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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 4/29/21

Guests: Neal Katyal, Cindy McCain, Jason Johnson, Bill Kristol


FBI agents executed search warrants at the Manhattan apartment and office of Rudy Giuliani, personal counsels for former President Donald Trump. Trump defends Giuliani calling a "great patriot." GOP attacks Biden agenda after address to Joint Session of Congress.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Inspiring America: The 2021 Inspiration List will premiere Saturday, May 1 at 8 p.m. Eastern on NBC and Telemundo. You can watch an encore presentation the next day Sunday, May 2 on MSNBC at 10 p.m. Eastern. That is Tonight`s Last Word. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening, once again, this was indeed the 100th day of the Biden administration and fresh off his first speech to a joint session of Congress as President, Joe Biden traveled to the all- important state of Georgia today to rally support for his agenda, more on that in just a moment. But first we are tracking the fallout for Rudolph Giuliani after the Feds raided his home and office early yesterday.

Federal investigators are reportedly looking into Giuliani`s business dealings in Ukraine. Today a defiant Giuliani called prosecutors at the Southern District of New York remember the Justice Department`s New York office, which he used to run bullies. He also said he wouldn`t be convicted of a phony crime. Earlier tonight, Giuliani appeared on Fox News and spoke about the raid at his apartment.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP`S PERSONAL LAWYER: I never ever represented a foreign national. In fact, I have in my contracts, a refusal to do it because from the time I got out of being mayor, I didn`t want to lobby, never did it to Bush, never did it to Obama, never did it with Trump, and I can prove it, just gives me an opportunity. But they won`t, instead they had a breakdown, I wouldn`t say break down but smash on my doors in a frightening way. Lucky I don`t get frightened very easily. I handled them very professionally and they handled me very professionally.


WILLIAMS: New York Times reporting tonight that the firing of a woman you may remember from the impeachment hearings, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is at the center of this Giuliani investigation. Times reports that according to people familiar with the matter, Giuliani is facing a criminal investigation into whether he broke lobbying laws, "At least one of the warrants was seeking evidence related to Ms. Yovanovitch and her role as ambassador. In particular, the federal authorities were expected to scour the electronic devices for communications between Mr. Giuliani and Trump administration officials about the ambassador before she was recalled sat home in April 2019."

And Time magazine reporting this. "By the time federal investigators searched the Manhattan home of Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday, they had amassed a trove of evidence from his associates in Ukraine, focusing most intently on Giuliani`s ties to Ukrainian oligarchs."

Today during an interview with our own Craig Melvin, Joe Biden was asked about the raid on Giuliani by the Feds.


CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: Were you aware of that raid before it happened?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I give him my word, I was not. I made a pledge. I would not interfere in any way order or try to stop any investigation the Justice Department had in a way. I learned about that last night when the rest of the world learned about it. My word, I had no idea this was underway.


WILLIAMS: By the way, there`s more of that exclusive interview with the President airing tomorrow morning on today. We also heard today from former President Trump, who wasted no time defending his former personal attorney.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, Rudy Giuliani is a great patriot. He does these things, and he just loves this country. And they raid his apartment. It`s like so unfair and such a double -- it`s like a double standard like I don`t think anybody`s ever seen before. It`s very, very unfair. Rudy is a patriot who loves this country. And I don`t know what they`re looking for, what they`re doing.


WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, we`re also following developments on Capitol Hill where negotiations are underway between Democrats and Republicans on the topic of police reform. Today`s civil rights attorney Ben Crump, George Floyd`s brother, families of other black Americans killed by police officers met with Republican senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: We met for approximately an hour. They got to hear directly from the families whose blood will be owned the legislation that is being proposed. They listen intensely. He got very emotional at times. And they promised them that they were going to try to make meaningful legislation and their family`s names.


WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Thursday night, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for The Associated Press, Neal Katyal, Department of Justice Veteran, former Acting Solicitor General for our country during the Obama administration, he has argued dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Katie Benner, Justice Department Reporter for The New York Times, who we are pleased to note is our newest on-air contributor.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Counselor, I`d like to start with you by our calculations, former President Trump has no remaining personal lawyers that haven`t been raided by the Feds. We did hear from the last one before Rudy, that`s Michael Cohen. He appeared on this network tonight. We`ll play that discuss on the other side.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Rudy Giuliani knows that he`s in big trouble, as your previous guests had just advised. He ran the Southern District of New York. He knows exactly the games that they play, because he`s the one that created that playbook. And they take no prisoners. They did exactly the same thing to me. And here`s the interesting thing, it may start with just the Ukraine, but that`s not where it`s going to stop.


