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

NBC News exclusive: John Kelly on Trump: "He's an idiot." 04/30/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Donna Edwards; Christina Greer; Daniel Goldman; Brian Wice

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: April 30, 2018 Guest: Donna Edwards; Christina Greer; Daniel Goldman; Brian Wice

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Never. Thanks for that, Steve.

I`m Ayman Mohyeldin tonight in for my good friend, Ari Melber.

Breaking news this evening. John Kelly calling President Trump an idiot. NBC News exclusively reporting Trump`s chief of staff called him an idiot multiple times. Four officials say they have seen John Kelly refer to Trump as an idiot with a shaky grasp on policy issues. In one meeting, Kelly reportedly saying Trump doesn`t understand what DACA is, and staffers need to save him from himself. In a statement late today, Kelly pushed back saying he and Trump both know this story is total BS.

With me now, NBC`s Carol Lee who broke that story, E.J. Dionne of the "Washington Post" and former Maryland congresswoman Donna Edwards.

Great to have all three of you with us.

Carol, let`s given with you since you were part of the team that broke this story. Walk us through your reporting. What exactly has Kelly said about the President and in what context?

CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, in terms of his comments about the President, there in a number of different contexts. You know, broadly speaking, what White House officials have told myself and my colleagues is that Kelly has this sort of general posture of that he is the one saving the country, that he is keeping the President from making a decision that would plunge the country into some sort of chaos.

And so that`s this undertone that`s always existed in the White House since he took over as chief of staff nine months ago. What we wanted to do was look at why Kelly nine months into the job has such a diminished standing and what has happened. How morale in the White House is so low. One of the reasons that we`ve learned that has made the morale so low in the White House is the way that he talks about the President. That he will say things in meetings that shock people. You know, for instance, he will say during the meeting about immigration that you just showed, you know, he talks about the President saying he doesn`t understand policy, he doesn`t understand the functions of government and then follow it up in a meeting after this bipartisan deal that the White House was trying to cut with members of Congress fell apart in a meeting said, you know, I just stopped the President from cutting this bad deal. And so it`s really gotten under some people`s skin that he will present himself as somebody who is a principal of sorts.

Separately, you know, he has said things that have raised eyebrows when it comes to women. He has said women are more emotional than men or something along those lines. And that has really taken folks aback inside the west wing.

And yet, you know, Kelly, as you noted, is saying he has not spoken this way about the President and, you know, staffers have also said there are moments where Kelly really feels that he is pulling the country back from the brink of some sort of catastrophe. You know, some couple of folks talked to us about this moment before the Olympics where Kelly got into a very heated argument with the President because the President was thinking about withdrawing all troops from the Korean peninsula. He spent a lot of time arguing with him with that and successfully dissuaded him from doing that.

So it`s kind of this broad picture of the chief of staff who came in and he was saying that he -- public image is he`s someone who`s going to bring order to a west wing that was chaotic and what staff have said to myself and my colleagues is that actually the private image of the chief of staff is that he is not as disciplined as it seems. And in fact, he is somewhat indiscreet.

MOHYELDIN: So, let me pick up on a point that you raised because it leads me to how John Kelly and the White House are responding this evening. Juxtapose for us your reporting, what you heard from the sources you have been speaking to with this very forceful reaction that is now coming out from Sarah Huckabee Sanders on behalf of John Kelly calling this total BS.

This is not something we have not seen before when there have been reports about tensions between the President and some of his inner personnel. I think immediately of former national security advisor, H.R. McMaster.

LEE: Yes. Well, look, you know, we have been working on this story for quite some time. We approached the White House about this and they were well aware of what this story said. And we were asked to speak with the chief of staff. And we asked for a statement and a reaction and to talk to us about the different elements in this story.

The White House chose not to issue a statement from John Kelly to us. The spokespeople that I spoke with for this story said as far as they know, they don`t think he called the President an idiot. That that`s not necessarily language he uses. But before this story was published, they had ample opportunity to say what John Kelly decided to say in a statement after it published.

MOHYELDIN: E.J., let me get your reaction to this news this evening about the reports we were just talking about there. What do you make of this? We have known that there have been some major differences between, you know, President Trump, his chief of staff, John Kelly, but when you hear the details of this relationship and the context in which it is emerging, what are you thinking tonight?

E.J. DIONNE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first, I think it`s scary that a White House chief of staff thinks that the President is an idiot or whatever word he actually used. And he is not alone in this. Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was quoted saying things like that. So it`s just very disturbing on its face.

But I think what it also shows is that the Trump White House is a really wretched place to work. People aren`t just stabbing each other in the back, they are stabbing each other in the front, they are stabbing each other in the side. The fact that people in the White House wanted to get this story out, and many of the details in this story suggest that there were a lot of people there trying to get rid of chief of staff Kelly.

