The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 7/7/17 Trump vs. Intel Community

Michael McFaul, Julieanne Smith, David Filipov, David Corn, Evan McMullin, Indira Lakshmanan, Joan Walsh, with Don Fox

Date: July 7, 2017
Guest: Michael McFaul, Julieanne Smith, David Filipov, David Corn, Evan
McMullin, Indira Lakshmanan, Joan Walsh, with Don Fox

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC HOST: Now it`s time for “THE LAST WORD.” Ari Melber
is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Richard. And thank you for all that
reporting. But you go, I do want to ask you given everything, do you think
Putin got what he wanted out of President Trump today?

ENGEL: I think he absolutely got what he wanted. I think he came in with
this intention to have a long meeting. I think he wanted to overwhelm the
president, presenting him lots of options, lots of things that they could
discuss, put some meat on the table for them to start digging right into
it, and hoping that this will lead to more discussions, more follow-on, and
a tighter relationship.

MELBER: Interesting. Richard Engel, thank you very much.

ENGEL: Absolutely.

MELBER: I am Ari Melber live in New York for Lawrence O`Donnell.

Now for months, people have been watching to see if Donald Trump would
pivot. Today it happened.


been discussing various things, and I think it`s going very well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`ve learned the president did, in fact, confront
Putin for meddling in the U.S. election.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: They had a very robust and lengthy
exchange on the subject.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sergey Lavrov coming out and saying that President
Trump accepted Putin`s denial.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): He accepts
these – the things that Mr. Putin has said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One administration source is telling me that is not

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bear in mind that unless it was Tillerson himself, that
person was not even in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just yesterday, President Trump cast doubt on the
allegations regarding Russia.

TRUMP: Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI DIRECTOR: It was only the Russians, and they did
so very aggressively and effectively.

TILLERSON: At this point, let`s talk about how do we go forward.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This idea of putting it behind us, I think, is a bit
of a fantasy.

TILLERSON: There was a very clear, positive chemistry between the two.

TRUMP: These are the ones. You`re right about them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Putin is never going to be your friend. We
need to treat him with extreme caution.


MELBER: The meeting is over. President Trump and Vladimir Putin held that
first meeting today eight months of course after an election that the U.S.
government determined was targeted by Russia. And this is the easy part,
the talking part. Any president would be expected to lay down a rhetorical
marker in the first meeting with an adversary after attempts to interfere
with our democracy.

And a president who ran on putting America first, a logical application of
that slogan obviously requires putting America before Russia. But the
Trump administration instead offered a very mixed message, suggesting that
Donald Trump talked to Putin about Russian interference, but that the very
interference itself was a question.

Question is the key word in this breakdown of the meeting from none other
than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.


TILLERSON: With regard to the interference in the election, I think, you
know, the president took note of actions that have been discussed by the
Congress, most recently additional sanctions that have been voted out of
the Senate, to make it clear as to the seriousness of the issue. But I
think what the two presidents, I think rightly focused on is how do we move

How do we move forward from here because it`s not clear to me that we will
ever come to some agreed upon resolution of that question between the two
nations. So the question is what do we do now? And I think the
relationship – and the president made this clear as well – is too
important. And it`s too important to not find a way to move forward.


MELBER: Too important to not find a way to move forward. Notice that
Tillerson is treating his ideological conclusion as some kind of universal
preference as if everyone thinks Russia is such an important partner that
its attacks on the United States must be just swallowed.

Of course most American leaders have not taken that kind of approach as a
given. From President Reagan to President Obama, most leaders have not
rejected American intelligence and called its conclusions into suggestion
just to smooth over relations with this adversary.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, can you say if the president was
unequivocal in his view that Russia did interfere in the election? Did he
offer to produce any evidence or – to convince Mr. Putin?

TILLERSON: The Russians have asked for proof and evidence. I`ll leave
that to the intelligence community to address. The answer to that

[22:05:04] And again I think – I think the president at this point, he
pressed him and then, you know, felt like at this point let`s talk about
how do we go forward.


