WSJ: Someone tipped off investigators, there may have been more docs at Mar-a-Lago. Trump under scrutiny in multiple investigations. Trump call NY Atty. General investigating him "racist." Biden signs PACT Act into law. Russian warplanes destroyed in Crimea blasts. GOP peddles lies in effort to discredit FBI search.
MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We will follow the facts wherever they lead.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Attorney General Merrick Garland gets tonight`s "LAST WORD", the love and power with Stephanie Ruhle starts now.
STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, the growing legal challenges for the former president, we spent hours taking the Fifth in one investigation. Just days after the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago for another. Then as Republicans rally round Trump, Democrats celebrate some big wins. We`ll fact check some of the fiction coming from the right.
Plus, the brutal war on Ukraine now nearly six months old Ukrainians pushed back while fighting intensifies near a nuclear plant. A former four star general is standing by as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on this Wednesday night.
Good evening, once again, I`m Stephanie Ruhle. Tonight brand new reporting about what led the FBI to execute a search warrant Monday at Trump`s Florida home. The Wall Street Journal reporting that the feds may have gotten a tip off from an insider after officials visited Mar-a-Lago back in June to ask about government documents possibly stored there. The Journal reports this, in the following weeks, however, someone familiar with the stored papers told investigators there may still be more classified documents at the private club. After the National Archives Retrieved 15 boxes earlier in the year people familiar with the matter said.
NBC News has not independently confirmed this reporting. So far, the Justice Department has not commented on the search either. But Trump and his supporters are ramping up their baseless attacks, even suggesting that the FBI could be planting incriminating evidence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: Do I know that the boxes of material they took from Mar-a-Lago that they won`t put things in those boxes to entrap him? How do we know --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His lawyer said they brought in backpacks, what was in those backpacks, was -- did they bring those in to fill them up? Or did they have something in there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m concerned that they may have planted something, you know, at this point who knows?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUHLE: Let`s just stop there. Because the truth matters, but only if you hear it and millions of people are watching that. And there is absolutely no evidence that the FBI planted anything.
What Donald Trump is facing is legal scrutiny like no other president before him from both federal and state officials. And today in a separate investigation, he finally showed up at the offices of New York`s Attorney General Letitia James for a deposition in her investigation into his business practices. A source tells NBC that over the course of four hours, Trump took the Fifth more than 440 times. His own lawyer tells NBC News he did answer one question, his name. He added that Trump also read a statement in which he accused the Attorney General of trying to destroy him. Trump attacked her earlier today on his social media site. And over the weekend during his CPAC speech down in Texas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I got a racist Attorney General in New York that`s been after me for years. She campaigned on the fact I will get Donald Trump says nothing about me, I will get, terrible people is a terrible people. I built a great company.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUHLE: Late today Attorney General James issued a statement of our own saying the investigation will continue. With that, let`s continue this hour and get smarter with the help of our leadoff panel, Jackie Alemany, who has been scooping up story after story this week, Congressional Investigations reporter for The Washington Post and an MSNBC Contributor, Barbara McQuade joins us, a veteran, federal prosecutor and former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She worked with the Department of Justice during the Biden transition, and is now a professor at the University of Michigan School of Law. And Neal Katyal is here, Department of Justice veteran and former Acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration. He has argued dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Barb, I want to start with you. Here is what Donald Trump the former guy has said previously about those who take the Fifth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, horrible. When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth, so they`re not prosecuted. I think it`s disgraceful. You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you`re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUHLE: But today, Donald Trump wrote this. I once asked if you`re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment? Now I know the answer to that question. He says, it`s to protect his own interests. Barb, is that how it works?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yeah, you know when you have no shame and you don`t care about hypocrisy it`s very easy to shift your position like this.
