LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: We`re out of time for tonight. The most important thing about this segment was being able to see that video. So what we have to say about it is not as important as what he have to say about.
John Heilemann, thank you very much for joining us. "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, the effort to figure out what the attorney general of the United States is up to while admitting today to getting involved in easing the jail time for Trump`s friend Roger Stone. The A.G. goes on to say the President`s tweets make it impossible for him to do his job.
Meanwhile, John Kelly finally speaking up candidly about what he saw on the inside about Trump`s handling of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and the Ukraine debacle.
We also learned today this familiar face is coming back to the White House as a counselor to the President.
Plus, as Mike Bloomberg sizes up Super Tuesday, Donald Trump attempts to size down the former mayor, who quickly reminds Trump they know a lot of the same people and what people are saying about him back home. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this Thursday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 1,120 of this Trump administration, 264 days to go until the 2020 presidential election.
And tonight in a new interview, the Attorney General, Bill Barr, who has been nothing but supremely loyal to and protective of the man who appointed him to office, seems to be saying two things. Sure, he intervened in lowering the recommended prison sentence for Trump`s friend Roger Stone, who is a convicted felon. But he went on to say that the tweets from the President, which is how we know how President Trump wanted the sentence lowered -- those tweets really make his job impossible.
Barr spoke to ABC News about his decision to overall federal prosecutors who had lowered federal guidelines recommending a seven to nine year prison term for Stone. He goes on to seem to complain about the President`s social media habits.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I had made a decision that I thought was fair and reasonable in this particular case. And once the tweet occurred, the question is, well, now what do I do?
To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases make it impossible for me to do my job.
I`m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody whether it`s Congress, a newspaper, editorial boards, or the President.
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Did you talk to the President at all about your decision regarding the recommendations?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Just as Barr was talking, the President was sounding thankful for his attorney general during a radio interview with Geraldo Rivera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALDO RIVERA: Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you had picked William Barr instead of Jeff Sessions when you --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, my life would have been a lot easier.
RIVERA: A lot of the country`s life --
TRUMP: Yes. My life would have been a lot easier. But I might have been less popular. Because they say they like that I fought it. They like that I won. They like that my base is much more energized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: New reporting from "The New York Times" indicates the loyal attorney general may be pursuing another legal area of great interest to his boss. According to the newspaper, Trump justice officials investigating the government`s response to Russia`s election interference back in `16 may be searching for reasons to accuse Obama-era intelligence officials of hiding evidence or manipulating analysis about the Kremlin`s operation.
"The Times" notes that John Durham, the Connecticut-based U.S. attorney temporarily assigned by Barr to lead this investigation is scrutinizing the actions of avowed Trump enemy John Brennan, the former CIA director under Obama. Tonight Brennan was asked about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Is there a criminal investigation now on analytic judgments and the activities of CIA in terms of trying to protect our national security? I`m certainly willing to talk to Mr. Durham or anybody else who has any questions about what we did during this period of time in 2016.
It clearly, I think, is another indication that Donald Trump is using the Department of Justice to go after his enemies in any way that he can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The day started with news of some unexpected comments from Trump`s former chief of staff, John Kelly, who has decided to speak candidly now about what he saw on the inside, and he did so at a college appearance in New Jersey last night.
As reported by "The Atlantic," Kelly defended Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman`s decision to speak out about that phone call with the President of Ukraine and described Trump`s request for investigations as an illegal order, "We teach them," meaning soldiers like Vindman, "don`t allow on illegal order. And if you`re ever given one, you`ll raised it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order and then tell your boss."
Kelly criticized Trump`s efforts to win over North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, saying, "He will never give his nuclear weapons up. I never did think Kim would do anything other than play us for a while, and he did that fairly effectively."
Kelly also slammed Trump`s decision to reverse a decision to oust Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL convicted last year of posing with the corpse of an Islamic state fighter, "The idea that the commander in chief intervened there, in my opinion, was exactly the wrong thing to do. Had I been there, I think I could have prevented it."
It did not take long for the President to respond, and he did so this way, "When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn`t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head. He misses the action and just can`t keep his mouth shut."
Kelly actually left the administration 3 1/2 weeks or thereabouts after his departure had been announced.
And now another official in exile, former National Security Adviser John Bolton has come to Kelly`s defense. Bolton writes Kelly is, "an honorable man. John and I have disagreed at times, but he has always served his country faithfully."
