The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 2/15/2017
Show: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell
Date: February 15, 2017
Guest: David Corn, Kurt Eichenwald, Evan McMullin, Erin Gloria Ryan, Jamil Smith, Charlie Sykes, Charlie Sykes, Jamil Smith, Ana Marie Cox, David Leopold
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Family, led in this case by – also senior adviser
to the president.
And it is that Kushner family led in this case by Jared`s brother that is
reportedly in talks to buy the Miami Marlins Baseball team.
We knew that, tonight, here is the update. In addition to the news that
the Miami Marlins are possibly being sold to the White House-connected
Kushner family, we`re now hearing that the owner of the Miami Marlins is up
for a nice new ambassadorship.
Want to be ambassador to France? Think the Kushner family might possibly
get a better deal on the baseball team deal if they throw in ambassador to
France to go along with the negotiations?
Just asking. Just wondering. That does it for us tonight, we will see you
Now it`s time for THE LAST WORD, Ari Melber sitting in for Lawrence
tonight. Good evening Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC: Good evening Rachel, some people say you`re really good
at connecting the dots. But what about when the dots are just right up
against each other.
MADDOW: Yes, what if it`s just like Googly Eyes and they`re right next to
each other staring at each other? Yes, sometimes it`s easier than others.
MELBER: Thank you, Rachel, good night –
MADDOW: Thanks –
MELBER: Have a good evening. I am –
MADDOW: You, too –
MELBER: Ari Melber in for Lawrence O`Donnell. And Donald Trump is
doubling down tonight on a war with the intelligence community. He`s
accused them of both being Un-American and breaking the law – leaks.
But he continues to defend his ousted national security adviser. Also
Andrew Puzder withdrawing as Labor Secretary.
Activist calling it the first victory of the resistance against President
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Flynn is a wonderful
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN & TELEVISION HOST: The Hills are alive with the
sound of crazy.
TRUMP: I think he`s been treated very unfairly by the media.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the president was the one who fired him.
TRUMP: As I call it, the fake media in many cases.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: He blames the press for telling him the truth.
This is crazy.
TRUMP: Things are being leaked. It`s criminal action. Criminal act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, if they`re real leaks, it`s not fake news, he can`t
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a matter of seriousness and gravity, and we
should treat it as such.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign praising
and embracing the Russian interference.
TRUMP: WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will certainly need to investigate whether there was
some kind of coordination.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: That would be very serious. That
would be a game changer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The case where it`s not the cover-up, it`s the crime.
CONAN O`BRIEN, COMEDIAN & TELEVISION HOST: Democrats are asking what
President Trump knew. What did he know? It`s historic.
It`s the first time anyone has ever accused Donald Trump of knowing too
This has never happened before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Good evening. As a matter of both known facts and historical
precedent, the storm surrounding President Donald Trump`s White House
tonight is profoundly unusual.
The national security adviser is out after less than a month on the job.
Trump officials say he lost their trust for misleading them about his
dealings with the Kremlin.
Translation. The White House is insisting the problem is what the national
security adviser said about his dealings with the Kremlin, not what he
Now, keep in mind that whatever he did and we don`t have all the facts yet,
it was enough to trigger the very unusual step of the FBI interviewing him
when he first got on the job. Meanwhile, the president is saying he has
nothing but love for the man he just sent packing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he`s been treated very
unfairly by the media.
As I call it, the fake media in many cases. And people are trying to cover
up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.
I think it`s very unfair what`s happened to General Flynn, the way he was
treated. And the documents and papers that were illegally – I stress
that, illegally leaked. Very unfair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You notice the only person who is talking about Hillary Clinton
anymore is President Trump.
Now he is upset about government leaks to the “New York Times” which of
course accurately reported that a handful of Trump`s former aides or policy
advisors according to the FBI had contact with senior Russian intelligence
officials during the presidential election.
That is a story about what the FBI says, that is a useful piece of
On the other side, we want to tell you, those aides do deny the FBI`s
statements or these government source statements that they had their
Paul Manafort telling the “Times” he did not knowingly have contact with
Well, I spoke to Roger Stone this morning, and he told me that, that “New
York Times” story is categorically false.
And that unlike Flynn, he has not heard from the FBI. Even with those
denials to that part of the story, however, there is certainly a bipartisan
push for more answers.
We could tell you tonight, the leaders of the judiciary committee, this is
from both parties, the letter you`re looking at, pressing the FBI for what
they want now, actual transcripts of Flynn`s calls with Russia.
And Flynn is only a piece of a much broader puzzle. Some Republicans now
calling for a congressional probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Obviously, these allegations which
currently are credible because they`re carried by the most credible media.