I think the truth is, that all of us have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate ourselves. Our system is an adversarial system, not an inquisitorial system. And we have that absolute right to do that. I think where he was out of bounds was criticizing people who invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
I expect that Leticia James fully expected him to invoke his Fifth Amendment right. Today was really his opportunity to tell his side of the story. If there`s an innocent explanation for inflating your assets on one occasion and deflating those same assets on another, let`s hear it. You got a good reason. Let`s hear it. That was his opportunity today. Instead, he chose to stay silent because he believed that truthful answers would incriminate him.
The other interesting thing about a civil case is that unlike a criminal case, a fact finder in the civil case is allowed to know that a person refused to answer questions, and may even draw an adverse inference from that fact.
RUHLE: To that very point, we heard from former prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, about what Trump said or didn`t say and where the case goes from here. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW WEISSMANN, FORMER SENIOR MEMBER OF MUELLER PROBE: In a civil case, once the defendant who you`re thinking of charging is taking the Fifth Amendment, you have an adverse inference. So if you`ve got some evidence, you know, all you have to do is prove the case by a preponderance. And once the jury is going to be told that there`s an adverse inference against the other side, your case is pretty well done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUHLE: Do you agree with that, Neal, the case is done. So now, Tish James can present this. Here`s my evidence, Trump said nothing. Here`s my evidence, Trump said nothing, and if so, that`s a bad look.
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Exactly. Andrew is exactly right. That`s what will happen in the civil case. So Trump is basically thinking his civil case. Now, why is he doing it? Because he`s worried about the criminal allegations here. This is the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. That`s about criminal stuff. He`s worried about going to jail for these offenses, and there is no adverse inference there.
Now, zooming out, Steph, I think the big issue here, you know, we saw the president`s former -- former president`s home raided on Monday, first president ever in American history to have that. Today, I think we have again, another historic thing. I`m not aware of any other former president who`s ever taken the Fifth Amendment before, our 45th President has now taken it over 420 times today. And you have to ask why. And to me, it`s because he and his lawyers, who are his lawyers, right, basically able to convince him of the herculean task of shutting up for four hours, something Donald Trump has, like never done before. And the reason is, because his attorneys and ultimately Trump knew if you answer these questions, you`d have something damaging to say, and yes, it really does seem like right now, Trump is linked to a laundry list of crimes. And that`s what the Republicans are saying that the reason why he`s linked good is because he played fast and loose with the law so much. And so now the law is catching up with them in a really powerful way, both on Mondays events, and then today`s.
RUHLE: That is a good point, knowing Donald Trump the way we do, he could not have liked sitting for a total of four hours today.
Jackie, let`s turn to Scott Perry, a longtime Republican ally of Donald Trump. We know he got his phone seized yesterday. His lawyer says he`s been told he, Scott Perry is not a target. If he`s not what are they looking for?
JACKIE ALEMANY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Stephanie. I think everything that we`re hearing from lawyers representing people who are under investigation right now are to be taken with a grain of salt. Scott Perry is, after all, someone who has repeatedly refused to comply with the January 6 Select Committee investigating the insurrection, when there`s been a mountain of evidence, showing his direct involvement in some of the efforts to overturn the election for over two years now. And it was first in the Senate Judiciary report that actually outlined his involvement in efforts specifically at the Department of Justice to overturn the election results. He was the person that made the introduction between Mark Meadows, Donald Trump and Jeffrey Clark, who ultimately did the president`s bidding at the Department of Justice. And he really was the sort of connective tissue between members of Congress and the White House and the coordination that occurred in order to try to find some ways to support the former president schemes.
But it is quite possible that Perry is ultimately not the target, but regardless, they do feel that -- investigators feel that there is evidence that he could have. We do know he was in frequent touch with Jeffrey Clark. He was in touch as well with people in the West Wing especially around that time period. And we`ve already seen some of his text messages come out as a result of Mark Meadows handing over 1000s of his messages at the beginning of the January 6 investigation. So there`s certainly a litany of things that investigators are going to want to check out even if Perry himself is not the actual target.