WILLIAMS: So, Neal, have two questions come out of that. Is he right that Rudy Giuliani is in big trouble? And after you answer that, I`m curious as to what you think the chances are Rudy will flip?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: So, I totally agree with that, that I think from America`s mayor, to being America`s crazy uncle, to now being America`s most wanted, Rudy Giuliani has truly done it all. And I think what you just heard Michael Cohen says, look, I mean, in any ordinary warrant raid by the FBI, that`s already serious enough. But here the barrier was a lot more than just that, Brian, I mean, to get a warrant, normally, you just need a federal judge to say there`s probable cause, a crime has been committed. So, you`ve got that. But here, they were also searching an attorney`s office. So, you needed very high-level Justice Department approval, maybe the Attorney General himself or the deputy attorney general. And now then you have, it`s not just any attorney search, it`s a search of the President of the United States as Attorney. So, the barrier to getting a warrant was sky high, and yet they got one anyway, that suggests a real seriousness of the investigation.

And Rudy Giuliani`s defense tonight, which you played was, look, my contract says, "I don`t lobby," I mean, that`s like the drug dealer who calls drugs, pizza and says on the phone really loudly, I don`t sell drugs. You know, that`s obviously not a viable defense.

And if you`re Donald Trump right now, and this gets to your second question, I think you have to be incredibly worried. I mean, Donald Trump was lawless, but he was also, let`s face it, kind of incompetent at his lawlessness. He could never quite execute it very well. So here for example, he didn`t pardon Giuliani, and by not pardoning Giuliani, Trump has made now Giuliani choose between saving his own skin and saving Trump`s and I don`t think there are many sweaty palms right now in the federal southern district in New York prosecutor`s offices as they anticipate the outcome of what Giuliani is going to do. And I know that Donald Trump thinks he can keep every Republican in line. But I don`t think Rudy, who`s a guy, who`s accused of illegally lobbying for a foreign government, according to the reports tonight, is going to put much stock in the idea of loyalty. So, this is very bad news for Giuliani and for Trump.

WILLIAMS: Katie, the President with a straight face and much sincerity said he did not know in advance about this raid until he read the public reports of it. There is, we should point out, no reason to doubt that that would indicate a sea change back to the way the Department of Justice has traditionally been run, the wall between the White House and DOJ. It would certainly mark a sea change between the first regime you covered that of Bill Barr at all and the current Justice Department, would it not?

KATIE BENNER, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Absolutely. So, you have to keep in mind that since Watergate, the president having a wall between the White House and the attorney general has been the norm. It was really only under the Trump administration. We saw that crumble, and we saw it crumble so quickly and was in such a sustained manner. So, when we saw what Biden said today, it`s only surprising to us because we`re still used to the Trump administration and actually should not be a surprise, and it should be the sort of answer that any president would give.

Also, keep in mind that what we saw in this case is an investigation that began almost two years ago, we saw officials under the Trump administration stymie this very search warrant. They gave many reasons, mostly around the election saying sway the course of the election, not going to weigh in on whether or not I think that`s true. I mean, you know, I think that reasonable person could see how the President`s lawyer being rated would impact the election. But those things are over. And it also shows that Bill Barr is -- excuse me, the Merrick Garland is keeping true to his word in his confirmation hearing, when he said, I`m going to let prosecutors make decisions, I`m going to trust their judgment. Clearly the Southern District of New York is wanting to do this, and he decided that he`s going to trust his prosecutors.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, please walk us into the topic of politics about last night, Biden hadn`t even stopped speaking. And the Republicans were dragging him all part of the game. That`s what they do. Does he need them, however?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We actually heard from Senator Tim Scott, who delivered the Republican rebuttal last night. That`s a thankless job. Let`s remember, that`s when Marco Rubio had his infamous reach for the water gaffe of a few years ago, and Scott, for the most part, acquitted himself well, but he landed on an argument in which he said that Biden was simply partisan and divisive. And that`s a tough one to paint on this particular president.