And this is kind of a second time around on the rumors that Kelly is going. You know, a couple of months ago, there was speculation that Trump was looking at new chiefs of staff. Mick Mulvaney, the budget director and also the head of the consumer financial protection bureau. Tom Baric, a businessman and Kevin McCarthy from the house, although I don`t think McCarthy would do it. So this just suggests a politics -- a White House in considerable turmoil and a lot of people would seem to have it out for John Kelly.

MOHYELDIN: And Donna, let me you as well to weigh in on this as well. And to play devil`s advocate, are we reading too much into the language that is used between the chief of staff and the President? These two men say they have a candid relationship. Certainly, we know they have their differences. But is this something that is common in politics to hear a chief of staff talk like this to the President?

DONNA EDWARDS, FORMER MARYLAND CONGRESSWOMAN: No. Ordinarily, I mean, the President`s chief of staff is perhaps his most loyal confidant. And so it`s really surprising. And you know, thanks to Carol for her reporting. It`s been spot-on over the last two years. There`s no reason that we have not to believe this reporting. We heard it from Rex Tillerson. We heard it from McMaster and now we are hearing again from Kelly.

And clearly, there are people in the White House who want to get this story out. And what you can see is a White House that continues to operate in chaos and confusion and a President who clearly from all accounts doesn`t have a grasp of facts and details and policy.

And I`m not at all surprised. I don`t think anybody is actually surprised by the reporting. Perhaps surprised that people would, you know, be willing to, you know, put themselves out there criticizing the President like this.

MOHYELDIN: E.J., let me play for you a sound bite about some of the differences we have referenced earlier on between the President and his chief of staff. Take a listen to this and I will ask your reaction to it.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This President, if you have seen what he`s done, he has changed the way he`s looked at a number of things. He`s very definitely changed his attitudes towards the DACA issue and even the wall, once we briefed him.


MOHYELDIN: So, things like that, when the chief of staff comes out, seems to be somewhat undercutting the President, that`s certainly not going to be helpful for the relationship between the two men saying that one of his hallmark positions on the campaign trail has evolved.

DIONNE: Right. And that`s what gives this story credibility. Kelly has sent signals that he feels this way for a while. They are more subtle when he is in public. And the immigration moment was really fascinating because, you know, both Lindsey Graham, Senator Lindsey Graham and the Democratic leadership thought that Trump had agreed to a deal on DACA. And it was only after Kelly got wind of it and he and other White House officials set up a meeting that was really designed to sandbag that deal. And so, that was a clear case of Kelly intervening to push policy in another direction.

Oddly in this case, Kelly was moving it in a more Trumpian direction. Trump seemed to be ready to break with his old policy. Which does lead you to think that Kelly -- it`s very hard to see how Kelly stays there much longer. Both with the obvious unhappiness with him among some people in the White House. And you can`t imagine somebody like Donald Trump likes a story like this out there. Just saying.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, you do provided me the perfect segue to Donna.

Congresswoman, my final question to you. We have seen a huge amount of turnover in the White House. As E.J. pointed out, this is something President Trump is definitely not going to like. And the last time you had a member of his cabinet, obviously John Kelly in this case not a member of the cabinet but a senior member of Trump`s inner working, refer to the President or criticize the President`s intellect, he is no longer there. Of course we are talking about Rex Tillerson who infamously called President Trump a moron. Does this mark the beginning of the end for John Kelly?

EDWARDS: Well, the beginning of the end was probably several weeks ago, but this certainly is another turning point. And I think it really is just a matter of time. Now, the President may not want us to -- him to feel like we are pushing Kelly out and that he is doing it of its own accord, but I think it`s really just a matter of time.

You know, the President has floated the idea of having, you know, no chief of staff in the White House, which I think would be another disaster. But I think it`s just a matter of time before Kelly sees the back door.

MOHYELDIN: All right. Carol Lee, thank you very much for that explosive reporting earlier today. E.J. and Congresswoman Edwards, I`m going to ask both of you to stay around for us for a little bit.

Coming up, John Kelly`s own history of controversial comments. What he`s reportedly said about women behind closed doors.

Plus, Stormy Daniels files a new defamation lawsuit against the President.

And Trump unveils a strange theory about the Russian lawyer from that infamous meeting at Trump tower. All of that, plus the high-stakes nuclear summit that is literally being negotiated on twitter.

I`m Ayman Mohyeldin. You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MOHYELDIN: Welcome back, everyone.

John Kelly calls Trump an idiot. That`s the news breaking right now. In fact, sources inside the White House telling NBC News Trump`s chief of staff called Trump an idiot on multiple occasions. Remember, Kelly was brought on as chief of staff nine months ago, hailed as a beacon of discipline and the adult in the room, believe it or not, and someone who would put an end to the chaos in the west wing. Instead, Kelly has found himself at the center of several controversies, many of them spilling out into the public. Of course his first -- his public attack on Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.


