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Ex-Trump Campaign Chief Manafort lied. TRANSCRIPT: 11/26/18, 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Michael Crowley, Alan Gomez, Alexander Vershbow, Bob Inglis

  BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  The breaking news we`re covering tonight brings the Russia investigation roaring back into the news.  Robert Mueller says Paul Manafort lied to the Feds and has voided his plea deal.  This means he`ll get heavy prison time.  We`ll talk about the ramifications.

Plus, after a clash at the border that ended with the U.S. firing tear gas, the President now threatens to shut down the southern border and shut down the U.S. government until he gets the money for his wall.

The government report that came out on black Friday and paints a bleak picture of our future.  Tonight the President says he just doesn`t believe it.  He is in Mississippi tonight because they vote for Senate tomorrow.  All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on this post-holiday Monday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 676 of the Trump administration.  And as we said, we are covering a major development in the Mueller investigation.  This one is about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

His plea agreement with the government has apparently collapsed.  Tonight Mueller`s prosecutors filed court documents accusing Manafort of lying to the Feds repeatedly as they question him for the Russia investigation, "After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed Federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel`s office on a variety of subject matters which constitutes breaches of the agreement."

That same document includes a response from Manafort`s defense team which disagreed with the government`s conclusion, and we, "Manafort met with the government on numerous occasions and answered the government`s questions.  Manafort has provided information to the government in an effort to live up to his obligations.  He believes he has provided truthful information and does not agree with the government`s characterization or that he has breached the agreement."

Both sides have asked the judge to set a sentencing date.  Manafort, who is now 69 years old, was convicted in August of financial fraud related to his work as a political consultant just days before his second trial was to start.  He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the Feds.

Now that the deal has fallen through, Manafort could be sentenced to at least a decade in prison, perhaps his last days on the planet.  It was widely expected that Mueller would make some sort of move right after the Thanksgiving holiday.

That may be what prompted the President to write this earlier today, "When Mueller does his final report, will he be covering all of his conflicts of interest in a preamble?  Will he be recommending action on all of the crimes of many kinds from those on the other side?  Whatever happened to Podesta?  And will he be putting in statements from hundreds of people closely involved with my campaign who never met, saw or spoke to a Russian during this period?  So many campaign workers, people inside from the beginning, ask me why they have not been called.  They want to be.  There was no collusion and Mueller knows it."

On Sunday, Harvard law professor and frequent Trump defender Alan Dershowitz said Trump is bracing for what the Mueller investigation will conclude and about the political threat it could pose to his presidency.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR:  I think the report is going to be devastating to the President, and I know that the President`s team is already working on a response to the report.

The President will say, "ah, look, it`s political.  There`s their account and there`s our account and the American public will have to judge on credibility."


WILLIAMS:  During his two rallies in Mississippi tonight, Trump relied on his usual description of the Mueller investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have a lot of bad people, we have a lot of phony stuff like the Russian witch hunt garbage.


WILLIAMS:  There is also news on another aspect of Mueller`s inquiry, the conspiracy theorist veteran birther and Roger Stone associate named Jerome Corsi now says he is rejecting a plea deal from the Special Council.

Prosecutors have been examining Corsi`s contacts with Stone during the election campaign in 2016.  And whether Corsi coordinated with WikiLeaks on the release of the Democratic stolen e-mails.

Corsi was interviewed today about his decision, he says, to turn down this potential deal.


JEROME CORSI, CONSPIRACY THEORIST:  From what they offered, I can tell you is unacceptable.  This is a very politically motivated investigation from Mueller, and they`re trying to fit facts into their predetermined narrative.


WILLIAMS:  These new developments in the Mueller case come as the President is now just weeks away from the new political reality of a House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats.

To give you a sense of the scope of their victory, this is something.  According to NBC News election data, "Democrats won the House with the largest margin of victory in history for either party."  The Democrats produced 8.7 million votes more than the republicans.

That finding comes as the "New York Times" reports House Democrats are gearing up not just to investigate Trump but his family members as well.  The latest Gallup poll now has the President`s approval rating of 38 percent while 66 percent say they disapprove.  This is the fourth time it`s reached that level during Trump`s nearly two years in office.

The President is also facing a crisis on our southern border.  As you may have seen over the weekend, after a weekend of unrest involving migrants and the U.S. border patrol near Tijuana.

