The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 5/16/2017
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: These are pros, they know how to handle
classified information. They know as John McLaughlin; the former, you
know, acting CIA director told me, you have a protocol for how you hand
over information to the Russians is all scripted.
You do not ad-lib that.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Andrea Mitchell; Nbc News chief foreign affairs
correspondent, host of “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS”. A woman who works 25
hours a day in normal circumstances and right now is working inhuman hours
MITCHELL: No –
MADDOW: Including these –
MITCHELL: Not nearly as much as you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you for being here, Andrea, I really appreciate it, bye.
All right, that does it for us for now, we`ll see you again as soon as
something else happens.
Now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell, good evening
Lawrence, welcome back.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Rachel, you know what we were
doing last Tuesday night, you and I, right now at this moment? Discussing
the firing of James Comey, that`s what these seven days have been from –
MADDOW: It is –
O`DONNELL: There to here. It feels like two months ago.
MADDOW: We were talking about the subpoenas that have gone out in federal
criminal investigations, right? That we were able to report tonight.
That there are – there`s a subpoena that has gone out related to Paul
Manafort in order to – contextualize that, I was talking about – we know
we only knew about one other subpoena that`s gone out related to Mike
And I was writing that up today for – to being able to explain it. And
when I actually proved to myself that that also was only one week ago, that
that wasn`t like seven months ago, I had to check it 17 times because I
can`t believe how much is happening in such a short period.
O`DONNELL: Well, consider now, Andrea`s point, and it`s so great. These
are the nights when we need our experienced voices who can remember the
rumblings of Watergate and what that momentum felt like.
But there is John McCain who remembers it well, using the word “Watergate”
tonight, saying that this is possibly bigger than Watergate.
Seven days from now, Rachel, when we`re sitting here tonight and so far we
don`t have any demands from the Republican side really on a special
Seven days from now, you could have 50 Republican senators saying there
should be a special prosecutor, that`s how fast this is moving, we don`t
MADDOW: That`s exactly right. And all the more remarkable to think that
this president, who has already broken protocol – not protocol, broken
precedent by having not yet taken a foreign trip.
At the end of this week, he`s supposedly leaving for what is it, an eight-
day, or ten-day foreign trip.
So, I mean, the news won`t stop because he`s not here to be making it.
This news is being made in the pages of the “New York Times”, being made in
U.S. attorney`s offices.
It`s being made in the editorial, in the newsroom of “The Washington Post”.
it`s being made all over the country no matter where he is.
And if this news continues to break at this record while he`s abroad,
meeting with foreign allies, I can`t even imagine what that`s going to be
like for the ongoing work of the administration and the federal government
that he heads up.
O`DONNELL: Rachel, I spoke to a former associate of Jim Comey`s when he
was a U.S. attorney tonight, and he told me that everybody who has worked
with Jim Comey, everyone who knows him has been waiting in effect for this
They know that a conversation – that the kind of conversation that Donald
Trump was talking about and talking about having with Jim Comey, that he
would memorialize in as close to a contemporaneous way as he possibly
And that that was the training that he insisted on U.S. attorneys who work
for him, that`s what he taught them to do.
We heard someone on your program saying that they were all taught to do
that, in the FBI academy they`re taught to do that.
And so this day, they knew what`s coming. They didn`t know how it was
going to come out, they didn`t know where it was going to come out, but
they knew there would be memos like this.
MADDOW: Yes, and there`s – I think there`s three important parts of that.
Number one is we have the special agent in charge, Miss Montoya(ph) who you
just heard talking about how that is training.
How that is the way the FBI does business. We`ve also got a historical
record involving the rest of James Comey`s career and the other times in
difficult or controversial circumstances where he has made contemporaneous
Where he`s put it in writing when he was involved in something that he felt
like needed to be memorialized either to protect himself or just get
something on the record.
But the other part of that is that in a criminal investigation, when it
comes to witness statements, when it comes to determining in a court of
law, conceivably an impeachment proceedings, what is considered true, what
is the real record of what happened.
A trained FBI agent making contemporaneous notes that were shared at the
time with other people who can verify that witness statement at the time
and have memorialized it and preserved it since without tampering it.
I mean, that`s the kind of chain of evidence that makes witness testimony
admissible in a court of law for lack of a better framework here.
And that`s – I mean, that`s why the FBI does that training. That`s why
James Comey knows how to do that and ultimately the reason that you do it
that way is so you can use it for prosecuting somebody.
We just don`t know if that`s where this is headed.
O`DONNELL: Rachel, thank you very much for spending a few extra minutes
with us tonight on these historic nights I just always want to start with
Because no one has been better at tracking Trump investigations, no one has
been better at explaining step-by-step what`s going on at every stage of
every Trump investigation.
And I`ve got to tell you, it`s a little intimidating when you hand your
audience over to me, after the class they just took for an hour, I feel
like your students are all smarter than the professor who takes over at
10:00 p.m., for the 10:00 p.m. class.
So, thank you very much, Rachel –
MADDOW: You are way too kind and now I`m blushing all the way to my toes.
It`s very nice for you to say, Lawrence –
O`DONNELL: Blush away, thank you, Rachel –
MADDOW: I consider us a team, thank you my friend –
O`DONNELL: Thank you –
MADDOW: I appreciate it –
O`DONNELL: Thank you team leader, thank you, thank you. Well, I want to
talk about this memorializing conversations I was just talking about with
It`s not just lawyers, it`s not just FBI agents. When I started working in
government in the office of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I first heard
the term “memcon”.