That it needs to be investigated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the president is better served by Congress looking
at this, looking at it quickly as possible, but taking all the time
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I think now coming before us and testifying if that
can be done will be a very appropriate thing for us to have happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Congress certainly has an oversight rule here. But if there are
potential crimes, which by the way is the only legal justification for the
FBI to be involved in the first place.
Then the ultimate question will be whether the Trump Justice Department has
the independence to follow the facts wherever they may lead or whether it
already has an inherent conflict when investigating itself.
On that point, we can tell you a group of 11 Democratic senators now say
the only solution is for Attorney General Sessions to appoint an
independent special counsel who can handle the case.
That is what the George W. Bush administration did when facing criminal
inquiries about the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame`s identity.
They appointed that special prosecutor who could then handle the case
without even a hint of potential conflict or interference. Senate Minority
Leader Chuck Schumer says that is what the rules require now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Jeff Sessions was chairman of the
National Security Advisory Committee alongside General Michael Flynn.
He was a senior adviser in the Trump campaign. Those facts and the
Department of Justice`s own rules disqualify Attorney General Sessions from
running this investigation.
Attorney General Sessions must recuse himself immediately. Any
investigation headed, directed by or influenced by the Attorney General
will be jaundiced from the very start.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining me now is David Corn; a Washington Bureau Chief for
“Mother Jones” and an Msnbc analyst. Evan McMullin; a former CIA operative
and also independent presidential candidate.
And Kurt Eichenwald; investigative writer at “Newsweek”. David, the Trump
White House has said that Flynn basically misled them.
That it was a type of cover-up. But you`ve written and reported that it`s
worse than a cover-up. What do you mean by that?
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, you know, in
Washington, we say it`s not the crime, it`s the cover-up.
Actually, in this case, the big issue is the crime, if it`s not a crime,
but the event. What happened?
And we can talk about what Michael Flynn did after the election in his
conversations with the Russian ambassador about the sanctions on the
Whether it was proper or not. What we`ve seen come out in the last couple
of days, and what Kurt and I and others have reported for a couple of weeks
now or months even right before the election is that Trump associates,
campaign associates, business associates are said to have had contact with
Russian officials before the election.
Even Michael Flynn now, you know, the Russian ambassador said he was
talking to Michael Flynn before the election.
So, that – so this means that when the Putin regime was trying to attack
American democracy and rig the election to help Donald Trump, people
associated with Donald Trump were talking to representatives of that
We need to know who said what to whom and whether they gave any
encouragement to the Putin operation to attack U.S. democracy.
MELBER: David, you`ve been on this story, including from before the
Kurt, you`ve also as David mentions done a lot of reporting here including,
I know recently looking at some of the foreign sources. What can you tell
KURT EICHENWALD, SENIOR WRITER, NEWSWEEK: Well, sort of one of the
shocking moments here is that we are now the subject, we the United States
are the subject of some intelligence operations being conducted by our
allies in Europe.
They are trying to figure out what`s going on in the Trump administration.
They have been intercepting conversations between members of the Trump
campaign and Russians since at least August when they first caught wind
that there was some sort of improper connection.
You have one western European intelligence service that is conducting
surveillance and intercepting conversations.
And you have the intelligence service of a Baltic state that is running an
intelligence operation out of concern that Donald Trump is going to
embolden Putin`s aspirations and put their own sovereignty at risk.
MELBER: But that`s to some degree arguably policy, and there`s plenty of
espionage and surveillance going on globally.
Are you finding – are your sources relaying anything untoward between what
was then the Trump campaign and Russia?
EICHENWALD: Well, there are – there are certainly the very strong
indication that there are – that there were improper things going on.
That there were things going on. I mean, you don`t – you don`t have an
ally basically spying on an American presidential campaign if they don`t
have any concerns and they`re deeply concerned.
One of the things I`m finding fascinating here is for lack of a better
description, how easily I`m being able to obtain this information now.
MELBER: Because maybe –
EICHENWALD: And normally –
MELBER: Because maybe they wanted out. Let me bring in Evan as a former
CIA official. Your thoughts.
EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, look, I would say that what we
have happening here is a realignment of U.S. relations, U.S. alliances as a
result of Donald Trump`s positioning.
Now, Ari, you just pointed out that, hey, this is – this is just policy,
and there is nothing egregious or wrong about a new president having new
policies. That`s exactly right. Now, we can debate about whether these
policies are good or bad.
But there`s something different about this situation. And that is that
Donald Trump may be compromised.
And that what`s motivating him to advance policy positions and policy goals
that most policy – most foreign policy experts and national security
experts think are extraordinarily damaging to our interests and to the
interests of our allies.
And so we`ve got to understand what is motivating Donald Trump. And that`s
why this new information coming from the “New York Times” and elsewhere is
And it`s why it`s so important for us to learn more.
MELBER: Well, and David Corn –
CORN: Yes –
MELBER: Look again at what Chuck Schumer says in this – in this ballpark
to Evan`s point.