Then there is today`s announcement from General Motors, the automaker says it`s closing factories in Ohio, Michigan, Maryland while cutting thousands of jobs, blue and white collar. This means, as the death of a lot of well- known car brands and thousands of families without a paycheck a month before Christmas?  Earlier today the President described the conversation he had with G.M., G.M.`s CEO


TRUMP:  I said, you know, this country has done a lot for General Motors.  You better get back in there as soon, as to Ohio and you better get back in there soon.

Get a car that is selling well and put it back in.  So I think you`re going to see something else happen there, but I`m not happy about it.


WILLIAMS;  Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Monday night.  Not forgetting our lead story tonight, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.  Cynthia Alksne, former Federal Prosecutor as well and a veteran of the Justice Department who has worked with Robert Mueller.  And Michael Crowley, White House and National Security Editor for Politico.

Good evening and welcome to you all.

Joyce, I`d like to begin with you.  As you read this filing, let`s just assume it`s all bad for Manafort.  How good and how bad is it for Mueller?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Well, it`s not the outcome that Mueller had hoped for here.  What you really wanted out of Manafort was a fully cooperative witness who could walk you through his story and give you details that you could corroborate.  I think it`s unlikely that Manafort was ever intended to be a trial witness, but he could have been a storehouse of knowledge had he chosen to cooperate.

So that`s, you know, that`s not the outcome that they would have hoped for.  On the other hand, Mueller has spent the last 18 months or so doing nothing but amassing evidence.  He has Rick Gates who apparently has been cooperative.  He has a lot of other sources of information, including bank and phone records.  I don`t think that Mueller walks away from the falling apart of the Manafort deal damaged in any way.

WILLIAMS:  Cynthia, while -- as Joyce points out, I don`t think Paul Manafort was going to take the stand at any time, but you do lose the ability, correct, of being able to cite him in any charging documents?  He goes from being a big name in your marquee of witnesses to suddenly being discredited, isn`t that right?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, a man convicted of 20 felonies is pretty discredited, anyway.  So I would agree with Joyce.  Not only was he not going to be a witness, he probably wouldn`t have been the marquee in the indictment, either, but he has been providing information.  He has spent hours and hours.

So my guess would be that Mueller did get some good information from him that he can build on, even though he can`t use him as a witness and he`s essentially closing down his cooperation completely.

WILLIAMS:  And Cynthia, there is also this way of looking at it.  Mueller knows more than enough about the case.  One would presume that he knew that Manafort was lying about the case, correct?

ALKSNE:  Exactly.  The one thing we know about Mueller is he follows the general rule for prosecutors, and we like to ask questions that we know the answers to.  And he`s obviously been doing that with Manafort and he`s caught Manafort in a lie.  At the same time, the same thing happened with Corsi, which is another sort of dual track part of the investigation.  He asked Corsi questions that he knows the answers too, and Corsi lied to him and he confronted Corsi with it.

So I`m not surprised that that`s the way he`s handling it.  We`re going to learn a lot more in the coming weeks and months about all the things he does know.  And I, for one, am looking forward now to the soon-to-be coming Corsi indictment which if Mueller, you know, if Mueller sticks to the way he`s been doing it would be a speaking indictment or an indictment that really tells a story and explains to us all about what was going on with Corsi and WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

WILLIAMS:  And more on that after this.

Hey, Michael, you know the Donald Trump system of communicating especially where former aides are concerned.  There is the initial distancing, Paul Manafort was with us for a very short period of time, then came the guilty verdict in Manafort.  And we got this from Donald Trump about Paul Manafort.  I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family.  Justice in "took a 12-year-old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to break.  Make up stories in order to get a deal.  Such respect for a brave man."

So, Michael, while this was hardly the Hanoi Hilton, the President is clearly trying to be a sympathetic figure here.  What do you imagine might be going on?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE & NTL. SECURITY EDITOR:  Well, we do have to wonder whether the President is trying to signal, and there is reporting to suggest that there have been more direct contacts between Manafort`s camp and the President`s camp about the possibility of a Presidential pardon.  So,it`s still conceivable that Manafort is -- maybe was willing to cooperate in certain ways and started getting questions from Mueller that he were going places where he wasn`t prepared to sell out potentially the President or potentially other people.

But if it was indeed the President, for example, he may have thought he would take the risk of giving untruthful answers and hoped that a pardon might still forthcoming from the President.  Of course a pardon can`t undo everything that`s happened to Manafort so far.  He`s had property and assets seized by the government that he can`t get back.  He would also be vulnerable potentially to state charges even if a pardon were to clear of federal charges.

