tv The 11th Hour With Brian Williams MSNBC December 20, 2018 11:00pm-12:00am PST
>> michael moore gets tonight's last word. "the 11th hour" with brian williams starts right now. the most grave and consequential of the trump presidency thus far. defense secretary jim mattis has resigned in protest of trump's policies. the government's on the verge os a shutdown after the president demands money for his border he wall. and on wall street, the markets in chaos as stocks tank. market now facing the worst december since the '30s. and on top of the syria troop draw-down, another one being considered, half the american force in afghanistan. former secretary of state john kerry will join us as "the 11th hour" gets underway on this thursday night. well, good evening once again from our nbc news headquarters here in new york. this was day 700 of the trump administration, and here is what we are dealing with and covering
tonight. put it this way, the usual order in our government is not in it place tonight. the diligence that dictates the behavior of the white house in normal times is not in place. here is a loose tally of where we are.re the president of the united states, under criminal investigation, his children facing possible legal jeopardy, is threatening to shut down the federal government tomorrow at midnight over funding for his border wall, which he describeda today as being more like steel slats.li the u.s. senate is being called back to washington from their christmas break for a vote on border wall funding that as of now will fail. the defense secretary announced his resignation today because he cannot go along with the at president's policy, which includes a surprise pull-out of u.s. forces from syria that trump posted on twitter. and today's news that a pull-out of half the u.s. forces in afghanistan is under consideration.
defense secretary mattis, a four-star marine general, was openly referred to as the human guardrail in this administration, the last adult in the room. add to that this chart, the stock market just so far this week and headed for the worst december since the 1930s. here is "the new york times" headline tonight, congress, the military and the markets were all in upheaval on thursday. they go on to explain to their readers, the news is too much to fit in one story. we will try our best to get to all of it here tonight.t we begin with the resignation letter of defense secretary mattis.e it reads in part, and we quote, my views on treating allies wit respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. we must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive toe
our security, prosperity, and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances. because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, i believe it is right for me to step down from my position.t the reaction from lawmakers. well, the majority leader mitch mcconnell released an unusual statement on mattis that reads, in part, quote, i am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president. democratic senator mark warner of virginia wrote on twitter tonight, this is scary. secretary mattis has been an as island of stability amidst the chaos of the trump id administration. and as we mentioned, a partial government shutdown is looming after trump said he is not accepting a bill without his border wall funding attached to it. most members of congress were hopeful that trump would sign a short-term funding bill.
the senate passed on wednesday, but this morning trump reportedly went into what "the washington post" is reporting as a tailspin over the bill with no wall funding after being urged by conservative media and the house freedom caucus to fight for his wall.aiin >> and i would argue, it's not a punt.s a punt actually helps improve the field advantage. n this is a fumble, and we need to make sure that the president stays firm, and a lot of people are very nervous this morning about whether the president will cave or not. >> i think that not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration. forget mueller. the wall, the wall, the wall has to be built. >> four times we promised him that we would build the wall and put it on the spending bill.d and now we're saying, no, we're going to keep -- >> one person briefed on the conversation told nbc news that the freedom caucus chairman, mark meadows, republican of north carolina, spoke to trump multiple times last night and then again this morning and that
meadows' resistance to the short-term bill impacted the president's thinking.sh in a meeting at the house today with house republicans including house speaker paul ryan and meadows, trump said he would not sign any bill without money for the wall.mo after the meeting, a somber-looking paul ryan addressed the cameras as one of his last official acts as f speaker of the house. >> the president informed us he will not sign the bill that came up from the senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security.is >> so, here's what happened. just hours ago, the house republicans added $5 billion in border wall funding to the senate bill and sent it back to the senate where it would need 60 votes and thus is considered dead on arrival. the senate is set to reconvene at noon tomorrow. earlier tonight, democratic leaders, nancy pelosi and chuck schumer, addressed this looming shutdown and the events of this day. >> the president is doing everything that he can to shut