MELBER: That`s weird. Tillerson is literally saying the U.S. intelligence
community should answer the Russians` questions about evidence like our
spies are answerable to the people they spy on, and they should provide
evidence to the opponents they`re accusing of these attacks? Why would you
want to give the Russians any clues about how the intel community knows
what it knows?

In court, sure. American citizens have a right to see the evidence against
them. This isn`t a court. The Russians aren`t honoring our rules.
They`re breaking them. And if this is – if this is any road to cyber war,
something Dick Cheney himself suggested, well, you don`t publicly tell your
own intelligence officials, who of course risk their lives in these kind of
wars, to brief the potential enemy.

As for Tillerson`s key word tonight, “question,” the government he serves
already has the answer. Russia meddled in the election. The last
administration announced it and acted on it. Congress, in a bipartisan
manner, has acted on it. And Trump apparently brought it up today while
also sowing more doubt about it. Illogical, that position. But perhaps


TRUMP: She`s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don`t – maybe it was.
I mean it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be
lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that
weighs 400 pounds, OK?

She doesn`t know if it`s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no
hacking. Once they hack, if you don`t catch them in the act, you`re not
going to catch them. They have no idea if it`s Russia or China or
somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace.


MELBER: Joining me now is David Filipov, Moscow bureau chief for the
“Washington Post” from Hamburg, Germany, Michael McFaul, of course former
U.S. ambassador to Russia and MSNBC contributor, and Julieann Smith,
director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for New
American Security, also a former national security adviser to Vice
President Biden.

Ambassador, how unusual is this request that our folks provide the evidence
to their folks? And who won the meeting?

question, it`s very unusual, you`re absolutely right. It`s not the job of
our intelligence communities to share intelligence to somebody who violated
our sovereignty, right? It`s like as if a criminal came into your house
and they stole your data, they stole your television set, and then the
police are supposed to provide data to them about what they did.

Putin knows what he did. Putin expected Trump to say something about it,
and it appears, judging by the readout from Secretary Tillerson, that in
fact he didn`t push back very hard. Note that Tillerson said earlier in
his remarks, he said the people of America are concerned, when he read it
out. He didn`t say President Trump said he was concerned.

MELBER: Are we over reading that? I mean, I`ve seen that observation
because it`s noticeable, but is it a problem?

MCFAUL: You know, I worked at the White House for three years. I was in
these meetings with both Prime Minister Putin at the time and President
Medvedev. I never remember a kind of construction like that. I never
remember a construction where it said it was noted, right, past tense.


MCFAUL: It was noted that the Senate was concerned about this. Why isn`t
President Trump concerned about this?

MELBER: Right.

MCFAUL: And I just think by answering it that way, this idea that we`re
just going to move along after our sovereignty has been violated? That`s
not in the American interest. That is a weak response to what Putin did
last year.

MELBER: Julianne, what did Putin get out of this and why was the meeting
so long?

to get a smile. He wanted to extend the meeting so that they`d come out
afterwards. There`d be a lot of questions about what was discussed.
There`d be some confusion over who`s reporting what. He wanted this to
look like a fireside chat with some old friends.

He needed that photo opportunity. He wanted to show that he could
basically play President Trump, and I think he did just that. I think
Trump came in unprepared. I don`t think he was well briefed. I don`t
think his team readied him for this meeting, and I think the end result is
that Putin got just about everything he wanted from that meeting, including
a very, very light touch on Russian meddling in our election last fall.

And that`s a shame because this issue is not going to go away, or this
tactic on the part of the Russians. They`re going to do this again. They
did it in France most recently. They will likely do it in Germany this
fall. And I would assume that they`re going to do it in 2018 and 2020 in
the United States again.

[22:10:01] MELBER: David, you know the old saying, don`t know much about
history. Rex Tillerson bringing up the chemistry between these two men for
whatever reason. Take a listen.


TILLERSON: The two leaders, I would say, connected very quickly. There
was a very clear positive chemistry between the two. I think, again – and
I think the positive thing I observed, and I`ve had many, many meetings
with President Putin before – is there was not a lot of re-litigating of
the past.