And then, Brian, you know, I think it`s probably a bit of an out layer scenario and it`s highly speculative, but you have to think about some of the nasty characters that Manafort came into contact with when he was working in Ukraine in some of his business deals including the industrialist oligarch -- Oleg Deripaska who has some allegations of seriously frightening behavior in his early career in post soviet Russia.

Manafort knows a lot about Deripaska.  Appears to be communicating or at least attempting to communicate with him through an intermediary during a campaign.  Is it possible that he got some questions about Deripaska that he just didn`t feel like he was prepared to answer because it could be dangerous?  That`s highly speculative but I think we have to consider that possibility also.

WILLIAMS:  And Joyce, that reporting Michael is referring to was the "New York Times" report back at the time saying O`dowd, the one time attorney for the President had at least dangled the notion of a pardon.  And that is a weighty thing to drop in the middle of a conversation.

So, the question to you, Joyce, as David Gergen speculated tonight, this is someone who is trying to hide something very big or protect someone very big.  Do you concur with that?  Because clearly he is not enjoying life in prison.  He came into court last time in a wheelchair.

VANCE:  I think that that`s exactly right.  The question we don`t know the answer to that perhaps Mueller will give us some hint about when he files his more deliberate pleading in this matter is, what is it that Manafort is sitting on?  What did he either do or what did he know about that`s so sensitive that he`s willing to go to jail for what for him will be a virtual life sentence in prison rather than coming clean with Mueller.

One suspects that`s a weighty secret.  We don`t know if it goes in tandem with this weeks other events, with the Corsi allegation that he had a plea arrangement with Mueller that has now fallen apart, whether it`s somehow related to the President turning in his answers to the written test that he took for Bob Mueller.  We don`t know if that`s all related or if it`s the Special Counsel saying in his filing, Manafort simply was not truthful on a variety of topics.  And at some point the special prosecutor became fed up with that and decided to pull the plug on the plea deal.

WILLIAMS:  Cynthia, you hear what your co-counsel Joyce slipped in there.  And does it have anything to do with Donald Trump submitting his written answers?  So that happens on a few days later we get this.  Do you think the two are at all related?

ALKSNE:  I don`t know.  I mean, I think you can make -- I mean, this obviously a sexy argument that it was Oleg Deripaska or the pardon which obviously makes a lot of sense.  He`s been dangling the pardon.  He`s been doing it not just through lawyers but he does it with tweets right in front of us.

But also, there`s a mindset about a guy like this.  He`s basically a grifter.  You know I think these guys are associate (ph).  And he`s been stealing and cheating and lying for so long that he just can`t give it up.

And there`s something about that type of person like this that it`s possible it`s as simple as that and not necessarily a big, you know, something bigger and darker or a pardon or a fear of the Russians.  It`s possible.

WILLIAMS:  Joyce, quick legal question.  Will we ever know the truth here?  Will it come out in subsequent documents?

VANCE:  I think that there`s a good chance that it will.  Manafort says in the pleading that he intends to contest the decision by Special Counsel that he has breached the plea agreement.  He is more than likely entitled to get a hearing on that matter, so it may well be that we`ll see information in written pleadings, it may be that we`ll hear more about it in court.

One possibility that occurs to me is that the Special Counsel doesn`t have to list every way that Manafort breached the plea agreement.  They could just pick a couple of choices, maybe, you know, the least sexy, the least interesting ones but sufficient to show breach of the plea agreement.  That would allow them to avoid revealing too much of their hand publicly.

But we do know that Mueller, when he speaks, often likes to use what prosecutors call a speaking indictment.  A document that`s very much storytelling in narrative and much of what we know about the investigation we know from his pleadings.  That may well be the case here as well.

WILLIAMS:  OK, Michael, and all along, the President is under water with six out of 10 Americans, fully 60 percent disapprove of the job he`s doing.  You folks at Politico are reporting a bare bones White House counsel`s office that doesn`t seem to have a wartime footing or a wartime consigliere, that would be bad timing for this West Wing, Michael.

CROWLEY:  Yes, you know, that blue wave crashed into the-- at least the House side of the midterm elections and is now going to crash again into President Trump`s White House early next year.  Democrats are going to have to take some time staffing up and getting their investigations running, but they are going to come down on this White House to use another metaphor like a ton of bricks.