the government down. you have to ask the question, why does he not believe in governance?es does he not care about the american people? doesn't he know that the economy is uncertain? hasn't he followed the stock market that he likes to brag about sometimes?et there is something wrong with this picture. >> president trump is throwing a temper tantrum and creating the trump shutdown of the government. >> phil rucker of "the washington post" reports tonight this way, trump has been isolated in bunker mode in recent weeks as political and personal crises mount according to interviews with 27 current and former white house t officials. let us bring in our lead-off panel on an eventful thursday night. phil rucker, pulitzer prize winning white house bureau chief for "the washington post." andrea mitchell, nbc news chief foreign affairs correspondent
and the host of "the noon hour eastern time" on weekdays on this very network. and jeremy bash, former chief of staff at cia and the pentagon, former counsel to house intel. and, jeremy, it is your past as someone who knows general mattis and has worked with him. how bad did it have to get for him to do this? second part of the question, where do you assess our risk right now?s >> extremely bad, brian, because secretary mattis has told confidants over the past several weeks that he was not going to quit out of fatigue or frustration. he would stand his ground unless the president asked him to do un something that secretary mattis believed was manifestly not in the interest of american national security. and here comes the president directing, ordering the nt secretary of defense to pull out of syria, possibly to take downf our troop levels in afghanistan, to destroy the alliance structure that has kept us strong since world war ii. and, in essence, to see a lot of territory and game to iran and
russia in the middle east, that was enough for jim mattis. he's gone.t he's been pushed out and president trump has jumped a key guardrail. and, brian, tonight i think he is driving american foreign policy into uncharted territory. and i think what is of concern tonight is that when adversaries see the united states in such chaos and such dysfunction, both domestically and internationally, that is a recipe for mischief by our adversaries. >> andrea, what is your further reporting on what got this bad that it led to his resignation?w >> i think it was precisely that syrian -- the precipitous syrian withdrawal over his objections. he tried to talk him out of it at the final meeting when he dib resign and also the plans being asked to draw down troops in afghanistan, because jim mattis thought that he had persuaded the president time and time again since april, again in t september, the syrian plan would not work, the withdrawal would not work. and this was abandoning the
syrian kurds, abandoning them to whatever erdogan would want to do to them.og and this was really hatched and finalized with a call to erdogan on friday. first brought up at the g20 in argentina about three weeks ago and then again on friday. so he was ignoring all of the th advice of mattis.wa and i have to tell you how extraordinary this is. i consulted with our historical guru, michael beschloss, ours collectively and yours in particular and mine. and this has never happened. a defense secretary never in american history has resigned in protest.fe there have been two historic references where a foreign policy advisor -- cy vance i covered that in 1979 under jimmy carter and william jennings brian in 1915 under woodrow wilson for being too war
like. someone must have resigned in protest from the national security team, but no one since then. think of it. and this letter, without any salutation, no thank you, no it's been a privilege. this was extraordinary. it was a tutorial. and it's very alarming to our nato allies and other allies around the world.it i was talking to one nato minister very concerned that this might happen just 24 hours ago.d >> you are so right, that every resignation letter in official washington contains that cursory sentence what a privilege and sh honor it's been to serve the president, fill in the blank. this letter conspicuously without that.ve phil rucker again tonight spectacular reporting on your part. >> thank you, brian.ke >> the president in the midst of a tailspin. tell our viewers who haven't read your work yet, the rucker, costa, dossi trio, how bad it got in the west wing, how bad it is tonight and who's left? >> well, it's quite bad tonight, brian. we talk about the chaos in the west wing. but this is really a new chaptee that we seem to be entering.
you know, it's not just trump critics who are alarmed, but n some of trump's own administration officials past and present and his political friends and allies. one former senior official talked to tonight said there may be an intervention that is needed and said that it is noteworthy that mattis did not resign only over policy, but also over what this official termed the madness from the president. so there is a real sense of concern.ic t and what you have inside the oval office with what the president is doing is just so much pressure mounting on him, he sees these legal cases ti mounting, the pressure mounting on him and his family and his children. he sees that mueller is nearing the conclusion. that report could be out in a matter of weeks into the new year.be he's got democrats taking over the house of representatives. he still is not comfortable yet with how to govern, how to be a president in a divided washington where his party doesn't control both houses of n congress.