It was after meeting with the president, Senator Moynihan and I had a
meeting with the president, and on our way back to the office, he told me
he was going to write a memcon.
It was something he learned to do in his first job in Washington, working
in the Kennedy administration.
Memcon was simply short-hand for memorandum of a conversation. Whenever
Senator Moynihan had a truly important conversation, as soon as possible
after that conversation, he would type it up on his Smith Corona
typewriter, right there beside his desk.
And he would quote as much of the dialogue as precisely as he could
remember it and he would fill in every detail he could that he thought was
relevant to the shape of that conversation.
And I started doing the same thing after meetings in the Oval Office,
meetings in the cabinet room, sometimes after important meetings with the
speaker of the House, the Senate Majority leader.
If you have worked in Washington near anyone, anyone in high office, you
are aware, at least, of the concept of memcon.
Donald Trump has never heard of it. He`s never heard of the practice of
making a memo of a conversation. Lawyers do it all the time, prosecutors
do, FBI agents do.
And Donald Trump and many other people are just discovering today that Jim
Comey does it. A source close to Jim Comey told me tonight that when he
was a federal prosecutor, he specifically – Jim Comey specifically
instructed all assistant U.S. attorneys to write memos of any kind of
material conversation, any conversation that was material to the case, with
anyone, anything like that should be written up in memo form.
If an FBI agent was present, then the prosecutor would not have to write
that himself because the FBI agent would write what they call a 301; an FBI
memo of the conversation.
Everything I just said is common knowledge. Everyone knows it, that is to
say, everyone working around prosecutions, around investigations knows it,
everyone working in government knows it.
Donald Trump`s ignorance of everything about government, his ignorance
about the FBI, his ignorance about the law.
His ignorance about James Comey himself as a person has now led Donald
Trump to the greatest danger of his life.
The only danger that he has ever faced that is greater than the bankruptcy
of Atlantic City casinos, President Donald Trump now sits at the threshold
John McCain said tonight, “that the Trump scandals have reached a Watergate
size and scale.”
Watergate got President Nixon impeached, on the verge of impeachment he
resigned the presidency.
He resigned as he faced impeachment in the House of Representatives for
exactly what James Comey`s memo says Donald Trump did, obstruction of
The Nixon tapes of the Oval Office captured the moment when the president
agreed to the idea of using the CIA to tell Patrick Gray, the director of
the FBI to stop an investigation of the Watergate scandal.
Here is some of that tape, you`ll hear the voice of White House Chief of
Staff Bob Haldeman presenting the problem to the president.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BOB HALDEMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: (INAUDIBLE).
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: So, there`s Haldeman telling the president that the FBI
investigation is going in directions they don`t want it to go and then he
told the president that White House Counsel John Dean has figured out the
way to stop that investigation.
The way to stop it is to get Vernon Walters; the deputy director of the CIA
to tell Patrick Gray, then the FBI director to stay the hell out of it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Nixon and Haldeman thought they could corrupt Mark Felt; the
deputy director of the FBI because he was ambitious.
What they did not know was that Mark Felt was also deep throat, the code
name for the secret source of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein`s reporting
in “The Washington Post” that exposed the Watergate scandal.
That is what obstruction of justice sounds like. According to the “New
York Times”, in Jim Comey`s memo of his conversation of the president
obstruction of justice sounds like this.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,
Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.
`He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.`” According to the “New
York Times”, Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing
the investigation, only replying, “I agree he is a good guy.”
The White House issued a statement tonight defending the integrity of
President Trump and attacking the accuracy of the memo saying, “this is not
a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president
and Mr. Comey.”
Joining us now, Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal who is a
member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator Blumenthal, thank you very much for joining us tonight on this
And I wanted to get your reaction to your reading of that Comey memo as
presented in the “New York Times”.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: What you`re seeing, Lawrence, is
actually an obstruction of justice case unfolding in real time.
And as a fellow Moynihan alumnus and also a prosecutor, I have written more
than a few of those memoranda of conversations and I am willing to bet that
there are more of them, and they will provide more evidence in this case
against Donald Trump for obstruction of justice.
And what we need now is subpoenas that will preserve tapes, assuming they
exist, transcripts, other memos that someone in the White House may have
done and Jim Comey`s memos that may be in the Department of Justice.
And anybody with knowledge here including Comey, Jeff Sessions, Rod
Rosenstein, Don McGahn and others ought to be called to testify before the
Judiciary Committee under oath and in public.
O`DONNELL: Senator, it seems that many Republicans are in their usual
stance of taking a breath and waiting and hoping no one ask them about
Saying as little as possible about it and waiting to see what happens next.
With the Republicans in control of Congress in order for the committees
investigating this to get deeper into it.
Republicans are going to have to want to do that. Do you expect to see Jim
Comey in a hearing environment, either in the House or the Senate with that
memo, with members of the committee having the memo in front of them and if
that were to happen, how would that happen?
BLUMENTHAL: Almost inevitably, I think Jim Comey will be a witness in a
public proceeding here in Congress without predicting which committee, I
hope it`s the Judicial Committee, I think it will be.
I will predict he`ll be here because I think my Republican colleagues will
do the right thing. I think they`ll put country above party.