As all of this is happening, the President bringing some former White House staffers back. Former Communications Director Hope Hicks is returning with a new title, counselor to the President. She`ll be assigned to work out of Jared Kushner`s wide-ranging West Wing operation.
Axios today confirmed that John McEntee, President Trump`s former body man, who was fired by former Chief of Staff Kelly and escorted off the White House grounds over security clearance issues, is also back. He`s expected to lead the presidential personnel office.
Axios also reports that Trump, "has increasingly become furious with what he sees as a federal government full of never Trumpers and that Trump feels he`s surrounded by snakes and wants to clear out all the disloyal people."
The President also said he`s thinking about changing the policy of having national security officials and staffers listen in on important phone calls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: That`s what they`ve done over the years, when you call a foreign leader, people listen. I may end the practice entirely. I may have -- I may end it entirely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And late today, Trump`s current national security adviser weighed in on that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT O`BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The President can have whatever phone calls he wants without other people being on the line. But I think generally the President`s happy if he`s got some of his aides with him.
My experience is he actually enjoys having the Vice President or myself or Secretary Pompeo with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: On that note, here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," he`s among the authors of the book currently in wide circulation, "Impeachment: An American history." Also with us, Nancy Cook, White House reporter for POLITICO, and Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post" and moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Robert, I`d like to begin with you. If you tell people often enough don`t believe what you see, they start to take your word on it. Having established that, can you please give a pass at interpreting the attorney general`s words for us?
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: The attorney general for months has been frustrated with the President`s tweets, but he has not articulated it that publicly. "The Washington Post" reported deeply on that tonight. You can read it online.
But based on my reporting today and conversations with White House officials, the President feels unbound at this moment. Post-acquittal post- acquittal, this is a new phase of the presidency.
He is someone who is now bringing in not only his loyalists like Hope Hicks back into the White House, but when it comes to active court cases, criminal sentencing, he feels free to speak out. The Republican Party in lockstep with him on Capitol Hill. The Democratic Party having already gone through impeachment in the House, and he is not listening to advisers who are telling him to hold back.
WILLIAMS: Peter baker, talk about things like the desire to be on the phone alone when talks to foreign leaders, things like the desire to purge the payroll of all but those known to be loyal.
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, you know, this is a President who has felt burned from the beginning by what he considers to be the Obama holdovers and career employees around him. Remember, two of his early conversations with foreign leaders, one with Mexico and one with Australia, were leaked to Robert`s paper, and I think he was very, very upset about that. He took from that at the very beginning the lesson that he can`t really trust anybody. So I think that that sort of been in his head now for three years.
What we saw of course with this impeachment was a lot of questioning about his conversation with the President of Ukraine, whether in fact his asking of President Zelensky to investigate Vice President Biden and other Democrats constituted, you know, improper coercion of a foreign power to advance his domestic political gains. He`s not going to allay suspicions if he, in fact, does follow through on this and cuts people off those phone calls. That will only in fact increase the suspicions.
And remember he had a conversation with Vladimir Putin. He took the notes from the interpreter. People have been wondering ever since what that conversation was like. So you`re in a cycle now where he doesn`t trust the people around him and he`s closing in and pushing out people who he considers to be disloyal, all of which then increases the suspicions of the people outside his circle about what`s going on there.
WILLIAMS: And, Nancy Cook, we note some of the cast members from season one are coming back. Talk about that and talk about generally a White House staff in a post-impeachment and the Democrats fear a post-oversight era as they see it.
NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think that what we saw today was that the President brought back aides and elevated aides who he felt really close with. Hope Hicks is a very key ally to him. You she was the communications director and press secretary, but really she was someone who had his -- she was very, very loyal to him. She was someone who could talk him off the ledge. She was very well liked in the West Wing.
So him -- bringing her back is sort of like bringing back a security blanket, and she will be a very key figure as we head into the campaign. He also elevated his body man, who has had his own security clearance issues to lead the office of presidential personnel, which sounds like a very wonky job, which is actually a huge one. That office is responsible for filling hundreds of jobs throughout the federal government.
And so what we`ve seen is that he is elevating people who are loyal to him and who are loyal in particular to Jared Kushner. And another way to look at this is that this is really Jared Kushner bringing back people who are close to him, and it will definitely give him his own power center in the West Wing.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, beyond popular films, we don`t usually talk about things like retribution in the public sphere, at least not in polite circles and not out loud. Talk about the theme of retribution.