And it just doesn`t seem that the White House is prepared for it.  You need an enormous number of talented, highly competent lawyers to respond to the kinds of document requests and subpoenas, demands for testimony that the White House is going to get on a huge number of different potential issues.

So not only do you have to deal with the actual requests, but you have to be ready for the potential ones.  You have to be ready for the investigations you think are coming.  Our reporting shows that the White House counsel`s office is, you know, maybe a little bit over 50 percent of it`s capacity, where they would like it to be still not a fully installed White House counsel to replace Don McGahn.

And you just have to wonder if they really know what`s going to hit them and if they`re prepared for it.  And what is the result of that?  You could have witnesses who give bad testimony that get them into legal trouble, you could have huge embarrassments for the White House, you could have process scandals where it looks like you`re covering something up, but actually you`re just incompetent or ill-prepared.

It`s just not where White House like this one to be.  Particularly last word on this, when they clearly knew this was coming, I mean, it was always possible that the Democrats weren`t going to take the house, but any wise betting person would have prepared for and they have just been very slow at getting their ducks in a row.  It`s going to be potentially ugly to watch.

WILLIAMS:  Well, here we are, this first Monday back from the holiday break.  We`re still talking about football in our newsroom until the Mueller folks handed us this breaking news story.  I can`t imagine a better starting panel to help us start things off tonight.  Joyce Vance, Cynthia Alksne, Michael Crowley, our thanks for being part of our conversation tonight.

And coming up, our country has now fired tear gas upon migrants rushing our southern border.  And now threats from the President to shut the border entirely, perhaps shut down the government entirely to get funding for his so far mythical wall.

And later, the devastating government report warning hundreds of billions of dollars more will be lost because of climate change.  The President says he doesn`t believe it.  "The 11th Hour" just getting started on this post- holiday Monday night.


TRUMP:  We will not tolerate any form of assault or attack upon our border agents like what happened yesterday or any attempt to destroy federal property, overrun federal authorities or bring chaos and violence to American soil.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump weighed in tonight.  Can you tell he was reading that part off a TelePrompTer at a rally in Mississippi on what`s been a tense 48 hours along our southern border with Tijuana, Mexico?

On Sunday, American authorities used tear gas on hundreds of migrants who tried to enter the U.S. illegally.  The U.S. government also shut down the San Isidro port for entry for several hours.

Customs and border patrol said tear gas was used after several migrants threw rocks at border agents.  NBC News reports the tear gas was fired mostly at adult men but some of it hit women and children, as this already famous photo shows, including Maria Meza, who is the woman seen in this photograph.  She spoke to our own Gabe Gutierrez earlier today.


GAB GUTIERREZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  "When I see that photo, I just want to cry," she says, claiming that she wasn`t crossing the border illegally but trying to reach it to apply for asylum.


WILLIAMS:  We have to show you that before departing for Mississippi, the President defended the authority`s actions at the border.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you comfortable tear gassing children like what we saw at the border this weekend?

TRUMP:  They`re not -- as you know, they`re not -- they had to use because they were being rushed by some very tough people, and they used tear gas.  And here`s the bottom line, nobody is coming into our country unless they come in legally.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump also threatened to close the border permanently today saying, "Mexico should move the flag waving migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals back to their countries.  Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it any way you want but they are not coming into the USA.  We will close the border permanently if need be.  Congress, fund the wall."

Well, lot to talk about.  With us to do so, Alan Gomez, Immigration Reporter for USA Today and Jonathan Lamire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press .

Alan, I want to show you one more thing about the tactics used at the border before you and I discussed how usual or unusual this is.  Here is the President again.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How did you feel when you saw the images of the women and children running from the tear gas?

TRUMP:  Well, I have to say, why are they there?  I mean, I have to start, first of all, the tear gas is a very minor form of the tear gas itself.  It`s very safe.  The ones that were suffering to a certain extent were the people that putting it out there, but it`s very safe.

But you really say why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and they know it`s going to be formed and they`re running up with a child?  And in some cases, you know, they`re not the parents.  These are the people, they call "grabbers."  They grab a child because they think they`ll have a certain status having a child.  You know, you have certain advantages in terms of our crazy laws that frankly Congress should be changing.

You know, if you changed the laws, you wouldn`t be having this problem.


WILLIAMS:  So as we note the body language, we also note the verbiage.  A lot to react to there, Alan.  Let`s start with how far from normal is this?

