The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 1/5/2017

Jack Rice, Michael Isikoff, Jason Kander, David Frum, Felix Salmon, Julian Epstein, Pete Buttigieg

Date: January 5, 2017
Guest: Jack Rice, Michael Isikoff, Jason Kander, David Frum, Felix Salmon,
Julian Epstein, Pete Buttigieg

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Well, Rachel, I was watching your show, and I
would say I don`t know everything about your process.

But I do know that you and not executives write your scripts and segments.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That is – that is – that is true. Although,
you know, if anybody wants to come in and help on – tomorrow night, say a
block, I could take (INAUDIBLE).

MELBER: You could take a little help from your friends. Good night –

MADDOW: Thanks Ari –

MELBER: Rachel, good night –

MADDOW: Good to see you then –

MELBER: Good to see you –

MADDOW: We do have a lot of breaking news tonight. Donald Trump has
picked his new director of national intelligence.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey who is big news when he became an adviser
to Trump.

Well, tonight, we can tell you he abruptly announced he`s quitting, and
this is of course on the eve of Trump`s much hyped meeting with the current
intelligence directors.

Also tonight, Trump complaining that reporters learning any details about
this briefing show evidence of some kind of politicization of intelligence
which is what this whole fight is about.


think that we`ve ever encountered a more aggressive campaign to interfere
in our election process.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC: He has no doubt there was interference from Moscow.

CLAPPER: Hacking classical propaganda, a disinformation, fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have full faith in the conclusions of the
intelligence briefing?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, Obama is the centrist on this. And you know, on
one side you have Senate Republicans –

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think what Obama did was throw
a pebble. I`m ready to throw a rock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`d move on to boulders, though.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, on the other side, you have Trump.

sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

Time to be an adult when you`re president.

has expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s a difference between skepticism and

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the media lies to make it look like I`m against
intelligence when in fact I`m a big fan.

commander-in-chief to use sarcastic quotations about the intelligence
agencies he will soon rely on to keep enemies from killing us all.



MELBER: In breaking news tonight, details leaking on what is inside the
intelligence briefing Donald Trump will receive tomorrow on Russian

And here`s one detail. Election night cheers for Trump at the Kremlin.
Nbc News has learned senior Russian officials celebrated Trump`s election
win, according to what the U.S. calls “international intercepted

U.S. officials also saying Russian intentions went beyond the would be
presidents in 2016 and targeted the Obama White House, the Pentagon, the
State Department and top American companies.

That`s all in our new reporting tonight. Why? Officials say Russia wanted
to hurt the nation`s democratic process and get back at the Obama
administration for it questioning Putin`s legitimacy.

And these anonymous leaks also come on a day when of course intelligence
chiefs were speaking out on the record.

As DNI leader James Clapper said he has little respect for Julian Assange,
the man Donald Trump has been citing as a reliable source about the Russian


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Clapper, how would you describe Mr. Assange?

CLAPPER: Well, I don`t think those of us in the intelligence community
have a whole lot of respect for him.


MELBER: Trump has invoked Assange, who did an hour long special on “Fox
News” just this week.

Today though, Trump walked back his remarks a bit, saying that “while the
press likes saying I`m in agreement with Julian Assange – wrong, I simply
state what he states.

It is for the people to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media
lies to make it look like I`m against “intelligence” when in fact I am a
big fan.”

Well, the people can make up their minds or their minds. And tomorrow,
intelligence chiefs will try to impact Donald Trump`s mind and show him why
their reporting and research and evidence is according to the intelligence
officials, superior to the fugitive publisher behind WikiLeaks.

For more, we want to get right to it, so I have Jack Rice here; a former
CIA special agent and terror expert as well as investigative reporter
Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News.

Who is also co-author of a relevant book here “Hubris: The Inside Story of
Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War”.

Jack, your thoughts on those developments I just detailed.

by this. If we look at what`s going on here, this isn`t about the
Democratic Party.

This isn`t exclusively just about this election. This is about something
far bigger.

This is something that goes back for multiple election cycles. And we have
to remember, in the end, the Russians don`t like or hate any of them.

This is about the Russians for the Russians. We have 17 independent
intelligence organizations in the United States, have all come together at
the same time and said, look, this is what the Russians did, this is how
they did it.

And to some degree, this is why they did it. To simply sit back and say,
well, you know what?

I like the results, so it`s cool, it`s OK, it`s not. And the problem is
that we don`t even know the extent of it to simply sit back and say, well,
you know what? It`s good enough, I guess, because it`s not.

And you know, I think we have to stand up and realize this is not about
party, this is about country.

MELBER: You say it`s about country, the president-elect saying tonight
it`s about politics. And I want to be very clear with viewers, we report
on what Donald Trump says and does.