RUHLE: Mark Meadows, who we talk a lot about, who we hear from very rarely. Neal, there are some reports today, we`ve been asking for days, how did the government know why did they think there was more classified documents that they had not yet seen? And now, there`s reports that someone in Trump`s circle may have tipped them off? Does that seem likely to you?
KATYAL: Yeah, I mean, Stephanie, then about an hour of the news of the search breaking, I think goes on our network, basically saying, I think the government has someone on the inside. And the reason for that is I said, it just didn`t strike me as plausible the government risks this kind of massive search with all of the attention and, you know, certainly all the backlash that Trump and his minions are going to say, unless they knew there was something there. And it does look like there`s a serious violation, not just the stealing of government property, which is itself a crime, but classified information.
And it`s important to remember Donald Trump does not have a security clearance the way that normally presidents do, because President Biden determined you couldn`t trust Donald Trump with the nation`s secrets. So if Trump does have classified information, he`s totally unauthorized and not able to possess it, even if he`s miss -- you know, even if he everyone acknowledges, you know, you`re safe or something like that is not the way to store classified information. But he may not be able to maintain any sort of classified information, even if he put it in the right safes and the like. And Donald Trump is the guy who just a few years ago signed into law, a bill that made it a felony to do the kinds of stuff that he`s doing. And so, you know, it`s not surprising to me that the government had someone on the inside and acted accordingly.
RUHLE: Barb, NBC`s reporting that some people within the Department of Justice want Merrick Garland to explain the Mar-a-Lago search. Does that surprise you?
MCQUADE: Not really. But it`s a difficult call. And I`d be surprised if Merrick Garland does that, you know, he has said repeatedly that the Justice Department has certain norms. They`re designed to protect the accused from being disparaged in the press, as Hillary Clinton was by James Comey several years ago. And that it`s even more important to adhere to those norms during challenging times. And so for that reason, I`d be surprised if he does, but I can see why they might be advocating for it.
You know, you can say a lot of things, I think, by way of explaining, without disclosing details about the investigation itself, you know, just for example, how a search warrant works, the authority necessary to get it, the kinds of things that might prompt the seeking of a search warrant, the significance of classified information or the definition, this isn`t just like, you know, a laundry list that Donald Trump held on to classified information is defined as information to the disclosure of which would cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.
And so it may be that there`s room a middle ground for him to, as he`s done before, with updates on the January 6 investigation, to just sort of explain big picture about why the Justice Department does certain things and how it works, just to assure the public that this is on the up and up.
RUHLE: Well, here`s what I want to explain Jackie, right wing media, and lawmakers are on every possible social outlet, attacking the DOJ and the FBI for the search. But is anyone defending or explaining why in the world Donald Trump had all these documents to begin with?
ALEMANY: No, Stephanie, they`re not. And also everything that we have reported so far, even with these lingering questions left, really undercut all of the unsubstantiated false claims being put forward right now by conservative media and people trying to claim that this is the FBI trying to, you know, weaponize this this search and trying to politically damage the former president.
This is a former president who has never adhered to the presidential records acts. Throughout his four years in office, we have documented and reported on that extensively. This is someone who has also already fessed up to taking back inappropriately 15 boxes of documents, that some of which were ultimately classified documents to Mar-a-Lago, which had already been retrieved that was -- and that was even before these new 12 boxes were retrieved by the FBI and, again, I think that in the coming days we`re going to see new information come out that supports why the FBI ultimately decided to execute this search warrant.
And while the Post hasn`t independently confirmed that there was an aide to the former president who flipped essentially and provided this information, there is something that had to have been aggravating the situation in order for the FBI, to take these measures and decide, okay, we`re going to make the calculus of going right in there and getting it ourselves. Again, if we even just look at the data points that we already know of, in those 15 boxes, that the National Archives already retrieved. There was 100 page inventory that we got to read out of the unclassified items, and a three page inventory of the classified items. And even in those classified items, if there`s just a sentence or a paragraph or a small portion of top secret information, which we`ve been told, is actually contained in some of these items that requires special handling, that can do grave harm national security at the end of the day.
