, and they`re right that the word can be politically toxic. To millions of older voters, socialism smells of a discredited past, which is not good news for self-described socialists trying to win in swing districts. But the cold war is not the whole story.

And so conveniently with us tonight, the author of those words, Charlotte Alter. She`s national correspondent for Time, covering the 2020 campaign. And also as I mention happens to be the author of a new book calls "The Ones We`ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America." Sharp eyed viewers will note the paraphrasing of the famous Barack Obama speech. Welcome to you.


WILLIAMS: I want to start with two key decisions that you explain in your intro, and people are free to judge, and it may be generational through the lens I took them. Number one, you profile no one born before 1980, and you set out your reasoning. Number two, it`s bracing to read. You use first names. A ton of elected members of Congress, Dan, Max. We`re like at a cocktail party. Please tell our viewers the thinks behind it.

ALTER: Sure. So this is a book about millennials, and that`s why I made the age cutoff at 1980. Actually pew defines millennials as born between 1981 and 1996, but I extended it to 1980 because it was a little cleaner and there were a couple of people right on the cusp who I wanted to include.

In terms of the first names, a lot of this is because I was doing my research, I realized that none of the main characters that I had in this book had the same first name, and I realized that it was actually in some ways an example of how far we`ve come because, you know, if I had been writing this book in 1965, I would be talking about all white men named John, Richard, Michael, and James.

And in fact the fact that I have a Svante Myrick and a Pete Buttigieg, and an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and an Elise Stefanik shows how much racial and gender diversity has made its way into our politics.

WILLIAMS: What are the virtues of socialism, not asking you as much as the people you`ve profiled and spent so much time with. The virtues of socialism that the departing generation seems to miss in the eyes of the people coming up?

ALTER: So I want to be clear about this. It`s not like all millennials are socialists. And in n fact, of the 10 millennials that I profile in my book, only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez identifies as a socialist. But there is a little bit less sting on the word, and I think it`s because it`s in some ways a generational Rorschach test. I mean, the oldest millennials were about 8 or 9 when the Berlin wall fell.

So to them, socialism just doesn`t seem as scary because they didn`t hide under their desk to hide from Soviet atomic bombs. They hid under their desk to hide from school shooters. To them, it`s capitalism, unchecked capitalism, the greed of corporate bankers, people who are buying their way into our political system, people who are destroying the housing market with their greed. That has been, you know, one of the things that has really shaped their lives even more than the threat of communism.

WILLIAMS: Talk about AOC. You devote a good chunk of the book to her and her story. I`m tempted to ask, she will be to our politics what blank was to the politics of the last 50 years? Does she have -- is there an easy comparison?

ALTER: I don`t know that there`s an easy comparison but I do know that her use of social media has really set her apart in the way that Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio or JFK used television. Her use of Instagram and Twitter to get her message out to people unmediated has really changed the entire conversation, and it`s set the bar for other leaders to meet her where she`s at and to use those tools the way she`s using them.

WILLIAMS: It helps, as you detail, that the incumbent member of congress, more than that, member of democratic leadership that she defeated was wiped out at the polls because he just did not see the threat coming.

ALTER: Yes. And it`s in a lot of ways the story of this time is this looming generational shift that may not happen this year, may not happen next year, but over the course of the next 10 years, we`re going to see a turnover happening. Already, like, listen, Donald Trump is the oldest first term president. Until many of these people were elected, he was enabled by a Congress whose median age had gone up ten years since the 1980s. He was elected by older voters, overwhelmingly voters over 65, white voters in particular.

Those numbers, that`s not going to last forever. There is a change on the horizon. 16 million people will have turned 18 between 2016 and 2020. The point of this book is that change is coming, and in order to understand what the future might look like when millennials are in charge, it helps to understand the forces that shaped how they think about politics.

WILLIAMS: Also check out the coverage of the nearest Bernie Sanders rally to you, and you`ll see a lot of them. Charlotte Alter is the author. The new book just out today "The Ones We`ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America" thanks so much for spending your opening night here with us.

ALTER: Thanks for having me.

WILLIAMS: Appreciate it. Coming up, it was a television show from this great iconic building. We didn`t know back when it was on the air just how important a predictor it would be.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, it has been said around here before that viewers of the apprentice got a preview of the dynamics surrounding what later became the Trump base. "The Apprentice," hosted by Donald Trump, aired for 14 seasons out of this very building.

"The Apprentice" deepened Trump`s understanding of the medium and its power. For starters, it gave Trump a boardroom. He had no board of directors at his family-run company. That`s the SNL studio that served as the backdrop for the `08 series finale. It`s also where he was able to introduce his children to a national audience.

We watched as he pushed the brand, the name Trump on everything from buildings to planes to helicopters, even if they were more apt to be leased than owned. His own physical profile became part of the brand, starting with the opening sequence of the show, his body as logo and then think of how he used that image when he was introduced at the 2016 Republican convention.

The so-called coastal elites, including -- let`s be honest -- much of the mainstream media, people who are perhaps still coming to grips with Trump`s attraction, might have seen it early if they`d watched the show.

Turns out it was also a preview of his presidency. It`s doubtful Rod Blagojevich would be released from prison were he not on "Celebrity Apprentice" back in the day, even if it did end badly for him on a critical matter.


TRUMP: I just want to ask this one question. Your Harry Potter facts were not accurate. Who did the research?

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: There was not a specific direction to do the research on Harry Potter, but the inability to learn the product, and there was an issue in the --

TRUMP: Was that their inability or your inability?

BLAGOJEVICH: I suppose I should have directed everybody else to learn the product.

TRUMP: And, governor, I have great respect for you. I have great respect for your tenacity, for the fact that you just don`t give up. But, Rod, you`re fired.

I don`t know him very well. I`ve met him a couple of times. He was on for a short wile on the "The Apprentice" years ago. Seemed like a very nice person. Don`t know him.


WILLIAMS: And so it goes. And so in that way to use a TV term, it turns out 14 seasons of a television show might have been the pilot for the Trump presidency.

That`s our broadcast for this Tuesday night. You can catch us here tomorrow evening. Nicolle Wallace will join me immediately after tomorrow night`s Democratic debate has concluded. Thank you for being here with us tonight and good night for 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