We report based on other sources and we report when he is directly critical
of our reporting which I know becomes a stack of things.

But I want to be transparent. Donald Trump calling out and upset with Nbc
News based on the reporting, I will put up what he`s saying.

“How did Nbc get an exclusive look into the top secret report he Obama was

Who gave them this report and why? Politics.” Michael, your view of Donald
Trump`s criticism there that if investigative reporters at Nbc News are
getting this kind of material or sourcing, that in itself, he alleges it`s
some kind of politics?

the politicization of this issue has reached unbelievable heights at this

But you know, this is going to be an extraordinary briefing tomorrow,
because you`re going to have not only Director of National Intelligence
James Clapper.

But FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, all presenting a
united front to the president-elect.

Basically telling him he`s been wrong about everything he`s been saying
about this Russian hacking.

And you know, Clapper`s testimony was pretty strong today. He made it
clear that the intelligence has only gotten stronger since that statement
of October 7th that supports the conclusion that the Russian government was
behind the hacking of the election.

He made it clear that it went beyond just the cyber attacks on the DNC and
the John Podesta e-mails and included what he described as a multi-facetted
campaign of disinformation, propaganda, fake news, use of social media.

And he also said – and this is going to be – this is a particularly
fascinating angle that it included the use of RT, the Russian government
propaganda station that was – he wrapped it in as part of the entire
Russian government campaign here to disrupt our election.

And what`s particularly fascinating about that is, Trump in all likelihood
is going to have his soon-to-be national security adviser sitting in on the

That`s retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn –

RICE: Yes –

ISIKOFF: Who flew to Moscow in December 2015 for the 10th anniversary –

RICE: But see, Michael –

ISIKOFF: Galore of actually sitting next to at a dinner table with
Vladimir Putin.

MELBER: Jack, go ahead.

RICE: Well, Michael, and I want to add into that. I mean, again, what we
really have to look at here and we have to figure out is that this isn`t
just about attacking one particular party.

The problem is, is what we have seen from Donald Trump is really a desire
to not just be willfully ignorant.

His unwillingness to actually listen to the briefings themselves, but it`s
almost purposeful in nature.

And when you see a disparagement at a level which is extraordinary. I
mean, you have to contemplate.

People who work in the intelligence community, just like people who work in
the military, work in the State Department and journalists who work around
the world, they risk their lives, they risk the lives of their families,
they risk the lives of their assets.

And they do this for country.

MELBER: Right –

RICE: When you have a man –

MELBER: Right –

RICE: Who has never risked anything in his entire life to be sitting on
some ivory throne someplace and talking about this without any true
understanding, any willingness to be as ignorant –


RICE: As absolutely possible is simply outrageous –

MELBER: Well, to your point, Jack –

RICE: To those of us who have worked and continue to work.

MELBER: They call it human Intel for a reason, which is, there are a lot
of humans involved –

ISIKOFF: Right –

MELBER: And that`s why there`s beyond a tone deafness. There`s sort of an
ignorance in the way Donald Trump has talked about it or in the echoes in
the whole rest of it.

Clapper hit that today, I mean, he talked about how skepticism is expected
and warranted and nobody saying that an incoming president shouldn`t have
all of his rights – his or her rights to address and change the
intelligence community.

Having said that –

RICE: True, but there`s one aspect –


MELBER: You just settle – let me just – let me finish, Jack, let me –

RICE: Yes –

MELBER: Finish. So having said that, that`s part one. Part two is
Clapper was saying there is that and then there is going on to

Let me play that –

RICE: Right –

MELBER: And get your response on the return. Here`s James Clapper today.

RICE: Please –


CLAPPER: I think there`s a difference between skepticism and
disparagement. I have received many expressions of concern from foreign
counterparts about, you know, the disparagement of the – of the U.S.
intelligence community or I should say what has been interpreted as
disparagement of the intelligence community.


MELBER: Jack, what did you think of that moment?

RICE: I would agree absolutely. And again, I see this as more than simply
willful ignorance.

This is about using ignorance as a badge of honor. And the idea that if I
have more intelligence, it somehow makes me less capable.

And the less that I have, the more capable that I am.  And the – 




RICE:  Problem is the whole concept of what we do in the –




RICE:  Intelligence business is provide information so you can come up with

the most logical conclusions.


MELBER:  Michael, you get the –




MELBER:  Last word. 


ISIKOFF:  Yes, I was just going to say that said, it is worth pointing out

that there is going to be a public report released next week.


And Clapper said he wants to push the envelope and publicly disclosing what

the evidence is.  And I think that`s going to be very crucial to resolving

whatever lingering doubts people have.