RUHLE: And note, it is not the overwhelming majority of Republican lawmakers out there defending Trump. It is the right wing regulars, and they`re doing it loudly. Neal, quickly before we go, what is your take? We are seeing from the right wing media, these suggestions over and over, that the FBI may have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago on any of our reporting. There`s absolutely no evidence of that. What do you think because it is damaging to tell that to the American people? It`s like the big lie part two.
KATYAL: 100%, Stephanie, I think the legal term for that is poppycock. And it`s not just, you know, Republicans in general, Donald Trump himself, went on his social media site and suggested it as well about the FBI and who put the FBI director in place, that guy named Donald Trump, Chris Wray is his appointee. He put him there. And the whole evidence planting narrative to me, smacks of desperation. The fact that these Republicans are resorting to these lies about the FBI, instead of defending Trump, we`re doing exactly what you said, Steph, explaining why Donald Trump has all these documents in his possession. They can`t do that. So they`re shifting the narrative. And the last thing I`d say is, you know, give me a break.
Now, these folks want to say, oh, the FBI, law enforcement plans, evidence, you know, there are 1000s of people prosecuted, you know, day in and day out, and there`s all sorts of legitimate complaints against law enforcement against the poor and powerless. You know, if you`re rich like Donald Trump, no, I don`t think there`s a chance in the world that the FBI is planting evidence is, you know, Looney Tunes, but it does happen and other low level settings. And, you know, that`s a real thing that Americans should be thinking about.
RUHLE: They should be thinking about it, but for any news organization, suggesting it or reporting it, there are no facts supporting it. Jackie Alemany, Barb McQuade Neal Katyal, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
When we come back, President Biden signs another important bill into law as the House prepares to vote on a sweeping climate and health care bill. Why all matters for the American people now.
And later, historian Jon Meacham is here on what has already been a very busy week of big news involving the former president. And it`s only hump day. His take on the state of the country tonight, THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway on a busy Wednesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during the military services. You know Secretary McDonough can tell you I was going to get this done come hell or high water.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUHLE: President Biden signed the PACT Act into law earlier today. It is just the latest in a string of wins for the President, including a recent bipartisan deal on guns and competitiveness with China.
Later, this week, the House is expected to pass the Inflation Reduction Act which would represent huge investments in climate and health care. With us tonight to discuss our own Symone Sanders-Townsend, former Communications Director for Vice President Harris and hosts of the show Symone right here on Peacock, and Tim Miller Contributor to the Bulwark and former Communications Director for Jeb Bush. He wrote the new book, "Why We Did It."
Symone, long that you worked in this White House this week should be dominated by positive White House headlines because of all of these legislative wins. Is it getting overshadowed by the Trump headlines even though those are bad for Trump? Biden`s not getting the headlines?
SYMONE SANDERS-TOWNSEND, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR & CHIEF SPOKESPERSON FOR VP HARRIS: You know, Stephanie, I think that the White House is doing everything they can to push through. The day that the President signed. He also signed the CHIPS Act this week, right? He got a whole big thing outside on the South Lawn. And as it was starting, it wasn`t anywhere on television. None of the network`s covered it MSNBC covered it once the President started speaking but you heard very little mention of it in the lead up to it. The Chips Act is huge, Ok. The semiconductors everything from the cars to the toasters. They all need a chip, the cell phone, the laptops so a very big deal but you`re not hearing about it necessarily on the front pages if you will when you turn on the television because so many things have been happening.
So the White House has to get creative. It`s just not on them, though Democrats across the board. This is something folks are at home in district this week, the Senate, the House, they should be talking about this everywhere they can on the radios on the airwaves, because it is something to celebrate.
RUHLE: Does this cripple though, Tim, Republicans and their communication strategy right, weeks and weeks ago, it was all about supply chain shortages and blaming the president inflation and blaming the president, and now Republicans across the board have to go to their home districts and say, yes, I did not sign something literally called the Inflation Reduction Act, and they haven`t offered any alternative.
