tv The 11th Hour With Brian Williams MSNBC February 13, 2017 11:00pm-11:31pm PST
michael flynn accused of not telling the vice president about his contacts with russia. now we're warned he could be a target for blackmail. the question already being asked tonight what did the president know and when did he know it? and how many people in the trump white house have known about it the whole time? also how a threat with north korea played out between courses as diners looked on at the leaders of the u.s. and japan right there in the restaurant of the mar-a-lago. "the 11th hour" begins now. good evening once again from our headquarters here in new york as we start yet another new week. mondays are difficult around here because there is so much each weekend to get our arms around, and this just the fourth monday of this young trump presidency is proving especially
difficult as there are stories on the move right now as we speak. let's start from here. tonight the "washington post" was first to report that nbc news has confirmed back in january the justice department told the trump white house early on that the then-acting attorney general sally yates believed national security adviser michael flynn, the retired three-star army general, had misled senior administration officials about his communications with russia's ambassador to the u.s. yates reportedly believed flynn was, quote, potentially vulnerable to russian blackmail, according to the post. if sally yates' name sound familiar, it's because president trump fired her on january 31st after she refused to defend the travel ban. the "washington post" further reports the justice department thought flynn's actions may even be illegal.
an obscure act called the logan act makes it illegal to get involved in legal disputes. five months after he was sworn into office, he was warned about sanctions coming into the obama white house. when the president hired steve mnuchin, michael flynn failed to answer questio from reporter >> good night. thank you. >> that was at the white house in the early part of the evening. here we are 11:02 p.m. on the east coast, and we have further news on our lead story tonight. for that we go to our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell in washington.
andrea? >> reporter: according to kristin welker and one senior official, the nsa, the acting national security adviser, is general keith kellogg who was the chief of staff. michael flynn has resigned. that has also been reported, i should add, by cnn tonight. kristin welker reporting that tonight. she's basing that on a senior official telling her. all action pointed to this in the last couple hours. this dramatic decision, we reported on nightly news at 6:30 tonight that the decision was now in president trump's hands. this was after sean spicer told reporters at the white house around 5:00 that the president was evaluating the situation. that was an hour after kellyanne conway had said on msnbc that the president had confidence in general flynn. but clearly, this report that has since broken that sally yates, the former acting attorney general, had warned general flynn and members of the white house top team several weeks ago that there was a risk
the russians could be blackmailing general flynn with information about communications with general flynn that he had not reported accurately to his colleagues. brian? >> andrea, for folks just tuning in who haven't followed this story as you and i have today, let me see if i get this right. new sanctions come out in the waning days and hours, really, of the obama administration -- >> correct. >> -- and we expect russia and putin to react, react angrily as they usually do, but they don't. and the absence of a negative reaction causes american intel officials to look back through the intel that they take in all the time, that both sides know they take in all the time. buried in that intel is a conversation between mike flynn, who is poised to be the national security adviser to the incoming president but is then a civilian, a retired u.s. army general.
a conversation between him and the russian ambassador. it is alleged that that conversation included what, andrea? >> well, first of all, the conversation, the timing of it, it was on december 29th, although that was originally denied, but then acknowledged by general flynn. it was on the same exact day that the obama white house was announcing that they were kicking out 35 russian diplomats, accusing them of espionage, and shutting down two major facilities, one in maryland and one on long island. usually it's one person kicked out and there is a tit for tat automatically. this is a protocol going back to the cold war. you kick out one diplomat, another diplomat gets accused of espionage in another country and gets thrown out. in this case 55 diplomats were kicked out, told to go packing in a number of hours, and vladimir putin responds by inviting american diplomat children in moscow to a christmas party.