ALAN GOMEZ, USA TODAY IMMIGRATION REPORTER:  Yes, I mean, like we were saying, there`s several parts of that I`d like to break down.  But the idea of tear gassing and deploying tear gas in these kinds of situations, it`s not unheard of, it`s happened at the border before, but not when there are concentrations of women and children trying to reach the border.

His reference to grabbers, people grabbing children and coming across into the United States, there have been isolated cases of that in the past, but predominantly as the family separation the saga from the summer stated that we`ve gotten from that, it has shown the vast majority are parents who are coming in here with their children.

And why they`re coming is I think just one of the most important parts, is that conditions in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala where a majority of these people are coming from are that bad.  And these folks know what a dangerous journey it is, and what they`re trying to do is what President Trump has urged them to do and present themselves at a port of entry to request asylum, but it`s obviously very difficult right now because they cannot process more than a hundred people a day even though there`s these thousands of people in Tijuana trying to get in.

WILLIAMS:  So Jonathan Lemire, we have a 60-40 President thereabout, right now at 60 percent disapproval.  How much and what of this play to his base wheelhouse?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  A lot of it.  He at least in his estimation.  This is something -- he tipped his hand, he was going to do for a while, he of course made the caravan the centerpiece of this 2018 midterm election.

But he and the people, his closest advisors believe that this is what put him across the finish line in 2016.  That the hardline immigration rhetoric that this -- the draconian policies that he is putting out there is what got him elected.  And then that`s what his base really responds to.

And what we are seeing right now is a very early step towards his reelection campaign.  The images here, the tear gas, the migrants trying to make a run for the border yesterday for that entry, might as well have a Donald Trump for reelection campaign ad, at least this estimation.  That`s what he wants.

We have seen him -- this is not a crisis necessarily that he created, but he certainly has heightened it with his rhetoric over the last weeks and months.  And he, you know, what we can only call it "fear mongering."  And now he is -- there`s such tension on both sides of this issue and he`s put the Mexican government, mind you, in a real bind as well, that this is exactly what he wants in many ways.  Is to have this sort of crisis here where he can look tough, he can respond, we`re going to secure the border, he didn`t back down even with the use of tear gas.  You heard him say there was a mild use of tear gas.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  The good kind.

LEMIRE:  The good kind of tear gas.  And that he feels like this is something that looking tough here is going to get his base to respond, and he feels they`re supporting his efforts.

WILLIAMS:  So, Alan, hardly mourning in America, but if we take what Jonathan said as kind of political fact, we then learned today that Mike Pence and Ivanka are going to represent the United States at the Mexican presidential inauguration aside from giving us an arresting visual of these traveling partners, how does going to look on behalf of the United States?

GOMEZ:  Well, I mean, it just shows that this relationship with Mexico is going to be continue to be a turbulent one.  December 1st is when the new president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, assumes office down there in Mexico and it`s already been an interesting back and forth between the two.

Lopez Obrador, he won office in part by being the anti-Trump candidate.  He said that Mexico would no longer do the "dirty work" of rounding up migrants on behalf of the United States.

After he won, things got a little bit better.  They talked on the phone.  President Trump called him a "terrific guy."  Lopez Obrador had nice things to say about Trump as well.  But just in the last few days, we saw what sounds like the president -- the incoming president of Mexico starting to fight back.

The U.S. and Mexico have been working on some kind of agreement to try to formalize a process in which these migrants would be able to stay in Mexico while their asylum cases were being adjudicated here in the United States, but then that quickly fell apart.  And I think that`s a clear indication that they`re starting to -- that those fault lines are starting to be established.

And yes, the fact that the President of the United States is not going down to the Mexican president`s inauguration is pretty stunning and I think it shows that this could be a very, very difficult relationship between the two.

WILLIAMS:  Jonathan Lemire, in the seconds we have remaining, let`s say you are a federal wild lands firefighter in Northern California.  You`re hearing the President cavalierly talk about shutting down the federal government.  Is this another one of these issues go straight to the base, doesn`t cut so well with others?

LEMIRE: I was with the President when he went to California two weekends ago to inspect the damage out there, just purely devastating.  And He seemed moved by it talking to the people who lost their homes, lost their family and loved ones.

But yes, of course, this is another moment where shutting down the government may be a good political play in the President`s mind to get this border wall, which of course he`s number one campaign issue and has yet to materialize.