TIM MILLER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR TO JEB BUSH: Yeah, I just feel like the Republicans settled on their midterm message in spring, and then a bunch of new stuff happened in summer, you know, these campaigns are long, you have to be nimble. And I think that they`ve struggled to be honest to settle on a message to put back and Biden in addition to what you just laid out, I think the overarching message was that this White House was feckless. You know that they were not competent, and that you have all these problems and that Biden isn`t capable of solving them.
Well, now, Biden and this administration, working with Congress have directly addressed a lot of the key problems that people have, including inflation. So I think that if you watch Fox and saw Republican messaging for about a week, there was a lot of flailing. And I think over the past two days, you`ve seen one rallying to the president, former president`s defense, and I don`t know how much that`s going to help them the midterms. But that`s something that united on. And I do think on the Inflation Reduction Act, they`re going to zero in on these 87,000 new IRS agents. And that might be, you know, an area where they have a little bit of a message that might work. But I think that the Biden administration and the Democrats in Congress are in much better position having something to talk about going home it through August recess than they were a month ago.
RUHLE: Symone, back to that, you know, weeks ago, when people would say, listen, voting rights are hugely, hugely important. But it`s tough to connect them with the American people. They`re not obscure, but they feel that way. Americans care about kitchen table issues. And if you think about all the things Biden has done over the last few weeks, it`s all about kitchen table issues, shortages, gun control, inflation. These are the things people talk about every single night, the fact that he`s now taking this on, can this change things come the midterms? Which last month, we thought we`re going to be shaking for Democrats?
SANDERS-TOWNSEND: I mean, I absolutely think it can, Stephanie. And we are seeing the results in primary elections, right? Wisconsin, and Minnesota just yesterday, on Tuesday, we saw Kansas the special -- the primary were the ballot initiative to keep abortion in the Constitution, passed or did not pass, it was defeated because of activists and organizers. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is out with some new research basically, that basically says they see a fighting chance for themselves in the midterm.
Look, I think that this idea between kitchen table issues or social issues, as some people like to say, is a bunch of malarkey. Because the reality is if you`re a woman in this country, and you live in a state right now, where abortion is now illegal, or you can`t get it after six weeks, that is a kitchen table issue for you if the health care you need is an abortion, right? If your child -- if the people in Uvalde, Texas, gun safety measures, people all across this country gun safety measure is a kitchen table issue.
So I do think that the President has put his money where his mouth is he has -- you know, I worked on the campaign, he has delivered on a number of pieces of the agenda that he said he was going to do. The question, Stephanie is out of the people sell it. And I think you can expect my Democratic friends to be out in full force come September, because let`s be honest people on vacation, trying to sell this agenda and connect with the folks across the country telling them exactly what this means for them.
RUHLE: Tim, the Roe reversal, that sort of Republicans put their money where their mouth was, they talked about it forever and ever and ever. And now they got it. It hurt them in Kansas, it`s starting to hurt them in polls across the country, is that what you`re seeing?
MILLER: I think so I think it remains to be seen about whether it`s going to yield a Kansas like reaction in house districts across the country. Here`s where it`s definitely going to make a difference and where the Democrats really needed presser advantage in these key swing states where the governor`s race is up, or the governorship is up. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, it`s really important for the 2024 election security who the governor is there. And in all three of those states the Republicans have taken radical anti-abortion views like, you know, from the moment of conception, no exceptions, these things that have like only 10% support and either you even Republicans don`t support this as we saw in Kansas.
I think that if Democrats can look at Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, in particular and say if these folks become the governor our democracy is at risk, your ability to get an abortion, even at one week is at risk, a rapes, 10-year-old child`s ability to get an abortion is at risk, that is going to resonate in these purple states, and I think is a big opportunity for Democrats. We`ll see if it also I think, potentially could be an opportunity to other way -- in other places, but those governor`s races would I`ve looked at.