I think they are shaken by a lot of what they have seen and heard over just
these last days. And you rightly recall with Rachel Maddow who has done
great work on this issue of the connection between the Trump campaign and
the Russian interference with our election.
That it was just a week ago that the former deputy Attorney General Sally
Yates was testifying here in Washington and set off a sort of a chain
reaction of events and we`re seeing the latest.
But there`s a mosaic here, and presenting it to the jury, ultimately,
record a public opinion will be a piece-by-piece task, and I think part of
it will be Jim Comey testifying under oath in an open proceeding.
O`DONNELL: Senator, Lindsey Graham has been running a hearing series out
of a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.
Would that be the way you would expect this to proceed, that he himself
would want to hear from Jim Comey since Judiciary Committee does have
jurisdiction over FBI matters and Justice Department matters?
BLUMENTHAL: Senator Graham and Senator Whitehouse, the two leaders of that
subcommittee have been doing excellent work.
And I think that Senator Graham is a person of integrity and determination
as are other of my Republican colleagues.
I believe that they are really seeing this – this kind of episode in a
very different light after this, which is so brazen and craven.
And really contemptuous at the rule of law. No one is above the law.
That`s ultimately the lesson of Watergate.
And that attempt to let the president go or let any defendant go or any
target of investigation, in this case, it could well be the president of
the United States, I think will be ultimately met with Republicans doing
the right thing.
O`DONNELL: And senator, you can remember Watergate, were you in law school
at the time of Watergate or where were you at that point in your career?
BLUMENTHAL: I was in law school.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And you can remember as we all could, just the sensations
of the story and there were days when you could feel things, just kind of
feeling your gut where we are and what happens next.
Are you reaching back for those feelings as we`ve been moving through the
last few weeks?
BLUMENTHAL: I have recalled a lot of those very same feelings of hope, but
also fear for our democracy.
And remember, Lawrence, that Watergate basically was a third rate burglary,
as it was termed. And it gave rise to the expression, the cover up is
worse than the crime.
Because the crime was in fact a too good theft. But here we have the theft
of democracy. The Russian meddling in our elections, the potential
collusion involving the Trump campaign, the effort to in effect thwart that
investigation of both the Trump campaign and the Russian ties in firing
Comey and seeking to have him layoff.
And in fact warning that Sally Yates gave that Flynn – Michael Flynn the
national security adviser was financially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
So this thread of evidence, I think will ultimately lead to further
evidence that will make Watergate very reminiscent.
O`DONNELL: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thank you very much for joining us
on this important night, I really appreciate it.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Senator Patrick Leahy is the senior Democrat in the United
States Senate, elected to the Senate 42 years ago.
He`s a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and he is now the
senior Democrat on that committee.
He has – he has voted on the confirmation of countless Attorneys General
and directors of the FBI, before he was a senator, he was a prosecutor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: There`s a process inconceivable, somebody
could come and say, stop this prosecution or ignore this prosecution or
stop this investigation.
If somebody really meant that, I`d tell them, he`ll face possibility of
being charged with obstruction of justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Senator Richard Durbin is also a member of the Judiciary
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: A stunning breath-taking revelation
that the president is accused of breaching out directly to the head of the
FBI and stop an investigation of General Flynn under the circumstances.
It raises series of questions of obstruction of justice. I mean that is a
fundamental question here. Is anyone including the president of the United
States above the law?
Can they all be held, everyone be held accountable as they should be under
the rule of law.
And this revelation, the statement that`s been lashed really raises that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Samuel Buell; Professor of law at Duke
University and a former federal prosecutor who is the lead prosecutor for
the Department of Justice`s Enron Taskforce.
Also joining us Tim Weiner; Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose books
include “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA and Enemies”, a history of
Also with us, Joy Reid; Msnbc national correspondent and the host of “AM
JOY” weekends on Msnbc. Joy, I just want to start with you about your
reaction to this material and what you believe the reaction will be in
Washington tomorrow as the Republicans are trying to get through the night
as quietly as possible, tomorrow it`s not going to stay quiet.
JOY REID, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think quite a bit of time
interacting with a Republican source of mine that talk a lot with people on
the Hill and what they`re saying is that donors are definitely, if not
panicking, very upset about this.
I mean, you have Republicans who have stood by Donald Trump for a lot of
sort of basic political reasons.
But they sense the chaos, they understand how serious it is. I think the
White House team clearly understands how deadly serious this is.
And the one thing that can actually move Republicans is fear of losing re-
election and fear of losing their donors.
And donors are now demanding that this chaos end. It`s just not clear who
can end it. You know, you know, if donors want someone to get control of
what`s happening in the White House, I`m not really sure who they turn to
and people I talk to are not really sure who could do it either.
It doesn`t even seem that sort of the magical Jared Kushner who can get a
handle on it.
But this is the most serious thing you could possibly imagine. Comey has a
paper trail – and by the way, Lawrence, if you`ll understand this, Donald
Trump has now dismissed and taken out of the realm of executive privilege,
not only Mr. Comey, Sally Yates, Michael Flynn, none of these people –
O`DONNELL: Yes –
REID: Can he now cover with executive –
O`DONNELL: Right –
REID: Privilege to protect themselves.
O`DONNELL: Tim, having studied the FBI as you have, I have a feeling you
are completely unsurprised by today`s revelation that Jim Comey went back
to the office and typed up what just happened to him.
TIM WEINER, AUTHOR: Well, of course, any reporter would, any investigator
would, any FBI agent – I mean, cop would make a memo of the conversation.