COSTA: Retribution is animating this presidency at this critical moment. Based on my reporting, the President is not only seeding publicly about past enemies, current enemies, but it`s the Mueller report, the Russia investigation that continues to dominate much of his thinking. You saw him today lashing out about why the Department of Justice has not prosecuted figures from that investigation, including former FBI Director James Comey.
He`s also growing frustrated with Attorney General Barr. So much of the narrative among some of the President`s critics is that Barr is compliant with the President in their view. But you also see the President becoming a little bit more isolated from his attorney general in this sense. He wants that Durham report, John Durham investigating the CIA and others, to come out so he can weaponize whatever the DOJ finds. That report has not come out promptly. It has frustrated the President and created a bit of tension between a seemingly loyal attorney general in Bill Barr and President Trump.
WILLIAMS: Nancy Cook, we`ve just been handed -- there`s more from the ABC News interview with the attorney general apparently. It was conducted by their veteran Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas. We`ll play this. This has to do with the now famous phone call with the President of Ukraine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: Were you surprised when the President mentioned you on the -- when you heard that he mentioned you on the July 25th call and he did so five times and kind of create the impression that you were working with Giuliani?
THOMAS: Your reaction when you heard it?
BARR: I was a bit irritated by it, but, you know, the conversation jumped around, so I`m not sure what he meant by some of what he was saying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Nancy, I don`t mean to call for opinion, but I`ll repeat, when you`re told often enough not to believe what you see and then something comes along that challenges that, it makes you hesitate. What do you think is going on here with the attorney general and the President?
COOK: Well, I think that there has been tension for a while, and POLITICO reported tonight that there has been tension between Barr and Trump. And I think that what Barr was trying to do with this interview was speak to the President through his favorite medium, television, and try to tell him, you know, back off. Let`s give the Justice Department -- you know, give the optics of independence. You know, please don`t do this. Please don`t tweet.
And I know that they`ve had those conversations before, but I think that it`s interesting that Barr chose to so publicly break from the President on T.V. It`s almost like he`s trying to send Trump a message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, talk about the kind of palpable sense of helplessness on the political left on the subject, we`ve talked about retribution, let`s talk about recourse. What do the Vindmans do? What do the four feds on the inside of DOJ, who did as much as they could?
As our guest reported last night they can`t hold a press conference, what they could do was kind of shout from inside the institution in the form of withdrawing from this case. When structures of the government are under attack from inside the government, who to see about that? Who`s going to report stuff in the future?
BAKER: Yes. It`s a great question, and you`re right. You know, they`re not holding press conferences. The four prosecutors who withdrew from the case in one case actually resigned altogether, they made their statements in legal filings. It was literally a one-sentence filing to the court saying that this attorney is withdrawing from the case, and it felt like a thunderbolt because it was so extraordinary what the implication of that sentence was. And I think you`re seeing a career workforce in the federal government, whether it be in the Justice Department or the state department or the military, very much on edge, very much uncertain of where this is heading.
They have been told by the President of the United States that they are part of a cabal, they`re part of a deep-state enemy. You know, there are lots of presidents who are frustrated by the professional bureaucrats around them when they come into office, but they`ve never seen a president wage war on them quite as openly, you know, overtly as this one is. He, of course, would say it`s the other way around and they`re the ones who have been plotting against him.
But it caused this extraordinary moment in Washington where you have a president and the government he leads at odds in a most, you know, palpable and fraught way. And if this President`s going to win re-election and have five years still to go, you can only imagine what that five years is going to be like.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, what are the chances that the attorney general has been affected by press coverage in this instance? I noted tonight Lou Dobbs really went after Bill Barr like he was made of hamburger meat. And very little happens over there by accident.
COSTA: I can`t speak to his mind-set, but based on "The Washington Post" reporting today, the attorney general felt compelled to speak up not just to have a conversation through television with President Trump, but a conversation with his own department, personnel on edge about how these attorneys were withdrawing from the case, an institution on the brink with its reputation for independence and integrity. And so as much as the attorney general has been friendly, politically supportive of President Trump, he also leads an institution. And to remain the leader of that institution, his allies say he felt the need to say something so it didn`t seem like he was just floating along and doing the President`s bidding.