MELBER: David, would you consider it re-litigating something that the two
men have never discussed before? That`s what we call a leading question,
but I don`t know how else to ask it.

obviously the point of all this was to put all this behind it – put all
this behind everybody and have a nice picture moving forward, right? So
the American people see this picture of, you know, President Trump behaving
in a dignified way with President Putin. And now we`re all going to move
forward, we`re not going to think about that stuff anymore.

This whole calculation is great for Russia and maybe great for people in
the rest of the world. Americans who are really interested, like my two
colleagues here on this panel, didn`t get any answers. We didn`t get any
answers whatsoever. Is Putin going to have to answer for what he did?
Does President Trump really believe that this election hacking happened?
But for the people who don`t care, they got a great picture of them kind of
like wrapping it up. OK, that was too bad about that. Let`s move on.

MELBER: I mean, I guess – I mean, Ambassador, yes, some people don`t care
by definition. Then I guess –


MCFAUL: Well, they should care.

MELBER: They might not see the photo in the first place.


MELBER: But last time I checked, the American public does have issues with
Russia. I suppose some of the partisan lines of this are changing if Putin
is a stand-in for the Republican Party, but that shift hasn`t completely
occurred. And this would be odd ball in the extreme to suggest it`s a win
for a U.S. president to back off an adversary.

MCFAUL: And let`s be clear about when Secretary Tillerson is saying the
two leaders said, we should just move on and forget about the history,
forget about the agenda, what is that agenda? That agenda is created by
Vladimir Putin. He`s the one that intervened in our elections. We didn`t
do that. He did that to us. He`s the one that annexed territory in
Ukraine. He created that as an agenda item.

We didn`t do that. He`s the one that doubled down and tripled down in his
support for Assad in Syria. Half a million people have died there. That
agenda is created by him. So surprise, surprise, he wants to move on.
That is not smart diplomacy. Diplomacy is not a popularity contest.

MELBER: Right.

MCFAUL: Diplomacy is about defending America`s national interest and
defending international interest. Thou shall not interfere in elections in
other countries. Thou shall not annex the territory of thy neighbor.
Principle number one. We just can`t forget about those events. We have to
make sure they don`t happen again.

MELBER: Julieann, the Russian foreign minister basically stakes out this
dramatic ground. This was a headline breaking all afternoon with some
pushback as we`ve noted but saying, oh, yes, and Trump took Putin at his
word. Take a listen.


LAVROV (through translator): President Trump has said that he has heard
clear declarations from Mr. Putin that Russian leadership and Russian
government has not interfered in the elections, and he accepts these – the
things that Mr. Putin has said.


MELBER: What`s going on there?

SMITH: Well, this doesn`t surprise me at all that we have two conflicting
versions of the meeting, and that`s why the U.S. team, everyone should have
agreed to bring in more staff, note takers.

I know Mike McFaul, when he was part of the administration as ambassador or
as senior director for Russia, he himself would be in a meeting like that
to provide a readout to the press afterwards. We now only have the four
principals that were in this meeting with two translators. The translators
are obviously not going to share their notes. And so we`re left with a
question. Who`s telling the truth?

Do we believe the U.S. administration? President Trump`s version of the
story or President Putin`s version of the story? And neither one of these
guys are known to be honest Abe.

MELBER: Right. And –

SMITH: I mean, they both have trouble with the truth obviously.

MELBER: Right. Honest Vladimir.


MELBER: A subsidiary question to what you`re saying then is also what are
the foreign policy implications of Russia if they are lying about the
meeting feeling that they can lie about the word that the president of the
United States, apparently unconcerned about any reaction, which again if
you`re for America first and being tough, I would assume one of the
benefits of being tough is countries don`t get away with lying about what
you said moments after you said it.

[22:15:01] David, going back to you, this is how “The New York Times” put
it, that they were trying to prevent exactly this kind of thing. I guess
maybe it didn`t work. Quote, “The Russians had agitated to include more
staff in the meeting. Trump`s team had insisted the meeting be small,
avoid leaks and competing accounts later.” And that was someone speaking
on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity, but we have
competing accounts, no?

FILIPOV: Yes, and I mean, we obviously were thinking all day about what
was going on there. You know, Ivanov also threw out American reporters
from that briefing like myself even though the thing was broadcast live on
Russian channels.