RUHLE: You have got some far, far right candidates running and a whole bunch of states. We are paying attention, Symone Sanders, host of Symone right here on MSNBC and Peacock and Tim Miller, thank you so much.
Coming up, Ukraine on offense. General Barry McCaffrey is here on the significance of Ukraine`s latest attack, when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
RUHLE: It`s been more than a minute since we`ve had the chance to report on the now 167 day long conflict in Ukraine, and it matters, why? Because there has been no end to the destruction. For example, Ukraine`s military says nine Russian planes were just destroyed and an airbase in Crimea, which of course has been under Russian control since 2014. Russia has denied the damage or that the attack even happened at all.
With us tonight to discuss, one of the best experts. Retired four star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, and a former battlefield commander in the Persian Gulf.
General, every time I read that introduction, I`m reminded how lucky we are to have you here. Help us understand this, this escalation how big of a deal is it? Because there`s reporting it was carried out by Ukraine Special Forces?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yeah, well, we don`t know exactly what the weapon delivery system was. It seems unlikely it was Ukrainian aircraft or cruise missile, you can spot those in the air. It will be on a range of U.S. supplied HIMARS rockets. It was multiple explosions. Even given secondary effects. It looked to me like a series of sabotage initiated events. And with aviation bombs, rockets fuel in the area, probably improperly stored to boot. It was a devastating strike, and it was in Crimea. And that`s not too far from the heartbeat of the Russian Navy in Sebastopol. So I think it was a significant event. Ukrainians are being pretty quiet about it. They`re leaking information, but they`re not doing a victory dance. So they understand the political sensitivity of all of this.
RUHLE: I want to turn to the fighting around Ukraine`s nuclear facilities. What`s the latest? And how dangerous is that situation?
MCCAFFREY: Well, it`s a level of irresponsibility on the part of the Russians that, to be honest, surprises me. They did go -- they understand the power of nuclear radiation. And the lingering effects of wind blowing fissile material back into Russia would be devastating to them also. So it`s completely irresponsible. The level of ignorance of Russian tactical units earlier in the war, up north, north of Kyiv on another power plant was simply abysmal. They were digging in and heavily contaminated Chernobyl radiation areas. So I don`t understand what they`re thinking. I think they have bad control of their tactical units. This makes no sense. That would be a strategic disaster. The Europeans would be even more outraged that they put it at risk. They`re fairly confined land area in the south of Ukraine.
RUHLE: How would you assess where we are in the war right now, right? In the months, we were following it day in, day out, hour by hour, where do things stand now?
MCCAFFREY: We all I think, first one, no one is quite sure. We don`t understand the level of Ukrainian casualties and the internal struggles they`re going through, their operational security has been good. That`s a right thing for them to do. They`re not trying to give vulnerabilities to the Russian forces. Having said that, the U.S. finally came out and said the Russians have suffered 80,000 killed and wounded and have lost a massive amount of their equipment. By some counts, more than a third of the modernized weapons they went into Ukraine was they`re in trouble, running their smart munitions. A lot of their military technology depends on foreign imports and chips and other sophisticated equipment. They legally, in theory, can`t send conscripts into the fight in the Ukraine special military operation. He has to declare general mobilization, which Putin is fearful to do, rightfully so.
And then finally, there`s some great work coming out of Yale University and talking about the Russian economy is crumbling. In fact, they`re not able to pay for the war, simply through the sales of energy supplies to Western Europe, and they can`t find new customers in China or elsewhere overnight. So Putin in a disaster as the war grinds on. The question is will NATO stay with the Ukrainians? So I think they will. We`re right in the verge of having both Sweden and Finland become the 31st and 32nd nations who are part of NATO.