Let`s remember during the campaign, Trump and his allies tried to paint Joe Biden as a socialist, and that didn`t fit either. He`s far more moderate than most of the Democrats who also ran for president. But there`s nothing moderate, though I will say about the size and import of the programs that President Biden laid out last night. This is a transformation of government and changing the roles that government would play in individual`s lives. It would -- it is big, and it`s bold. It`s significant. And it should be mentioned on two things here. First of all, he says the stakes are so high, that its democracy itself, is in the balance that they need to prove the United States government can do big things and do big things well, that therefore a democracy still works and as a rival to the rising autocracies across the globe, like in China. But more than that, this huge multitrillion dollar infrastructure and jobs plan, yes, there were notes of bipartisanship sounded last night, some of them perhaps GOP lawmakers, but the President and his team, they know they don`t need them. They didn`t have any Republicans on Capitol Hill vote for the COVID relief bill, those messages. They were aimed over the heads of those lawmakers at the Republican voters who largely support these measures proposing. But more than that, to the moderate Democrats, Manchin, Sinema, they have to show Biden and his team they want to show, hey, we`re trying for bipartisanship here. But if we can`t get any Republicans on board, you, moderate Democrats stay in line, we`ll get this done.

WILLIAMS: Neal Katyal, we always note your absence around here and it`s OK for our viewers to know you took some time off to work on the Chauvin case, what did that exposure underscore to you on policing perhaps the need for reform across our country?

KATYAL: Working on the case was the privilege of a lifetime with this incredible team led by Attorney General Keith Ellison. And Ellison after we won the case said something at his press conference, which really stuck with me, which is this is just one case, and there are hundreds more, and we need to build on the success of this prosecution. And it`s been so hard to watch just even in the last week since Chauvin`s conviction incident after incident, Brian, of police brutality in this country. And I think we got to take the lessons from what we saw there on video for everyone around the country and world to see and use it as the springboard to further reform. We cannot go on the way we are and there`s a law -- there`s a bill pending in Congress right now called the George Floyd Act, which would end chokeholds and carotid holds, a banner at the federal level, it would say if you`re a state and local officer police department, and you did those things, you`re not going to get federal funding, would require body cameras for cops, it would limit military grade equipment, police officers both play in police departments and this is essential. This must pass and this, you know, Jonathan Lemire was just saying, we should be doing great. Ben (ph) was saying we can do great things. This is, you know, a great thing. But it`s also just, you know, the right thing. It`s a modest thing. And at this point after what we`ve seen, we`ve got to pass this bill.

WILLIAMS: Katie Benner, Bobby Kennedy taught a whole new American generation from his office now occupied by Merrick Garland at DOJ that the Feds can have a role in enforcement around the country. What do you think the DOJ role will end up being on this overarching subject of police reform?

BENNER: So far, it looks like we`re seeing Merrick Garland keep yet another promise that he made during his confirmation that he would be very, very strong on civil rights enforcement, that he would make sure that the Justice Department was part of a national conversation that began last year after the killing of George Floyd, and that it would be part of a conversation about change, changing police. We`ve seen that happen. We`ve seen the Justice department now two times say that was going to investigate police departments that were the heart of these controversies last summer including the Minneapolis Police Department where Officer Chauvin work, and the Louisville, Kentucky Metro Police Department, which was involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor.

And so, we`ve seen those actions happen. And then on the heels of those two investigations, Merrick Garland, his justice department decided to bring hate crimes charges against the men involved in killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a young jogger in Georgia, who was also killed last year against sparking protests.

As we`ve seen the Justice Department takes strong decisive action, we`ve seen the Justice Department want to be part of the national conversation. The tricky thing will be whether the department through its grant making project and whether the administration in total and talk about a piece of police reform that`s become trickier and trickier in light of the defund the police rhetoric, which would be to acknowledge the fact that police officers are often given too much to do. We rely on the police now for drug or drug rehabilitation efforts for mental health effort, just to name few. And can we continue to put those pressures on police and burden them with those things and still expect them to reform?