WILLIAMS: Three terrific guests helping in our effort to figure out just what it is that`s going on on a night like tonight. To Peter Baker, to Nancy Cook, to Robert Cost, our thanks for being here and helping us out.
Coming up for us, two wealthy New Yorkers starting their day trading insults on social media as one does. A closer look at Bloomberg versus Trump, which can only get uglier from here.
And later, we found out what happens in Vegas. That is when all the Democrats decide to focus their attention there. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on this Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE BLOOMBERG, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Somebody said, you know, that he`s taller than. He calls me little Mike and the answer is Donald where I come from we measure your height from your neck up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That`s pretty much how it went between Trump and Bloomberg today. Trump went at Bloomberg`s height, saying, "Mini Mike is 5`4" mass of dead energy." He`s 5`7". Saying "He hates crazy Bernie and will, with enough money, possibly stop him," and he further predicted Bernie`s people will go nuts.
Now, Bloomberg, for his part, said this, "We know many of the same people in New York. Behind your back, they laugh at you and call you a carnival barking clown. They know you inherited a fortune and squandered it with stupid deals and incompetence. I have the record and the resources to defeat you. And I will."
Let`s talk about that tonight with Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press, who has the dual distinction of covering the Trump White House and Bloomberg city hall back when he was a reporter as a much younger man for "The New York Daily News."
Jonathan, first of all, the Bloomberg tweet seemed almost computer- generated to hit all the emotions and all the words that would get to Trump in a way New Yorkers know how. So that`s thing one.
Thing two is Trump has -- and the Democrats don`t like discussing this -- defined Joe Biden and the Biden family story. He`s taken ownership of it. Does Bloomberg have what it takes to be better at that than Biden has been?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Bloomberg is definitely playing into the idea that New Yorkers -- he has said this before about President Trump, that those who know him best like him the least. That New Yorkers have always suggested he was a creature of the tabloids. That he was a, you know, real estate developer who then cared far more about being on page six than in terms of serious projects.
Now by the time Mike Bloomberg was mayor, Donald Trump was mostly in the licensing game. They didn`t really but heads at city hall all that much. They had a few run ends. They were particularly friendly, but they also didn`t overlap because of this way.
Mike Bloomberg has had an easy entree into a degree of ultra elite New York`s Manhattan society that always rejected Donald Trump, that sort of looked down on him because he was an outer borough developer --
WILLIAMS: He wasn`t a real billionaire?
LEMIRE: Right. Who inherited his father`s money, wasn`t a real billionaire and they thought was sort of tacky and gaudy, and they didn`t -- you know, wasn`t on the philanthropy circuit that Bloomberg and others were. And that is something that`s always driven Trump sort of crazy, that Bloomberg also has significantly more money than Donald Trump does, by a factor of about 60.
So, he is a candidate who is, yes, almost like engineered to sort of drive Donald Trump nuts. And he has a data -- just robust data operation maybe to help generate that tweet. And has been a thorn in his side since he announced his candidacy. And the President has ignored the advice of his advisers to say, you know, leave him alone. Like don`t -- if you attack Bloomberg, all you do is elevate him. But Trump can`t help himself. And we`ve seen now particularly he`s going after him on his civil rights record.
WILLIAMS: Once in a while we can`t help ourselves and we have to air uncomfortable television. I take you back to the decision Marco Rubio made on the fly during the campaign to try to be as dirty and mucky as the incoming attacks from Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA FMR. CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT: He`s always calling me little Marco, and I`ll admit he`s taller than me. He`s like 6`2", which is why I don`t understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5`2". Have you seen his hands? They`re like this. And you know what they say about men with small hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let`s agree that didn`t go well, and let`s agree some people are better at the attack doggery than other people. Is Bloomberg a good attack dog?
LEMIRE: We`ll see. His retail politics skills are pretty rusty. And even when he was mayor, they weren`t that strong. He is not someone who`s particularly comfortable gland handing with voters. He is -- you know, he can deliver a decent speech but there`s not a lot of sort of emotion and passion, that`s not --
LEMIRE: He`s a technocrat. He exudes competence. And of course he`s got the money to back it up. And what we`re seeing right now, at least so far, is a campaign totally dominated by television ads all though we think we might get our first look at him on the debate stage next week.