What is a little surprising is that in the past week, the president of the
United States has committed not one, but two abuses of power that could get
One is the obstruction of justice which is now becoming painfully clear in
what he calls the so-called Russia case or the hopes of the FBI`s –
O`DONNELL: Being what we`re talking about in a common memo –
WEINER: Firing Jim Comey.
O`DONNELL: Yes, firing Jim Comey –
WEINER: Yes, and then telling Comey as we found out today to call off his
O`DONNELL: So you would put down firing Jim Comey as part of an
obstruction of justice?
WEINER: I would.
O`DONNELL: Yes, OK –
WEINER: That`s one abuse of power, OK. The second abuse of power was
giving aid and comfort to the Russians by leaking them incredibly sensitive
intelligence that had been entrusted to the United States on the basis that
it not be leaked to a third party.
That is an abuse of power, that is a violation of this oath of office. So
that`s count two.
O`DONNELL: Professor Buell, your reading of the law as it applies to what
we`ve learned in this memo.
SAMUEL BUELL, PROFESSOR OF LAW, DUKE UNIVERSITY: Well, I think we`ve got
an obstruction case, at least, at the level of what would normally trigger
a grand jury investigation at this point.
You don`t decide at this stage whether you`ve necessarily got enough to
prove it to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt or anything like that, you
gear up a grand jury investigation.
You know there are memos, you are there are tapes, you know there are
witnesses and the FBI has been looking into some of this, but what we
really need in the picture is a prosecutor.
We need a special counsel because we`ve got to start calling witnesses in
under oath. And I know some of this is going to happen on the Hill.
But it may happen in a kind of willy-nilly fashion. And the FBI has got a
criminal investigation going here and they need to pair with the prosecutor
and really get down to brass tacks.
And that can`t be a prosecutor who reports to Rosenstein and Sessions.
Those individuals are now witnesses in this investigation.
So we need a special counsel and we need to start taking testimony and
subpoenaing these documents and tapes.
To me, the most incredible thing today was the fact that the White House is
denying that this happened.
Because all weekend long, all we were hearing was, well, whatever happened
last week, it`s explainable, there`s nothing really that wrong with it.
Trump is just in over his head a little bit or he doesn`t understand the
rules of the road. They realized now that they`ve – this has crossed the
line into clear obstruction because they`re saying this did not happen.
O`DONNELL: And Joy, when we`re talking about a president, the only avenue
REID: Right –
O`DONNELL: It`s not a court room. And so that`s why we pull out the Nixon
case right away and we try to match it up with what counts were they
working on the impeachment case on Nixon.
And there is obstruction of justice and the obstruction of justice was tell
the acting FBI director to stop doing that.
REID: Yes –
O`DONNELL: And the trick method was that which Tim would really appreciate
the architecture of have someone from the CIA do it because it is not
uncommon for the CIA to say to the FBI, could you please back off that –
REID: Right –
O`DONNELL: That`s something we`re working on and –
REID: Yes –
O`DONNELL: You know, and so that was the trick but that wasn`t – that
trick did not fool Congress.
REID: It didn`t fool Congress – and in this case, here is the way that
you wind up with an independent counsel, which is probably what the White
House has to fear the most.
Is that this talking point that you`re hearing from a lot of Republicans,
Lindsey Graham has deployed it, the White House is deploying it.
That if Jim Comey had these concerns, he should have just gone to the
Justice Department. Where would he have gone to?
Jeff Sessions implicated and Russia gave himself and had to recuse himself.
Mr. Rosenstein has obviously made it clear that he`s a yes man and he is
the direct supervisor of the FBI director.
He clearly would not have been someone reliable. Should he have gone to
Congress where Devin Nunes was apparatchik of the White House as head of
the House Intelligence Committee.
Where the current heads, Republican heads either the Senate or the House
Intelligence Committees were incredibly reluctant to do anything other than
help Donald Trump by adding leaks and other things to their investigation,
and it would have leaked immediately at his previous memo on Hillary
So, this is somebody who had no way to go. He essentially had to act on
his own. And so you have, you know, the situation where Republicans now
can`t say that the remedy is from Mr. Rosenstein to appoint another
prosecutor, a special prosecutor who could also be fired.
And we can now see that the president has no self restraint. We`ll
probably just fire him, too. The only avenue really left – and
Republicans again are mighty reluctant to do this.
They do not want to do this. They don`t want to take the only avenue.
They don`t want to take the political avenue.
They`re not going to be left with much choice, and Andrea Mitchell has said
on this air, the ground is shifting quickly and they don`t want it to be,
but it is.
O`DONNELL: Tim, what we learned in the Nixon administration is that now is
the time, in fact, it was probably before now.
But now is absolutely the last minute for – and this is a public service
announcement for everyone working in the White House, it is time to lawyer
Forty eight members of the Nixon administration went to jail because of
things that the president wanted them to do and things they tried to help
the president with after the president had already crossed legal lines.
And this president is going to ask people to do things that they should not
do. Tomorrow and in the future and they may have already done things that
they should not do.
WEINER: It`s too late. This is happening ten times faster than Watergate.
It took Nixon and his plumbers three and a half years to break into the
The Russians already did that here in the last election! OK? It took Trump
three and a half months, not three and a half years to get to the point
where he`s obstructing justice.
