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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 2/12/2021

Guest: Susan Page, Peter Baker, Michael Steele, Jon Meacham�


Trump defense attorneys denies Trump knew that Vice President Mike Pence was in danger. NBC News reports that Trump and McCarthy had a heated and expletive-filled call during the Capitol riot. Nikki Haley sharply criticized her former boss in an interview published saying that she was "disgusted" by his conduct Jan. 6, the day of the Capitol riot.


GABBY RICHARDS, CONGRESSIONAL STAFF MEMBER: Because you either stand with the republic or against it. And that`s the decision that they have to make.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Gabby Richards, the members of Congress could not -- the elected members of Congress could not get through a single day`s work without their staffs and without all the support staff in those buildings. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. And thank you for the work that you do.

RICHARDS: Thank you for lifting up these voices.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Gabby Richards gets tonight`s Last Word. "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, day 24 of the Biden administration. This was also day four of impeachment trial number two for Donald Trump.

Tomorrow, senators are expected to vote on whether to hold him responsible or acquit him of inciting an insurrection.

At this hour NBC News confirming brand new reporting out tonight about what Trump knew and the actions he failed to take, as rioters descended upon and then looted and desecrated our Capitol in his name, while also hunting for the heads of the Speaker of the House and the Vice President.

The news concerns a phone call House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had with Trump, as the height of the riot was underway. As first reported tonight by CNN, as McCarthy pleaded for help, Trump is said to have responded quote, "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are."

At one-point McCarthy said to Trump, "What the f do you think" -- "Who the f do you think you`re talking to?" According to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the call.

Sources tell NBC News that McCarthy was shaken up during the call and was asking the president for help. The call was described by sources as not cordial and borderline incoherent.

Tomorrow senators are expected to deliver their verdict. It`s unclear whether this latest reporting will affect that.

Today, Trump`s lawyers mounted their defense using under three hours of the 16 hours they had allotted to them. They argued Trump was not to blame for anything that happened at the Capitol on 1/6, that his rhetoric at the rally was free speech.

They denied their use of what aboutism before engaging in rampant, what about ism. Facts got twisted, history got rewritten on the fly. And there were the grievances we`ve heard before from their client in Florida that this impeachment is all about hate and political vengeance.


MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN, TRUMP`S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No thinking person could seriously believe that the president`s January 6 speech on the ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection.

This sham impeachment also poses a serious threat to freedom of speech for political leaders of both parties.

It is constitutional cancel culture.

DAVID SCHOEN, TRUMP DEFENSE ATTORNEY: We have reason to believe the House managers manipulated evidence and selectively edited footage.

VAN DER VEEN: There is an entire body of law Supreme Court landmark cases supporting the conclusion that Mr. Trump actually has enhanced free speech rights because he is an elected official.

The Democrat House managers know that the word fight has been used figuratively in political speech forever.

Mr. Trump was not in any way, shape or form, instructing these people to fight or to use physical violence. What he was instructing them to do was to challenge their opponents in primary elections, to push for sweeping election reforms, to hold big tech responsible.

He explicitly stated, these are the words, I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.

BRUCE CASTOR, TRUMP DEFENSE ATTORNEY: President Trump one of the signature verification to be done in public. How can a request for signature verifications to be done in public be a basis for a charge for inciting a riot?

This trial is about far more than President Trump. It is about silencing and banning the speech, the majority does not agree with. It is about canceling 75 million Trump voters and criminalizing political viewpoints.


WILLIAMS: The Democratic House managers rejected the defense accusation that evidence was manipulated and video was selectively edited.

But during their presentation, Trump`s attorneys rolled their own selectively edited videotape including repeated clips of Democrats, including a couple of celebrities using the word fight in sentences during rallies in an effort to somehow equate that with Trump`s use of the same word to a weaponized mob in Washington during his rally on six January. Here`s a brief sample of what that was like.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Take him out now.