“There`s real concern that the administration transition campaign officials
may try to cover up ties to Russia by deleting e-mails, texts and other
records that could shine a light on these connections.
Senator Schumer, as you know, is pretty careful in his wording and was a
judiciary committee guy long before he happened to be Democratic leader.
What that statement says is, he`s concerned about obstruction of justice,
which is a felony.
CORN: Of course, and anybody in charge of an investigation would be
concerned about that.
That`d be the first thing you want to do is to sort of secure documents and
witnesses. We have the House and Senate intelligence committees behind
closed doors, beginning these investigations.
I`m told they`re off to a pretty slow start. That doesn`t mean it won`t
pick up steam and do what`s possible.
But at the same time, these investigations are controlled by Republicans
who have an interest in the Republican president not getting into too much
Which is why you hear calls for an independent commission. This
investigation doesn`t have to be too difficult to ascertain what Trump
Not maybe just campaign people, but other associates were talking to Russia
before the election with Russian officials and what they were saying.
Some of this might be – have been caught by intercepts. You can start
interviewing these people and it really doesn`t matter if Roger Stone tells
you, Ari Melber, that he hasn`t been contacted yet by the FBI.
Because the FBI often doesn`t contact people who are under investigation.
Ditto with Paul Manafort. But there is a way to do this if the Republicans
are serious, but I think there`s a big question about that.
MELBER: Well, you – yes, you made a very important point – hold on one
I want to bring in Evan here. But you raised an important point, David,
which is I want to be fair here. And I`m reporting the denials of these
CORN: Right –
MELBER: Having said that, if you are further up the chain in a potential
investigation, or you are potentially a person of interest or a person of
investigation, you may get one of the last interviews, certainly not the
CORN: Yes –
MELBER: So –
CORN: That`s true.
MELBER: And I am – I am saying that as a general observation, not a
statement one way or the other about individuals.
But just to say, as I – as I often say –
CORN: Yes –
MELBER: I don`t know when we`re reporting this. There are things we know
and things we don`t know yet.
CORN: Yes, we don`t know – we don`t –
MELBER: Go ahead, David –
CORN: We know – we know the FBI has been looking into this. We know
they`ve been doing it for several months now.
We really have no idea how far and wide or extensive that investigation is
and whether it`s a criminal investigation or a counter intelligence
MELBER: Right –
CORN: Which are two very different things.
EICHENWALD: Well –
MELBER: Right, and well – hold on, I`m sorry Kurt, I keep –
EICHENWALD: OK –
MELBER: I keep telling you to hold. Hold on one more second. We`ve got
to call on the other line, it`s Evan McMullin. And the story I have to ask
you about is –
MCMULLIN: Yes –
MELBER: The other breaking news within the last ten minutes, if you hear
me shuffling papers, it`s because of the “New York Times”.
We just printed this. “White House review of intelligence.” The kind of
headline that could be encouraging if you thought it was about dealing with
any of this. But James Risen and Matthew Rosenberg here, respected long
time, Intel reporters, I`m sure you know.
Say actually brand-new the White House is looking at putting a business
person in charge of some sort of review layering over the intelligence.
And they`re already getting pushed back from Dan Coats, saying this seems
like it might undermine him. This broad review before he even gets
MCMULLIN: Well, absolutely. And this isn`t the first time we`ve heard
There are some weeks or months ago, Donald Trump in lashing out against the
intelligence community after some other information was revealed said that
he was going to restructure the intelligence community after inauguration.
The concern is that Donald Trump in whatever review he does will actually
be trying to silence the intelligence community, especially when it comes
to information that is damaging –
MELBER: You –
MCMULLIN: To him.
MELBER: Do you think this is a political bullying?
MCMULLIN: I think it seems like it definitely could be. It seems like it
could be. I mean, we don`t – we don`t know.
We have to see them. You know, I think I am in not calling it that or I`m
giving the president extraordinary benefit of the doubt.
MCMULLIN: But it`s hard to ignore the motive here, which is the
intelligence community through leaks, as Donald Trump is pointing out, is
exposing a major vulnerability, as David Corn has reported.
There is no –
MELBER: Right –
MCMULLIN: Way for Donald Trump to explain this away.
EICHENWALD: Look, now, I mean, one of the things that`s very important
here is, you know, there is no possibility for a cover-up.
This is not a circumstance like Watergate where everybody can sit in a
private room and discuss things and not know that it`s on tape. Because
it`s already on tape. It`s already in recordings. And our allies have it.
Our allies have been intercepting documents. Our allies have been
intercepting e-mails. They have been recording telephone conversations.