And there`s no question that firing Jim Comey and intimidating Jim Comey
and telling the (INAUDIBLE) is an obstruction of justice.
And aiding and abetting a foreign power by leaking intelligence that he had
no right to leak. That is an abuse of power.
And it`s far beyond lawyering up. It`s too late. There are going to be
special committees of inquiry in Congress and there will certainly be, if
not, before after the 2018 elections, motions for impeachment of this
O`DONNELL: Professor Buell, I assume you would advise anyone working in
this White House to get very close to a criminal lawyer, have a criminal
lawyer on retainer starting now or know who you`re going to call.
BUELL: Absolutely, Lawrence. But the amazing thing here is the president
of the United States has a White House Counsel.
This is the White House Counsel`s job. And the things that were being said
last week by the president, the things that we`re learning now that he did
or the kinds of things that any good White House counsel would have told
the president not to do.
And I`m not casting any aspersions on the White House Counsel who I do not
know. But it seems very clear to me that the president is either not
talking to him or not listening to him.
And, you know, we keep hearing that this is the CEO president, that he is a
businessman and he knows how to run things.
No CEO of any major corporation in America would blunder its way through a
scandal like this without getting good legal counsel.
And it`s almost as if he went and fired his own general counsel for
investigating the company. And then when told the shareholders, there`s
nothing to see here.
This has no merit and if this guy says otherwise, he better watch out
because I have him on tape.
That`s the kind of thing that would get a board of directors to fire a CEO
in a heartbeat and there would be a criminal investigation.
So, there`s something about this president that he just doesn`t understand
the basic concept of how the legal system works or what the role of lawyers
O`DONNELL: Joy, the scenes described in this story about the memo that
show a kind of conspiratorial intent.
There`s a moment where the Attorney General is present and I saw someone
else present in that room, Mike Pence is present in the room.
And the (INAUDIBLE) in the room he asked the Attorney General and the Vice
President to leave so he`s alone in the room with the FBI director when he
makes one of these proposals to him.
REID: Yes, you read my mind. That is exactly as your predecessor speaking
that I was thinking. Is that there`s a conscience of guilt here. If
somebody doesn`t understand not only did they ask Jeff Sessions, the
department – the head of the department of Justice to leave. He asked him
Because even Jeff Sessions who is no paragon of virtue. Even he
understands that there`s something entirely improper about leaving the
president of the United States alone with the FBI director when it is the
president`s campaign that`s being investigated by the FBI Director. Even
Jeff Sessions understood that but Trump insists that he leave the room,
twice, two request.
And he also ushers Mike Pence out of the room. And by the way, I think
Pence and Sessions are not out of the woods either. Russia gate is going
to ensnare everyone who touches it. And Mike Pence has a very implausible
story as well which is that he knew absolutely nothing about anything ever
including when Sally Yates comes in and informs the transition team of
which he is the head.
He`s the head of the transition team. The idea that he was complete and
holly ignorant makes him also unfit to succeed Donald Trump even if
Republicans did have a mind to impeach him.
O`DONNELL: We are way in to overtime. We have to squeeze in a commercial
break here. Samuel Buell and Tim Weiner Thank you both for joining us.
And then Tim you`ve written books about the CIA, the FBI and the collapse
of Richard Nixon, everything we need to know about tonight. Thank you very
much for being with us tonight. Really appreciate it.
Joy we`re going to need a few more comments from you so stick around.
Coming up, how will republicans in congress react? That is the question.
Republican David Frum is with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINDSEY GRAHAM, UNITED STATES SENATOR: If Mr. Comey is alleging the
president did something inappropriate, it`s an open invitation from the
judicial committee (INAUDIBLE). I don`t want to read a memo, I want to
hear from him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Tonight House Speaker Paul Ryan released this statement. We
need to have all the facts and it is appropriate for the house oversight
committee to request this memo. Joining us now David Frum senior editor
for the Atlantic and Joy Reid is still with us, David so there`s the
speaker of the house saying let`s have a hearing about this, that is –
that opens the door pretty wide.
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR FOR THE ATLANTIC: I think what you`re going to
see over the next 36 hours, maybe, maybe a little longer than that. Is a
lot of temperature taking and sniffing of the air. Which is the way of
safety? Republicans are very shackled to Donald Trump, they don`t like
They never did. They don`t trust him, they never did. But he has the
power to wreck the party and to wreck all of their ambitious schemes. And
it`s an agonizing choice. Go down with him or risk the - offending the
membership, offending Fox News and separating yourself from them. And it
will be highly opportunistic and unprincipled decision, it`s going to be
made pretty soon.
O`DONNELL: Joy, one of the things Donald Trump had going for him was he`s
going to sign a tax cut bill written by the house of representatives and
then passed by the senate. He`s going to you know go along with them
legislatively on whatever they want to do. Can you imagine Washington
shifting to a tax cut debate from this? Can that happen.
REID: No they can`t do anything. Donald trump has essentially trapped the
party there, sort of a hostage to him right now. But they`re hostage to
himself I think David Frum is entirely right. They`ve made a bargain here.
They could get those exact same bills, tax cuts for the rich which is all
they truly care about, deregulation that was President Pence.
But President Pence doesn`t have a movement behind him. They need Donald
Trump to go back to their districts and sell the idea of tax cuts to the
rich to the constituents they`ve drawn into their district they`ve created
these super Trump districts for themselves to ensure their own re-election
eternally. But that has also created a situation where all the rest of us
are having this conversation about Russia gate but in the bubble of Trump
supporters they don`t believe Russia Gate at all.