WILLIAMS: Great point on rethinking versus defunding and still having someone to respond when folks dial 911.

Jonathan Lemire, you get the last word. Jen Psaki and others go out of their way to remind reporters that police reform especially based on race in this country was always part of Joe Biden`s agenda. But at the top of the list, we all know was a then uncontrolled pandemic and a cratered U.S. economy. Where does it rank these days?

LEMIRE: Brian, it`s a priority. But this is the president more than most of his predecessors who`s really aware of the importance of sequencing when it comes to getting legislation through Congress. And it was easy at first. All orders go in the same direction. COVID Relief Bill had to be first, the pandemic was raging out of control, the vaccine distribution needed to be improved and quickly that`s where the money had to go. And now we see him in this huge infrastructure jobs/families program that he`s been unveiling over the last couple of days, including last night, that this is a huge transforming government`s role in society. A lot of anti-poverty measures, again, this had to come next, that checks a lot of boxes from the progressive wish list. Now it gets trickier.

What comes next? Could it be immigration? Could it be guns? Could it be voting rights? Could it be police reform, all vitally important issues, and certainly priorities for Democrats, all the things President Biden as candidate Biden ran upon. Right now, police reform does have some momentum. There`s some suggestion from Republicans, including Tim Scott, that there could be some sort of bipartisan ground here with, it could be reached. Certainly, there seems like there`s more of a chance there for something even if small, rather than even Fournier issues like say guns or immigration, with voting rights looming, in particular later in the summer. That`s the issue that many on both sides of aisle feel will be the ultimate test, the filibuster and whether or not it`s blown up.

WILLIAMS: Much obliged to our big three on this Thursday night, to Jonathan Lemire, to Neal Katyal, another big welcome to Katie Benner, the family is glad to have you. Thank you, the three of you for starting us off.

Coming up for us, they are the only husband and wife team of Republicans to both be censured by the Arizona Republican Party, something our next guest views as something of a badge of honor rightfully. Cindy McCain is standing by to join us to talk about her life story now in print.

And later, he says he was just asking, but when a California politician asks a doctor about tracking devices buried inside the vaccine, in public with a straight face, it does tend to get your attention. All of it as the 11th Hour is just getting underway on this Thursday night.



BIDEN: It`s only been 100 days, but I have to tell you, I`ve never been more optimistic about the future in America. America is on the move again. We`re choosing hope over fear, truth over lies. You`re proving democracy can deliver for the people. We just need to remember who we are.


WILLIAMS: Kind of message we have to get used to again, that message of hope is something Joe Biden had in common with his friend and former Senate colleague, the late John McCain. In her new memoir, Cindy McCain recounts personal details of life with her late husband, his tireless fight for civility and our politics until the very end of his life. She writes, "This is still the same America that John believed in. And maybe we can conduct politics the way John did once again. It requires all of us to take a step back and listen to ideas rather than threats. We also need to be savvier about who we follow."

We are so pleased to welcome to this broadcast, Cindy McCain, author of Stronger: Courage, Hope and Humor in my life with John McCain. Importantly, she also serves as co-chair of the Arizona Governor`s Council on human trafficking and on the McCain Institute`s Human Trafficking Advisory Council.

Mrs. McCain, it`s a genuine pleasure to have you on the broadcast. I learned so many things I did not know which I`m guessing is why you wrote it all down in book form. I want to begin by asking you to tell our audience about your life now and the works you`re involved in?

CINDY MCCAIN, MCCAIN INSTITUTE BOARD OF TRUSTEES CHAIR: Well, thank you for having me on, Brian. And I`m thrilled to talk about the book. But I appreciate the question. The things I`m doing now are the things that have meant the most to me throughout my adult life. I do work on human trafficking. I do work on the issues regarding human rights surrounding human trafficking and in other ways. And I`m also now the chairman of the board the McCain Institute. So I`m tasked with my husband`s legacy. And that to me is probably my most important job to make sure that he`s not only remembered for the things that he did, but the things that he stood for. And people can learn great lessons from that including the quotes that you mentioned from the book.