Because it is – it is worth seeing the evidence.  We should see the

evidence.  We are – it is right to be skeptical of the intelligence



They have certainly been wrong before.  It is – it is certainly true that

in this case, the confidence level that intelligence professionals have

expressed about this conclusion is pretty strong.


But I think, you know, when we see the evidence next week, that`s going to

be the key.  We need to see that public report –


MELBER:  Right, you make an important point and no one is saying the CIA

should get automatic deference.


I will point out though where we began the segment, Donald Trump is both

saying nothing is good enough.


And then when there is reliable reporting based on intelligence sources of

what is happening.


He calls that itself politics and attacks journalists and others for

dealing with it.


So, he is setting up a catch 22.  I don`t know that trying to respond to

him working the refs is going to satisfy anyone but certainly more

transparency is welcome.


Jack Rice, Michael Isikoff, we are over time, so thanks again for joining.


Coming up, the CIA giving Trump everything it has as evidence as discussed

about the hack.


But what do Republicans do if Donald Trump won`t believe it.  Also, a

Congressman now saying tonight – this is pretty interesting, that Donald

Trump`s team is looking at ways to ask Congress to pay for a wall on the

southern border.


That means your money, not Mexico`s money.  We have the updates straight







BIDEN:  Grow up, Donald, grow up.  Time to be an adult when you`re

president.  You got to do something.


Show us what you have, you`re going to propose it in a legislation, we`re

going to get to debate it.  Let the public decide.  Let them vote in

Congress.  Let`s see what happens.






MELBER:  Back to that late breaking news I mentioned before the break. 

Former CIA Director James Woolsey announcing he`s quitting his role

advising the Trump transition.


“Effective immediately, Ambassador Woolsey is no longer a senior adviser to

the President-elect Trump or the transition.”


This is his office saying it.  In a news statement which wishes Trump and

its team great success.


Neither Woolsey nor the transition team is elaborating in public on why

they have grown apart.


But in a new interview, Woolsey basically cast the separation as something

that it had already begun, saying he didn`t feel like he was really an

adviser anymore anyway.


He was last seen at Trump Tower in early December.





to fly under false colors.  I have been an adviser and felt that I was

making a contribution.


And I strongly support Mr. Trump for president, did since early September,

and I wish him well.


But I`m not really functioning as an adviser anymore.  Just felt like

things had come to the point that I ought to make sure that nobody gets a

false impression.


I didn`t want to be claiming that I`m something I`m not. 




MELBER:  Now, whatever the reasoning, the timing is obviously notable.


This was no kind of quiet Friday news dump departure or an exit over the

holidays that just occurred which would have been low key. 


Woolsey is bowing out on the eve of what might be the most controversial

hyped intelligence meeting of any transition team in the modern era.


That is because as you probably know by now, Trump has repeatedly

criticized the intelligence chiefs that he`s meeting with tomorrow.


Even suggesting they weren`t ready for this meeting based on that little

snafu over a two-day debate about the scheduling of the meeting.


Now, those chiefs will meet with him fresh from their testimony in the

Senate today where they rebutted publicly Trump`s charges that they`re

wrong about Russia`s interference in the election.


And one day before he briefs Trump on the issue, the Director of DNI there

James Clapper reinforced his office`s view from October that the Russian

government directed these hacks.


Now, much of this story has been out there for weeks, if you watch the

news, you`ve heard a lot of it.


But if you listen closely to one part of today`s testimony, Clapper

emphasized how the Russian effort went beyond just hacking e-mail.


And he cited something that`s been covered repeatedly right here on THE



Pointing to Russian`s campaigns inclusion of not only disinformation but

what he directly called fake news. 




CLAPPER:  This was a multi-facetted campaign.  So, the hacking was only one

part of it, and it also entailed, you know, classical propaganda,

disinformation, fake news.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You stated that the report soon to be released will

discuss the motive.  Would you care to give any kind of preview today?


CLAPPER:  I`d rather not.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I didn`t think so – 


CLAPPER:  There are actually more than one motive.




MELBER:  Meanwhile, the night, Trump continued to use his platform to

engender doubts about all this evidence.


He tweeted: “the DNC would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer

info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia.


So, how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested

an examination of the computer servers?


What is going on?” That`s what he asked.  Now with Donald Trump the

question may be rhetorical but there are answers.


Investigative sources tell Nbc News the FBI didn`t need physical inspection

of the DNC`s servers because it already had the relevant forensic data in a

process they call upstream collection.


And that is how the FBI says it told the DNC it had been hacked.  If you

take Trump at his word, he just doesn`t know how any of that works.


Add it to the list of valuable lessons for Donald Trump in tomorrow`s



Joining me now is Jason Kander; a former military intelligence officer in

Afghanistan and an outgoing Secretary of State in Missouri.