JOHNNY DEEP, AMERICAN ACTOR: When was the last time an actor assassinated the president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re still going to have to go out and put a bullet in Donald Trump.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Show me where it says that protests are supposed to be polite, and peaceful.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): And you push back on them, and you tall them they`re not welcome anymore, anywhere.

MADONNA, AMERICAN SINGER: I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please get up in the face of some Congress people.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): People will do what they do.


WILLIAMS: It went on and on for about 11 minutes. Once the defense lawyers completed their arguments, Senators like Republicans, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski wanted to know more about what Trump knew and what he did during the riot.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol? And what specific actions did he take to bring the rioting to an end? And when did he take them? Please be as detailed as possible.

VAN DER VEEN: The House managers have given us absolutely no evidence on -- the other on to that question.

With the rush to bring this impeachment, there`s been absolutely no investigation into that. And that`s the problem with this entire proceeding. The House managers did zero investigation.


WILLIAMS: After failing to provide an answer for that Trump`s legal team got this question submitted by one, Mitt Romney.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When President Trump sent the disparaging tweet at 2:24 p.m., regarding Vice President Pence, was he aware that the vice president had been removed from the Senate by the Secret Service for his safety?

VAN DER VEEN: The answer is no. No point was the president inform the vice president was in any danger.


WILLIAMS: Several news outlets have reported Donald Trump was on the phone with new Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville right before he sent that tweet. That Tuberville told Trump that Pence had just been rushed to safety.

After today`s proceedings, Tuberville told reporters he still stands by that account.

And tonight, there are several reports the former vice president does not agree with these defense lawyers and their claim that Trump did not know his own vice president was in danger during last month`s insurrection.

It`s a lot. It`s been a long day and with that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Friday night. Peter Baker Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," among the coauthors of the book we turn to every year so, it`s called "Impeachment and American History." Susan Page, veteran journalist, best-selling author, USA Today, Washington Bureau Chief. And Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. Attorney, former senior FBI official also happens to be the host of the MSNBC podcast called "The Oath."

Chuck, I want to begin with you and let`s talk about lawyering. These may be down to about the last three lawyers willing to represent this guy and the old phrase comes to mind you get what you pay for. By my count, among the three of them, there`s the prosecutor who passed on charging Bill Cosby. There`s the defense lawyer for Roger Stone also represented a couple mobsters along the way met with Jeffrey Epstein before his death. And there`s a personal injury lawyer.

On the other side of the ledger is this new McCarthy story out tonight, Chuck, in addition to the lawyering, does it make a better case for witnesses? Do you think we`ll see them?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, HOST, "THE OATH": I`m not sure we`re going to see them. It is a case where I would love to see witnesses, right? I mean, how do you get evidence, Brian? From people from documents. Those are the things that are most compelling to me as a federal prosecutor.

I spent a lifetime asking witnesses questions in courtrooms and introducing documents so juries would know what actually happened.

You know, here`s the canard, here`s the charade in this case, the defense lawyers keep saying we don`t know stuff because the House managers, the prosecutors, wouldn`t give it to us. They did no investigation.

Well, guess who has access to President Trump. Not the House managers, they invited him to come testify and he said no. The defense lawyers have access to the former president.

And so, if you really want to know what he did after the insurrection at the Capitol started, whether or not he knew that Vice President Pence was in danger, why he didn`t send help, why he didn`t condemn the riot? They know.

Defense attorneys have every right to do an investigation just as much as prosecutors. And it`s so clear to me that this group, Brian, like you said, maybe the last three on Earth, were unprepared, didn`t know the facts, didn`t do an investigation and have a client who was either unwilling to help them or couldn`t tell the truth.

WILLIAMS: Susan, what is the chance not that they`d be up to this kind of skullduggery, what is the chance that the story of the McCarthy phone call and that goes with us knowing that Trump didn`t call pence for five days after the insurrection. But that the story of the McCarthy phone call might be a Republican leak to offer air cover to those Republicans who want to vote to convict?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, is that possible? Yes. It`s also possible there`s just reporters doing their jobs, either saying or it could be -- or it could be both.