WILLIAMS: I am so blessed to have known John McCain to have covered him. I regarded a man life correctly as an American hero. There is no account of his life certainly of his captivity that I have not read. And so hearing a presidential candidate attack him, hearing a sitting president attack, John McCain, was the only indication I needed, that our politics had changed. I feared at the time forever, about the Republican Party specifically, do you see a day coming where the Republican Party that your husband knew at the time of his death, will be recognizable again, that things will go back to what we used to call normal?

MCCAIN: I truly believe that. I am a Republican. I did not change my party`s party when I endorsed Joe Biden. I believe in the Republican Party. I believe in what we stand for. And in the ideals, we were once the party that was inclusive, and was the party of Abraham Lincoln. We have lost our way. But I also know that there`s such a thing as a pendulum in politics. And I know, you know that, that, once again, the Republican Party, much like the Democratic Party to will swing back to where they began and the ideals that they were founded on.

WILLIAMS: What they used to call themselves the three amigos, Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, and your husband, and I know family ties with Lindsey Graham have prevented you from saying a negative word about him while others ask what happened to him. Do you think that bedfellows like that politically could ever come together again? I think people liked seeing them together because they realize that stuff was getting worked out. They were bringing other people on board.

MCCAIN: Well, that`s a large part of -- as you know, what I write about in my book, is that John said for John and Lindsay, and of course, the three amigos say, you talked about Joe Lieberman stood for civility and for decency and for honor and integrity, and working together for the good of the country. Again, our large portion of our party has lost its way. But I`m hoping that that we will find our way again, and also not just work civilly and work across the aisle, but do it for the right reasons, do it for the country, not for themselves. And that`s really what John McCain stood for in the things that he lived his life on it, you know, he lived by the Code of Conduct duty on our country. And that was truly how he lives it, now lived his life, but was about being a man in the same way.

WILLIAMS: I loved the portion about, so you meet this guy, you marry into this, let`s say more formidable than average American family, one of the most formidable mothers in law that the United States has ever created no pressure, but your late husband is - there`s a Navy vessel named after generations of John McCain`s. But there you are interested in aviation. So, you become a pilot. We share an interest in all things stock car racing, so you try your hand at that. And to top it off, you spoke so forthrightly about battling addiction. What`s the closing lesson?

MCCAIN: Well, the closing lesson for me was learning to be myself. Those things that you talked about were things that I - some of them were fears, like the fear of flying was a fear that I wanted to get over, the drift racing that was way outside my comfort zone. And all the other things that you mentioned, it was about me really finding my way and finding myself and in all of that, I learned that it`s OK to be imperfect. It`s OK to make mistakes, if you learn from them. And it`s also okay to say no to things. And that`s the best lesson I could ever have learned throughout this life and I was treated to a life of an incredible adventures with my husband.

WILLIAMS: The book is called Stronger: Courage, Hope and Humor in my life with John McCain. Its author, Cindy McCain, has been kind enough to be our guest tonight. Thank you very much. It`s terrific to see you.

MCCAIN: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: What a difference and election makes if you watched last night, then you know, our two political experts are standing by to talk about where they think we are now.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But as much as we done, because a lot more to do. That`s why I proposed the American Jobs Plan. It is it`s a once in a generation investment in America. It`s the biggest jobs plan in this country since World War II.


WILLIAMS: 100 days into his presidency, the president on the road selling his agenda the American people on Biden`s plans for the country. Our friend Dan Balz writes in the Washington Post, quote, the scope and implications of his domestic agenda have come sharply into focus. Together they represent the most dramatic shift in federal economic and social welfare policy since Ronald Reagan was elected 40 years ago.

Two friends are back with us tonight to talk about it. Jason Johnson, campaign veteran himself journalist contributor over at TheGrio and importantly a professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State, Go Bears and Bill Kristol, the author and writer and thinker in Politico, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, editor-at-large over at the Bulwark. Gentlemen, welcome. Been looking forward to this conversation.

Jason, I have something for you. It is a quote from the New York Times, Mr. Biden is validating the desires of a party that feels fiercely emboldened to push a liberal agenda through a polarized Congress. The result is something few people expected. His presidency is transforming what it means to be a Democrat, even among a conservative wing of his party spent decades preaching the gospel of bipartisan bipartisanship. Jason, my friend agree or disagree?

JASON JOHNSON, MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: I agree. And this can go back to a much more centrist democratic party that Barack Obama used to lead, his sort of consigliere Rahm Emanuel always said, never let a good crisis go to waste.