And David Frum; reporter, senior editor for “The Atlantic”.  Thank you both

for being here.  Jason, your thoughts on everything we just learned.


JASON KANDER, SECRETARY OF STATE, MISSOURI:  Well, it`s pretty clear that

what is actually happening here is that the president-elect is conducting a

misinformation campaign against the American intelligence community.


And when we talk about the American intelligence community, we should

remember that this is not just folks who wear ties and testify in front of



The vast majority of the intelligence community is the military, it`s the

army, it`s the Navy, it`s the Air Force, it`s the Marines.


It`s the sons and daughters of our country who are risking their lives, and

that`s who the president-elect – is not just saying he doesn`t believe,

but is saying cannot be believed – 


MELBER:  And Jason, you`re making a serious assertion there that this is

not a new president who is misinformed or unclear.


You`re saying he`s knowingly conducting misinformation, that`s your view?


KANDER:  I`m saying he doesn`t like the answer, so he`s trying to say that

the people who are giving him the answer cannot be believed.


And that makes us less safe. 


MELBER:  David, that would certainly raise the culpability of the

president-elect if true, if provable.


DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC:  Yes, we – I`d like to widen the

aperture on this a little bit. 


And maybe bring what maybe a harder teaching for some of the liberal

listeners to this program.


Because we need to look at this as James Clapper said from the Russian

point of view and not just the American.


What are they doing? Russia is running a shooting war in Europe right now

against – in and against the Ukraine.


The first great power shooting war on the European continent since 1945. 

Ten thousand people dead, hundreds of thousands displaced.


They are systematically interfering in the politics of the countries in the

band between Germany and Russia.


Substituting pro-western, pro-democratic reasonably honest governments in

places most people don`t pay attention to like Moldova and Romania with

more authoritarian and more corrupt governments that tilt in their



They interfered in the British election in the Summer of last year.  They

are playing the French election right now.


They are playing in the German election right now.  They are very clear

that they want to break up both NATO and the European Union.


There`s a lot of suspicion that they were supporting the Scottish

separatists to break up of the United Kingdom.


By the way, Scotland is where the British have their major nuclear base in

Scotland would be – an independent Scotland would be a non-nuclear power.


So, Scotland exited the United Kingdom, Britain would cease to be a nuclear

power that could stop Russia.


That is the context in which they have tried to reshape the politics of the

United States.  There`s no – this is a story with many secrets but no



It`s not puzzling what is going on here.  Donald Trump campaigned as a

candidate sympathetic to the Russian point of view on issues like Ukraine,

like Syria, like the bust-up of NATO, like the bust up of the EU.


Russian foreign policy in every case, and a violation of in some cases 70

years of American foreign policy.


Of course they liked him and of course they tried to help him. 


MELBER:  Well put, Jason, your thoughts on that, the geopolitical part of

this and the notion that all of this sort of – what you were calling

earlier misinformation is an outcome rather than a driver if it does

reflect Donald Trump having being critical of NATO, having praised Putin so

many times.


And the other big question mark because of Donald Trump`s sudden usual,

refusal to release his tax returns.


The looming questions over how much his personal financial empire is funded

or boosted by Russian or Kremlin-linked financiers.


KANDER:  Well, there`re two things here.  The first is that Vladimir Putin

is as David points out doing this for a reason. 


And in this case, you have to ask yourself how many times in American

history a presidential election may end up resulting in the United States

essentially switching sides in a war.


Because that`s what Vladimir Putin is after.  And furthermore, over the

course of all of our lifetimes, we have all whether we voted for the

president or did not vote for the president, lived under the sense of

safety that the president of the United States was the most powerful person

in the world.


And if the president of the United States ends up deferring national

security decisions to the leader of Russia, then what that means is that

Vladimir Putin in a couple of weeks may actually become the most powerful

person in the world.


And I don`t think anybody who voted for Donald Trump was probably voting

for that. 


MELBER:  Right, you`re making the argument that he would be the de facto

most powerful leader of the world –


KANDER:  Yes –


MELBER:  If not as the saying used to go the leader of the free world. 

Jason Kander –


KANDER:  All right –


MELBER:  Thank you very much for joining tonight and sharing your expertise


KANDER:  Thank you, Ari –


MELBER:  David Frum, stay with us for the next topic.  We have some

developing news about what some members of Congress are saying about who

would pay for the Trump wall.


It might not be Mexico.  Also tonight, an exclusive interview with a brand

new candidate who wants to head the DNC, he`ll tell you why when he`s here.






TRUMP:  We are going to build the wall 100 percent and Mexico is going to

pay for the wall.


They don`t know it yet, but they`re going to pay for the wall.  We`re going

to build the wall and Mexico is going to pay for the wall.


Who is going to pay for the wall?


AUDIENCE:  Mexico!