But to your point earlier about Joe Biden, now the President is very adept at identifying and labeling and nicknaming opponents. We saw it with Jeb Bush. We saw it with Ted Cruz. We`ve certainly seen it with Joe Biden and other Democrats here.
He`s going after Bloomberg for two things. Yes, his height.
LEMIRE: He`s doubled down, tripled down --
WILLIAMS: It`s a lay-up.
LEMIRE: -- nine times down whatever that word would be, he has done. You know, but the other issue is, what`s interesting is he`s trying to attack him on his record with minority voters and stop and frisk in particular. We`ve seen that, where there was audio that resurfaced in the last couple days. Bloomberg defending the practice just a couple years ago. Obviously since he announced his candidacy, he has since apologized for it. He said he stuck with it too long.
But let`s remember, he was mayor for 12 years. Yes, the numbers of stops declined by the end of it. But for the vast majority of his mayoralty, he was a firm believer and has defended it since leaving office. The President has pointed it out trying to score some points.
Now let`s point out, Donald Trump also believe in stop and frisk. So he`s attacking Bloomberg on the hypocrisy. That`s what he`s trying to do. As his campaign makes an unlikely play for black voters. We saw the Super Bowl ad, it was about criminal justice form.
They believe, people around him, particularly Jared Kushner, think there`s an opportunity here to win over some black voters or at the very least try to minimize the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats for black voters, point to the good economy, and maybe depress African-American turnout, which could be the difference in some of these midwest states where the margins are going to be really slim next November.
WILLIAMS: A byline for our viewers to look for, Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press, our thanks as always.
Coming up, the Nevada caucuses nine days away. The stakes are high as they like to say out there. We`ll have a live report from Las Vegas where a number of the candidates are tonight when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We`re back. We`re just nine days away from the next presidential primary contest. It`s actually a caucus in Nevada. Tonight, four Democratic Presidential hopefuls, including the top three finishers in New Hampshire, have been taking part in a town hall in Las Vegas hosted by the civil rights organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens. This afternoon that state`s powerful, influential Culinary Workers Union, which has been outspoken in its criticism of Bernie Sanders` Medicare for All plan announced they won`t be endorsing any one specific candidate.
With us from Las Vegas tonight, our Veteran Rogue Warrior Garrett Haake. And, Garrett, let`s establish something, and that is that culturally for most of the Democrats in the race who skew heavily student council president, Las Vegas might as well be cultural mars. So having established that, please tell us about the contours of this upcoming caucus, and along the way, how they`re going to decide this one.
GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Wholly different territory geographically and culturally out here, out west, Brian. And I got to tell you, as we get into this contest here, this is as wide open of an early state as I think I`ve covered. We have not had a poll come out in Nevada in the last month. And the last time we did, we saw the front-runner in this state, Joe Biden, get shellacked in two early states.
Bernie Sanders getting into that back and forth fight with the powerful Culinary Union here. And two candidates who are largely unknown to this state`s voters in Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have their momentum moments in other early states. Then, oh, by the way, there`s the billionaire Tom Steyer, who has not gotten as much attention in the other early states, but has been blanketing the airwaves here. He`s on TV every day. He`s heavily invested on the radio here. He`s getting a lot of attention here.
And tonight at this LULAC event, I met Harvey Lee, who thinks he`s going to caucus for Tom Steyer. What is it about him that makes you think he is the guy to take on Trump?
HARVEY LEE, LAS VEGAS: Well as I stated before, Tom is the type of guy that`s going to bring it. When you`re dealing with someone like Mr. Trump, you don`t want to bring a knife to a gun fight.
LEE: Tom is going to come with a bazooka. He`s going to come with -- he`s going to bring all the energy, all the passion. He doesn`t need the money. It`s not about that. But it`s about the way that he presents himself to the public in order to defeat Mr. Trump.
HAAKE: This is your third caucus in Nevada. Are you confident the Democratic Party here can get this done without an Iowa-like debacle?
LEE: Absolutely. I don`t see why we shouldn`t. We have all the ability. We have the talent. Is it going to be close? Absolutely, it`s going to be close with goodness gracious. We understand -- and the world understands where we`re at right now. There`s no way in the world we can afford to do another four years with Mr. Trump, Mr. Donald Trump. No way in the world we`re going to stand for another four years of that. We can`t do it.