KELLY: The congresswoman stood up and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.


MOHYELDIN: Of course Kelly, you may recall, was proven absolutely wrong on that statement. He never issued an apology. Then there was this comment that he made calling immigrants lazy.


KELLY: There are 690,000 official DACA registrants. And the President sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number to 1.8 million. The difference between 690 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to gin up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn`t sign up.


MOHYELDIN: Again, no apology ever issued for using that kind of language to describe immigrants. More recently Kelly defended Rob Porter amid reports accusing the former Trump aide of spousal abuse. There are still questions about what Kelly knew and when about Porter exactly. And now today this. In this NBC news exclusive, Kelly is telling aides that women are more emotional than men.

Joining me now is Christina Greer, a fellow at NYC`s McSilver Institute. And back with us once again, the "Washington Post" E.J. Dionne and former congresswoman Donna Edwards.

Christina, let me begin with you. I want to get, you know, John Kelly was supposed to be the guy who comes in, really reins in all of this chaos. But as we just highlighted there in a mere nine months he is actually -- in addition to having some policy differences with the President when he made reference to reining him in or evolving his thinking on immigration, he is actually been anything but a source of stability.

CHRISTINA GREER, FELLOW, NYC MCSILVER INSTITUTE: Anyone who is involved with this titanic has to be aligned with Trump. So there is no adult in the room. If we are looking for someone who has deep morals or a conscience or some sort of upper level of intellect, if they are still with this administration, that is cause for serious question.

We knew when John Kelly came out and, as you mentioned with Congresswoman Wilson, and never apologized.

MOHYELDIN: Alarm bells, right?

GREER: I mean, completely lied about the situation and never corrected the story. These are things that the President does. He throws things out there. He says many people say. And we know that they are false. They are proven to be false by the journalistic standards that we have at least for now, and that`s what this administration has been doing. And I think the long-standing effects of this Trump presidency will be to make lies and untruths and false statements part of the ethos of doing business and call into question real facts.

MOHYELDIN: Yes. Normalizing a lot of these.

GREER: Normalizing real facts. And I think that`s the most difference. And by the by, I think President Trump is probably the most emotional man I have ever seen. And based on his behavior these past 16 months, I think many of us might wonder if we are -- if we ever want to have a man in the office again.

MOHYELDIN: Congresswoman, let me pick up on that point because as you hear John Kelly in 2018 saying the kind of things that he is saying about women being more emotional, something tells me he is not saying it as a compliment. What does that tell you in terms of his state of mind, the way he has been kind of rubbing some of the aides in the White House the wrong way?

EDWARDS: Well, it tells me that he is a mirror image in this respect of the President that he serves. I think what disturbs me more about John Kelly is that he hasn`t been able to put a clamp on the President`s sort of most ridiculous instincts. And in fact for previous chiefs of staff, the way that they function has been an emissary sometimes in the press and sometimes on Capitol Hill. And John Kelly because he doesn`t really seem to enjoy the confidence of the President right now can`t do any of that. In addition to not being able to impose 21st century values and discipline on the White House.

MOHYELDIN: E.J., I know that you saw this as well, President Trump obviously giving a campaign-style rally in Michigan over the weekend. I want to play you some of that for you. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What about Comey? Do you watch him on the interviews?

We have the worst laws anywhere in the world. And nobody knows what a community college is. Any Hispanics in the room? Hispanics. No, not so many.

In all fairness, Kanye West gets it. He got it. And if we don`t get border security, we have no choice. We will close down the country.


MOHYELDIN: So when you juxtapose the President there, you know, campaign- style rally, when you juxtapose that with what we were talking about John Kelly over the nine months, hasn`t completed a year yet in office, has John Kelly made any positive difference in controlling President Trump and getting him to be Presidential, so to speak?

DIONNE: Well, I think the short answer is no. At the beginning he seemed to get some control over his schedule. But what you described about Kelly`s behavior was a Trumpian trifecta. He went after and lied about an African-American woman. He went after immigrants as lazy and then he expressed all these stereo typical attitudes toward women.

And what you saw in that Trump speech was more of the Trump circus. It was a rambling hour and a quarter speech. And this circus is actually distracting us from all the policies in my view many of them damaging that Trump is pursuing. A lot was placed in these generals, General Kelly, General McMaster and general Mattis. McMaster is gone. Kelly clearly has not brought much order to this administration. General Mattis is the only guy hanging on there who hasn`t really disgraced himself the way Kelly did. So it is a mess right now.

MOHYELDIN: E.J. was talking, Christina, about three individuals that a lot of people had put hopes on to try to rein in the President. We know that the A.P. has actually been reporting for some time that Kelly has been frozen out in large part because of constantly telling President Trump no on some of the key issues. But when you have H.R. McMaster out, when you have Rex Tillerson out, when you have John Kelly now by some accounts maybe on his way out.