They think it`s fake news, they want to hear about Hillary Clinton being
criminal or Obama so they – they have a problem either way if they go
after Trump. They can lose re-election because their base will leave them.
If they don`t go after Trump then the wave of infamy that`s washing over
them every day as the history of Russia Gate is written becomes written in
stone and they are essentially going down in utter absolute shameful infamy
because they won`t act.
O`DONNELL: David Frum, Richard Nixon was re-elected with a massive
overwhelming majority, stunning Electoral College victory. One of the real
record, high record Electoral College victories in history. 18 months
later he was driven out of office by republicans in his own party who went
down to the White House, Barry Goldwater, among them who was a very, very
strong Nixon supporter.
And said to him, times up, House of Representatives is going to impeach
You can leave now or you can stay and get convicted in the senate. And
Richard Nixon`s spared the country of everything that they described would
be the impeachment process, what`s the different between that and now?
FRUM: Richard Nixon in 1972 had the following things going for him. First
a rip-roaring economy, the inflation was coming but it hadn`t started yet,
second peace in our time, peace at hand in Vietnam an apparent end of the
Vietnam War and on terms favorable to the United States. And oh by the way
let`s not forget a major increase in Social Security benefits earlier in
I think in proportional terms maybe the biggest increase in Social Security
benefits ever. That got – that got Richard Nixon massively reelected but
the reckoning was waiting, the economy got into trouble in 1973 and 74
Vietnam went wrong. Conditions changed.
Donald Trump has got in many ways a more favorable geopolitical situation
than Richard Nixon does there is – there did – there-there is no major
U.S. war but the economy may or may not hold up but he does have one great
asset, Nixon did not have and that is a much more United Party and a party
that is much more frightened. The Trump Republican Party is a minority
party in control of a majority of the power.
This is a coin resting on its edge and all Republicans have to fear what if
it topples over, where we`ll be without him?
O`DONNELL: But Joy if there`s no agenda I mean if there is no Republican
agenda left because the business of Washington is the management of the
madness of the White House.
O`DONNELL: Then you know the sticking with Donald Trump to get the tax cut
that we can`t even you know have a vote on because he has thrown the train
off the tracks. You`re not sticking with him for any legislative reason at
REID: Well and they don`t have any core loyalty to Donald Trump. The
irony here is that not only is this a party that is with him because of
fear but it`s also a party that gets wrecked by him even aside from Russia
Gate. Donald Trump`s will go on Air Force One and by the report I want to
say we`re going to have health care in three days. And then they have to
scramble and hop to it.
They`ve made themselves the lackeys of this president; they`re doing the
opposite of oversight they`re being led around by his chaos. This is a
Congress that has given up all article one power and essentially said we
are the employees of the CEO president. Whatever he tells us, no matter
how crazy it is we`ll try to do it by getting entangled in Russia he may be
saving them from you know legislation that would doom them and maybe more.
They`d be passing a HCA if it weren`t for this.
O`DONNELL: David you`ve worked in the White House and anybody who`s worked
in Washington often looks forward to the wheels-up moment that moment when
the senator, the congressman the president you`re working for is up in the
air and flying away to a foreign country and those of us back at the office
can relax, can really take it easy. In fact there`s a thing called the
wheels up party when the big guy flies away.
If the President does actually go on his foreign trip which everything is
in doubt he could cancel it but if he does, does this White House, the
people left behind at the White House, do they get to relax?
FRUM: Well as you suggested I`m questioning whether this trip is really
going to happen and one of the stops on the trip is Israel. And it`s still
uncertain but the – there is embedded in this terrible story but the leak
to Russia a possibility of a really severe monkey wrench in US-Israel
relationship. The possibility of a really important betrayal of an
important Israeli intelligence asset if that story is correct.
I don`t know that Donald Trump`s going to want to go to Israel and face
that, he hates confrontation famously so. But back here in DC, no the
story is only going to get hotter and hotter and hotter and even if the
Republican Party holds together it`s going to be held together in the face
of a barrage of leaks from inside the FBI. Surely there are other
conversations that Jim – James Comey has memos up and surely we`re going
to be hearing about those too.
O`DONNELL: And - and Joy the – the going on the foreign trip is one of
the old devices it when it`s well timed of changing the subject and
changing these kinds of subjects.
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump is the subject, he can`t change that subject?
REID: He can`t and - and you know there`s also the considerations that
these foreign leaders have to make as well. I`m not sure that Benjamin
Netanyahu wants that photo-op right now because he pushed for Donald
Trump`s election and then he got burned by this man who was supposed to be
the best friend Israel ever had. So the politics on the other side of the
pond as – as we say aren`t looking so good for him to get too many photo-
ops with friendly you know there was so many dictators that he can invite
to the White House and pal around with.
So I`m not sure that trip will necessarily happen either. I think the real
bottom line here it can`t be escaped is it not only at this point our
Republicans even if Donald Trump goes on his trip. They`re still left with
a situation that they are supine in the face of a President of the United
States in attempting to intimidate the head of the FBI – FBI and inviting
the very man who he supposedly fired Mike Flynn for secretly meeting with
Mr. Kislyak into the inner sanctum of American power.
Into the Oval Office with his photographers or the photographers of the
Foreign Minister and no American media and letting them essentially have
court in the Oval Office after that same country attacked our election.