Everything that Democrats thought was possible, as far as transforming everything from infrastructure to certain elements of healthcare, the social safety net, doesn`t seem unrealistic in the face of a once in a century pandemic.

And so, I think Joe Biden has recognized, look, this isn`t just about fitting in ideological bubbles. This isn`t just bringing the AOC wing in the squad together with Joe Manchin, if we don`t do something now, we`ll never have an opportunity to fix some of the huge fissures that we have seen in American society that have happened over the last year.

So, you can call it a left-wing agenda. You can call it a transformative agenda. But Joe Biden will define what it is to be a Democrat probably for the next 20 to 25 years. And if he`s successful, Democrats will be in power in certain parts of the House probably for another good decade or so.

WILLIAMS: Bill Kristol last night was so interesting on so many fronts, as I said, when it was concluded, just stylistically coming off for years of Trump on that kind of monotone drone. Biden lowered his voice to a whisper at times, and he had the whole chamber whether they like him or not, and it played quite intimately, I think, on television screens, I was following you, as I always do on social media. You were kind of trolling for wokeness earlier in the evening, and having found none, it was a pretty much straight up democratic state of the union.

You wrote this, speaking broadly, and recognizing the terms are neither precise nor fully distinguishable. I`d say Obama was a progressive, and Biden is a liberal. This doesn`t mean Biden won`t be more ambitious than Obama in some ways. But it does mean the spirit of their efforts is different. Go into that difference for me, Bill.

BILL KRISTOL. THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: And let you that maybe I was a little unfair to Obama characters. But I do think that Biden`s speech, Jason`s right, it`s ambitious, you can say parts of it are quite sort of left wing, but a lot of parts of it are very traditional, awful lot of that speech could have been given by Hubert Humphrey 40 or 50 years ago, infrastructure, is there a more traditional thing to spend money on? If it`s necessary, giving more money to parents to take care of their kids, forgiving student loans or making community college free? These are -- it`s an expansion of the welfare state, maybe necessary, we can debate how much should be expanded.

But it isn`t progressive in the woke sense. There wasn`t a lot of berating Americans about how guilty they should feel about their past. There was a call to greater racial justice to police reform and other such things. But it didn`t have that tone of voice. Americans that a lot of damage in the world. America has done a lot of bad things at home. It was a patriotic speech. American, don`t never underestimate America to close, right? You`ve always -- you`ll always lose money if you bet against America.

So, I thought it was very much in the tradition. It`s bigger government in the past, but very much in the tradition of FDR, and LBJ and Hubert Humphrey. The one president he quoted was Franklin Roosevelt didn`t mention President Obama, interestingly.

WILLIAMS: A friend of mine in our trade believes that if Hubert Humphrey had not had the nickname happy warrior, it could have been applied to Joe Biden, but reasonable people can disagree. Both of these reasonable gentlemen have agreed to stick around while we sneak in a commercial break, you`ll hardly notice.

Coming up, how the fractures and the Republican Party are being driven further apart if that`s possible by a certain twice impeached retiree living in a Florida golf course.



TRUMP: I think we`re going to do very well. We need good leadership of Mitch McConnell has not done a great job. I think they should change Mitch McConnell.


WILLIAMS: So Trump there today says Mitch McConnell should be dumped as GOP leader in the Senate. Mitch McConnell is a year shy of 80. He has survived polio and Harry Reid and the harshest political attacks imaginable. But he`s scared of only one man like all the other Trump`s supplicants in the party. He will not cross the Florida man with the 32 percent approval rating. Here was McConnell today, just hours after that takedown by Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said that if he got the nomination, you`d stand by him. Do you still say that today?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Well, I`m going to support the nominated Republican Party. I do predict however, there`s going to be a robust competition for the nomination.


WILLIAMS: Remaining with us Jason Johnson and Bill Kristol. Bill, first question goes to you. I`ve asked you if before, take another whack at explaining to me what is it about Trump`s impact, the effect he has on, forgive me, grown ass men and women.

KRISTOL: They think they can sort of (INAUDIBLE), keeping good terms with the trumpets without and not offend them, but also hold the establishment Republicans, win the House, win the Senate and, you know, it`s 50-50 in the Senate, it`s very close to the House. It`s not a crazy political calculation.