But it has other effects.  And certainly they`re trying to manage.  The Northern California fire is largely under control, but there is still a huge rebuilding effort to come.  And it is hard to argue that this would be seen as a positive move beyond that narrow base that the President still seems so overly focused on.

The Fox News watching Trump supporters who were there for him every day in his rallies but perhaps would not be enough to guarantee him a second term.  But we have seen him time and time again not to try to broaden his base.  He only seems to focus on those courses (ph) of boarders.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s also remember, the funding for the wall was suppose to come from Mexico, I believe.

LEMIRE:  I`ve heard that.

WILLIAMS:  Alan Gomez, Jonathan Lemire, gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us once again on our broadcast.

And coming up, it just might be the hottest place in the world right now in terms of tensions.  We`ll have the latest on the back and forth between Russia and Ukraine after Russia seized Ukrainian ships this weekend.

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia will be here with us when we continue.


WILLIAMS:  Fresh escalation today in this conflict between Russia and the Ukraine.  I need watching closely.  Ukraine`s parliament voted to declare marshal law after Russia attack several of its ships over the weekend.

On Sunday Russia opened fire and seized three Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait claiming they had trespassed into Russian waters.  The Azoz of Sea is technically shared by Ukraine and Russia as part of `03 agreement, but Russia took control of the Strait after annexed Crimea in 2014, just declared at Russian waters.

Six Ukrainians sailors were also injured after a Russian ship rammed three Ukrainian vessels.  This video was released by Ukrainian authorities, was believe that have been shoot on board.  One of the Russian vessels involved.

This incident prompted the U.N. to call an emergency meeting at the Security Council meeting where the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley issued her rebuke.


NIKKI HALEY, U.N. AMBASSADOR:  What we witnessed this weekend is another reckless Russia escalation.  The United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia.  But outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week at the G20 summit in Argentina.  This was his reaction today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We don`t like what`s happening.  Either way we don`t like what`s happening and hopefully they`ll get straightened out.  I know Europe is not thrilled.  They`re working on it, too.  We`re all working on it together.


WILLIAMS:  With us to talk about this tonight, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, former Ambassador to Russia, the Bush 43 administration, a 30- year veteran member of the Foreign Service, a career diplomat having served every President from Reagan to Obama.

Mr. Ambassador, is this the culmination of the Putin strategy weaken NATO, weaken the big allies, may be even tinker with Brexit, tinker with an American election process?  And because this is serving up a huge test for our country, among others, is it not?

AMB. ALEXANDER VERSHBOW, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  It is a big test for our country and I think it is part of a pattern of activities that we`ve seen over the last few years where Putin has tried to undermine the west, undermine our democratic institutions, divide the European union, divide NATO.

And, of course, at the same time he`s trying to weaken his neighbors because Russia doesn`t try to win friends and influence people, it tries to dominate, it tries to dictate, and I think we`re seeing an example of that in the seizure of these ships over the weekend.  It`s a clear escalation.

This is the first time they`ve used their actual troops, pretending that these are mysterious little green men, and the question is, what`s he going to do next?

WILLIAMS:  Yes, a lot of the foreign sources of journalism that I usually follow are really painting this as a hair-trigger moment.  How serious is this right now in your view?

VERSHBOW:  I think it`s very serious, because if the west just condemns this rhetorically or gives a little slap on the wrist, Putin may go even further.  He may declare the whole as of sea to be Russian territory and tear up this 2003 agreement.

This would impose tremendous economic costs on Ukraine because this is a place where there are a couple important ports that ship steel and grain to the international markets.  We`ve already lost $20 million to $40 million through Russian harassment and interference with shipping even before these events.

And it could point to some other ways to destabilize Ukraine which has elections next year, and Russia is trying to manipulate those elections in the hope of getting more malleable of leaders that it can deal with who are ready to accept subjugation to Russia, more readily than the current leadership.

WILLIAMS:  Of course, we`ve never ever seen an American President act this way around a Russian President.  Stagecraft in normal times would call for Trump to cancel his meeting with Putin in Argentina coming up later this week.  What`s your call on what you think will happen?

VERSHBOW:  Well, he could cancel the meeting.  I don`t think he`s going to do that.  I think it`ll be better if he were to take some strong measures to raise the costs for the Russians of this kind of aggressive action and go into the meeting with a display of strength.

Unfortunately, he tends to go into these meetings with friendly words, blaming Obama for everything rather than condemning the Russians for their serious violations of international law.