GREER: He would definitely on his way out.

MOHYELDIN: You think so? Official countdown clock?

GREER: I mean, this is, you know, the bachelor meets survivor meets American democracy, unfortunately, right. And we know that this particular President loves shiny new things. He loves taking the advice of the last person who is in the room. But he always liked generals because of their regalia. And he saw them as --.

MOHYELDIN: Their credibility.

GREER: Yes, exactly. Because he does have a talent drought, you know. There are many legitimate people, Republicans especially, who want nothing to do with this particular administration. So we also know that he gets bored with his shiny new individuals who are in the administration. And then he turns on them and he speaks about them sort of in public in really degrading ways.

And so, I think Kelly, thinking that he could right this ship, but he fell into, just as E.J. said, the same exact traps. Now, are these traps that he is doing because he wants to impress his boss or is he with his boss because he genuinely does think certain things about African-American women and immigrants? And sort of the ethos of Trump that is --.

MOHYELDIN: Rubbed off on him a little bit, yes.

GREER: That is so vulgar and so broodish (ph) that is really ripping at the seams of American democracy. And so time will tell whether or not --

MOHYELDIN: John Kelly makes it through a year at least.

GREER: Yes. I don`t think if he makes it. I mean, I`m not a betting woman but I wouldn`t put any dollars on it.

MOHYELDIN: E.J., you want to weigh in really quickly?

DIONNE: No, I just said I don`t think we have a year. I think I would be very surprised. Although I suppose none of us should try to pretend what Donald Trump to know what Donald Trump is ever going to go.

MOHYELDIN: Christina Greer, E.J. Dionne, and former congresswoman Donna Edwards, thank you very for your time this evening.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

Ahead, Stormy Daniels suing Donald Trump for defamation as her lawyer says Trump is in panic mode over Michael Cohen.

And new today, Trump is crowd sourcing for where he should meet Kim Jong- un. Yes, that really happened.


MOHYELDIN: Welcome back, everyone.

Today, a new lawsuit hitting Donald Trump. The accusation, defamation in the Stormy Daniels case. Daniels` lawyer arguing that Trump crossed the line when he accused her of lying about being threatened back in 2011. The lawsuit specifically cites Trump`s tweet about this forensic sketch of the man who Daniels alleges intimidated her.

In the tweet Trump called the claim a total con job. The lawsuit saying quote "Mr. Trump used his national and international audience to make a false factual statement to denigrate and attack Daniels. Today Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti saying this on MSNBC.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` LAWYER: The bottom line here is, is that if the President continues to make up statements and distribute them about my client, and if he continues to lie about my client, there is going to be consequences for that, period.


MOHYELDIN: All right. So this new lawsuit is actually separate from Daniels` existing battle with Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, over that $130,000 payment to keep her quiet.

Joining me now, Daniel Goldman, former assistant U.S. attorney, Brian Wice, a criminal defense attorney, Shelby Holliday, reporter for "the Wall Street Journal."

Great to have all three of you with us on set.

Daniel, let me begin with you and talk about Michael Avenatti`s strategy here. What is the strategy? And is this worth -- is this a fight worth picking now with the President when you have all of these other legal fronts that you have opened up?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think Michael Avenatti`s strategy is all-out warfare. That he is pressing every single button he can. He is trying to hold the President accountable for whatever it is that the President is doing. The interesting thing about this is it`s just another example of the President`s tweets and his statements, coming back to bite him in court. It happened last week after the "FOX & Friends" interview. It`s now another example of somebody, in this case Stormy Daniels, going to court based on the President`s tweets and statements.

MOHYELDIN: Yes. I mean, he does it a lot in politics. And the politics, it doesn`t necessarily come back and bite him because there is not necessarily that immediate sense of accountability, but do you think that these tweets in a legal courtroom could hold up to the threshold of defamation?

GOLDMAN: I think this is a very hard case for Stormy Daniels to prove. It`s not a clear-cut statement that she is a liar, like you actually have an ongoing, another lawsuit, the Summer Zervos, "the Apprentice" woman who has already gotten past a motion to dismiss and that is going into discovery. That`s a much more clear-cut case of a statement that someone is a liar.

So I think from a legal vantage point, this is a tough case. And I think what Avenatti is trying to do is keep the pressure on, even if it`s not a fantastic claim that he has.

MOHYELDIN: I see you shaking your head and that leads me to this question about that point. I get a sense that Avenatti just wants to be in the room with President Trump at some point. He is like all he wants to do is get into the room to be able to depose him. Maybe this is one way of doing it, but take a listen to what he said to my colleague, Nicolle Wallace, earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this another effort to depose the President and get him under oath?