But the contrast with Liz Cheney is what really strikes me. And you`ve talked about this before, but Liz Cheney went along with Trump for four years. I used to be pretty close to Liz and we sort of drifted apart over this. So, she supported him, actually she supported him twice in 2016 and 2020. She voted against impeachment. She voted with her most of the time in the House.

But she thought I think, OK, for years, I can sort of navigate this, hold things together. We can live with Trump, and then we`ll move on and have a healthy Republican Party again. I think she was really shocked by what happened after November 3. And then of course, January 6, she voted for impeachment, and she hasn`t backed off at all. And that is pretty.

And so she is now emerged, as I think the non-Trump alter, really future probably for the Republican Party. She`s not backing up at all. The fist bump for Joe Biden last night, you know, it`s a silly little thing in a way but I wonder if we won`t remember that for quite a while as almost as much as some of his job big programmatic proposals in the speech and then, of course, she got criticized by the right by, the trumpets for that. And she had a tweet a few hours ago, that was just to kind of, look President wants to greet me and the floor of the House, I`m going to reciprocate the greeting. They are, yes. So, I responded to civil did -- one wonderful aspect of this issue just says in passing when the President reaches out?

Yes, I mean reminding everyone, Joe Biden is the president, and I`m going to conduct myself differently than all the Trump supporters are with respect to this president of the United States. So, Liz Cheney has set up a --McConnell`s navigating. But Liz Cheney is standing, you know, standing firm, I think.

WILLIAMS: Signs and wonders of the times we`re living in where Liz Cheney has to explain on social media, why she was respectful to the President of the United States. All right, Jason, I got one for you. And the big thanks go to Laura Ingraham for him paddling a town meeting and putting together some red state governors. A gathering from which this quote, emerged. Here is the governor of Florida who wants so very badly to be President of the United States someday, and the subject is race.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I mean, give me a break. This country has had more opportunity for more people than any country in the history of the world. And it doesn`t matter where you trace your ancestry from. We`ve had people that have been able to succeed and all and here`s the problem with things like critical race theory that they`re peddling. They`re basically saying all our institutions are bankrupt, and they`re illegitimate. OK, so how do you have a society if everything in your society is illegitimate, so it`s a very harmful ideology, and I would say, really a race-based version of a Marxist ideology.


WILLIAMS: Jason have at it, you have the floor.

JOHNSON: First off, I would love Ron DeSantis to actually sit in a class where he learned about critical race theory although I doubt, he could get past most of the courses have by friends and colleagues like Jelani Cobb (ph) and Christina Gray (ph) probably wouldn`t pass.

But what it speaks to sort of the intellectual and the rhetorical bankruptcy of the current Republican Party. They`re screaming about fictitious imaginary classes that most of their audience knows nothing about. But it has the word black and race, and it`s so it has to inherently be wrong.

This is the issue that I see. When you have a senior citizen like Donald Trump pretty much running the party, right? Running a lot of Republicans around the country like George`s parents in Florida during Seinfeld, just whining and complaining, and everybody`s life has to run down there and make them happy, regardless of the circumstances. You`re not allowing local leadership to develop around the country. That`s the problem.

Usually, if you are the party in the wilderness, it`s an opportunity from somebody from Ohio, somebody from Texas, somebody else to pop up and become a leader. They don`t have that right now. And the people who they put forward look, you had Tim Scott, speaking last night, I have said this all while. I think Tim Scott is a reasonably smart senator, but he is not at all charismatic. If you give that response speech, you`re going to end up like Rand Paul or Bobby Jindal, or Marco Rubio, the only person who`s ever given a party response that`s done well for themselves is Stacey Abrams. And then you`ve got Ron DeSantis who quite, frankly, has done a mediocre job in Florida.

And while his poll numbers in Florida are OK, I don`t think he`s going to be able to translate that Florida story to the rest of the country. I don`t think he`s going to be able to say that I`m the Florida man that you can actually trust.

And so, unless he can do that, he can give all the speeches that he wants, Laura Ingraham can put together the white power hour, which he does on a regular basis like Tucker Carlson, it doesn`t mean that`s reflective of what this country wants going forward.