MELBER: Yes, well, Kurt, you`re putting your finger on the biggest
question here. Henry Kissinger famously –
EICHENWALD: Yes –
MELBER: Used to say, he said, you know, “the illegal we do now, the
unconstitutional we do later. “
And then he said – well, after they started recording things in the White
House, he says I don`t say that anymore because of the recordings.
A joke about how he knew –
EICHENWALD: Yes –
MELBER: He was being recorded. How did General Flynn not know that
contacts with the Russians would be recorded? There would be a transcript.
I mean, can you explain that, Kurt?
EICHENWALD: Because he`s an idiot! I mean, you know, it`s sort of like –
what else can you say?
CORN: That`s the technical term, yes.
EICHENWALD: There is not a lot of explanations for how someone could not
know that 90 percent of the western world would be listening in on your
conversation to the Russian ambassador.
CORN: Including the Russian ambassador he knew, too.
MELBER: All right. Which goes to why they were concerned about blackmail.
I`m being told in the control room we`re out of time. Which is – this is
I want to continue – we got a lot more in the show on it. But Evan and
Kurt, thank you very much for joining.
Coming up, what Donald Trump said and did not say today about Michael Flynn
shows how he is trying to use the press to build a wall around his own
I`ve got a breakdown on that. And first tonight, labor advocates declaring
victory as Andrew Puzder withdraws formally from consideration as Donald
Trump`s Labor Secretary.
MELBER: The emerging movement to stop Donald Trump is declaring victory
tonight as Andrew Puzder is withdrawing as Trump`s Labor Secretary nominee.
A big piece of news today, that is next. Also later tonight, Donald Trump
has shown something you may have heard about, a pattern when it comes to
real facts. It was on display again today, but it may have hurt him. I
will explain, coming up.
MELBER: President Trump`s choice for Labor Secretary is out of the
running. His nomination collapsing one day before what would have been his
Senate confirmation hearing. Fast food chain executive and Trump donor
Andrew Puzder, CEO tweeted this.
“I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor. I`m honored to
have been considered and I`m grateful to all who have supported me.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the White House earlier today
reportedly, Puzder just didn`t have the votes to even be in the ballpark of
getting through the Senate.
Republican resistance growing after the emergence of a 1990 video of his
ex-wife that was accusing him of abuse as well as revelations that he had
employed an undocumented immigrant for whom he paid no taxes.
Joining me now, Erin Gloria Ryan, a senior editor for “The Daily Beast”
who`s been covering the story as well as David Corn. Erin, was this a
surprise? What does it mean that this is the person who went down?
ERIN GLORIA RYAN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, to me it seems
sort of like the Republicans have run out of political capital in their
They exhausted a lot of it in confirming some of Trump`s other nominees.
But in this case there was really no justifying confirming this specific
Not only was he somebody who habitually broke the rules that he was
supposed to be in a position to enforce.
He also was somebody that was tied to domestic violence, which is really
not very good optics for the Republican Party at this moment.
MELBER: More than optics.
RYAN: Well, more than optics, it`s like actual morality.
MELBER: And David, on that point, Senator Elizabeth Warren was speaking
about this and about the Oprah episode that had emerged. Take a listen –
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I have watched the episode in
which she appeared, as I believe every senator should.
I found it extraordinarily troubling. Alongside his company`s poor record
of treatment of female employees. His highly explicit and sexualized ads,
and his snide comments about sex discrimination.
There is ample evidence that Mr. Puzder is a terrible choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CORN: Well, first, it`s good that they let her speak. That`s progress for
I salute them for that. And you know, Senator Warren there also left out
what was some of the initial and fundamental reasons to oppose this
He as Secretary of Labor, was going to be, yet he is against raising the
minimum wage for workers.
His restaurant chains have an atrocious record of dealing with overtime and
he doesn`t want to pay overtime.
He has said, you know, I wish I could get rid of workers and just put in
robots because they don`t file discrimination cases and they`re never late,
and you know, you don`t have to worry about them.
So, this is a guy who is clearly not really on the side of the little guy
or the workers out there, yet he was supposed to be in charge of the Labor
CORN: So, put that as, you know – that`s all before his own personal
violations of morality, if not the law.
So, I mean he should have been dead from the – from the – as a nominee
from the moment this began.
RYAN: Right, I mean –
CORN: Take all of this –
RYAN: And just to add to that. Just to add to that. The fact that he was
somebody who is pro-automation.
When automation is something that over the next ten years is going to
threaten tens of thousands if not more American jobs.
And he was somebody that was supposed to be the Secretary of Labor actually
endangering Americans` ability to work.
CORN: You know, the interesting thing, Ari, is that usually when
Republicans come into the White House and they appoint a Secretary of
Labor, they usually appoint someone who doesn`t seem to care about the
position, the job, the issues.
But in this instance, Donald Trump did find someone who cared a lot. He
just cared about it from the management position, not from the labor
MELBER: Right, he might have been better for – I don`t know, Office of
Management and Budget, probably not.