and you have all of this, and he's trying to exercise his power. he's trying to silence the critics in his own base, the ann coulters, the rush limbaughs who have been banging the drums all week about the wall.he and he feels very boxed in and without a lot of options and he's lashing out.y >> but, phil, as you know and as you've pointed out, if the coulters and limbaughs carry the day, the government gets shut down four days before christmas, the optics are bad. the reality is bad. and so walk us through the psychology of that, what many people see as setting himself ut for failure because 60 votes don't exist for it in the senate. >> well, to begin with, president trump has taken ownership of whatever shutdown is going to come. w he said last week in the oval office with nancy pelosi and chuck schumer that he would be proud to shut down the government. that is a sound bite i am sure we are going to be hearing again and again and again, if indeed the government shuts down. so set that aside. what trump is trying to do, according to our reporting, is show that he's fighting. he wants to show the base that he's fighting for this wall.
his aides recognize that the wall funding is likely never going to materialize simply because it cannot pass the senate today, and it certainly won't be able to pass the house in january when it's under democratic control. but trump just wants to fight. the problem, according to the people we're talking to, is he does not have a plan for what to do beyond simply fighting and protesting and demanding the wall funding and delivering that ultimatum to congress.at there's no plan for how he ends this. there is no real plan for what to do when the government shuts down. remember, he is scheduled to leave tomorrow on his own christmas vacation down to mar-a-lago in florida. i'm planning to be on that trip. we'll see if the plane takes off. i suspect it probably won't if there is a shut down. but, again, everything is limbo -- in limbo right now and there is real chaos in the white house. >> we note they have taken the departure time off the official schedule for tomorrow. jeremy, i'm sitting here thinking of what you just said about our vulnerability, and then listening to phil, we've got the markets in the tank. we've got a potential government shutdown. the whole world is watching.
it reminds me of crimson tide with the exception that denzel isn't around to help us out of our current situation. but a key scene in the movie is they call a missile drill during a fire in the kitchen because it's all about being ready when you're vulnerable. are you convinced, given your years experience at the pentagon for starters, that no one tries any funny business, that the united states will present its usual muscular presence to the world? >> well, the problem, brian, and this was illustrated not only on the "uss alabama," but in real life, when you have chaos and dysfunction and you have a government that actually cannot work, that gives a signal to our adversaries -- and i'm thinking in particular about th' russians, in particular about places like the baltics, like l estonia, where they may want to test the resolve of the united states at this hour. they may want to understand whether or not our government is functioning properly, whether or
not our chain of command is truly intact. now, i think we know and, of course, we know domestically that it is. but again, this is -- this may be a moment of miscalculation by our adversaries. and so, again, if i were in the intelligence community or at the pentagon, i'd be on a higher state of alert tonight because i think our adversaries are not fully comprehending what is going down in our nation's capital. >> andrea, you talked about similar moments, searching your mind and beschloss' and i'll take that bet any day for similar resignations. you've covered a great many presidencies and a great many r consequential days. and i'm right there behind you. can you think of any chain of events in the course of one day in a presidency that quite matches this? >> no, i can't, and it's the confluence of the markets who are reacting, of course, this is all a vicious cycle now, not a o virtuous cycle. and it's markets reaction. it's obviously the shutdown
threat and the lack of any coherent outcome for this. i mean, with the senate and the house now in such deadlock because paul ryan thought they had a deal that mitch mcconnellh does not go to the senate flooro with anything without knowing that there is a deal there, everyone thought there was an agreement until the tweets and the signals from the white house. the president is objecting to this without a plan, as we've just been saying, without a plan for coming out on the other side. so there's no way out that anyone can see without him backing down, and that is not likely to happen. the other thing that was so offensive, and it may be a minor thing, but i think it affected jim mattis. i was talking to john allen, hi a four-star marine, retired general today, and deeply offended by that video. the tweeted video about the syrian withdrawal evoking -- invoking, i should say, the heroes, the men and women who have died in the fight against isis and saying, you know, pointing up and saying, they're