so obviously the counterintelligence folks at the fbi would have had their antenna out and gone back over what could have happened in those times, and they start looking back over the normal listening in, the intercept of the ambassador and other diplomatic russian diplomats in washington, and lo and behold, what did they find but many communications, not just one, but several communications and texts between the russian ambassador and mike flynn who is poised to be the national security adviser. he had already been announced. he had been meeting with diplomats, and there is nothing wrong with meeting them, getting to know the diplomats who are eager to know all they can about donald trump, because frankly they didn't expect he would be elected. they thought they knew everyone they needed to know around hillary clinton. so it's a scramble in washington and being tasked by heads of state and foreign ministers back home, tell me everything you can
about michael flynn, so it's pretty intense. but michael flynn had a prior relationship with the russians. he knew them well. going back to 2015, he was in moscow sitting at a gala dinner having been paid to attend by the rt, the russian propaganda arm, sitting next to vladimir putin at a black tie dinner. that already causing a lot of buzz in diplomatic circles when he was named security adviser. donald trump himself has said he wanted better relations with vladimir putin, but he never criticizes putin. before the transition and since, he has nothing negative to say about vladimir putin. this sanctioning was met with nothing but sort of a laugh, a smile and an invitation to a christmas party by vladimir putin. that set off a lot of bells, and obviously the counter-espionage
people and the fbi had their task, and there was this report, now we learn from sally yates, the acting ag, and she has subsequently been fired by her refusal to enforce the immigration order, but now a lot of questions are being asked. why was she fired? when did she tell the white house? who in the white house did she tell? who was notified about this? the reporting is that we've confirmed that also dni clapper and john wren knew about it. whether they told their concerns to the white house is another question. >> andrea, the even larger question is what did the president know and when did he know it? already being asked to cross cable tonight, the question made famous by the famous republican from tennessee, howard baker, during a different time in a very different manner. but the question distilled is, did donald trump have any knowledge? was this under his order? or, some say, worse, was his incoming national security adviser somehow freelancing and doing this on his own?
>> the presumption would be that michael flynn was talking and briefing the president-elect about his conversations with the russians, but we don't know that. we do know that almost immediately after vladimir putin said he was not going to retaliate, we had this tweet from donald trump saying, we always knew v. putin was a smart guy. i'm paraphrasing the tweet that came out almost immediately from trump. so there was every signal that there was going to be a softening toward the sanctions from the president-elect, from mike flynn. but we don't know, i should point out hastily, we don't know the substance of that conversation, the one that is in question.
we do know something that we've been reporting here, that the conversation was not as sean spicer had been briefing and he was clearly misled by flynn that it was about christmas, it was condolences for a russian plane that went down, it was almost entirely one of those conversations was about sanctions. it was not just a parenthetical reference. >> andrea, i want to bring in a friend and colleague of ours, eli stogles, white house correspondent. it's early for it to be too late in the evening for politico. one of the signs i had that this resignation could be coming was your piece tonight on the son-in-law of donald trump vetting, considering, calling potential replacements for general flynn, and i heard some surrogates on cable tonight saying that no one had been really responsibly tried under the logan act violation.
here was eli stokel's piece that went up. what are you learning about whether kellogg is going to be acting or permanent? >> we're still trying to figure that out. this is moving pretty quickly tonight. you're right, we did have an understanding that jared kushner had kind of come in the last couple days and taken the lead on this and really started to think seriously about replacing general flynn. kushner probably has more of trump's ear and more trust than anybody else in the white house, and, you know, he stays sort of below, under the radar a little bit, but when it's time to do something big, when it's time to make a change, and we saw this during the trump campaign when it was time to change campaign managers, it was kushner who came and he was usually the impetus of doing that. general petraeus is going to be at the white house tomorrow. that stoked a lot of speculation. and two conflicting stations on your network talking about how flynn still has the full confidence of the president.