CORN: Yes –
MELBER: David Corn and Erin Gloria Ryan, thank you both for joining and
for that perspective.
Coming up, the chaos in the Trump White House causing unbelievable turmoil
in the words of a top general. That`s straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, I thank you all very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, were you aware that – were you aware
that Russians were talking to your campaign staff? (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s nonsense – what`s nonsense about the Russian
contact with your campaign? (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: Another day in paradise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Paradise. That is how Donald Trump reacted today to those
questions from reporters on the controversy feeding a perception of chaos
or worse, frankly, in the administration.
We`ll show you some other contacts. The head of U.S. special operations
command with a serious assessment of the Trump administration saying our
government continues to be an unbelievable turmoil.
I hope they sort it out soon, because we are a nation at war. Joining me
now is Charlie Sykes; editor-in-chief of “Right Wisconsin” and co-host of
“Wnyc`s” “Indivisible” and an Msnbc contributor.
And my good friend Jamil Smith; who is the senior national correspondent at
“MTV News”, which is apparently still a thing.
JAMIL SMITH, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, MTV NEWS: It`s still a thing.
MELBER: It`s still a thing. Charlie, what are we to make of this?
CHARLIE SYKES, RADIO HOST: Well, that quote, and I`m really glad you
That`s where I think people got – now we have to be officially concerned
when you have active members of the military generals expressing this
concern. Look, I`m always looking for a historical precedence, what`s a
Can anyone cite any time in recent American history where you had a general
serving in the military express that kind of concern about his own
MELBER: Right, I mean, there`s a term that gets thrown around a lot. It
gets thrown around in grade school. It gets thrown around in
relationships. It gets thrown around in politics. It`s constructive
criticism. And a lot of people in politics don`t look at criticism as very
constructive. And they get in the habit in a battle mode of well
everything is just designed to hurt me anyway and attack me anyway, right?
I think the point you`re getting at, Charlie, and Jamil speaks to it is
here is a general who isn`t rooting for a particular politician, wants this
administration to succeed in the broadest sense and has found that the
official channels and private communication isn`t enough. This is a cry
JAMIL SMITH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I mean here`s the thing is that all
that talk, all that bluster works when you`re on the campaign trail. It
gets people fired up. it gets people going to the polls. It gets people
putting signs in their yard. But when you have to actually govern and you
don`t know what you`re doing, that is an incredible problem. And it`s not
just – they may not have hit Trump supporters yet. It may hit them in the
pocketbook. It may hit them when they realize their water is dirty by
polluters who have been given more freedom to do that but right now, you
know, the generals, and these folks are realizing that the gravity of this
MELBER: And they can`t even, Charlie, communicate as to what the plans
are. Listen to Steve King trying to explain as a loyal Republican what the
deal with Flynn was given that the Whitehouse had multiple explanations of
the same alleged fact.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KING, U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I read Flynn`s letter of resignation. That
would be the technical fact that he did resign, and he said why in that
letter. Kellyanne Conway said that it was Flynn`s decision. I know that
Sean Spicer said was that it was he was fired. So there is conflicting
stories out here. This story that is going on right now is just – that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYKES: Yes, this is part of the problem. Chaos is not a great governing
philosophy. Could we also put to rest finally the notion that they`re
playing some four dimensional chess?
MELBER: Oh, Charlie, you`re just being distracted away from the real
SYKES: We`re always being distracted away from the real thing. I mean
this is, by the way, the question that I am encountering across the board.
Members of Congress you knowwant to get things done. They meet with the
people in the Whitehouse. The first question they ask is who is in charge?
Who is making decisions? And no one knows the answer to that.
MELBER: Charlie, how do you stay on message if the message was Flynn was
fire and Flynn wasn`t fired?
SYKES: Well exactly. But also their story makes no sense that there was a
breakdown in trust to the president fires him. He comes out of the press
conference today and blames the fake news media for all of this you know.
If in fact this really was because he lied about this, you know, to the
Vice President, why did they keep the vice President out of this. Also, if
in fact he didn`t do anything wrong, which we`re constantly hearing that he
did. Of course it was completely legitimate for him to talk about
sanctions. Then why did he feel it necessary to lie to Mike Pence, if
there is nothing there?
SMITH: I mean, go figure. I mean and also, the blaming of the media is
such a cowardly act. If you`re going to blame, say the Washington Post
report that Sally Yates, acting Attorney General at the time warned them
that Flynn was susceptible to Russian blackmail, then why is that not more
alarming to you the fact than the fact that it was reported? And that`s
the thing. These are the questions that we would love to be able to ask
the President if he would call on us at some of these press events.