You know, one thing that struck me along those lines, Brian, today was the issue that seemed to get the most interest from Republican senators was whether Trump was aware of the danger to vice president and what did he do about it? And then McCarthy phone call goes along those lines as well, because even if you believe that the president -- that former President Trump had no responsibility for unleashing the mob, certainly everybody thinks he would have some responsibility as commander in chief, to protect the vice president and members of Congress when he was in a position to do that.

And the fact that we now have -- we now have evidence, we have stories based on on the record sources who are Republicans about the president`s -- former president`s kind of unwillingness his disregard for the safety of others in our government I think it`s pretty serious stuff. I don`t know why it got leaked. But I think it`s one of those things that could have some impact on tomorrow. Maybe it will peel off a couple more Republican votes.

WILLIAMS: And about tomorrow, Peter Baker, though I know your newspaper tonight broke a story that Donald Trump who famously has not paid bills over the years, famously has had trouble retaining legal representation, Mr. Schoen actually quit the legal team last night until Trump called him to ask him to come back on. Do Republicans -- is their presence of mind, Peter, according to your reporting, they realize they have an off ramp here. They have the means of growing up without Donald Trump defining their party with a conviction vote.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, look, obviously there are Republicans who are eager to put the party, you know, put Trump in the rearview mirror. Obviously, Mitch McConnell is one of them. He has made that clear, repeatedly now in the last few weeks.

Whether that means he or any other Republicans who have been on the fence will actually now vote for conviction is unclear. I mean, I think the likelier scenario you still see happening tomorrow is that several Republicans do vote to convict but not the 17 that would be necessary to get the two thirds under the constitution that you need. But that even some of the Republicans who don`t vote to convict offer some pretty tough statements, making clear that their votes are not meant to condone or in any way, you know, sanction, what he did.

Now, whether that`s satisfying or not to critics, that`s a different question. But I think that you don`t have-- that`s like you had last year, Republicans did again acquit President Trump and we`re willing to basically to say, OK, it was not that big a deal.

This year, they do think it`s a big deal. And a lot of them are quite critical of the president. A lot of them were pretty, I think, disappointed by the president`s lawyers` presentations over the last three days. I don`t think that they`ve been very effective or very compelling.

WILLIAMS: Chuck Rosenberg, you`ve done a lot of things in your lifetime. One of them does not include being a Republican senator who`s scared to death of Donald Trump. But if you can possibly put yourself in the shoes of a Republican senator who is scared to death of Donald Trump, did you hear any arguments today, compelling enough to get you over the finish line to acquittal?

ROSENBERG: Yes, of course, with an enormous but if. But only if, Brian, they care more about the oath they took, which was to render an impartial verdict than they do about reelection.

Look, history one day will judge everyone`s actions here. This is not a hard call.

I learned a long time ago that you have to be able to walk away from the job. Particularly if you`re asked to do something that you just cannot countenance.

And so, for those who care more about their political prospects, their next office, a higher office, their next reelection a primary, it`s pretty clear how they`re going to vote.

But there are those who put principal above politics. We know who they are. We saw Mitt Romney do it already. We saw Susan Collins do it. There are any number.

So it`s not just about being a Republican senator, because some of them are extraordinarily principled. It`s about being a Republican senator with principle, right? If I`m going to be one, that`s the one I would like to be.

But I think you`re right. I`ve done a lot of things in my life. That`s not one of them. And I don`t see it happening.

WILLIAMS: All right, Susan, we`ll take that as a confession from Chuck. Go back to your last answer, because you left the door hanging open, at least verbally of. The Senate likes to refer to themselves as the world`s greatest deliberative body that indicates deliberation that indicates the potential at least for changing minds. Do you really think there are votes on the move? If not tonight, tomorrow depending on how this matter of the McCarthy phone call is handled in that chamber?

PAGE: I think probably not. But I do think there`s one vote to watch for, and that is Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader has really been very unhappy with president former President Trump for a long time. Very critical of him for his actions on January 6. His wife with the Trump cabinet, in a sign of protest.