and within the hour a statement from the press secretary saying, actually, we're still evaluating. that told you, the only reason they would undercut that statement from kellyanne conway and basically dial it back and say, actually, we're still looking at this, is if things were moving pretty quickly and there was a sense inside the west wing this might happen sooner than later and they didn't want to put out statements that everything was fine when they were about to make a change. >> eli, perhaps they were pushed by events, but your piece made it pretty plain. the wish of the trump white house, at least, was that they wanted someone to name right then and there in the vacuum, and they didn't want to act too quickly without a successor. andrea and others are hearing that general kellogg is at least acting director national security adviser to the president. >> yeah, that's right, and we
don't know how long he'll be in that position, but i think it's right that when jared kushner came in and started compiling this list, the writing was on the wall that they were going to make a move. there was half a dozen or so names that we heard that were being considered for this, and it'sruthey didn't want to come out and make this case, makehis announcement until they had some replacement who was ready to go, who was credible, and i ink, you know, the president had sort of hemmed and hawed about this. we know steve bannon was the next reminder in the string, and president trump doesn't like creating press for him, and this escalated in the last four days, pressing his hand. >> how is it that kellyanne conway can come on television, and within an hour is contradicted by the press secretary. not just that. i want to know from our control room if we can play the tape back of her statement on our air.
was plainly declaretive about the president's trust of the resignation we're covering tonight. we're already gathered outside sean spicer's office. here's the moment as it played out on live television. >> general flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president. general flynn said he can't recall and that he had about 30 phone calls with, i guess, leaders at the time, and since then 70, i'm told, with different leaders, and i'll just leave his comments at that. >> he said that he doesn't recall, as you're saying, doesn't recall discussing sanctions with the russian ambassador, but, quote, couldn't be 100% certain that he didn't. are you saying that's good enough for president trump to consider the matter settled? because again, you had the vice president go out there and say on national television in no uncertain terms that the two of those, the ambassador and flynn, had not discussed the sanctions.
>> i think general flynn's statement speaks for itself. >> kellyanne conway who was then contra dictionaried by the press secretary sean spicer. before we go to andrea mitchell for a breaking detail here, can you shed some light on the short list if, in fact, general kellogg is kind of a place holder and acting head? >> well, we heard some other names that were out there. tom bosser, someone who is working on security at the white house is another name in addition to petraeus. there is a handful of names here. we talked to some people today and they said themselves, if i'm on the list it's news to me. this stuff moves so fast and you got at it in describing the very short time period in between conway's statement and the contradicting statement by sean spicer. there is so much turmoil right now and so much chaos beca the events are moving almost faster than the white house can keep up with even though they're the ones precipitating these
events. it's very difficult to sort of know exactly where things stand at any moment, and it makes our job as reporters difficult because you're talking to people in realtime and things are changing almost as quickly. who was being considered this morning and what the situation was was different than what it evolved to in the afternoon. it is certainly dizzying trying to keep up with the conflicting statements coming from surrogates who are going out and pushing a message and 30 minutes that message is changed. >> let's go back to andrea mitchell in our washington bureau. andrea, you've received the text of the letter. >> reporter: this is the resignation letter dated today from mike flynn who says, in the course of my duties as the incoming national security adviser, i held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers and ambassadors. these phone calls were to ensure a smooth transition and begin to build relationships, et cetera. unfortunately, he says, because of the fast pace of events, i
inadvertently briefed the vice president and others with incomplete information regarding my phone call with the russian ambassador. i sincerely apologized to the president and vice president and they accepted my apology. throughout my over 33 years of honorable military service in my tenure as the national security adviser, i've always served my duties to the utmost integrity. i'm tendering my resignation and honored to serve the american people in such a distinguished way. and he goes on to thank the president for his friendship and firmly believe in what they are doing. this is extraordinary. as kristin welker reported earlier, this resignation was tendered tonight. the acting national security adviser is keith kellogg, who was the chief of staff, but certainly we're noticing
tomorrow on the president's schedule is not only the previously scheduled lunch with chris christie and his wife, who has been critical from the outside of a lot of the things that have been happening, but also we have noticed the attorney general and john kelly, the former general whose home land security secretary are coming to meet with the president as well tomorrow. former general kelly is one person who has been confirmed in the cabinet for homeland, and he could certainly easily move over to become national security adviser. we've also been told that former general petraeus and others, tom bossert, who is the national security expert on counterterrorism, are in the running or at least being looked at by the white house. >> andrea, with a request to you that you not move an inch because things are moving too fast, we want to bring in two more guests who have been very patient at the top of the hour in our broadcast studio. our very own ari velsi. and a veteran of the presidential campaigns of the bush campaign, among others, and you did some work for s christie, i know.