So, I think the Republican Party`s in the wilderness. They need some real leaders. They need some people. It`s not just a matter of adding sugar and spice to Trumpism. You got to find a new way because at some point, playing with the margins and voter suppression is not going to be enough to get somebody back in a national office.

WILLIAMS: And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we invite these two friends on the air with us. We are grateful to Jason Johnson and Bill Kristol for taking our questions tonight. Thanks, guys.

Coming up for us. We will literally get a report from the trenches where they are watching to see if Vladimir Putin is bold or dumb enough to send troops into Ukraine again. It`s a tense situation. Richard Engel is there for us.


WILLIAMS: Tonight, their remains the rest of Vladimir Putin will order another Russian invasion of Ukraine despite withdrawal of Russian forces from the eastern border. The threat of conflict is still there along with Russian troops and hardware. Understandably, Ukrainian forces are still on edge.

Tonight, our NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel brings us inside the trenches of the Ukrainian frontlines.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Brian, one of President Biden`s biggest foreign policy challenges is actually playing out right here. These are trenches dug by the Ukrainian military. And they serve one purpose to prevent Russian troops and Russian backed militias from entering Ukraine and seizing more of this country`s territory.

The United States does not want that to happen. The U.S. backs the Ukrainian soldiers who dug these trenches, who man these trenches. And by the way, they serve here up to eight months, sometimes more than eight months at a time. And it`s a nice day today. But when it rains, all of this mud flows down and covers their knees. And in the winter, it is freezing cold, but they stay here to defend their land.

But Vladimir Putin is pushing. He is testing this new administration seeing how far he can go. And earlier this month, Putin deployed tens of thousands of troops not far from here with heavy weapons and he got President Biden`s attention. President Biden warned Putin not to invade. Putin eventually pulled back his troops.

But according to Ukrainian sources, he left many of the heavy weapons nearby. So, this is not over yet. And you could see right here this push and pull with Russia, with Vladimir Putin, seeing how far President Biden will go to defend us allies. Brian.


WILLIAMS: Quite literally a report from the trenches in Ukraine for us tonight, with thanks to our friend Richard Engel.

Coming up. How do they make those electronic tracking devices so small that they fit inside those tiny vaccine needles? Asking for California politician.



TRUMP: I see the disinfectant which knocks you out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, I`m playing that because when Trump said that one year and one week ago, he later said he was being sarcastic. But no one believed that because he was a virus denier from the start. It is the same kind of defense.

We are hearing tonight from a member of the Orange County California Board of Supervisors. Before we show you the exchange where he asks a doctor about potential tracking devices embedded in the coronavirus vaccine. Please know that after about 24 hours of being barbecued on Twitter, this man named Don Wagner now says he was trying to knock down the conspiracy theory that this is a matter of faith and the QAnon community, the same matter of faith that has fueled vaccine hesitancy among Republicans.

So, here`s the moment from the county hearing. And just like Trump`s lung cleaning idea, you`ll be the judge.


DON WAGNER, ORANGE COUNTY SUPERVISOR: Does it do -- is there any intention of tracking folks?


WAGNER: Is there any in the vaccine -- we heard about an injection of a tracking device? Is that being done anywhere in Orange County?

CHAU: I`m sorry, I just have to compose myself. There`s not a vaccine with a tracking device imbedded in it that I know of exists in the world. Period.


WILLIAMS: So now Supervisor Wagner says his aim was to debunk the wild charges he`s been hearing from some of his constituents. Now in other conspiracy theory news, Linwood, the former personal injury lawyer who got famous defending Richard Jewell, who then years later fell so hard for Donald Trump.

At a recent pep rally for the far right, he went big on QAnon to the point of drawing the queue repeatedly in case there were audience members too slow to catch on. Today on social media he posted a story saying Biden is dead and being played by a body double. What himself said he took a walk through the empty rooms of the White House could not find Biden, but found Trump, he`s quoted as saying, quote, President Trump is hanging out and working in the office in which we reelected him to serve in a historic landslide victory on November 3, 2020.

So, now you`re up to date in conspiracy theory news. You can`t make this stuff up, mostly because these folks already did.

That is our broadcast for this Thursday night with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.