I think it is possible that Mitch McConnell will vote for conviction. And that would send a big message for one of the highest-ranking Republicans in our government.

In fact, I guess maybe he is, at this point, the highest-ranking Republican in our government, along with Kevin McCarthy. If he voted for conviction of former President Trump, that would be interesting and a message.

WILLIAMS: That would be a news story, indeed.

And Peter Baker, it was argued today, these defense lawyers might as well be on a closed circuit set up to Palm Beach. Is there any news today from the bunker? And by bunker, I don`t mean the kind was sand in it?

BAKER: Yes. I haven`t heard anything new tonight. Obviously, there seems to be a daily drama in this, you know, client lawyer relationship. As you pointed out at the top of the show, this is not the A team that he`s had on the, you know, the people who represented him a year ago, didn`t return for the sequel. The first set of lawyers he hired didn`t last very long, because they had a dispute with him about how to approach this.

And this team seems to be on the verge of getting out the door with each passing hour.

And as you point out, I mean, like, the lead attorney, who presented most of the day to day, and I think everybody compatibly, which what the president -- former president wants him to do. But you`re right, he has no experience with this kind of thing. His experience in Philadelphia, he`s a personal injury attorney. If you go to his website, he talks about the settlements he gets for auto accident victims and people who`ve been bitten by dogs.

You know, this is sort of out of his normal lane of experience. And I think that you saw the results there.

Now he -- I think he gave some ammunition to Republicans who were looking for a reason to vote for quill by presenting these tapes. However, you know, disputed, you might find them by saying it`s just the same thing that Democrats do. They`re a bunch of hypocrites they do. They use incendiary language. Why are they going after Trump just because he does the same thing that they do?

Whether that`s a fair equation or not, whether it`s what about him or not, it probably is the ammunition at least some Republicans need to get to, to acquittal. And they`re probably going to be 34 of them tomorrow.

But I think Susan is right, by the way, to watch Mitch McConnell. I think if you get the six who voted to proceed with a trial and Mitch McConnell, that by itself would be a pretty significant repudiation in history, even if it wasn`t McConnell. You`ve never seen that many members of the president`s own party vote to convict him in the Senate impeachment trial.

WILLIAMS: Indeed. Absolutely right.

If the three of you will indulge me I`d like you all three to stick around to continue this conversation.

Coming up tomorrow`s votes, offers potential day of reckoning for the GOP or not. And later, 160 years to the day after the birth of, one, Abraham Lincoln.

Jon Meacham with us tonight on what the nation`s 16th President might make of what he saw today, make of us make of the state of his Republican Party. All of it when our special coverage of the second impeachment trial of now private citizen Donald Trump continues on this history making Friday night.


WILLIAMS: Remaining with our conversation Peter Baker, Susan Page and Chuck Rosenberg.

Peter, I`d like to begin with you. I`m not a lawyer, but lawyers tell me that there is a test in law school that they call "the but for test," meaning, but for in this case, but for the actions of Donald Trump, would there have been insurrection and looting at our Capitol? That`s one of the questions the Senate is now deciding.

The defense attorneys are firm and their resolve. The President did not incite this, though that differs with what we heard from prominent Republicans in the days right and the hours right after insurrection. I`ll play a sample of that for you. We`ll discuss on the other side.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The mob was fed large. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.

REP. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-WI): Mr. President, you have got to stop this. You are the only person who can call this off.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): President bears responsibility for Wednesday`s attack on Congress.


WILLIAMS: So, Peter Baker, add to this the new reporting on what we know went on in the phone call between McCarthy and Trump. And that really adds to the pressure. You talked about the hint that Republicans may migrate one by one to a conviction vote. How will history judge those who vote to acquit?

BAKER: Well, I think it`s a good question. I mean, look, you know, first of all, I would say that what the defense team was trying to do today was reduced the prosecution case to that one speech on January 6, and that one phrase fight like hell, and by playing the tape of Democrats saying fight like hell, saying, OK, it`s all the same thing.