Donald Trump`s temperament unfitness, immaturity is not just doing the
Republican Party politics it`s dangerous to the country`s national
security. How do Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Paul Ryan explain to
How do they explain why that this is okay in exchange for tax cuts? I
don`t get it.
O`DONNELL: So it looks like John McCain is already there tonight saying
that this is Watergate level or worse. I want to read what Senator Richard
Burr said tonight because he`s one of the very important Republicans in
this story. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and here`s his
statement saying as close as Mark Warner and I have worked with the
director meaning, Jim Comey over the past many months now I actually
believe the director might have told us if there had been a request like
that and it was never mentioned by him.
So someone would have to do more than just have anonymous sources on this
one for me to believe that there`s something – that something`s there.
And David the interesting thing about what we learned in New York Times
report is that Jim Comey did make this memo. He did make sure people
around him knew about it so that he would have both the contemporaneous
writing of it and the contemporaneous alerting others to this information.
But he also was very careful to not let anyone involved in the Trump Russia
investigation know about that conversation because he wanted them to do an
investigation that was not in any way affected by this unique information
he had about the president. That could mean that at some point in that
investigation point in that investigation the Director od the FBI was going
to introduce this, and say, by the way, here is evidence that the President
of the United States trying to impede this investigation.
So it strikes me in the totality of the information of the New York Times
as reasonable that the FBI Director would not share that with Chairman Burr
and it may be tomorrow, if Chairman Burr comes to that realization himself.
We`ll see what he thinks
FRUM: Well Chairman Burr is also presenting an ideally sunny account of
the relationship between his committee and the other committees of Congress
and the FBI. Do you remember Devan Nunes strange midnight ride?
O`DONNELL: How could we forget?
FRUM: How could we forget? So there is again – none of this is
concluded. But there`s a lot of suggestion that what Devan Nunes was doing
was meeting with people in the West Wing, minor members of the National
Security Council Staff who are trying to find a way to hack into the FBI
operation. – the FBI investigation I should say.
If any of that is true and it remains unproven but if any of that is true
or close to being true, the FBI had to know that the same time as they were
investigating there were people in and around Donald Trump who was
investigating them or following them. And that at least the chairman of at
least one of the intelligence committees was collaborating with those
people, maybe the chairman of the other committee had some other ambiguous
relationship. This was not a relationship (INAUDIBLE).
There is - there is great tension between the Republican Party and the FBI
on this question and James Comey, although himself, of course a
Republicans. He would have felt. And he would have taken other
O`DONNELL: Joy, this is always - it`s the question that were all wondering
about. And I usually don`t bother to ask it because I know we don`t now.
But where do you sense we`re going – not the next seven days, just the
next seven hours, the next, you know, till noontime tomorrow.
REID: Yes, well I think the absence of Republicans on TV tonight is one
place they`re going which is Republicans are going to be among the bushes.
They`re going to be trying to hide from Donald Trump if at possible and not
let allow us to ask many questions.
They don`t want to talk about him. I think within the Republican Congress
there is some real soul searching that has to be taking place because again
they`re not just independent actors. They do have donors who can see the
They`re not locked in a room only watching Fox news. They understand
there`s a real scandal that everyone else can see. And the donors are not
one on one with the way that intimate relationship the way elected
Republicans have to got to find some courage here. They`ve got to find
some spine. They are not well lead I shall say. The two men who lead the
House and the Senate respectively are pure party men, pure politicians.
They want one thing, tax cuts for the wealthy, any way they can get them.
They aren`t really fixated on this. And they don`t seem to have a sense of
outrage about it. McCain says he has outrage. He hasn`t done anything
about it. Lindsey Graham said he has outrage.
But when he had Comey in front of him he tried to divert him into questions
about leaks. They participate in attempting to change the subject to
Hillary Clinton`s e-mails or whatever it is that the Whitehouse wants them
to do. So they`re divided. Even the ones who get credit for the media for
being courageous are so deeply divided on the politics of this. There are
no heroes here.
So I think in the immediate future what we see is intense pressure for an
independent counsel, intense pressure. That vote would be blockbuster if
Republicans refuse to it. I think the second area of question is going to
be on Mr. Rosenstein at least appoint a special prosecutor.
O`DONNELL: He`s testifying Thursday.
REID: And he`s testifying Thursday. And he has so far said he doesn`t
want to do it. But how do you not. No one mentioned that we know the
names of at this point seems qualified to be the arbiter of this
O`DONNELL: Rosenstein life changed today on the question of special
REID: It`s hard to imagine. He is a part of it now. He was a member of the
sort of Cabal in a lot of ways , even if he was misused.
O`DONNELL: We`ll have to take a break there. David Frum, thank you very
much for joining us. Always appreciate your giving us that perspective from
the Republican side, what they`re thinking, what they`re not thinking. Joy
Reid, thank you very much on this very important night with this terrible,
this is terrible news for the United States, for the President of the
United States and on a night like that. We need a little joy in the room.
REID: Thank you Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you very much for bringing it.
REID: Any time.
O`DONNELL: Appreciate that.
REID: Any time.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, the other emergency at the Whitehouse that President
Trump caused by releasing classified information to the Russians. It`s all
of a piece and former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin will put all of
the pieces together.
O`DONNELL: As I reminded Rachel at the beginning of this hour, one week
ago tonight, we were reacting to the news that Donald Trump had just fired
FBI Director James Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Breaking news. Jim Comey is out at the FBI.