HAAKE: One other question. We were talking about candidates earlier. I asked you about Joe Biden. He was the front-runner in this state. He`s betting everything that black and brown voters essentially in Nevada and in South Carolina can save his candidacy. You don`t see that happening. Tell me why.
LEE: The reason I don`t see it happen because when I think about Joe Biden and the eight years that he spent with Mr. Obama, I can`t recall anything right off the top of my head. Now, I`m illiterate to the fact that I don`t remember what he did, then shame on me. But right now if I had to really think about what he did, I can`t recall anything unless I Google it. That`s the less thing I want to do to find out about a president is to Google it. I should know something about him. Something should stand out somewhere down the line and it hasn`t with me.
HAAKE: All right, thank you. Harvey Lee, thank you very much.
Brian, the other x factor here is organization. Bernie Sanders has been on the ground here for a very long time. He`s a very well-known commodity king within five points of Hillary Clinton here four years ago. He`s got the most staff, the most offices, the most boots on the ground in this state, and frankly, a lot of name recognition. He is known here in a way that the other candidates we spent a lot of time talking about like Buttigieg, Klobuchar, even Elizabeth Warren, just aren`t. They just have not been on the ground in the same way that Bernie Sanders has been here, and that could make a huge difference despite the kerfuffle with the union here, which is a very powerful force.
WILLIAMS: Very powerful indeed, the folks who make Las Vegas go. A great heads-up on what`s coming. Garrett Haake, thank you very much for a live report tonight.
Coming up for us, Nevada is not one of a half dozen states the Bloomberg campaign is said to be targeting. New reporting on the unconventional campaign for office when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t know that you can see very many presidential candidates here in Winston-Salem. They`re spending all their time in South Carolina, but I think the voters in North Carolina deserve just as much attention. You`ve all heard the slogan "Mike Will Get It Done," and if you haven`t, I`ve been spending an awful lot of money to get it out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Some self-awareness there. Michael Bloomberg campaigning in the Super Tuesday states of North Carolina and Texas today. POLITICO reporting his campaign is zeroing in on six states mostly where they believe they have the best shot along with North Carolina and Texas, they include other delegate-rich states as we like to say like Florida and California.
With us to discuss the campaign, two more exhausted journalists, Alexi McCammond, Political Reporter for Axios covering the 2020 campaign, and Stephanie Ruhle, Veteran of the Investment Banking World and host of the 9:00 a.m. hour on MSNBC. We should also point out she happens to be the NBC News Senior Business Correspondent. Good evening and welcome to you both.
And let`s begin. I was just put -- this was just put in front of me. This is Mike Bloomberg tonight in Houston, Texas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLOOMBERG: I defended it, looking back, for too long because I didn`t understand then the unintended pain it was causing to young black and brown families and their kids. I should have acted sooner and faster to stop it. I didn`t, and for that, I apologize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Alexi, is he getting better at that? Are the questions about stop-and-frisk, about real estate inequities, about making too much money, is he going to be able to successfully bat them away?
ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I mean, I guess it remains to be seen. Polling shows that he`s increasingly rising in the polls in spite of these problems coming up. But the one interesting thing -- obviously the main pushback to his apology about stop-and-frisk is, well, he did it right before he launched his presidential campaign. So that suggests to a lot of folks that I`ve talked with that that was his motivating factor. He was running for president. He knew that would be a liability, and that`s why he apologized.
In the clip you just played, he says that he didn`t realize the effects it was having on black and brown communities, but that`s at odds with the fact that he is a self-described data nerd. He is someone who has access to all this data and insights and numbers about so many different things that it`s simply hard to believe that he wasn`t aware of the effects of that policy and the lasting legacy of that policy until just before he launched his presidential campaign. So as he continues to rise in the polls, I fully expect other campaigns, as we`ve already seen this starting, will continue to slowly drip out oppo research against him to try to knock away at his biggest vulnerabilities.
STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC HOST, "MSNBC LIVE": Or where the rubber will hit the road is Mike is all about data. What could be missing here is humanity, and that`s what he`s going to have to deliver. It`s not just about the numbers. The numbers could say, if this number spits out, do x. Well, people are going to vote based on how and why they feel a certain way, and that`s going to be somewhat of a roadblock.