what is this a chance for the trump administration to do? >> i think it's a chance to turn the page. this is obviously a distraction. this is something that kneeled to happen. it's a good thing it happened. my understanding is general kellogg is very well thought of in the white house and will have a lot of support there. i think it's a chance to move forward. but this is one of a dozen distractions going on right now, so getting rid of one distraction is a good thing, but learning from this lesson quick, decisive action, which i think this was, will allow them to turn the page, but they'll have to do this on a number of fronts. >> there's two cover-ups going on here. the fact he talked to the russians doesn't bother most people. the fact he lied about it creates a problem for most people. but this "washington post"
reporting that the acting attorney general, in the days before she was fired by donald trump, warned them that based on information that they had from fbi wire taps that this could happen means that they were in on it. the president and the vice president were in on this, and this is not a small appointment. they don't take -- >> in on it or aware? >> i don't know what the difference is at this point. this is the national security adviser. this isn't the commerce secretary. this is a -- donald trump has gone out of his way with these court cases on immigration to say this is a national security matter and nobody but me has the authority and knowledge to deal with this. i think it's not worth getting past this. i think this is something the entire country has to stop and say, this is not a distraction on the level of the other distractions, talking about nordstrom and things like this. this is the national security adviser and they knew he was compromised. >> he lied to them. it sounds to me from the reporting that certainly the vice president spoke to him about this and he lied to the
vice president and senior staff -- >> at that point when the fbi and the justice department tells you that, that tells you something. michael flynn being sworn in was compromised because of these dealings. if they didn't do that, this had to go up higher than general flynn. >> one of the reasons why this is a thing. we've reflected on this a lot over the past few months. out of nowhere, russia was a campaign issue in our election. why? because one candidate, one president-elect, now one president in the modern era has thought of and surely spoken of russia and its former spy leader in a different way. dare i say he has bent over backwards to paint them in a good light. that's why this was a thing. >> nobody would have been snooping around at this if on the day that president obama imposed those sanctions because
the administration had felt that russia had been tampering with the election. if on that very day the response from russia would have been as you and andrea were talking about, normal, tit for tat, nobody would have thought anything about it. but we just every day keep on getting amazed further and further by the responses we're getting to things and they started digging. it does seem to be reported information that the intelligence agencies also thought that strange and then started digging and figured out what they figured out. >> mike, we don't ask our democratic guests to answer for all democrats, nor do we ask of our republican guests to answer for all republicans, but we're -- this is the fourth monday of this administration. the president has already been in a kind of pitched battle with a federal court -- one could argue federal judges as a job category -- and now this, losing a big marquee name, someone who goes back with him, a general fired by obama, one of the first
guys with any steel on his shoulder to support donald trump. what does this mean about this still young presidency? >> i think this is a very tough place to go through growing pains. donald trump has never been in office before. some of the people around him haven't been in positions like this before. no matter what you've done in your life, it's hard to imagine preparing to be president of the united states. i think they're going through some growing pains and a really tough place to go through these growing pains, and i hope they turn the page on this as quickly as they can. i understand the need to get this vetted, but i think most americans would like things to be going better. we're all americans and we would like this to go a little bit better, a little more smoothly or at least have the confidence that things will go well should there be a crisis or anything like that. right nopele don't feel this way, and there's a chance there cod be take ttle bit of a reset, one, because trump appeared to be a strong leader. i think there's a chance to show that but that needs to follow. >> if donald trump were to name stephen hadley from the bush
era, we would be so relieved about how the west wing would start functioning and america speaking with one voice overseas. i'm not sure that's possible. >> someone who worked for president bush could be very confident, and people around you had to question their abilities, and that's what donald trump needs to do. he needs to bring in the best and the brightest. there are still a lot of unfilled positions around and he needs to bring in people who are unquestioned in their ability. >> as opposed to being unquestioned in their loyalty, which nobody doubts about michael flynn. he was early and he was fierce. has to think about getting people who weren't loyal to him or even interested in his campaign but were really good, as you say. >> i think loyalty helps because you have to be in it for the principal, you can't just be in it for the title, but ultimately you need people that are that good.