MELBER: Yes. I`m so glad you mentioned that. Because who he is calling
on is another part of the strategy that is important. Charlie Sykes, thanks
for joining us. Jamil stays because in our next segment we have a
breakdown. Donald Trump talks about he knows how to build a wall. What
about the Whitehouse walling off reality with the media strategy and what
can be done about it? That`s next.
MELBER: The strangest part of President Trump`s comments about his
departing National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was his use of the
passive voice. Today Trump says Flynn has been treated terribly, as if
words printed in newspapers are the key issue. They are not. The major
treatment Flynn received was being relieved of his job with record breaking
speed. And Donald Trump, a man who literally became a celebrity by ending
every chaotic week on his reality show with the termination, Donald Trump
is now unable to even say the words you`re fired let alone explain his
rationale. There are some clues as to why Trump seems out of character.
His team never dealt with Flynn`s Russia problem. They denied it existed.
And that left Trump claiming he was this dark.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you make of reports that General Flynn had
conversations with the Russians about sanctions before you sworn in?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t know about it. I
haven`t seen it. What report is that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a number.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Washington Post reporting that he talked to the
Ambassador of Russia before your were inaugurated about sanctions.
TRUMP: I haven`t seen that. I`ll look at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I haven`t seen it. What report is that? OK. If the President ends
that kind of exchange by saying he will look at something, the Whitehouse
Press Corps will then ask about it again. It`s called a follow-up. It`s
how it works. But Trump`s team was in denial than too, and they`re trying
to create, this is important, an alternative Press Corps to join them in
their denial. So during the President`s next press availability we
monitored all this. The Whitehouse shut out the National Press Corps by
only taking questions from the local affiliate and the conservative website
the daily caller which asked this –
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you see as the most important national
security matters facing us?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Good question. To be fair, good question. Now before anyone
complains that the other reporters were obviously falling done on their
jobs in the room, note that a national reporter, ABC`S Jonathan Karl did
try to press Trump on Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: He just ignored it. And as the old saying goes, like Potus like
Veep. Here was a similar scene Monday.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Can you tell us about your relationship with the
National Security Adviser?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you still have confidence in him? Did he lie to
you? Do you have confidence in Mr. Flynn?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It`s not over. The Whitehouse was using a similar approach in a
press conference today, limiting questions to the Christian Broadcasting
Network and conservative website townhall.com. And the New York Times has
called out this strategy. This is even before Flynn stepped down,
reporting by ducking those independent reporter, Trump did not address Mr.
Flynn`s status for days after the Post reported that he had discussed
American sanctions against Russia with Moscow`s Ambassador to Washington.
So Trump managed this denial for days. And the President obviously can
ignore shouted questions in front of everyone as often as he wants. But
what exactly is the goal of this total level of denial? The pressure on
Flynn only built and built. The softball questions didn`t change the
subject for long. And while Trump complained reporters were mean.
Reporters will keep on observing what`s happening. They`re just observers.
There is only one man at the Whitehouse who can say you`re fired even if
apparently he doesn`t like saying that anymore. Ana Marie Cox and Jamil
Smith weigh in on all of this straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any comment on the report there`s was contact between
your senior advisers and suspected Russian operatives during your
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Pay no attention to the reporters in the room. Joining me Ana
Marie Cox, Senior Political Correspondent and Jamil Smith back with us.
Ana, what do you make of this approach to press denial?
ANA MARIE COX, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think in my
ideal world, I would say two can play in that game. I mean I`d stop sending
people to the Whitehouse if I was I mean or make it a more concerted
effort. I mean the one thing we know Trump hates is being ignored.
MELBER: That would be a victory then. Then they would have daily calls
and gateway funded and only those questions.
COX: Right. Would that be a victory? I mean if they`re not going to call
on the times anyway, if they`re not going to call on the more traditional
journalists anyway, why are they there? I mean wouldn`t it be better to
deprive him of oxygen? I mean that`s – because that`s like that`s what
happening, right? And I mean in general he is going to lie to us. Like why
MELBER: Let me push you on that.
COX: Go ahead.
MELBER: Because I`m not fake Tv arguing with you. I`m really arguing. I
mean there is a certain amount of coverage the leader of the free world is
going to get, whether people are in the room or not.
MELBER: So The New York Times is going to write about what the President
says whether they have a reporter in the room or not. The idea as we just
shown is that at times having people in the room at least puts the question
to the President. He ignores it and the world at least can see on tape the
type of questions he is ignoring. You can`t literally make him talk but –
COX: Yes, I mean I think that`s what is going to happen. And I`m not
opposed to that. But I guess I`m trying to think outside the box because
we have a president that is very much not in the box. You know? I mean
like we are through the looking glass with what kinds of things that this
guy gets away with and what kinds of things he tries to get away with.