TRUMP:  One hundred percent. 




MELBER:  They don`t know it yet but they`re going to pay for it.  Does that

apply to Mexico or the United States?


Well, the story tonight, Republican Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana

saying now that Republicans on Capitol Hill are working on possible ways to

fund Trump`s border wall with U.S. taxpayer dollars.


If you are watching this program inside the United States, I`m talking

about your money.


On the other hand, there are other sources on Capitol Hill telling Nbc News

that Republicans have not been approached by the Trump transition team to

appropriate funds yet.


That`s the state of play, it`s pretty simple, so, I`ll bring in our analyst

Felix Salmon; senior editor at “Fusion”.


And back with us, “Atlantic” senior editor and former George W. Bush White

House official David Frum.  Welcome to you both.




MELBER:  Felix, what`s going on?


SALMON: There`s a law which George W. Bush passed ten years ago which

authorizes construction of the wall.  And the republicans are saying hey we

have this wall passed in congress already ten years ago.  There was no

expiry on this laws.  So, let`s just go and build this thing.  Let`s not

wait for Mexico to pay for it, because of course they never will. 


We`ll just put it into an appropriations bill, force the democrats to pass

it and then we`ll get $10 billion to build the wall. 


MELBER:  And why do you think republican house members are even talking

about this yet?  The kind of thing that some people are going to go, the

wait, we have to pay for it, Americans? 


SALMON:  I think there – I mean its $10 billion, which is not huge in the 

context of the federal budget.  And they want to do things.  They want to

make changes.  They feel they could have this mandate and they want to move

fast.  And a wall is pointless, right, from an immigration perspective.  We

have more Mexicans leaving America than entering America.  I mean what are

we trying to do, keep them in with a wall?  There`s no policy reason to

build this wall. 


It`s a political piece of theater but we are entering four years of

political theater and this is all part of that. 


MELBER:  David, as a student of the different wings of the conservative and

republican movement, what do you think is really going on here?


FRUM:  Well let me say, I start as someone who believes the United States

does need a much more restrictive immigration policy than it has.  And like

Felix, I believe, I`m a naturalized U.S. Citizen so I`m talking —

thinking critically about U.S. immigration policy may be one of those jobs

that Americans just won`t do.  The George W. Bush era appropriation builds

about enough fencing to cover a little less than half of the distance of

the U.S./Mexican border, about 700 miles. 


And it`s probably not the most useful thing you could do.  It`s a powerful

symbol. Where fencing has been built like between San Diego and Tijuana,

and that`s a relatively short stretch.  It makes a difference.  But the

reasons republicans have been attracted to the wall building is they wanted

do security at the boarder so they don`t have to do it at the work place. 

And the workplace is the place that really makes a difference.  If you want

to really crack down on illegal immigration, the most important thing you

could do is to change immigration law so that if your factory is polluting

in some way or you`re violating labor standards, in some other way. 


No one has to show that you knew you were doing something wrong.  If it

turns out that the people you say I thought they were 18 years old and it

turns out they were eight years old, that the law does not have to prove

did you know that they were eight year olds.  You`re just – you`re guilty

of the fact.  With immigration enforcement, the state is required to prove

that the employer knowingly violated the law.  These are not criminal

offenses, they`re administrative offenses. 


Knowledge is not essential.  Just say if it turns out that anyone who works

for you is illegal, you pay a fine and not the small fine that are levying

today but substantial fines. 


MELBER:  I did not know we were going to get into the mental requirements

of strict liability offenses.  I feel like I`m right back in law school

David but –


FRUM:  But that`s what it`s about. 


MELBER:  I know it`s about – let me –


FRUM:  If you want to stop illegal immigration, strict liability is the way

you do it. 


MELBER: I hear you.  And there are complexities to that.  The question

about this symbolism is you build a wall and who pays for it.  And I was

out on the road during this campaign season.  That was a huge applause

line.  I spoke to Trump supporters who believed the wall would be built.  I

also interviewed many as a reported who said, it doesn`t matter whether he

really builds it or it`s all the way across the country.  We like that he

was willing to do something. 


Now take a listen to Donald Trump during the campaign when he had that big

meeting in Mexico with President Pe¤a and said they didn`t get into






discuss the wall.  We didn`t discuss payment of the wall.  That will be for

later date. 


MELBER:  Felix, getting Mexico to pay for it was always part of the

applause line, though. 


SALMON:  Right.  Yes.  It`s a great applause line, right?  It`s an awesome

applause line.  And did he really expect anyone to believe that?  I don`t

know that people believed it because they wanted to believe it.  Probably. 