AVENATTI: Well, certainly, there`s going to be discovery in the case. They are going to be able to take my client`s deposition. And I`m going to be able to take Mr. Trump`s deposition sooner rather than later, hopefully relating to this tweet and what`s his basis of knowledge.


MOHYELDIN: So, as a criminal defense attorney, what do you think? Does he have a chance to get President Trump into a room for a deposition?

BRIAN WICE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Ayman, I think he totally does. And this is the guy, Michael Avenatti, who can`t stop, won`t stop. And every time there`s another story, every time another shoe drops, every time there`s more oxygen to keep this story alive, every time I see Michael Avenatti on the air, compare and contrast it with team Trump, it`s reminiscent of Cuba and the dream team and the `92 Olympics. This guy is crushing them in the court of public opinion. And I agree that. It`s a tough case to make but so what. I don`t think he ultimately he really cares whether he wins or loses as long as he gets to depose the President.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I would add one thing though. And I agree that he`s definitely full-court press keeping the pressure on and he`s all over television, whereas the President`s team obviously is not talking about this except for a tweet and a comment on Air Force One. But I don`t know if he wants his client deposed because she has, according to my colleagues at the journal and the reporting she had done, she has some shifting statements about this threat, why she took the money. We know she was trying to sell her story before the threat, yet she said that she didn`t want to report the threat because she didn`t want her husband to know. So there`s a lot -- there`s a lot of confusion surrounding how she tells the side of the story. I mean, I`m not saying the threat didn`t exist, but some of the statements she`s made surrounding it seem not to add up. So it would be important to get a timeline and get more information about when the threat occurred and, you know if his team can find the person who made the threat. He put out this e-mail address and a reward and haven`t heard anything about it yet.

MOHYELDIN: Let`s focus in on Michael Cohen for a little bit because I want to read this next story about the National Enquirer. Stormy Daniels is obviously just a part of the mounting pressure that is facing Michael Cohen. It`s also coming from a magazine that has long backed President Trump. The National Enquirer, the tabloid, slamming Cohen with this new headline. Trump fixer`s secrets and lies. Now, the Enquirer article placing the legal burden squarely on Cohen rather than Trump, "some are questioning Cohen`s role, alleging blackmail, threats, hush money, payoffs and even collusion with Russia." Stormy Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti, drawing a connection between the new Enquirer article and Trump`s strategy.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER OF STORMY DANIELS: I think it`s clear to at least to me who`s behind this ultimately. I think it`s the White House and Mr. Trump. They`ve planted this story in an effort to undermine Michael Cohen`s credibility because I think dawn has set in or the light has set in and they have realized that something I`ve been saying for a long time. Michael Cohen is going to flip on the President. He`s going to tell prosecutors everything that he knows about Mr. Trump and Mr. Trump`s dealings and he`s going to have to in an effort to save himself.


MOHYELDIN: So, Daniel, do you think that in fact, the Trump team is preparing Michael Cohen for flipping?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think that`s the obvious implication here. If the relationship between Trump and Cohen, you know, as Trump`s consigliere, so to speak, is so close with the National Enquirer for them to come out so strongly against Michael Cohen and accusing him of lying as well is part of a more recent tact that the President took beginning with Fox & Friends or at least including Fox & Friends last week where they`re starting to undermine Michael Cohen`s credibility, with the idea being that if and when he does flip, they`re going to say that he just made everything up in order to get a deal with the government to save himself from whatever misconduct that he did that is separate and apart from the President`s team. It`s a dangerous strategy, though, because you know, Michael Cohen was next to the President for many, many years and presumably as his fixer, as the guy he would go to, to correct issues that he has, has a lot of information about where the bodies are buried.

MOHYELDIN: Let me ask you about this other report. This was coming out from ABC News. And it reports that the Trump Campaign, to be exact, paid off some of Cohen`s legal fees. This is between October of 2017 and 2018. So given the amount of legal pressure that Cohen is now facing, is he going to be able to sustain legal challenges on his own without any kind of financial help? I mean the two messages coming out here, what we`re seeing from the National Enquirer as we just heard and at the same time the fact that the Trump organization wants to make sure Cohen survives this in some capacity legally.

WICE: Well, I think anybody that`s watched this show recognizes what we all learn the first day of law school. Any criminal defendant can beat the rap but they can`t beat the ride. And in a situation like this, Michael Cohen has already discovered he`s going to be taken for a heck of a ride in terms of the money, in terms of the shame, in terms of the general trouble. But one quick take -- one takeaway, Ayman, about the National Enquirer. When I was a kid back before you all parents met, the National Enquirer had a habit of talking about two-headed babies, UFOs, and Bruce Willis`s marital troubles. Wait, that was this week. And ultimately they`ll try to paint Michael Cohen as a latter-day Henry Hill is a rat who`s a liar but this man is no typical jailhouse informant. He`s not a guy who`s trying to turn his dealer. This is a man who up until a couple of months ago before he went from Cy Young to sayonara had the President`s ear and the President`s confidence. Good luck with that strategy.