And part of me feels like we have to take some – we might try taking some
rather radical steps. I mean I`m not sure if traditional journalism is
going to work in terms of like keeping tabs on this guy. I mean I think in
general, maybe the thing we need – the scoops that are coming out of the
White House are not coming out of, you know, people being on the ground in
the room with Donald Trump. They`re coming out of people who are knocking
on doors and making phone calls without Donald Trump in the room.
So, I mean those are the stories we still need to have. Like I just don`t
know how much – I don`t know how useful Donald Trump is. I mean on many
different levels I`m not sure how useful he is.
MELBER: So Jamil, Ana is urging us to think outside the bun.
SMITH: Yes. Yes. And I agree with her. I think that what I would do is
employee Jay Rosen`s idea, the NYU journalism professor. Send in the
interns. Send the interns –
SMITH: – to the press, you know, the press briefings. Send interns to,
you know, these staged events with world leaders. Send the interns into
the oval office when he does – when he takes these questions and ignores
them. They can ask those same questions. You give them the same
questions. They can ask them. Meanwhile, those White House correspondents
can be out, outside of the White House doing journalism, doing
investigation, because frankly, there is just so much fodder for doing
MELBER: Go ahead, Ana.
COX: Yes, I would actually – I add that you can also send more than
interns in – this is something I`ve written about before which is that you
can send beat reporters. I mean when you have, you know – when you have
the auto executives there, send – lots of places don`t have labor
reporters anymore. But you would send your labor reporter. You know, when
you have something about the ACAU, send your health care reporter.
Like that way, at least those shouted questions may have some specificity
to them, you know, and they`re not always just about the scandal of the
day. Because that`s another issue that, you know, the White House press
corps sometimes kind of doesn`t do a great job at which is they only pursue
whatever is in the chum is in the water. And really, there are lots of
different stories going on here, lots of different threads to pay attention
And the shouting of questions about whatever is happening in the front
pages that day can make us kind of forget about that other stuff.
MELBER: What do you think with regard to the entire Flynn debate, Ana that
the material that came out, even if it might have been elicit leaks, and we
all use leaks to report, the underlying material is not really in much
factual doubt, that he had these contact with the Russians.
MELBER: And the transcripts tend to show that. And yet it`s an attack on
the press as if mentioning the facts is somehow mean to him.
COX: Right. Right, I mean also – I mean it`s pretty much an admission
that Flynn got fired because people found out about what he was doing,
right? Not because of what he did. I mean it`s just an outright admission
of that. I mean clearly by Trump`s statement, he would rather have General
Flynn in his office today, which is frightening. And also, you know, you
got to wonder if he is going to pull a Corey Lewandowski in this particular
case and Flynn is going to continue consulting Trump.
Like Trump apparently likes to, you know, really trust Flynn on all kinds
of matters, including whether or not a good, you know, a strong dollar is a
good thing or a bad thing. I imagine he is going to continue to call
Flynn. And Flynn will be consulting the president without even having like
the margial oversight of like being an official part of the White House. I
mean again –
MELBER: Jamil that raises the – go ahead.
COX: Go ahead.
MELBER: Jamil that raises the question of what kind of e-mail he would
SMITH: Well, we already know that, you know, the president is, you know,
still using his unsecured phone, according to The New York Times to I guess
keep tabs on friends and I guess send his tweets. The emphasis on cyber
security during the campaign is just laughable now. I mean –
MELBER: Because of the Mar-a-Lago dinner party?
SMITH: Not just because of the Mar-a-Lago dinner party. That`s because
he`s on a secure phone but also because the man simply does not seem to
care about any of these secrets getting out, I mean –
SMITH: – except when they`re damaging to him.
MELBER: Right. And the lack of security there shows a terrible double
standard. You have to be careful with national security when you text and
e-mail. As Miley Cyrus said, if you mean it, I`ll believe it. If you text
it, I`ll delete it. Jamil Smith, thank you for being here. Ana stays.
Trump officials meanwhile insisting the president`s power is beyond
question in the courts. We have new reports tonight that they`re actually
writing a new order that could dial back parts of the travel ban.
This is as Trump`s lawyers argue next week that border agents can shoot
Mexican citizens without any court oversight. It`s a case you may not have
heard about yet. But that is about to change.
MELBER: We do have a programming note for you. I hope you will join me
this Sunday night. I`ll be anchoring two hours of special Sunday primetime
live coverage. That`s from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Eastern, including a new
segment answering your questions from the e-mail. You can write me at
email@example.com. and you might see your question tackled Sunday night six to
eight. See you then.
MELBER: President Trump is undergoing several resets on national security.
His Taiwan outreach policy is over. His national security adviser is out,
and his aides are now writing a new immigration order after the last one
was blocked in court. One of those aides is Stephen Miller, who was
recently warning that, quote, the whole world must know that Trump`s power
will, quote, not be questioned. That is literally what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Our opponents, the
media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further
actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very
substantial and will not be questioned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A broad view of executive power, to say the least. It`s not just
the travel ban. Lawyers in the administration are about to argue the U.S.