looking down at us and basically saying that they are approving d of this -- >> speaking for them -- >> -- political gesture and speaking for them, speaking in their name and general allen ng said, he has no right to speak for them with such contempt. and i think that others, you know, others whom we all know in the military really were rs offended by that, the politicization of our fallen soldiers. >> well, it's a grim night in washington, andrea, as you were talking, and we took the live picture of the capital dome tonight kind of matching the mood. sheets of rain are falling. yet those spotlights are cutting through the fog as everyone hopes reason will cut through all of this, starting first thing tomorrow morning. our thanks to philip rucker, andrea mitchell, jeremy bash on this consequential night for starting our conversation up and coming up, special guest on day 700 of this administration, former secretary of state john kerry will react to this chaotic day and night. and later, more on tonight's
the defense secretary's abrupt resignation today came a day after the president's decision to withdraw troops from syria. mattis met with the president, tried to dissuade him, but did not prevail. in his letter, mattis writes, one core belief i've always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and
comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. while the u.s. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. well, with us tonight by telephone, former secretary of state john kerry. he served in that role under president obama from 2013 to '17. before that, a member of the u.s. senate representing massachusetts for 28 years. and, mr. secretary, where moments of peril in the modern era are concerned, how great is this one? >> well, it is an enormous consequence, brian, in terms of our own governance and in terms of the ability of other nations to miscalculate and to allow a vacuum to continue with respect to american leadership. i mean, secretary mattis, a
united states marine -- marines don't quit ever. he's not -- he's clearly not leaving because he's tired or because aspects of the job affect him. he's leaving and he states it so clearly in four very power-packed paragraphs of his letter, in which you read one of the sentences most important that you have to have a strong alliance and you have to show respect to allies. he clearly believes that's not happening and the world understands that's not happening. then he talks about how you have to be resolute and unambiguous dealing with threats. and then he points to china, russia, and he makes it very clear that we're not calling that shot. and then he talks about treating allies with respect to being clear-eyed about where we go. so, i find it quite dramatic, and it's underscored, no one should under estimate the last sentence of the letter. "i very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform." not a word about serving the commander in chief, about serving the administration,
serving the president. so, this is a very powerful statement, and it has broad implications. i have confidence in our country, and i have confidence in the people who will be at the defense department as he transitions. he's going to transition appropriately. so i think we need to understand the sort of two layers of danger here. the first is the ability of people to misinterpret now and america walking away from syria, walking away without getting anything. no negotiation for how it might be resolved, how we might bring about peace, what might be the resolution to assad. for president putin and for the iranians, this is a day of an enormous christmastime gift of unbelievable proportions, but the second tier on which this is
important is the long term. there are opportunity costs here, and already we are seeing the implications at home in terms of the marketplace and so forth, but our leadership, our leadership is going to be questioned. i was talking to somebody today on the telephone in another country who just blurted out to me and said, i've been to all these meetings, the united states is absent. this is someone in another country pointing out to me what they observe about our country. so i think the implications of this are very, very serious. and, frankly, we need other players in the congress who have sat on the sidelines, happy to talk at night over dinner and with their friends in the cloakroom about how absolutely chaotic this white house is. but not willing to stand up against party, president, and power in order to protect the constitution and the country. and this is a moment where that judgment has to be made, i think.