I mean, the Russians have been trying to basically destroy the whole rules- based system that we`ve built up since the end of World War II, and the President seems happy to blame both sides rather than point the finger at his friend Putin.

WILLIAMS:  We greatly appreciate the opportunity to talk you about this tonight Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, thank you so much for coming on our broadcast.

And coming up for us.  The report on our future.  From the President`s own government that the President himself has chosen not to believe, when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  It was issued on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and if you`re the Trump administration, that would be about the perfect time to release a report you don`t believe in.

It`s a new and exhaustive government report on climate change that paints a grim picture for our country`s environmental and, for that matter, economic future.  This is the product of years of work.  It involves 13 separate federal agencies.  The thousand-page study systemically outlines the growing health concerns, crippling infrastructure damage, severe economic impact of our changing climate.

Since 2015 alone, it says damaging weather has cost the U.S. nearly 400 billion, with a B, dollars.  And if left unchecked, climate change is forecast is cost hundreds of billions of dollars more in annual losses by the year 2100.  That`s equal to about 10 percent of the country`s GDP.

President Trump was asked about this environmental report and its warnings on the south lawn earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you read the climate report yet?

TRUMP:  I`ve seen it, I`ve read some of it, and it`s fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   They say economic impact will be devastating.

TRUMP:  Yes, I don`t believe it.


WILLIAMS:  With us now, former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis from Southern Carolina after spending about a dozen years in Congress.  He is now known as the founder of RepublicEN, a group devoted to changing the Republican Party stance on climate change.

In 2015 the Congressman became a recipient of the John F. Kennedy profile and courage award for his environmental advocacy work.  Congressman, thank you for coming on.  What do you make of the report and the President`s response to it just there?

BOB INGLIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, REPUBLICEN.ORG:  To the President`s response, you can believe what you want, but if you step off the roof of your house, you`re going down because of gravity, and climate change is real, whether you believe it or not.

And so, it`s not a matter of belief, it`s a matter of just paying attention to what`s in that report, which is that these very fine scientists devoting their lives, really to this, not trying to deceive anyone, in fact, trying to find the truth here.  And they`re telling us that there are serious consequences we`re experiencing now and more to come later.

WILLIAMS:  I heard a political type explain this tonight by saying its just part of his economic nationalism.  He wants to bring back coal mines and ironworks, and of course he can`t believe in a report like this.  In your view, how should Republicans talk about climate change?

INGLIS:  I think we should talk about it in terms of free enterprise solutions.  The challenge so far, Brian, is that the climate conversation has largely been conducting the language they left.  If we could change that to a free enterprise discussion about just how do you fix this if you want to use the power free enterprise?

In the place we`d probably go is to people like Milton Friedman who told us not to regulate pollution but to tax it instead into to fixed economics.  That`s the strong suit of the free enterprise party which should be my party, the Republican Party.  And so there are plenty of solutions there if we fix the economics.

WILLIAMS:  One of the problems with this issue is that so many people, good-hearted people who want to do right, see this as so monolithic, so beyond their ability to change it or slow it down, now they can`t believe they`re coming for their drinking straws.

They think they are blameless in all of this.  Can you tell them that four years of lost effort is or is not going to impact our overall climate change cost to both economic and humans?  Because clearly for four years we`re just going to suspend any efforts in that area.

INGLIS:  Yes, well, of course, no, I can`t tell them that because it`s true.  The four-year hiatus is a problem.  We need to be acting and we need to be acting quickly on this.  If we do so, it`s not just danger.  There are tremendous dangers, of course, from climate change, but there are also amazing opportunities to create the fields of the future, to create the materials of the future.

Presented that way, perhaps we could get more conservatives on board.  That`s what we do at  We try to speak to fellow conservatives about the opportunities and about the power of free enterprise to fix these things.  But it does start with realizing that facts are stubborn things, and you may not believe it, but climate change is coming your way and we`re experiencing it now.

WILLIAMS:  I stand corrected on my pronunciation.  Former Congressman Bob Inglis is the founder of, I get it.  Thank you so very much for coming back on the broadcast.  We`ll invite you again, same topic.

Coming up, call at the midterm leftover, the Senate race that brought Trump to Mississippi tonight, when we come back.



SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI:  We`re going to an event, thank you, guys.