RUHLE: But even if Russia is currently losing the war and their economy is suffering, Vladimir Putin isn`t losing his will. So how scary is that desperate times call for desperate measures?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think you make a good point, you know, he`s in a corner, it`s hard to see any way out. And by the way, the notion Zelenskyy put on the table categorically that, that Russia would seize Crimea in 2014. And sees it as a Russian enclave as part of Russian, a mother Russia, Zelenskyy is saying, everything`s on the table, we`re going to regain sovereignty over all of our material, our land area. Putin will never, ever consider leaving the Crimea, among other things, never mind eastern parts of Ukraine, the Donbas and other areas.
So I think he`s desperate. There`s no limit to the potential escalation he could try. I don`t think he`s going to use nuclear weapons that would open Pandora`s Box on him. And I think his generals know that. But he`s definitely not going to give up. The question is, will the Russian military start to crumble? And we would hope to see that in the coming months, perhaps by the end of the year.
RUHLE: Russia, give up on Putin. General, thank you for joining us tonight. General Barry McCaffrey.
Coming up, it has been a long, long week. It`s only Wednesday. One of our favorite historians Jon Meacham is here to help put some of the major news we`re covering into context, when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, U.S. FORMER PRESIDENT: For our nation is founded on the principle that observance of the law is the eternal safeguard of liberty and defiance of the law is the surest road to tyranny.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUHLE: The surest road to tyranny. JFK gave that warning nearly 60 years ago, after Mississippi`s Governor threatened the Feds and defied the law by refusing to allow a black man to attend classes at Ole Miss, six decades later, there are new and disturbing challenges to the rule of law in this country. But this time they are coming from a former president and his party.
I want to bring in Pulitzer Prize winning historian dear friend of this show, Jon Meacham, author of, "And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle," which will be out in October, occasionally advises our current president, as well.
Jon, you posted a portion of JFK speech on Twitter. Why did you do that?
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I did. Well, I was doing a -- preparing a podcast for next week on the anniversary of James Meredith, the incredibly courageous black man who emigrated Ole Miss, he graduated next week. And so I was putting together an anniversary package of that, and read Kennedy speech, which had been delivered, obviously, a year before, when the, when Oxford, Mississippi was in riots, when see if any of this sounds familiar, when a huge chunk of the country, my chunk of the country largely was being defiant of the will of the federal government, which was the manifestation of the national will, about applying the principles of the declaration of independence through constitutional means to create a more perfect union.
Huh, as Mark Twain is reputed to have said history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme, right? And so what Kennedy`s speech was just this, as great oratory does, as great insights do, it resonated. And he says later, in that same address from the fall of `62, that if the rule of law collapses, then no judge can be sure of his writ, and no neighbor can be sure of his safety.
And I think that`s the huge point here is that the rule of law is a covenant. It protects you, because you respected in protecting others. That`s the entire fuel mixture of democracy of American democracy. And we`ve been imperfect. Obviously, I come from a region where we refused -- many of us refuse to accept the verdict of the Civil War, the import of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments for decade upon decade upon decade. But that`s -- that story, though it unfolds in some ways, is largely, I think, should be an example to us. What side do we, you and I, want to be on when people are telling the story of this time? Do you want to be on the side of the people who are breaking the rule of law? Or do you want to be on the side of the people who actually stood up and understood that the Constitution has to be preserved?
RUHLE: Well, Jon, The Washington Post is reporting that historians like yourself, are actually trying to warn President Biden that democracy is teetering sort of what you were just laying out for us. So what does the President need to understand about where we`ve been historically, and where we are right now?
MEACHAM: Yeah. So that was a private meeting, I was there. Joe Biden is my friend, I help him when I can. And so take this for all with that context. So without revealing anything that I shouldn`t reveal, President Biden understands this in his bones. He talks about democracy versus autocracy, he sees this global struggle. You`re just talking to General McCaffrey about a hot front, in this in Ukraine. We`re seeing it in this vicious attack on the rule of law at home. The success in Republican primaries of election deniers of people who want to take away your right to vote, your right to choose your own leader.