REPORTER: Is this is a cover up? Is this a cover up?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Of what? Of what?
ANDREA MITCHELL, JOURNALIST: Does the Comey firing cast a shadow over your
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: You are kidding. You are kidding
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC Anchor: There is one news agency allowed in the
Trump/Lavrov meeting and it belonged to Vladimir Putin?
REPORTER: You can`t make this stuff up.
TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.
REPORTER: They keep changing their story.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I
gave you the best information i had at the moment.
TRUMP: But we had a very nice dinner.
REPORTER: did you ask him to drop the investigation?
TRUMP: No, never.
REPORTER: Did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI
SPICER: I assume you`re referring to the Tweet.
REPORTER: James Comey better hope there are no tapes of our conversations
before he starts leaking to the press
SPICER: The President has nothing further to add on that.
REPORTER: The President on multiple occasions demanded that Comey pledge
his loyalty to him. Comey declined to do so.
TRUMP: I read that article. I don`t think it`s inappropriate.
REPORTER: Did you answer that question?
TRUMP: no, no, I didn`t. But I don`t think it would be a bad question to
REPORTER: President Trump revealed highly classified information to the
Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador last week during a
meeting at the white house.
REPORTER: The story that came out tonight as reported is false.
MITCH MCCONNELL, UNITED STATES SENATOR: I think we could do with a little
less drama from the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most senators are shaking their heads saying, is this
going to end soon?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: We are only on day 117 of the Trump Presidency, and now tonight
we do not know how many more days there will be in the Trump Presidency.
The four-year calendar of the Presidency is now in serious jeopardy. This
is what the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said today.
CHUCK SCHUMER, UNITED STATES SENATOR: In a week full of revelation after
revelation, on a day when we thought things couldn`t get any worse, they
have. The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of
my colleagues in the senate, history is watching.
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, John McLaughlin, former acting Director of the
CIA. He`s An MSNBC National Security Analyst now. And, john, I want to
ask you about – I want to go to the Nixon model of this moment where they
were trying to get the FBI, Acting FBI Director Patrick Gray to back off an
investigation, stop an investigation. and their clever thought, John Dean`s
clever thought was, have the CIA do it because every once in a while the
CIA is working on something and the FBI gets in the way and they have to
alert the FBI.
We`re working on that, could you please let us do that? Why wouldn`t the
Trump Administration, if they were trying to do this with James Comey
instead of closing the door and having the President do it one on one, why
not go through that today, try to go through that Nixon route through the
CIA to have the CIA say to the FBI, please back off this?
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Lawrence, I think
the answer is very simple. The CIA wouldn`t do it. It didn`t do it then,
and it wouldn`t do it now. It would be a flat no.
O`DONNELL: And I want to get your overall reaction to the developments of
this day, what it means for the FBI going forward, and what you expect to
hear from James Comey as this memo becomes the center of this story.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, knowing the FBI as I do, I`m quite certain that this
series of developments only makes them all the more determined to get to
the bottom of this. That`s the culture there. That`s the way they operate.
And I think that`s where they`d come out. And I`m pretty sure at some
point Jim Comey will be sitting in front of a Senate or House Investigating
Committee and he will tell his side of the story, and he`s got, I`m certain
knowing Jim Comey, paper to back it up.
O`DONNELL: In your own practices in government, was it something that you
would do from time to time after certain conversations -
O`DONNELL: Just write it up and say I just want to preserve how this
MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. Every time that I or people with me met with for example
the National Security Advisor, we would write up, as you said at the
beginning of the show, a mem con. We would write up a memorandum of the
conversation. Now I suspect they would too. It`s important tin government
to keep records. And particularly when you`re dealing with anything that`s
controversial. It`s quite common.
O`DONNELL: And is that - and is that a matter of I want to protect myself
from what might become of this conversation, or is that just a matter of I
want to have a good record here? I want to be able – I don`t want to rely
on human memory?
MCLAUGHLIN: It`s a little bit of each. I`d say the bulk of your motive
comes from the fact that you want to preserve it for a lot of reasons.
Everything ranging from history to checking your own memory later and also
at times when you`re making controversial decisions that may in the future
become public controversies you want to know exactly what you said and to
whom you said it. And you want to know what their reaction was because a
lot of people get amnesia when things get rough. So, you want to have a
O`DONNELL: The original reason we had you booked on the show before this
memo story exploded was to talk about the President personally releasing
classified information to the Russians.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, yes.
O`DONNELL: And can you even conceive of how that would have happened?
MCLAUGHLIN: No. No. I mean so much of what we`ve seen this week is hard
to conceive of. In fact, I was thinking about it while waiting to go on
and asking myself, beyond the tick-tock that we talk about what is it I`m
left with at the end of these eight days or so. And I think of three or
four points I would not make about any of the seven Presidents that I
served. Remarkably first, this President seems to have – be unable to not
stop self-destructive behavior. …
So much of what he`s done has been non forced errors. Second, he doesn`t
seem to learn much from what goes on. Third, he really hasn`t built moral
authority to go with his legal authority. And I don`t think I`d say that
about anyone else.
O`DONNELL: That is going to be the last word for tonight, and it is the
perfect last word for tonight. Former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin,
thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.
MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: The 11th hour with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, 11TH HOUR HOST: Tonight the explosive New York Times story
that the President asked
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Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the