>> mr. secretary, i was texting with a marine friend of mine just before the broadcast. your quote about marines don't quit has already been memorialized on the graphic at the bottom of our screen. you are so right. marines don't quit, but this marine, so attuned to the chain of command, resigns when he feels he can't carry out the orders from his commander in chief and only under those circumstances. >> well, he made it very clear in his, in his letter that there are certain things he believes are critical in order to protect the united states of america. he believes -- i share the belief. i think just walking away from syria is an absurd loss of leverage. it is an insult to people who put their lives on the line there to simply say, okay, i'm out of here. but without any process, without honoring the nature of honoring the nature of
decision-making about big decisions that affect security and nation and credibility. and none of that is evidenced here. you know, i remember months ago senator corker, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, said that the white house is an adult day-care center. people all through the congress know this, brian. people in our nation know it. they have read bob woodward's book. they read the wolff book. there is no secret about how chaotic this is. increasingly, there is no secret about how corrupt it is. and it's obviously not just corrupt on a question of criminality level. it's corrupt in terms of keeping faith with american principles, keeping faith with the direction of the country the way we need to go, and the way we need to govern ourselves. so i think this is not -- this is a continuation of a crisis that too many people have been too content to live with. and i think we have to be resolute ourselves about believing in the strength of our institutions, which i do, and i am convinced that we'll get
through it, but it's not without great cost, not without great cost. and, by the way, pulling out -- i don't know. i've listened to the bragging about the god-given ability to be the best negotiator in the world. he doesn't negotiate. he walks away from the tpp, gets nothing. he puts three-quarters of it in the deal with canada, by the way, and mexico. walks away from the climate change deal, notwithstanding all the evidence that is there. walks away from the iran deal without negotiating a way to bring our allies on board and create a unity of effort to get a follow-on agreement and now walks away from syria. so this is the great walk-away presidency, you know, and i think people are going to notice it. >> on an important night, our thanks to john kerry for calling
in and reaching us by telephone. mr. secretary, thank you so much for being on the air with us tonight in reaction to today's news. our next guest responded in realtime on twitter, and one got our attention. after word of mattis' resignation, tom nichols had this caution, our national security is in danger. i do not say this lightly. we know him well enough to confirm that he doesn't say this lightly, and with us tonight is tom nichols, a professor of national security affairs, a at the u.s. navy war college and a specialist on russian affairs. tom, i realize you don't speak for the armed forces. you speak for tom nichols, but all your life's work and experience goes into this. what kind of danger, in your view, are we in and what worries you? >> i'm especially worried that our opponents -- and jeremy bash actually brought this up earlier and i agree with him -- our opponents are watching this. this does not happen in a vacuum. it's not happening in secret
that our opponents are following the president's twitter feed. they are following these events. they've read the secretary's resignation letter, and i think they may well believe that we are simply paralyzed and incapable of functioning. i think that would be a terrible miscalculation on their part. but it's certainly a conclusion that it would be easy for them to reach at this point because one of the important things here is this was not just a mere difference of policy. i think, you know, the secretary's letter was pretty clear about a major disconnect on principle, and that, i think, leaves a wide opening for states that mean us harm to -- it leaves the field open for them to make their play. and i'm really concerned about that. i think that this kind of collapse, of coherence in an already chaotic white house really does expose us to foreign dangers, and i think we're going
to be in that situation for a while to come now. >> so, taking your argument that we are -- the whole world is watching, as they say, and we are in this time of peril, do you feel it's a done deal that the next person in this job could be an ideologue? >> i can't imagine how the search for the next secretary is going to go. one of the things that was clear is that the secretary wasn't being listened to. the president doesn't take expert advice. he's not interested in it. he doesn't want to be told about things that are not possible or nuanced or complex. he wants to be told that what he wants to do is -- can be done. and the job of every good expert and cabinet secretary is to speak truth to power, is to tell the boss the truth. and clearly the president is just not interested in that. i think it was phil rucker earlier who referred to the president as bunkered at this point. and that doesn't really lend
itself to a president who wants to hear advice. the president who is not really fond of expert advice even on a good day, but especially not now. >> well, because you are not given to hyperbole, what you said today really did get our attention. thank you for paying such close attention to our broadcast. we appreciate it. tom nichols, thanks for making yourself available to us tonight. coming up for us on this broadcast, our new reporting on robert mueller's time line in the russia investigation. we'll be back with that after this. i'm alex trebek here to tell you