I mean, wouldn`t be surprised if an upcoming slogan is "Mike Bloomberg, he fails at purity tests. He wins at everything else." We are going to see a drip, drip, drip of things Mike has said or done that are somewhat offensive, and he is most likely going to say, but by comparison, look at all of the great things that I`ve done. It wasn`t a surprise that he apologized tonight. That was an event he hosted specifically, Mike Bloomberg for black America.
RUHLE: If he wasn`t going to apologize there, then where was he going to?
WILLIAMS: And I was going to ask you about the accoutrements of this race and everything else that money can buy. A web operation that everyone says is state of the art. Just watching the mistakes that have been made thus far in unsuccessful campaigns and trying not to do that again.
RUHLE: I`ve actually gotten to spend some time at Bloomberg headquarters. I`ve seen his digital operation known as hawkfish, in motion. Listen, it`s a massive operation. His business, the reason he is a billionaire, is because he created a data and analytics technology company.
WILLIAMS: OK, fair point.
RUHLE: And the person in his mind he`ll be running against or he`d like to is President Trump. If you`ve read today`s "Atlantic" expos (ph), President Trump has a billion dollar digital campaign that some Republican strategists are calling the death star. So while some don`t like all what Bloomberg is doing as far as an onslaught in digital, others say if someone is going to go up against Trump, he`s the one person who`s built the apparatus to do so.
MCCAMMOND: And you have to meet President Trump where he is, which is increasingly on Facebook. A lot of the other Democratic presidential campaigns simply do not know how to use Facebook in the way that the Republican Party at large does and certainly in the way that President Trump and his campaign in 2016 learned how to do and is only scaling that in bigger ways in the 2020 election. Bloomberg has the money, the resources and the team as Stephanie was just talking about with hawkfish to compete toe to toe with President Trump online, and that`s a big part of this next election.
WILLIAMS: I was also going to ask you, do you think Democrats take him at his word that if he washes out, if he`s out of this thing, he`ll go on spending like a drunken sailor on behalf of Democratic caucus and candidates?
MCCAMMOND: The conversations I`ve had with various Democrats campaigns and otherwise suggest that they do believe him. I mean, I`ve talked with people on his staff who are being paid through the end of the election, so that suggests as much. And I know that you have too.
RUHLE: His foundation spent $7 billion last year, and his number one goal in life right now is to defeat President Trump.
RUHLE: There`s no reason to think why he wouldn`t.
MCCAMMOND: And his message is not even necessarily, I am the best person to beat Donald Trump. It`s this infrastructure that I`m building around me that is best positioned to beat Donald Trump.
WILLIAMS: Lightning around when we come back.
RUHLE: Will Bernie Sanders accept it?
WILLIAMS: You guys are just too much information. Lightning round when we come back. Both of our guests thankfully have agreed to stay with us.
Coming up, what James Carville had to say about being called a political hack by Bernie Sanders, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC PARTY STRATEGIST: Some people in this country want a revolution. They want disruption. You know, I don`t know what -- they scream at people. They go and bully people. And I don`t know how you win an election. I`m 78 years old, standing up and screaming in a microphone about the revolution.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, James, in all due respect, is a political hack who said very terrible things when he was working for Clinton against Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So Carville was called by Peter Hamby of "Vanity Fair" -- and here`s what Carville had to say about Bernie. "Bernie called me a political hack. That`s exactly who the f I am. I am a political hack. I`m not an ideologue. I`m not a purist. He thinks it`s a pejorative. I kind of like it. At least I`m not a communist." Meow.
Back for round two, Alexi McCammond and Stephanie Ruhle. Stephanie, I`m going to show you something we don`t emphasize a lot because we have 50 state elections and not a national election. Here`s a national poll coming up. Sanders, 29, falls off a cliff to Biden. Bloomberg, an amazing 18, third place. Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar. Is this about where you put the race right now?
RUHLE: Brian, there are no early states for Democrats that are winner take all. Even though Bernie Sanders is saying, look, I`m the guy ahead, if he wins in this way, he could end up not with enough delegates at the end. So he and James Carville might not like one another, and I do love the phrase "with all due respect" because it is almost always followed by a big old "fu".
But James Carville isn`t necessarily wrong. And the alarm bells that he`s ringing are to Democrats, yes, they go against one another during a primary. But if you don`t get to a realistic place where the majority of Democrats are, not the twitter Democrats, the majority of Democrats, and James Carville is breaking down the Democrats of those -- the demographics, you`ve got to pay attention. And he`s not necessarily wrong when you look at those numbers. Bernie Sanders has been running for five years.