VAUGHN HILLYARD, NBC NEWS REPORTER:  Senator, can you ask you, speak about the issue of race.  It`s an issue on voters point (ph), why not speak about the issue?

HYDE-SMITH:  These people are really interesting --

HILLYARD:  And there`s a lot of people that we`ve talk too across the state that are concerned about your remarks and what you`re apologizing for.  Senator, why not speak to this issue?  Your comments offended a great number of people, senator.


HILLYARD:  No, you haven`t.  I`m wondering though what is that you`re apologizing for?


HILLYARD:  Senator, you stood inside of Jefferson Davidson (ph) out.  And you said that this is Mississippi history at its best.  Senator, what did you mean by that standing inside of Jefferson Davidson house?  And saying that --

HYDE-SMITH:  Thanks fellows for being here.

HILLYARD:  Senator, this is a third of your electorate is --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is head of the race --

HILLYARD:  But Senator, you`re running to be U.S. senator of the United States, senator?  Senator, you`re running to be the U.S. senator, why not talk about race?


WILLIAMS:  Boy, can she name a couple places where she would rather be right in that moment and not one but two locked car doors, Republican Mississippi Senate candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith have very little to say to our own and very persistent Vaughn Hillyard on Sunday as he tried to ask her about those race related issues.

Just hours from now, voters in Mississippi will head to the polls to decide this run off election.  Senator Hyde-Smith running against Democrat Mike Espy, and the Democrats are hoping for an Election Day upset.

They`re hoping to turn a deep red sate in the deep south just blue enough in this instance to win, especially after Hyde-Smith has faced a number of controversies in recent weeks.

Our White House correspondent Kristen Welker has our election eve report on where this race stands.


KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Tonight, President Trump in Mississippi making his final pitch for embattled Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith.

TRUMP:  Tomorrow if you don`t mind make it not even close to.

WELKER:  And this morning a disturbing reminder this race has become all about race two nooses found at the state capital.  Hyde-Smith came under fire saying she`d welcome sitting in the front row of a public hanging, her campaign dismissed as joke.

HYDE-SMITH:  Anytime I`d said anything that somebody got offended, I want to apologize.

TRUMP:  She felt very badly.  She certainly didn`t mean that.

WELKER:  And tonight a new controversy, the Jackson free press reporting Hyde-Smith attended an all white segregated high school and sent her daughter to a similar school.  Her challenger, Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman and cabinet member is looking to become the first African- American senator from the state in more than a century.

MIKE ESPY, SENATOR CANDIDATE, MISSISSIPPI:  I believe that I`m the candidate to take Mississippi forward. 

WELKER:  To win, Espy needs African-Americans to turn out in force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mississippi is one of the reddest states in the country.  The President has a 60 percent job approval rating so his formula is very simple getting his people out to the polls to help Republicans win.

WELKER:  If Hyde-Smith wins, Republicans would tighten their grip on the Senate.

Kristen Welker, NBC News, Washington.


WILLIAMS:  Live coverage of the returns here on this broadcast tomorrow night.

Coming up for us tonight, the news amazing enough to qualify as out of this world.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, you can be an aficionado (ph) of space flight, all your life, trust me.  And yet never see anything that compares to this.  We`ve seen a bunch of rocket launches, of course.  But this is the first time a rocket launch on earth has been this clearly visible from space.

It`s a high-definition video recorded by an astronaut on board the international space station as it passed over the launch site of a Soyuz rocket in Kazakhstan.  The payload three tons of supplies for our space station, the oxygen, water, food and fuel, they depend on.

So here is the video.  Look closely at the rising bright dot shooting up and away from the earth, you can see the penumbra when the stage separating.  It looks almost like a mist, then a red glow as it reaches orbit.

Then there`s another bright flair as the Jettison rocket stage falls back through the atmosphere.  And there is another space story, another vehicle that slipped our Shirley Bond (ph) has arrived at its destination and that would be Mars.

This is a triumph of engineering and science called InSight.  It`s been flying since May 5th because 300 million miles is a long way to go.  And so far everything has gone right.  It deployed its parachute, which then deployed the craft down to a soft landing.

It already send a photo back, but basically that photo is a reminder that job one is cleaning the Marsian dust off its own lenses.  Eventually months from now, its big mission is to dig 16 feet down to see if mars could ever support life.  It`s expected to keep digging, keep learning for the next two years or more.

That is our broadcast on this Monday night as we start a new workweek here on earth.  Thank you for being here with us and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END