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welcome back. and as we keep saying on this eventful evening, there are also indications the mueller investigation could soon reach its conclusion. soon meaning in a matter of weeks. nbc news is reporting the special counsel, quote, is expected to submit a confidential report to the attorney general as early as mid-february, dead of winter, that's according to government officials and others familiar with the situation, as they say. when complete, mueller's report will go first to the head of the justice department. now, remember, currently that happens to be acting attorney general matt whitaker who has publicly criticized, some say prejudged, the russia investigation. nbc news also reporting the justice department has concluded there is no legal reason for whitaker to take himself out, recuse himself from overseeing
that investigation, but they add an agency ethics official did suggest he step aside. late tonight, nbc news obtained a copy of a justice department letter sent to congress that explains all of this. "washington post" reporting whitaker disregarded that recommendation after his hand-picked team of advisers suggested he stay and not recuse himself. now whitaker apparently has no plans to step aside. well, with us to talk about it, cynthia oxney is back with us, a former federal prosecutor and a veteran of the justice department who also during her time worked with robert mueller. so, cynthia, does february sound about right, and where do you think we are in this? >> it doesn't sound right to me. i would like it to be right. i'm dying to see the report, but it just doesn't -- it doesn't sound right to me unless he's going to do some kind of partial report. think about what's outstanding. he has to make a decision about follow-up questions for the president and whether there is
going to be a subpoena. don junior has not been interviewed or been in the grand jury. jared kushner has been interviewed but not been in the grand jury. ivanka trump has not been interviewed or been in the grand jury. corsi has been indicted, both essentially promised he would be indicted. he just won a battle for subpoena for what we believe are banking records overseas. which he can't even receive the records yet. so there's just a lot to do. and there aren't enough hours in the day, i think, to be done in february, unless it's some kind of partial report. >> and what do you make of whitaker's role, and does that -- i don't know -- does that pose any legal danger as you see it? >> well, i mean, whitaker should recuse himself. i mean, it's completely ridiculous that he has a double secret probation group of advisors that he refuses to say who they are. and then when the ethics people say, you should recuse, the double secret probation people say he doesn't have to recuse
and so he doesn't do it. so, as a first point, that's just a very bad sign for the investigation, that he is willing to bend over backwards like that and turn himself into a noodle to supervise this investigation that he has no business supervising. i think there is a critical mass about the report that is going to be very hard for them to put it in a drawer and hide it. there will be some negotiation about it because much of the report will include grand jury material. we call that 6e material, and it has to stay secret. so there will be a pull and a push to figure out what can be released, but i just cannot imagine there is any way not to release this report. well, thank you -- >> i would say one other thing -- i'm sorry. one other thing about the prediction, the constant predictions that we get. not because of this report, because obviously the reporters are two outstanding reporters. but, you know for now, a year
and a half, we heard this investigation was about over. on some level that hurts the investigation because it gives people the impression that since nothing's coming, he must not have anything. that just isn't so. that concerns me about the drip, drip, drip of it's coming any day now. >> frank figliuzzi, as he often does, said something that perked our ears up today on the 4:00 hour. i want to play it for you, see if you concur. >> matt whitaker today stands on a conflict of interest cliff. he has a choice to make. he can leap off that cliff and spend the rest of, say, the next year or so testifying before congress, testifying to the special counsel, being interviewed by fbi agents, maybe even testifying before a grand jury, or he can do the right thing, the smart thing, and stay the heck away from the special counsel. we are about to see how bright and how ethical this acting attorney general is. and if the past is prologue, nicolle, with regard to trump associates, my money is on dumb and corrupt.
>> cynthia, what do you make of that? >> he's just so concise. i think he's already jumped, though. i mean, i think he's already jumped off the cliff. and we got that letter this evening, soon to be chairman nadler has been asking for a long time, what has been the ethics review? give us some information about the ethics review. has it been to the professional responsibility people? and the justice department has been stonewalling. and then tonight in day 700 of chaos, they send this letter that basically says he absolutely has jumped off the cliff and fully intends to supervise the investigation. so i think frank is being hopeful and i'm not. >> well, i don't know whether to thank you or not for laying out all the stories we have yet to cover and the work yet to be done as you see it by this mueller effort. but i rather think you may be right. cynthia, always a pleasure, thank you for returning to our
broadcast, cynthia oxny. coming up, veteran senators who say these are scary times. as of today, what to look for from this white house in crisis when we come back. going to get motivated... get stronger... get closer. start listening today to the world's largest selection of audiobooks on audible. and now, get more. for just $14.95 a month, you'll get a credit a month good for any audiobook, plus two audible originals exclusive titles you can't find anywhere else. if you don't like a book, you can exchange it any time, no questions asked. automatically roll your credits over to the next month if you don't use them. with the free audible app, you can listen anytime, and anywhere. plus for the first time ever, you'll get access to exclusive fitness programs a $95 value free with membership. start a 30-day trial today and your first audiobook is free. cancel anytime and your books are yours to keep forever.