Is he maybe going to send Mexico some big sort of novelty check invoice to

Mexico City and say, here, pay us $10 billion?  And then eventually like he

can – he said – he has any number of pieces of political theater he can



There is no political actor – and I`m using that word in a very literal

sense – who is more theatrical than Donald Trump.  So, this is all about

theater.  And if you try and sort of pass the specifics of what he`s doing,

you`re missing the point.  What they`re doing is they`re saying, we`re

going to build the wall and next time they go we`re going to get Mexico to

pay for it.  And to David`s point, this has got nothing to do with



This has got nothing to do with like optimal policy to some kind of

immigration reform ends.  This is all about just trying to get the

headlines and get all of the stuff people like you and me on television

talking about it, which is what we`re doing. 


MELBER:  Well not – that is true in the beginning when it was a sales

pitch.  I don`t know that he wants before he even gives us an (INAUDIBLE)

speech to back down with the point of saying Americans have to pay for

this.  But yes, there`s a lot of different stories swirling around on how

they`re going to do it.  Felix Salmon and David Frum, thank you both for



FRUM:  Thank you. 


MELBER:  Coming up next, why the Trump transition team is gathering names

of government workers who might not agree with future Trump policies. 




MELBER:  The republican house`s attempt to gut ethics rules got lots of

attention leading to a dramatic backtracking when congress was sworn in

Tuesday.  But republicans pushed another plan in into the rules package

that did passed this week, a rule that gives congress the power to directly

target and cut salaries for individual agencies and employees separate from

the annual budget process.  Now, why is that important?  Well it means that

even if there`s general funding for, say, the Environmental Protection

Agency, congress then has extra power to come back around and cut money

from specific parts of the EPA. 


Now republicans say  there`s nothing nefarious about targeted spending

cuts. They know that while congress hasn`t had this power since the early

80s, it was used for decades at earlier points in history. 





I think it gives us an opportunity really thinking about what this election

was about, that they want to see change.  And this is a big rule change

inside there that allows people to get at places they hadn`t before.  And

we put it in there to last a one year.  And we`ll look back it again a year

from now to see how well it worked and others but it will be a nice pilot

program for change. 




MELBER:  And sure, on paper this is just a one-year option to target

funding.  But let`s also connect the dots here in this Trump transition

era.  This rule comes right after reports that Trump`s aides were

specifically requesting names of people at the energy department who work

on climate change.  And separate reports that Trump aides also asked the

state department for details on jobs and programs that were specifically

devoted to advancing gender equality. 


So if you combined one, a new rule that can cut salaries for specific

workers, and two, new lists of employees working on issues like climate

change or gender equality, you have the ingredients for a chilling effect

on federal workers or, worse, the ingredients for a purge.  So, to the rule

makers getting all these ingredients together, please know we see you.  And

this new rule still requires approval from the entire house and senate to

become operative. 


Joining us now for more context, Julian Epstein, a former chief minority

counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, very experienced in this matters. 

What do you see happening here? 



about the gang that can`t shoot straight Ari.  First we have this week a

republican congress that tries to exempt itself from the ethics rules, the

very first thing it does.  The second thing it does is to try to take us

back to a very dark period in the American history, the McCarthy era where

congress could punish ordinary Americans if they didn`t conform to the hard

line views of the ruling party.  In this case it would be civil servants

that wouldn`t conform to the hard line views of the Republican Party. 


MELBER:  So you`re worried this rule could be abused to target federal



EPSTEIN:  That`s the purpose of it.  It goes back – this goes back it`s

so-called Holman rule in the late 1800s.  It`s been tested, it`s been

declared unconstitutional.  It`s a bill of attainder by the federal courts. 

But that`s exactly what could happen Ari.  So, if at the department of

energy for example, the best climate scientists in the world issue a report

on climate change that the new secretary of energy doesn`t like, the

secretary of energy, parenthetical that you couldn`t even remember the name

of the agency. 


Or that hard liners on the hill don`t like, they could simply zero out all

the salaries and punish the scientists for issuing a report telling us

about the dangers of climate change.  If for example the republicans didn`t

like the fact that you`ve got civil servants working on women`s rights at

the state department, international women`s rights, what they could do is

identify who`s working on them and zero out all their salaries.  Punish

them for their political views.  It`s an extremely dark Putin-esque view of

democracy and our democratic values. 


And it`s been challenged.  There was a case, and you`re probably familiar

with this Ari.  As an attorney the Lovett case in 1943 where congress did

exactly this.  They identified 43 – I beg your pardon, 39 federal

employees who they didn`t like their views on and they try to fire them by

zeroing out the salaries, the Supreme Court looked at it, they said wait a

second, congress doesn`t this that power.  Congress can`t punish people for

their political views that happened to be federal employees by firing them

or cutting out their salaries. 