>> famously at the gop convention he was one among others who began the chant "lock her up." eli for politico, eli, i'm hearing more and more that there are employees in the west wing who are choosing to go on television to be heard by the boss, to get face time with the boss who, more than other media, takes in information most easily via television. is that possibly conceivably true? >> i think that's definitely true, and i think that the statement from spicer was a reaction to what kellyanne conway said on msnbc earlier this afternoon. so i think there is no doubt that trump sits there, he watches a lot of television, he responds to what he sees on television, and sometimes the people who go on and think they're doing a good job,
sometimes it works and other times, you know, he's not so impressed with the message they're sending on television or the way they're representing his administration. i think generally the chaos that's being broadcast on television and about this administration that is sort of in plain sight for everyone to see is one of the reasons that's making it difficult for the trump white house to bring in the so-called best and brightest. they're struggling to fill a communications director position right now, so now if you want to go out and have a search for a new national security adviser, the difficult thing is there aren't a lot of people in washington, and this may have been true after the campaign but certainly hasn't gotten any better after the last 23 days, there are a few people in washington who are actually ready to go work for this white house who think that's a good career move at this point. stunning to say that people in politics spent their whole lives thinking about going to the white house are nervous and wary about working in this administration. but given the bumpiness so far, i think it's understandable also.
>> eli, here's the other thing. the question about kellyan conway, when she came out and said that the general had the trust of the president, was she speaking for herself? and if you're reince priebus, who let's not forget was another topic of interest this weekend when he was criticized by a prominent republican and friend of donald trump. if you're reince priebus, you see kellyanne with one viewpoint, spicer contradicting her within the hour with another. what do you do about managing that west wing? >> it's very difficult to manage that. the ceo of newsmax, chris ruddy, actually came out today and walked back what he said about reince priebus. so clearly donald trump wasn't real happy with what he said after his 30-minute meeting over the weekend at mar-a-lago. but it is difficult. there are so many mixed messages coming out of this west wing, it's difficult to get a handle
on this. i think kellyanne conway, when she did that interview with steve kornacki this afternoon, she was doing what you would think an administration would want, sort of a textbook pr play, until anything has happened, basically saying everything is fine. of course he has the president's full confidence. i think the fact they came out and undercut that statement so quickly was really a glaring clue about which way this was heading. >> eli, thank you. chris matthews has called in and joins us by telephone tonight on television. chris, what do you make of this news? >> well, it fits a pattern. if you've noticed president trump doesn't carry dead bodies along with him. when somebody gets in trouble in terms of ethics or whatever, in terms of just being heavy baggage for him and are politically dead, he dropped rudy. before he dropped rudy, he dropped chris christie. he just drops them. i think he knows if he travels light he can make it, but he's not bringing along anyone else who has been killed. i think he thinks michael flynn has been killed politically when he lost trust with the vice president and when he went on record with the chief of staff, he just had lied himself into oe
-- oblivion, basically. trump is not going to acknowledge anybody who is dead. he has a lot of things to do getting this administration taking off. it hasn't taken off yet. it's sort of sitting on the runway, waiting. it's not a honeymoon, it's just the opposite. he's made some good appointments. gorsuch is a good appointment in terms of the court, in terms of the administration. certainly tillerson, he's got a good cia director, a good defense chief. he's in good shape with mad dog. i think he thinks if he sticks with those people, he'll be okay. but when those three people, the director of cia, the defense chief and the secretary were all having problems with flynn, flynn had to go. flynn's job is to choreograph, as you know, the three main elements of the president, his
stability, his intelligence. he gets up in the morning, from hearing from his national security adviser to tell him what everybody is telling him and distilling it from him. when those three people didn't trust him to distill from him to bring information to trump, he's dead. i'm still astounded by it tonight. when i talked to phil rutger at the post today, and the times and the post are in tremendous competition right now with all their resources. this is really a heavy-duty operation to get the story out every hour between those two great papers. the journal is also involved in it, the wall street journal. the help they're getting is incredible. it's not just the professional people on the nfc, it's the