i like generals. i think generals are terrific. you know? they go through schools and they sort of end up at the top of the pyramid. >> first thing is that -- and i love great generals. i love general mcarthur. >> did our generals do a great job? did our military do a great job? >> mad dog, he's great. he is great. i asked one of the generals -- i love the generals. but i said to him, you're a good general, aren't you? yes, sir, i am. i said, so, how do you compare to general mattis? how do you compare to mad dog? >> president trump has often heaped praise on the military leaders he hired to start off this effort and work in the
white house. they were often dubbed the adults in the room. he loved it early on when someone told him that general mattis' nickname was mad dog. trump liked that branding. the truth was, while mattis has earned four stars on his shoulders the hard way in the marine corps, he was equal parts warrior and scholar, a well-trained fighter and a well-read man. since he arrived at the pentagon, some have taken to calling him by a different nickname, moderate dog, for his moderating influence in the trump circle. and today we learned he was the last to go, the last of the generals, the so-called human guardrail in the trump administration is coming down. with us tonight to talk about it, general barry mccaffery, decorated combat veteran of the vietnam, two-time recipient distinguished service cross, former battle field commander in the gulf war, retired u.s. army
four star general and jill colvin, in the trenches for the associated press these days. thank you both very much for coming on. general, just last night, you said of jim mattis, he won't quit. you talked about his service to the marine corps. my question to you is how bad do you think it got to lead general mattis to leave? >> well, i don't think it was syria. i think the bottom line was we've had over the past two years of the trump administration an increasing sense that there is no national security foreign policy process. the branches of the u.s. military, soft power, military power, intelligence, covert action, are completely uncoordinated. we seem to have a unilateral lone ranger approach of an impulsive president of the united states who frequently arrives at bad decisions and does so unilaterally.
and in some cases, by one-on-one direct negotiation with dictators of one sort or another, erdogan, putin, duterte in the philippines. so i think it finally got to the point that secretary mattis, who as you say is a defense intellectual, very thoughtful man, he's idolized by the armed forces. i think he finally said, look, i don't want to be associated with this going forward. >> do you think we're necessarily headed for an ideologue in this job? >> well, our constitution, article 1, deals with the congress, and one of the major powers of congress is senate approval of senior officials. every second lieutenant, every four-star general, i've been confirmed by the senate four times in the military and in civilian office. so i don't think they're going to allow the wrong person, a crazy, into that position. they better not. three people have enormous power over the american people, domestic security and foreign policy.
the secretary of defense, quite obviously, the secretary of homeland security, and the attorney general. we've got an attorney general -- i don't understand why he's in office. he has not been confirmed by the senate. secretary of homeland security is about to go. and now we've had mattis resign. one good note, though, brian, that needs to be said, the pentagon, 2.1 million men and women in the u.s. armed forces globally deployed, high technology, the civilians the best in the we've had in 25 years. so deputy secretary patrick shanahan -- we're going to hear more about his name, a boeing senior secretary, the service secretaries are a very capable lot. chairman of jcs dunford, a dedicated four-star marine, former marine corps commandant. i don't think we're in short
term in trouble. but the congress better step up to their constitutional responsibilities. >> jill, the general just ran through some of the names. we've put together a graphic that is rather incredible. these are just senior folks. mattis, tillerson, sessions, zinke, pruitt, kelly, priebus, price, mcmaster, michael flynn, the last two veterans and generals. who is left, most importantly, jill, to push back to be the, quote, adult in the room? >> at this point, you know, you ran through all of those names and you have to keep in mind how significant some of these people were. not just mattis, but general kelly, one of the other military former four-star generals who is set to depart the administration. you had h.r. mcmaster, you had tillerson. these are people who thought of themselves as the guardrails that would be protecting the nation, that would be protecting trump from himself and from his worst impulses. these people are all out and so far what we've seen is the people trump is choosing to
replace them with are people who are much more conciliatory. for instance, you've got mick mulvaney, the budget director who is coming in to replace john kelly, and he is someone who -- the reason the president decided to bring him in was because the two of them get along. he is not seen as the kind of personality who would be willing to butt heads with trump, who would be willing to tell him no, who would be willing to realy stand up to him, and as trump fills in all of these positions, it looks like increasingly he picks people that he winds up a greek with. >> both our guests have agreed to stay with us just through this break. when we come back, we'll talk with them about what our president showed the world on social media today. please stay with us.