And what the managers did over the last few days make clear that the case on incitement wasn`t just that one day, that he has been in fact laying the predicate for this for months. Even back to the last summer before the election, we`re told his supporters that the only way that Joe Biden would win was if this election has been stolen. He told them it again and again before the election after so that the incitement, according to the managers` argument, is something that had been playing out for months, not just on January 6.

So, where does that leave that the Republicans who end up voting to acquit tomorrow? Obviously, that`s going to be a question, I think, that`s all over of their minds, at least some of their minds. And I because I think a lot of them would like to be done with Donald Trump, but they don`t want to be remembered as defending.

And I think a lot of them have spent four years defending him or at least looking the other way and trying to walk down that hall and avoid the questions of what do you think about this, what do you think about that? And here`s the moment of truth, right? This is the last chance they really have to make their -- known on these presenters. And they`re tugged between the politics of the day and the verdict of history. And I think that that`s a, you know, a conundrum we`re going to watch play out in real time tomorrow on our television sets, and then in the chamber for those who were there.

WILLIAMS: Susan, we talked about McConnell, what must it be like tonight to be Kevin McCarthy? Here`s a guy who just flew down to Mar-a-Lago to do that required putting his self-esteem on a shelf for an afternoon. He has been such a slavish disciple of Donald Trump. But now his name is attached to this.

He wants badly to be Speaker of the House if they get the majority in two years. Talk about what life must be like for him right about now.

PAGE: Well, you know, it`s pretty clear that most Republican officials I think in Washington wish Donald Trump would not be continued to be the face and the loudest voice in the GOP. But the problem they have is that most Republican voters don`t -- aren`t there. Most Republican voters continue to be astoundingly loyal to Donald Trump, more loyal than they are in many cases to the party itself.

So loyal that a majority of Republican voters continue to say that they do not believe Joe Biden was legitimately elected president, because press former President Trump has not yet said that he believes Joe Biden was legitimately elected. So you do see this, as Peter was say, this toggle between calculating how do you keep the Republican voters you want while getting rid of this guy who is causing you so much grief and shows no signs of going away?

Does anyone doubt that Donald Trump will claim in an acquittal by the Senate as vindication? He did it the first time around, I would expect him to do it again this time.

WILLIAMS: And finally, Chuck, I know you love the law, and I know it`s been your life`s work. This is such a deeply cynical process, as was the first impeachment, the fight against doing right and the fight against the political expedience. What do you think the legacy of this impeachment is going to be?

And talk about young people perhaps mulling over entering the field of law? What kind of message has this sent?

ROSENBERG: You know, it`s interesting, Brian, because I teach at Georgetown College. And one question I get a lot is, you know, should we do this, this being government, the law, the Justice Department, the intelligence community, the State Department, the Foreign Service? And my answer is always absolutely, you should do this. We need you now more than ever. But there is that trepidation.

One other thing that worries me. We talk about what`s happening in the Senate as a trial. It`s really not a trial. It`s nothing like a criminal trial in federal district court. And so, I worry that people think that this is how it happens, that unprepared lawyers like you see on the defense team get up and spout nonsense and make stuff up and are unprepared and hurl accusations and don`t know the answers to simple basic, factual questions.

This is not a trial. This is something else. It`s a proceeding. It`s a hearing. It`s something else.

And so one thing I want people to understand is that the work that we do in government, whether it`s the Foreign Service, or the intelligence community, or the law enforcement community is real, and it`s serious. We need good people to come up and do it and to replace us because we`re old and useless.

And I don`t want people to be discouraged because this is an incredibly important time for that next generation to do this important work.

WILLIAMS: As a great man once said, I know it`s late, I know you`re weary and I know your plans didn`t include staying up late on a Friday night and doing cable. We greatly appreciate your willingness to do so.

All of you Peter Baker, Susan Page, Chuck Rosenberg, thank you very much. We`ll be added again tomorrow.

Coming up. The insurrection discussed today proved to be too much for one likely presidential candidate, a former ally who didn`t like Trump before she did. Now she doesn`t again. We`ll talk about her and the problem for the party when we come back.



REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Bring your client up here and have him testify under oath about why he was sending out tweets denouncing the Vice President of the United States while the vice president was being hunted down by a mob that wanted to hang him and was chanting in this building. Hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence, traitor, traitor, traitor.


WILLIAMS: Jamie Raskin wondering what Donald Trump may have to hide and why he wouldn`t be willing to come speak on the record and under oath. Now let`s turn to absolute pure politics. We have been warning you over these past few months of what we call the great migration. The great walk back. Watch for Republicans who were full on Trumpers especially those who want to be president. Watch for them to start saying I never liked the guy. I thought he was wrong all along.

Ben Sasse is already on the board in this effort. And now so is wait for it. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, Trump`s former UN Ambassador not happy with her old boss for turning on Mike Pence.

In an interview with Tim Alberta of Politico Magazine on January 12, Haley said she was disgusted with Trump`s comments about pence at his January 6 rally. Haley also said impeachment was a waste of time but went on to go after Trump saying, quote, we need to acknowledge he led us down. He went down a path he shouldn`t have, and we shouldn`t have followed him. And we shouldn`t have listened to him. And we can`t let that ever happen again.

So, back with us again tonight, Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning author, presidential historian, professor on the American Presidency at Vanderbilt. He occasionally advises the current president on historical matters and major speeches, Jon like Peter Baker, also one of the co-authors of that handy dandy book, Impeachment: An American History. And Michael Steele is with us again tonight, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, former lieutenant governor of Maryland. He is also the host of the Michael Steele podcast.

Michael, here is a further quote from Tim Alberta. This is about Nikki Haley. I`m going to set this up for you like a bowling pin. Her distaste for Trump is no secret. Actually, it is a secret if you`re not in the business, but we continue. But neither is her goal of becoming president. For the past five years, she has struck a delicate balance, and she has done so -- she has done so better than other members of our party. Her vicious criticisms of Trump never came back to bite her, nor did her public silence in the face of face of his manifest abuses.

Michael, what do you make of this? What do you make of Ms. Haley and the the landing pattern she is clearly trying to set up for herself on final approach?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, she did become governor of South Carolina for nothing. She is one of the more skilled political candidates and elected officials in our party, if not maybe in the country.

I remember working very closely with her in 2010, when we worked on the campaign to help her get elected governor and just -- I`m a fan of hers, I really admire her and understand the situation she`s been in, at times disappointed with it, a lot of times disappointed with it, because the Nikki Haley that I knew, then, you know, I guess it`s a calculation now. But she was one who`s always kind of carved out her space and stood very, very proudly in that space, and wouldn`t let anyone to move her.

Trump was one of these things that comes into your orbit that kind of gets you to wobble a bit. And you saw that with her. You`ve seen that with some of the comments, particularly around matters of race where she tries to separate more from Trump.

But there`s also the political opportunity, not necessarily opportunism, but the opportunity to, you know, keep that at bay while you move -- try to move the party in a different direction. And that`s going to be an interesting challenge with Liz Cheney. I`m not saying Liz is looking at aspirations for president, but Liz is going to anchor whatever we`re trying to anchor whatever the party will be. And it`s going to be interesting to see whether she aligns herself more with that, or what with whatever form Trumpism takes.

WILLIAMS: Well, Nikki Haley is invited on this broadcast anytime she wants, but fair warning, she`s going to have to listen to some clips of her being all nice with Donald Trump.

Now, Jon Meacham, I think it`s fair to cast tomorrow`s vote to convict or acquit as kind of a choice. Republicans saying, dear leader, we`re going to sign up for another four years in your thrall or not. Talk to us about other times when political parties have been broken down to the studs, the bare bones and find themselves in a position of rebuilding.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I was the risk of total self- parody of I was working on the 1856 presidential election today, and it was the as --

WILLIAMS: Yes, as was I spare time. Go ahead. Yes, sure.