Congress can`t do it.  It doesn`t have the due process apparatus in able –

to be able to do that.  And these federal employees are entitled to due

process.  So, this has been tested in the courts and it`s been declared

unconstitutional.  But if you think we`re not getting back in to that

McCarthy era as you pointed out at the outset of this segment Ari.  The

Trump transition team has already started taking names. 


MELBER:  Right. 


EPSTEIN:  They`ve started taking names of the climate scientists at the

department of energy.  They started taking names of department of state

employees who are working on women`s international rights.  I mean this is

a process –


MELBER:  So, final question.  Yes, we`re almost out of time. 


EPSTEIN:  Sure. 


MELBER:  Do you view this on par with the ethics rule and that citizens

should try to press congress on this?  They have to hear about it? 


EPSTEIN:  Absolutely.  I mean I don`t even know how to equate these two

things.  One rule which says congress is going to exempt itself from ethics

rules and can be free to engage in all kinds of unethical behavior with

very few checks, that`s awful for our democracy.  Another rule that says

congress can punish people if they don`t conform to the ideology, the

strict hard line right extremist views –


MELBER:  Right. 


EPSTEIN:  – of the Republican Party, we`ll punish you by taking away your

jobs.  That`s a kind of a very dark throwback to the McCarthy era as I

said.  That`s equally troubling in terms of our democratic values.  And

this is just – the strict constitutionalists, the people that said they

believe in the constitution.  Where are they now? 


MELBER:  Julian Epstein, you get the last word on this topic.  Thank you

very much.  Coming up, everything we now know about that terrible Chicago

crime that was streamed live on Facebook.  And after that, we will return

to some politics on the democratic side.  A new candidate entering the race

to run the DMC. 




MELBER:  We turn now to Chicago where charges have been filed in that

horrific beating of a young man.  Four people have been arrested and

charged with several serious felonies, hate crimes, aggravated kidnapping

and battery after that disturbing video which they streamed live on

Facebook showing them beating and torturing a mentally disabled white



NBC`s Blake McCoy has more on this story from Chicago. 




BLACKE MCCOY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  The horrifying images have now been

seen around the world, an 18-year-old with mental health challenges

tortured, his clothing and hair slashed with a knife, his head pushed into

a toilet, forced to drink the water.  The accused, four African-Americans,

did not hide their faces in the video streamed live to Facebook, taunting

the white teen with racial and political expletives.  Tonight reaction from

the Whitehouse. 




JOSH EARNEST, WHITEHOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  They do demonstrate a level of

depravity that is an outrage. 


MCCOY:  The victim`s grandmother tells NBC news she`s too upset to watch

the video. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don`t want to watch him suffer.  I know he did. 


MCCOY:  Investigators confirm the victim went to school with one of his

assailants, Jordan Hill.  The victim`s parents dropped him at a suburban

McDonald`s to meet Hill for a sleepover last weekend.  Hill then allegedly

drove him in to the city in a stolen van.  Investigators say the 18-year-

old was being held captive in one of these homes on Chicago`s west side. 

He was found Tuesday afternoon wandering and disoriented about a block




escape when a downstairs neighbor calls the police complaining of all the

noise upstairs. 


MCCOY:  Among the charges announced today against the two men and two women

who are sisters, a hate crime, aggravated kidnapping, unlawful restraint

and battery with a deadly weapon.  African-American community leaders are



UNIDENTIED MALE:  You see the racial slurs there, you see the insults

there.  And he has a disability.  You know, it`s a hate crime all the way. 


UNIDENTIFED FEMALE:  I hope god speaks to their souls and shows them the

right way. 




MELBER:  A tough story there.  Now coming up in politics we have the new

name in the running to head the DNC.  He`s here for an exclusive interview,





MELBER:  We have some of the best breaking news I can give you in all the

anchoring we`ve been doing and here for the past several weeks.  This is

breaking good news from an MSNBC family member.  Sam Stein and his wife

Jessica welcoming a new baby boy into the world Tuesday night, now Sam just

shared his reaction for the first time with us tonight.  This is Sam Stein

on fatherhood.  “Everyone says this precise moment is unlike any other that

you experience, that bringing a child into the world gives you a sense of

exhilaration, love and fear that`s unmatched by anything else.  They were

absolutely right.”  Welcome to the world Jamie Alfred Stein.  A big

congratulations to mom and dad and thanks for sharing with us. 







mayor of South Bend.  I know Tom Perez, and he`s a very decent guy.  But

what you need right now is a total transformation of the Democratic Party. 




MELBER:  Senator Bernie Sanders has a big following among the democratic

grassroots.  And when it comes to who should lead the party he says he`s

not informed about the mayor of south bend or excited by the Obama pick in

the race, Labor Secretary Perez.  Sanders already gave his coveted

endorsement for new DNC chair to Keith Ellison.  The progressive Minnesota

congressman and Sanders decided to get into the race early and back a

fairly prominent name. 