the video speaks for itself. baffling and troubling as it may be on a day when our government plunged a bit further toward chaos and given the headlines of just the last 12 hours, still with us for our conversation, general barry mccaffrey and jill colvin. jill, i have to say we noticed something else. this week, after campaigning on build that wall and who is going to pay for the wall, mexico, the president has added a caveat, mexico is going to pay indirectly, and today he changed his definition of the wall. we'll air that and talk to you on the other side. >> there is a debate over funding border security and the wall, also called, so that i give them a little bit of an out, steel slats. we don't use the word wall necessarily, but it has to be something special to do the job. steel slats. >> so, jill, not to be snide, but build those steel slats
doesn't have the ring that build the wall. anyone else notice the migration of the wording here? >> most certainly. look, this started as this big, beautiful concrete wall the president said he was going to build from one end of the border to the other. and over time he has changed and pulled that back. he decided at some point that the wall was going to be see-through, so the border officials could see through it. now he's talking about these steel slats, which to many people sounds an awful lot not like a wall. i think there are two reasons the president is doing this. one, according to sources, the president feels like by framing it this way, it might be more appealing concept to democrats. he is trying theoretically to get votes in favor of this from more moderate members. and believes that if he describes it sort of in a more attractive way that it might sway them. but also there is a technicality here. we've heard back and forth over the last two years now, the president claiming that he'd received money to build his
wall. but democrats saying, no, we only provided you money for border security and fencing. there are some specific language within those budget allocations that say that he can use border security money to fund certain types of barriers and not others. he can build the kind of fencing that they did, for instance, under the bush and under the obama administration. so what the president could be doing here is trying to make things a little bit mushier so if he only gets money to pay for fencing, he can then spin that as a win. >> general, back in your area of operation, almost lost in today's news, the white house wants plans drawn up to draw down half u.s. forces in our longest war in afghanistan, and as much as we love service families being reunited and deployments to come to an end, what do you make of it? >> well, it's another impulsive decision. look, afghanistan is an utter mess. it is going in the wrong direction. the centralized government in afghanistan is gradually losing
control of the country. we have a very thin footprint on the ground. the problem in afghanistan is not squad-level training of afghan soldiers. it's a lack of a political structure that works. so we clearly need a diplomatic way out of this morass. again, the small footprint on the ground is likely to precipitate on immediate disaster than anything else. >> jill colvin, in 30 seconds or less, we do note that the departure time has been taken off the schedule for tomorrow. is it necessary that we are heading for a midnight tomorrow night shutdown? >> yeah, look, sarah sanders told us tonight at a very rainy driveway, if there was going to be a shutdown, the president would not be leaving for washington with the house vote that we saw tonight. it very much seems like that's where we're headed. clearly it is not on the president's schedule. who knows, phil rucker may be taking off on that plane tomorrow. but i would doubt it. >> our great thanks to our final
two guests for staying up late with us. we appreciate it. general barry mccaffrey, jill colvin, the associated press, thank you both so much. a last item before we go, because these times are so consequential and because this is genuinely a moment we are witnessing, a few reminders. forgive us about how to stay in touch with this broadcast because we want to stay in touch with you. you can watch us any time you please by downloading the msnbc app on your phone. if you're on the move, you can listen to us live each night on sirius xm satellite radio. we are also available as a podcast, and so we like to think and we like to say there is never a reason you'd have to miss a single broadcast, and we appreciate it always. with that, that is our broadcast for this thursday night. our thanks to our guests for joining us on this evening. thank you for being here with us. good night from our nbc news headquarters here in new york.
all right, good evening from new york. i'm chris hayes. utter chaos today in washington, d.c. even by the standards of these last two years. the house right there you see is wrapping up a vote right now. they're going to gavel and close a bill that is basically going to force a government shutdown. here's why. this bill, at the insistence of the white house includes $5 billion for the wall, or wall in the words of krirs ten neil sen. republicans appear to have the votes they need. for the latest on the shutdown, i want to bring in matt fuller. matt, they passed this thing. how did we get to this point?