WILLIAMS: Tony Soprano famously complained to his consigliere Silvio who would always preface (ph) things by saying due respect. And Tony finally had had it one day and said, I`d love to know what this means, all due respect. I digress. Alexi --
RUHLE: Also the jersey reference.
WILLIAMS: We`ve established that Alexi is young and has her whole life ahead of her, and we talked about her travel schedule in the break. You mentioned South Carolina. Joe Biden has been -- you know, we use the phrase firewall so often it`s become a cliche.
WILLIAMS: What if it isn`t? What if Biden can`t get there in South Carolina? How does the race change by that night?
MCCAMMOND: I fully expect that Joe Biden would drop out of the race if he does not do well in South Carolina, and that`s based on various conversations I`ve had but also just the fact that you mentioned his team has called South Carolina and black voters in South Carolina has so-called firewall that he`s relying on to propel himself or at least maintain this national front-runner status he`s enjoyed so far. If he doesn`t pull off a double-digit margin of victory in South Carolina, there is no chance that he will continue farther than South Carolina. And you know that because he is in South Carolina.
He`s not in California like Bernie Sanders` team has been, Virginia like Elizabeth Warren is today, North Carolina -- Pete Buttigieg is there. These Super Tuesday states. You see the other Democratic candidates in the field focusing past Nevada, past South Carolina, on Super Tuesday states. That is in part because they know that they`re not going to perfect very well in Nevada and South Carolina. But if Joe Biden`s betting it all on South Carolina and he doesn`t do well there, I really don`t see a path forward for him into Super Tuesday.
RUHLE: He doesn`t have the money.
WILLIAMS: Also Klobuchar had such a good night in New Hampshire. There was kind of a scramble the next day. OK, where do we need to be if we`re going to be playing at this level?
MCCAMMOND: Well, I know that her team announced that they were putting out ads in Nevada the next day, but ads are not going to make you finish in the top three in Nevada. There are conversations among reporters about the fact that we`ve all sort of noticed that Klobuchar`s campaign hasn`t made an explicit pitch to non-white voters in the way that other candidates have. Whether that`s someone like Pete Buttigieg, who has polled between zero and 4 percent with black voters or someone like Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders who`ve enjoyed double-digit support from black voters.
Klobuchar simply hasn`t really made a pitch explicitly or otherwise for black and brown voters. And now she`s sort of stuck after performing surprisingly well in a place like New Hampshire, wondering where she will go next.
RUHLE: Does she have the machine to do it? Yes, she raised a whole bunch of money after so they could gas up the bus and make their way to the next state. But do they have the machine that some other campaigns do?
WILLIAMS: Can`t thank you enough for hanging out late on a Thursday night after the week we`ve all had. Really appreciate it. Alexi McCammond, Stephanie Ruhle here with us.
Coming up, here`s a hint about how we intend to change the subject just for a moment.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, because the news is what it is, let`s talk about dogs instead. And in dog news, it`s been a week. Starting with the fact that pound puppies are back. They`ve largely been sitting idle inside the attic toy boxes of former kids who are now in their 30s. But a new line of pound puppies, six in all, has hit stores in time for Valentine`s Day. As it was decades ago, they come with a subtle message to adopt a rescue doggy in real life, including adoption certificates.
And to my fellow dog lovers, there is this. You know how no matter if you`re gone for six minutes or six hours or six days, your dog is so insanely happy to see you walk through the door? That`s in keeping with their job description to love you unconditionally. Here`s what it looks like when you`ve just gotten home from being in space for a year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, baby girl. Hi, baby girl. Hi. Hi. How you doing? Hi. Hi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That is Astronaut Christina Koch returning home from space. This was her landing in Kazakhstan. Her doggy obviously over the moon.
And there is the snubbing of Daniel the golden retriever at the Westminster dog show, which we report without comment was won by Siba, the standard poodle. Now, to Daniel. Daniel won his sporting category. Look at those looks -- at Madison Square Garden. The arena was electric when a golden retriever finally made it into the final round, but no.
I guess Daniel wasn`t cute enough with his first place sporting class ribbon. I guess it wasn`t cute enough when Daniel hugged his handler. I guess not. Well, enjoy first place, Siba. But those footsteps you hear belong to a golden retriever.
That is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so much for being here with us. Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END