MEACHAM: Yes, I know, Jane gets upset when you disappear into the Buchanan papers. But what we`re really -- what you saw there was the disintegration of the Whigs. You had the rise of anti-slavery, you had everything echoes. You had anti-immigration sentiment ferocious anti-Catholicism in the country. You had this majority of voters in that race, voted for a Republican or an anti-immigrant candidate. That allowed the Democrats the pro slavery party of the day to win.

What`s fascinating about that is the Republican Party, which Bickel (ph) once led emerging out of that cataclysmic moment when the country was trying to grapple with the nature of slavery and freedom and the extension of slavery, and you had a fellow whose birthday we celebrate today, Abraham Lincoln, who in 1857 has a -- there`s a fragment in his papers where he`s talking about the Republican Party.

And he says that today, the Republican Party, this is 1857 represents the best hope of the nation and the world. And their work lies before them. And if they don`t do it, they cannot turn away guiltlessly. They can`t turn away guiltlessly because of the centrality of the question. Were we truly all created equal? Was Jefferson, right? That was the question.

The question on the floor of the Senate tomorrow, is, are we a constitutional republic? Or are we a cultural personality who took a reality show and made it all of our reality? And I don`t think it`s a lot more complicated than that. I`m not an elected official. I`ve never sought office by an intellectual understanding of the forces on these folks. So, I`m not minimizing it. It`d be like telling, you know, me, I couldn`t write anymore if they couldn`t run for office. I understand the human element there.

But at a certain point, you do have to decide why are you here? Are you simply here to hold the office? Or are you there to play your part in this unfolding pageant of the country? That has been to use another phrase of Lincoln`s the world`s best hope.

WILLIAMS: OK, Michael Steele, we`re going to take a break when we come back guiltlessly. I`m going to get you on the record on Lindsey Graham so you can prepare for that in the break. Jon and Michael are staying with us.

Coming up, Mr. Lincoln did once appeal to our better angels. And as you may know, we`re lucky enough to have one Jon Meacham here who happened to write a whole book about just that. We`ll talk about that, among other things when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Still with us are Jon Meacham and Michael Steele and relevant to this conversation of the many, many books authored by our friend Jon is the 2018 work called "The Soul of America, the Battle for our Better Angels."

Jon, every once in a while, I asked you, where are they? Who are they? Do you have a better assessment for us tonight? Can you name two?

MEACHAM: Well, I think 81 million of them voted for Joe Biden. So, I think that`s an important thing to remember. The American history is a push and pull between action and reaction between light and dark between progress and setbacks, because that`s what human nature is. And history is the story of human nature.

And, you know, I was a participant in the impeachment proceedings, called me recently, that`s my private opinion about the rally and what unfolded in the insurrection, and I`ll say publicly what I said privately, which is that if words don`t matter, then we the people doesn`t matter, then all men are created equal doesn`t matter, then a house divided against itself cannot stand doesn`t matter, then shining city on a hill doesn`t matter. Words matter.

And I think what hopefully what we`re seeing in the country is a, if not the end of Trumpism, at least, we`re beginning to see it up close, even more directly. And we do have a new president who`s actually off governing as kind of a novel thing, right? He`s trying to vaccinate the country. He`s trying to get the economy back in shape.

And so, I`m not saying move on, you know, put down your phones. I`m not saying that. But I am saying that what I hope the Senate does tomorrow is they decide that words matter. And not just the words that that rally, but that 77-day period, where an incumbent president denied reality, denied self-evident truths and persistently lied to the American people, a lie that continues on to this hour.

WILLIAMS: I have a little bit of news and a question for Michael. The news is that Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island has just tweeted his opinion is they should suspend tomorrow, depose Senator Tuberville and McCarthy, and get the Secret Service in there to talk about the record of what happened during the insurrection.

So, this will be interesting to watch as it plays out overnight and into tomorrow. This does not get you off the hook Michael. Here`s the tweet from Politico. When I talked about taking a political party down to the studs. This is not the guy I was thinking of. Lindsey Graham says he`ll be meeting with Donald Trump in the coming weeks to talk about the future of the Republican Party. So, Michael, you must be psyched. These guys, they`ve got this.