And so this is really an element -- what I think we all have to understand starting with President Biden, but it`s really a stress test for all citizens is, this is a great test. Democracies have not historically, in long endured, if this were easy, everybody would be doing it. America is not easy. And it`s because it requires this sense of I`m going to defer to you today, because there`s a pretty good chance that I`m going to need you to defer to me tomorrow. And the only way I`m going to do -- I`m going to defer to you is if I`m pretty sure if I have a confidence that you`re going to hold up your side of the covenant. And that`s what`s at risk.
RUHLE: But Jon, a growing number of Americans don`t want it to work. You recently posted something about the word, unprecedented. And I hate that word. I used to ban it on the show. If people use it, I`d make them pay me $2. Because for four years, we gasp on TV and say it`s unprecedented. But the thing is, people want to break those norms. The former president laughed at it, he loved it. And so this idea that what`s happening is unprecedented. People don`t care, they actually like it.
MEACHAM: They like it, but what the -- but the precedents we have to pay attention to is a rule of law, a love of neighbor, and a mutual respect. Otherwise, it`s not going to matter, because then we`re going to descend into a state of total warfare all the time. I`m not arguing for some sentimental past. I don`t think there`s, you know, when people talk about restoring certain things, hell, it wasn`t all that great then, right? I mean, I`m a boringly heterosexual, white, southern male Episcopalian, you know, things work out for me in this country. But if you -- but for a lot of people it doesn`t.
The story of the country is a journey toward a more perfect union, not a perfect one. And so what we have to remind ourselves, and this is hugely important, and it makes what you do so important, and is in the lived experience of a lot of people, the America doesn`t really work, right? It starts with September 11. There`s the bad intelligence with Iraq. There`s the financial crisis. There`s COVID, there`s Donald Trump is this huge force. You know, I teach students at Vanderbilt who were born after the attacks of September 11. So their political -- imagine what you were your political consciousness was shaped and where their political conscious shaped, is Donald Trump. And so therefore - let me just say this, it puts a huge weight, a huge burden, I think, to tell a story, that the rule of law, that having a constitution that can be perfected, is central otherwise, and maybe you disagree. But here`s the question, what comes next? If you tear this up, what comes next? And if you can`t answer that --
RUHLE: I`m reminded of Steve Bannon who wanted to tear the system down. And in terms of a perfect union, you`ve got all sorts of Americans that do not want us to be a union. And I leave you with the reminder that the whole premise of Make America Great Again, while there`s millions of Americans who want to do that, for millions of others Americans, it wasn`t great. It wasn`t great before 2022 or 2021, for lots of us.
Unfortunately, we are out of time, Jon, but please, please, please come back always. You know how much I love talking to you. Jon Meacham.
MEACHAM: Thank you.
Coming up, a day that was a long time coming and an ovation for the man who helped make it happen, when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
RUHLE: The last thing before we go tonight, Mr. Stewart goes to Washington, Jon Stewart said it would happen and it did. Dedicated veterans and their families did not leave Capitol Hill until the PACT Act was passed last week, and he has not left their side for years. This man has devoted so much of his time and energy to help American veterans and 9/11 first responders. And Jon Stewart clearly gets results. President Biden recorded a video and FaceTime with the protesters on the Capitol steps to show his support. He also called Stewart personally to thank him for his advocacy for veterans.
Today, Biden got the chance to thank Stewart in-person when he signed the bill officially into law. So here it is their moment of Zen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: And Jon, I want to thank you again. I wanted to come up and hang out in the Capitol steps into the Secret Service said I`d be a pain in the neck would let me do it. So at least we did a little video on there but what you`ve done Jon matters and you know it does. You should know it really, really matters. The refusal that anybody forget, refused to let them forget. And we owe you big man, we owe you big.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUHLE: We got to love a guy from Jersey. Thank you, Jon Stewart for making us laugh, and even more importantly, for making us care. And on that note, I wish you all a very good night. From all of our colleagues across the networks of NBC News, thanks for staying up late with us. I`ll see you at the end of tomorrow.