MOHYELDIN: I`m going to give you the final word about the National Enquirer article. What do you make of it? Is it significant? Should -- I mean, obviously, the fact that we`re talking about the National Enquirer is -- you know, but (INAUDIBLE). But the fact that it`s so close to President Trump, he`s defended it in the past, what do you make of it?

HOLLIDAY: The reason it`s important is not just because it`s close to Trump, it`s close to Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen used to be the sort of manager between President Trump and David Pecker. He was a central figure in planting some stories for the President and now that he is -- the tables have turned and he`s on the cover, that looks like --

MOHYELDIN: And on that same cover there was another headline about President Trump not being involved in collusion with Russia.


MOHYELDIN: Right, exactly. All right, Shelby Holliday, Daniel Goldman, Brian Wice, it`s great to have all three of you with us here onset.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

MOHYELDIN: And next, Donald Trump responds to the Russian lawyer at the Center of the Trump Tower Meeting out with his own novel theory, we should say. Also, we`re going to go live to the White House for reaction to tonight`s breaking news about John Kelly. We`ll be back in 90 seconds.



RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: You said your relationship with the prosecutor general is what?



MOHYELDIN: I am an informant. The Russian lawyer at the center of the 2016 Trump Tower Meeting there, Natalia Veselnitskaya admitting to NBC`s Richard Engel she`s an informant for a top prosecutor in Russia raising new questions about how involved Putin`s government was in contacting the Trump Campaign. We know Bob Mueller is looking very closely at what happened in that meeting and whether the Trump team -- Trump team, excuse me, tried to cover it up. But Trump himself is offering up an interesting theory about the lawyer at the center of it all. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In fact, have you heard about the lawyer? For a year a woman lawyer, she was like, oh, I know nothing. Now all of a sudden she`s supposedly is involved with government. You know why? If she did that, because Putin and the group said, you know, this Trump is killing us. Why don`t you say that you`re involved with government so that we can go and make their life in the United States even more chaotic?


MOHYELDIN: All right. So President Trump there thinks Putin told the Russian lawyer to pretend that she had close ties to his government to sow chaos in the United States. If you think that`s confusing, you`re not the only one.


CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: What does that tell you?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: So Putin`s instructions are to falsely implicate yourself conspiring with Americans?

TODD: Is that what you heard?

COMEY: I don`t know exactly what to make of that but that`s one interpretation of what he said.

TODD: Does that give you hope that he actually now sees that Vladimir Putin is trying to play games with the United States?

COMEY: It doesn`t give me any hope that he`s seeing or thinking clearly.


MOHYELDIN: Pretty powerful words there from the former FBI Director. Ken Dilanian is NBC`S Intelligence and National Security Reporter and Natasha Bertrand is a Writer for the Atlantic. Great to have both of you guys with us. Ken, let`s begin with the message that President Trump was trying to get across on Veselnitskaya. What do you make of that? What was the message there that Jim Comey could not understand?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, my read on it was that he was suggesting that this lawyer actually is an agent of the Russian government, an agent of Putin, but that she`s working against Donald Trump. And it`s almost as if Trump has made the calculation that these e-mails obtained by our own Richard Engel are so persuasive and so damning in connecting her to the Russian prosecutor that he may as well go with it. And so suggesting that you know, Putin is trying to sow chaos in the United States. And I`ll tell you what, Ayman, it`s actually not a bad theory. My intelligence sources say that`s exactly the kind of thing the Russians would do. The issue with this lawyer, though, I`ve been talking to this layer for a long time and dealing with her and reporting on her, and I`ve been convinced from the beginning that she had some connection to the Russian government because she was lobbying against the Magnitsky Act sanctions and those sanctions that only affect very wealthy Russians close to Vladimir Putin, Ayman.

MOHYELDIN: So given that, though, doesn`t that then somehow implicate President Trump that his team took this meeting with a Russian lawyer who was a known informant of the Russian government? Wouldn`t that come back and bite him, so to speak, and perhaps his advisers say do not acknowledge this?

DILANIAN: Of course, but you know, the e-mails, we`ve already seen the e- mails from Rob Goldstone to Don Junior where Goldstone is saying this is a Russian lawyer, part of the effort from the Russian government to help your campaign. And Don Junior said if it`s what you say, I love it. So you know, they`re already incriminated in this Trump Tower meeting. The only question is what was given and what did the Trump team do in response.

MOHYELDIN: So from that perspective, Natasha, would one consider this to be a slip-up by the President to try and change the narrative on the Russian lawyer, or is he just trying to come up with a way of fitting the narrative into a box that works for his argument?

NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, ATLANTIC: Well, it certainly wasn`t the smartest thing for him to say because, of course, he was implying that Natalia Veselnitskaya does, in fact, take orders from Putin. And there is a lot of evidence to suggest that she in fact does. She is extremely close to Russia`s Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, who of course is himself extremely close to Vladimir Putin. And she was essentially dispatched to the United States in order to lobby for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, which of course is the sanctions that are really a thorn in Vladimir Putin`s side. I mean, it`s been one of his biggest foreign policy goals to get these sanctions reversed. And now we know, because of the Democrats report on the House Intel Committee that there was actually follow-up after that meeting that both Natalia Veselnitskaya, Aras Agalarov who of course is really close business associate of the President or who was, they both tried to get the Trump transition team to you know, follow up on repealing these sanctions, even though the Trump team said that there was no follow- up. So this is another inconsistent story. And of course, we also know that there was a concerted effort by the Trump transition team and in the early days of the Trump White House to repeal these sanctions. So for all intents and purposes, Veselnitskaya`s message came through loud and clear. And whether or not they were trying to repay the Russians for something when they were considering repealing the Magnitsky Act sanctions or whether or not they just wanted to better improve their relationship with Putin for whatever reason, that is what remains to be seen.

MOHYELDIN: Let me play you both a sound bite from Jim Comey about the Mueller probe where he says we essentially don`t know what Bob Mueller knows. Watch this.


COMEY: That is both the challenge and also the great thing about a special prosecutor conducting an investigation with no leaks, you do not know what he has or where he is.


MOHYELDIN: All right, so given that and what you hear there from Jim Comey talking about the Mueller investigation, how does this new piece of development that we`ve learned play into the Mueller investigation, do you think? I mean, it`s hard to know because we don`t know where it stands, but will this be a significant development or not? Natasha.

BERTRAND: Well, I would like to hear what she actually said in the original Russian, if she said the word informant. Because I feel like that doesn`t accurately describe what she actually was. I feel like the word "agent" is more appropriate. But it does indicate that she herself admits to having these close ties to the Russians. And whether or not that is something that Bob Mueller has been able to get out of her, I mean she has actually said that Mueller hasn`t interviewed her and people from his team have not interviewed her. And you know, we can debate whether or not she can actually be believed on that, but it definitely in and of itself shows that she is willing to describe herself as someone with close ties to the Kremlin, even though in the past, of course, she has denied having those very same ties. So the fact that she`s changing her story now will definitely be significant to Mueller.

MOHYELDIN: All right, Natasha Bertrand, and Ken Dilanian, great to have both of you guys with us this evening. And back now to our exclusive breaking news. NBC News reporting that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly calling President Trump an idiot multiple times and casting himself as the "loan bulwark against administration pretty much in chaos." Kelly denies those comments this evening saying they are B.S. NBC`s Kristen Welker helped break that story. She joins us now live from the White House. Kristen, what does the story reveal about the Trump White House and the relationship now between Chief of Staff, John Kelly, and the President?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ayman, it reveals an increasingly souring relationship between the President and his Chief of Staff. And to expand on what you were saying, according to multiple current and former White House officials, the Chief of Staff has talked about the President behind his back, at times referring to him as an idiot, including after those immigration talks that occurred in January. You`ll recall the President let a bunch of cameras into the room when he was talking to lawmakers trying to hammer out a deal. Ultimately those talks fell apart. And behind the scenes, Kelly disparaged the President and it sort of bubbled up into public view as well. You recall Kelly gave that interview in which he talked about the President`s views on immigration evolving. President Trump was infuriated in the wake of that. We`re also told according to officials that President Trump has -- that Kelly has disparaged President Trump in meetings on Capitol Hill and that he has cast himself as really someone who is protecting the country from utter chaos. Now, he was brought in of course as the second Chief of Staff to replace Reince Priebus, brought in really to restore order to the White House and he`s been frustrated. He`s found that at times difficult to do with this President. And so it`s really a reflection of the fact that you are seeing this very critical relationship deteriorate. We do want to underscore that John Kelly issued that strongly worded statement, Ayman, calling the story B.S., but not outwardly disputing that he called the President an idiot and not specifying which parts of the story he agrees with. So this is something that undoubtedly will get under the President`s skin, but we know that if you talk to a number of White House officials, John Kelly`s role here has been diminished.

MOHYELDIN: And certainly a lot of people this evening are wondering how long he will last in that White House. Kristen Welker live for us this evening at the White House. Coming up, another breaking story about a big meeting Trump has in the works and the advice he`s seeking about where that meeting should be held. His source? Twitter. Can`t make that stuff up.



TRUMP: Kim Jong-un who has been very open or very straightforward so far - - I can only say, again, so far.


MOHYELDIN: All right, so Trump today saying North Korea`s leader has been very open and straightforward. It`s part of the new theme of President Trump praising Kim Jong-un after slamming him as Little Rocketman and maniac and a madman.