There`s nothing wrong with that, but it is the kind of endorsement that

Sanders criticized in the presidential primary when they said too many

people were lining up behind the Clinton name before the democratic process

played out.  That`s the argument of some lesser known candidates for DNC

chair since the race is still two months away and one of those candidates

is the Mayor Sander`s says he didn`t know about.  Pete Buttigieg, a

democrat who won an executive position in a pretty red state in 2012 and

was reelected in 2014. 


He also served for seven months in Afghanistan as a lieutenant in the U.S.

Navy Reserves plus graduated at Harvard and throw it in, he was a Rhodes

Scholar.  For democrats seeking new voices, it`s probably a background

worth knowing.  And if you don`t know, now you know.  Joining us now for an

exclusive interview about his DNC race is Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South

Bend.  Why do you want to be DNC chair and are you older or younger than

you look? 


PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR, SOUTH BEND, INDIANA:  Well the answer to the last

question is not for me to say.  But I`ll tell you why I`m getting into the

race. I believe that there needs to be a voice that has more of a local

perspective because the solutions that our party needs aren`t going to come

from Washington.  And I think that the experience that you get in this part

of the country as a mayor, not only working for the city but also

politically building on the ground, that kind of organizing is exactly the

sort of thing that our party needs more of looking forward. 


MELBER:  Can I ask you – this is the real question I have when I looked at

your background.  I thought, OK, you`ve already won this mayorship early

on.  And you have an incredible background.  As someone who study politics,

I`m wondering why does he want to go to the DNC which is not always a

politically advancing as compared to pursuing a higher office. 


BUTTIGIEG:  Well I guess I believe in going where you can make yourself

useful.  And look, I love my job.  I love serving as mayor of my hometown. 

But like a lot of others, I think everything changed on Election Day. 

Certainly how I see the world, the political world and how I fit in.  And I

think nothing could be more important, nothing could be more consequential

than organizing the opposition in the face of what`s going to be the most

monstrous presidency of our lifetimes, not to mention what`s going on in

congress, what`s going in the states. 


And I think it`s particularly in the states that allowed the most important

political decisions that can hurt everyday Americans are going to happen if

we don`t have an organized opposition. 


MELBER:  You look at the issues right now, not just in America, but around

the world, the anger over what are perceived as bankers and global elites

making decisions that can ruin lives and economies.  You look at BREXIT. 

You look at the real intensity behind both Trump and Sanders.  I want to

ready something you`ve said recently.  Some democrats “participate in the

fiction that if we just turn back the clock and get rid of trade, everybody

can get their manufacturing jobs back.  There are a lot of people who think

their lost their jobs because of globalization when they actually lost

their jobs because of technology.” 


That sounds solid, but what are you offering people on the jobs agenda then

for the Democratic Party? 


BUTTIGIEG:  Well I would point to the experience of South Bend.  Look we`re

not done make things, not by any means.  And we have found ways not through

any old trade but we have found ways where for examples in South Bend I`ve

got union auto workers making vehicles that are being sold all over the

world.  Workers can win in the future if we`re not afraid to face it.  But

there`s not going to be some silver bullet for that. 


We have always been the party of fairness.  And that includes economic

fairness as well as political fairness.  We`ve got to stand up for that. 

And I think that`s a kind of message that will resonate across many people,

including a lot of the people that we as a party seem to have struggled in

my part of the country to connect with in this last election. 


MELBER:  And  what do you think you could bring to the fight against Donald

Trump as DNC chair that the other candidates could not? 


BUTTIGIEG:  Well again, I hope it doesn`t sound too audacious for somebody

my age, but I would really say experience.  The experience of somebody`s

who has been an executive, a mayor, who has to pick up the trash and plow

the snow and run a $300 million budget in a thousand person organization

accountable for results every day.  I think my military experience doesn`t

hurt, including frankly some cyber and counter intelligence training, which

I`m sad to say is highly relevant right now for anybody who wants to lead

the DNC.  But it`s not just the –


MELBER:  Right. 


BUTTIGIEG:  – about me.  It`s, you know, we`ve got to get out of talking

about the politicians and even the party organizers as though we`re what`s

most important.  What`s most important is people`s lives. 


MELBER:  Right. 


BUTTIGIEG:  The more we can have a conversation about that, the better

we`ll be as a party. 


MELBER:  Well I`m not in to prediction business Mayor Pete but I feel like

we`ll be hearing from you again.  Thanks for joining tonight. 


BUTTIGIEG:  Thank you. 


MELBER:  I`m Ari Melber and thanks to you for watching.  You can always

email me at  Don`t go anywhere though.  Our live coverage

continues in to the 11th Hour next. 







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