STEELE: I can`t wait. I`m so stoked. Oh, this would be -- I wish I could be a fly on the wall for that planning session. Wow. So, to my good friend of the philosopher, poet, historian, Meacham, we can`t get away from Trumpism if they don`t let it go. And so, no matter how much we do that push and pull thing to push our way and pull our way of front away from it, someone`s pushing us back towards it.

So, I don`t know why the hell Lindsay is going to go talk to Donald Trump about the future of the Republican Party. He`s a former president who will have no role as other presidents have had in the past or not had in the past, but apparently, they want one for him. So, he doesn`t get to let go because we won`t let him go.

And so, this gets harder, it doesn`t get easier. You`ve got candidates that are preparing to run for office from United States Senate to Governor to dog catcher who got a big T on their forehead. They`ve got a big T, and therefore they`re all in for Trump.

And so, if you don`t let it go, you don`t heal and you don`t heal, you just get sicker. And the problem with the Republican Party right now is it wants to be sick. It likes this feeling. And that`s unfortunate.

WILLIAMS: Spoken as the former party chairman, Michael Steele, Jon Meacham. Gentlemen, thank you always a great pleasure to have you on greatly appreciate it.

Coming up for us, what may be the real breaking news of the night members of the U.S. Senate agreed on something today, we`ll show you that rare moment after this.


WILLIAMS: The new video this week showing Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman warning Senator Mitt Romney that he was running toward an angry mob before he hustled him to safety. Prior video already showed us that Goodman was single handedly responsible for leading writers away from the Senate chamber on January 6th, putting his own life at risk.

Well, to that end at the close of today`s impeachment trial. The U.S. Senate actually made us proud thanks to an incredibly rare bipartisan moment we want to share with you tonight.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, in a moment I will ask the Senate to pass legislation that would award Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Here in this trial, we saw a new video powerful video, showing calmness under pressure, his courage in the line of duty, his foresight in the midst of chaos, and his willingness to make himself a target of the mobs rage so that others might reach safety. Officer Goodman is in the chamber tonight. Officer Goodman. Thank you.


WILLIAMS: The applause was sustained went on for some time. Eugene Goodman, one of the heroes of 1/6. Also turns out to be a screaming eagle. He`s a veteran of the 101st Airborne. Four years in the U.S. Army was deployed in the Iraq War. One/sex was not the first time he was called upon to show courage in his life. It just took an event like one six to highlight the actions of a modest man who saved lives on that day after showing complete disregard for his own safety.

Coming up for us, a husband and a wife and their two dogs on a normal Friday morning in February, at a time when a lot of folks have forgotten what normal looks like.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Valentine`s Day is a big day. Jill`s favorite day. For real.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What inspires you to do this?

JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody`s feeling a little down so it`s just a little way, a little hope. That`s all.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, let`s put to doubt put to rest any doubt. Joe loves Jill and Jill loves Joe. They made that clear today. That was an unavoidable part of the subplot. On the North Lawn of the White House this morning, Joe Biden was up before dawn to supervise the placement of those giant hearts. On what as you heard we learned today is her favorite day of the year.

The first couple casually strolled along on a freezing morning with the freezing press corps in toe. The President explaining the hearts were largely for others during the pandemic but the whole scene struck a lot of people as incredibly normal married couple of stuff. Even us dog enthusiasts saw a very normal reaction. First Lady was petting their older dog Champ when Major came over to say, Hey, I`m here to I happen to be a very good dog as well.

Well, tonight The Biden`s flew to Camp David for their first visit as first couple. All of it continued evidence that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and its occupants are no longer a source of urgent national concern.

That is our broadcast on this Friday night and for this week. I`ll be back here along with Nicolle Wallace for tomorrow afternoon`s Senate vote on the second impeachment of Donald Trump.

Until then, thank you for being here with us. Have a good weekend unless you have other plans. On behalf of all of our colleagues at the networks on NBC News, good night.