TRUMP: We`re having very good discussions. Kim Jong-un was -- he really has been very open. And I think very honorable from everything we`re seeing.


MOHYELDIN: All of this is ahead of Trump`s potential meeting with Kim Jong-un about nuclear weapons. Trump today saying they could meet in the Demilitarized Zone, known as the DMZ between North and South Korea. And this morning polling people on Twitter about the location saying wouldn`t the DMZ be better than a third party country? Just asking. Joining me now, Steve Clemons, Washington Editor-at-Large for the Atlantic. I know, Steve, did you weigh in on that Twitter poll by any chance?

STEVE CLEMONS, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, ATLANTIC: Not yet. You know, I really think Singapore has some really good attributes.

MOHYELDIN: We were thinking if there were any Trump properties somewhere in Southeast Asia that may host an event like this but we`ll see.

CLEMONS: If they get peace, maybe they`ll recall the peace house the Trump peace house.


CLEMONS: I travel there with Vice President Biden, that`s the place -- in fact, that`s where one of the defectors, the military defectors went through with a hail of gunfire getting shot. It is also the place that Kim Jong-un stepped over the border the other day. And so it`s easy for the North Koreans to get there.

MOHYELDIN: So to that point, Steve, let me ask you since you`ve been there, to that point, is the DMZ -- objectively here now speaking, is the DMZ, in fact, the best place to hold the meeting? I mean, give us what you think might be the pros and the cons of holding it there.

CLEMONS: Well, I think -- I think the pros of having it there is that North Korea has a hard time moving their leader anywhere else in the world. They may not have functional aircraft. They`re so security paranoid. There are all sorts of problems there. So getting up there creates an ease of access. I think the downside of it, you know, if you sort of look geopolitically, is that sort of, when you have the President of the United States moving in somewhere, this is a -- you know, in an armistice, sometimes when you move into places you remember Reagan and Gorbachev in Reykjavik, that was a defining moment in another country. It allows both sides to sort of be in an equal and neutral territory to discuss this. And I think you lose that if we look all bought in with what`s going on. And I think the real danger here, as you saw and were reporting with the President right now, he sort of artfully downplaying what might happen while he is still hyping the fact that the summit is coming up. Just like a reality T.V. show, well can all be part of the decision. And I think the hyping of this is very dangerous because we still haven`t analyzed why Kim Jong-un is doing what he`s doing. Is it because he`s really scared of Donald Trump? I don`t think so. I think there are other motivations here that need to be sorted out. And this could all turn in a very bad direction after the President had hyped up what was going on.

MOHYELDIN: So let me ask you really quickly about Mike Pompeo, obviously now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. His secret meeting, though, came when he was still the CIA Director. He met with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, and earlier this month he kind of laid the groundwork for the summit. What does it say about how this administration is handling these delegate talks between Trump and Kim Jong-un when you see these images and the tone of the President saying that Kim Jong-un is an honorable man?

CLEMONS: I think it is very, very dangerous. There is nothing wrong with United States playing a key role with its allies in the region, meaning South Korea and Japan in negotiating over strategically vital issues like North Korea`s nuclear direction. There is something very wrong in confusing and blurring with that as a murderous dictator as someone who can be honorable or someone you should be seen shaking hands with, and the kind of posture that we`re trying to turn North Korea into -- from one of the very worst players in global affairs to one of the very best.

MOHYELDIN: I really wonder, Steve -- yes, and I really wonder if the White House had any say in that picture being taken of them hand in hand because it sends --

CLEMONS: You always have a say. You always have a say.

MOHYELDIN: Yes, it always sends the wrong message. All right, Steve Clemons, thank you very much.

CLEMONS: Yes, you always have a say.

MOHYELDIN: I appreciate it. Steve, we`re out of time.

CLEMONS: Thank you, Ayman.

MOHYELDIN: Amid debate over joke in the media, a sobering reminder of the courageous work journalists are doing across the globe.


MOHYELDIN: After the weekend when the media was attacked by the President for being dishonest and fake, and when a pressed dinner with powerful politicians and media leaked turned into a debate about the limits of joking, I want to close tonight by remembering and reminding viewers what`s really at stake for some journalists around the world. This morning reporters in Afghanistan`s capital of Kabul woke up to this, a bomb exploding near the U.S. Embassy. When they went to go cover the attack, they were targeted with a second explosion. At least 22 people were killed and 42 wounded. At least nine of those killed were journalists. A tenth journalist was shot and killed in a separate attack outside the city. Among the journalists was AFP`s Chief Photographer in Kabul Shah Marai. And we should honor and never forget these brave reporters who paid the ultimate sacrifice in their quest to bring us the truth. That does it for me. Ari will be back here tomorrow night. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.