Not only has the power to discriminate based on national origin, but that
border agents may sometimes shoot and kill Mexican nationals with impunity.
You may not have heard about this yet, but it is an important story.
The justice department waging a broad defense of the U.S. Border Patrol
officer who shot and killed a Mexican citizen across the border in 2010,
that citizen was unarmed. He was also 15 years old. His name was Sergio
Hernandez Guerica. He was in Mexico near the border when an agent shot him
from about 60 feet away. It was captured on this cell phone video that was
obtained originally by Univision.
His parents say the shooting violated his constitutional rights while the
administration basically argues he doesn`t have any. This case hits the
supreme court next week. The justices will hear arguments with potentially
wide implications like the claim that some people are not entitled to
constitutional rights so they get no protection even if the U.S. Government
mistreats them or kills them. That is how Guerica`s parents put it,
arguing that this position would turn the already troubled border in to a
unique no man`s land.
A law free zone at which U.S. agents can kill innocent civilians with
impunity. Trump`s justice department argues the court should not interfere
in this incident because it`s a national security power for the executive.
That is a pretty normal argument made by president`s from both parties and
lately pushed hard by Trump. But this isn`t a normal time. And I don`t
think this will shape up to be a normal case.
We`re going to be hearing a lot about how the president`s national security
powers should not be questioned. Joining me now is David Leopold, an
immigration attorney, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers
association and back with us is Ana Marie Cox. David, looking at both this
case and the wider debate, this is an administration that is taking
executive power very seriously.
DAVID LEOPOLD, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: You know, you look at this case with
this 15-year-old boy that was murdered in this what they call this
constitutional free zone between the United States and Mexico, the border.
And in my mind, that`s a metaphor for what Trump is doing to the entire
United States. He is taking a wrecking ball to the Statue of Liberty.
We`ve seen people detained at airports.
We`ve seen people raided over the last week. And tonight we understand
that a woman, undocumented woman was arrested after she got a protective
order in court. Undocumented men arrested after they walked out of a
homeless shelter for hypothermia. I mean this is a disaster of the Donald
COX: Ana on the politics here, Trump`s folks say he ran on immigration.
He ran on being tough. He made it very clear. And these are the kind of
positions that – that as I mentioned, both parties have held. Presidents
tend to want more, not less power. And that foreigners shouldn`t have new
or extra rights?
MELBER: Yes. That is something that presidents on both sides have argued.
And it`s also something that many Americans find antithetical to the idea
of being an American. I mean we call them constitutional rights. But a
lot of people understand them to be human rights, enshrined in the
constitution. And the idea of due process is one that, you know, I think
Americans take pretty seriously.
And that`s one of the ones that was violated in the travel ban. I think
this is also an area where you`re going to see that Trump`s, you know,
support did come from not just red America, it came from the red parts of
red states where we have lots of blue islands. Cities like Minneapolis,
which is a sanctuary city, cities like Houston. Cities like Dallas.
You know, there are cities where these raids are taking place. Austin, I`m
naming Texas cities obviously for a reason. And these are cities where the
immigrants are an important part of the economy, an important part of the
social factor – the social fabric. And, you know, it`s actually just
today I actually – we happened to be sitting down for lunch and overheard
this party next to me talking about a friend of theirs whose husband was
undocumented and was now being deported.
And I don`t think people realize like this – the affect that this is going
to have not just on the immediate families, but in our, you know, fairly,
you know, our cosmopolitan, diverse cities where people know people who
know people. I mean to start –
MELBER: – to pull on the these threads and whole communities are going to
unravel and it`s not going to be just black and brown people that are
affected, you know, I mean it`s going to be the whole city.
MELBER: David, final thought.
LEOPOLD: Well look, I mean I – what Ana is pointing out is absolutely
correct. And what we have here tonight is a president who has no regard
for the rule of law. He has no regard for the constitution. And he has
sent out this ugly deportation force. And, you know, to cities, Ana points
out, Houston, points out Austin.
These are places by the way that have stood up to Donald Trump. So this
deportation force is not just about immigration. This is about politics.
And this is about politics and a show of force. And it`s very dangerous.
And we need to stand up to it.
MELBER: Right. And the other big question you both alluded to is what
does the U.S. Government want to do and what rights are owed to people who
may be non-citizens there is precedent that some of them have rights. This
case is going to look at this in what is obviously a very regrettable
circumstance, very interesting.
We`re going to be watching the court. David Leopold and Ana Marie Cox.
Thank you so much for joining us. You could find me again this Sunday 6:00
p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern for a special Sunday primetime coverage. But
right now keep it locked because the 11th Hour with Brian Williams starts