You know, there`s an attempt in Vladimir Putin`s presidency to whitewash
the past, to make things a lot smoother, to present a view of the world
that, hey, Russia is just a country that`s trying to get along. We`re not
really trying to interfere in anybody`s elections. And this press
conference by Ivanov and the corresponding one by Tillerson really played
toward that.

Why President Trump needs that is something that is harder to understand.
But what the Russians were trying to do was push this whole thing forward.
And that statement by Ivanov, that`s just basically saying hey, we confirm
everything we`ve been saying there was no, you know, hacking and the U.S.
president agrees with it.

And we`ll be really asking tomorrow, everybody we know in Washington, does
President Trump – did he really accept this? Did he really say that? It
sounds insane. It sounds out of this world that he would just go and put
it away like that with the entire country, you know, interested in this

MELBER: Ambassador McFaul, I have the final question for you. It may be
the hardest to answer. Going forward, is the Trump administration taking
the position that Russia either didn`t meddle or it barely mattered, so
it`s all good, or is there a view that to the extent they meddled, it was
to help Trump? So he doesn`t really need to prevent it because it could
help him again in the reelect.

MCFAUL: Well, I don`t know the answer to that obviously. I wasn`t in the
meeting. By the way, I used to negotiate who would be in those meetings,
plus one, plus two, plus three. I had assumed that the Russians kept the
Americans out. If this reporting by “The New York Times” is true, that
raises serious doubts about the relationship that the National Security
Adviser, H.R. McMaster has, that the president doesn`t even want his
National Security adviser in the room for fear of leaks? That`s a big

MELBER: Right, because he wouldn`t be leaking if it`s working. If he
thinks it`s working.

MCFAUL: There`s only three people. I mean that to me is very disturbing.
I hope we learn more about that.

To your question, I don`t know the answer with respect to how President
Trump`s thinking. But I do know the answer with respect to how Russia is
going to behave. It is naive beyond imagination to assume that the
Russians or the Chinese or somebody in the future is going to only hack –
is going to only interfere in our elections on the side of the Republican

MELBER: Right.

MCFAUL: That is crazy. So rather than debate about, you know, his
legitimacy or not, that`s why he doesn`t want to talk about it, we need to
treat this as a national security issue and get ready so that this doesn`t
happen again.

MELBER: Ambassador McFaul, Julieann Smith, I want to thank you both. And
a special thank you to David Filipov, the reward for good work is more
work, and you stayed up until 4:00 in the morning with us. I appreciate
it. Your local time.

FILIPOV: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, how is the U.S. intel community viewing this confrontation
between Trump and Putin about the election interference. And later there`s
some breaking news you may not have seen yet on Trumpcare. Mitch McConnell
has a big plan and we have a preview. Don`t go away.



[22:21:13] TILLERSON: The president opened the meeting with President
Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian
interference in the 2016 election.


MELBER: Just a day before Donald Trump, according to Rex Tillerson, was
pressing Vladimir Putin on the Russian interference in the election, he was
publicly questioning the U.S. intel agencies, who of course as we all know,
concluded unanimously that Russia did in fact interfere.


TRUMP: I agree. I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other
people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement.
Nobody really knows.

I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq. Weapons of mass
destruction. How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of
mass destruction. Guess what? That led to one big mess. They were wrong,
and it led to a mess.


MELBER: That kind of set of comments may be habitual for Trump, but it
doesn`t make it normal.

Sally Yates, a DOJ career prosecutor who was of course acting attorney
general at the start of the Trump administration before she left over a
travel ban debate, wrote this impassioned response.

“The president`s inexplicable refusal to confirm Russian election
interference insults career intel pros and hinders our ability to prevent
it in the future.”

And joining me now for more is Evan McMullin. He`s a former CIA operative
and independent presidential candidate, co-founder of Stand Up Republic.
I`m also joined by David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for “Mother
Jones” and MSNBC political analyst. And apparently, David, a founder of
nothing from what I can see here in my list of credentials.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: It`s on my bucket list, Ari.

MELBER: OK. Well, get on in. Then again Evan is, you know, a patriotic
and physically courageous man which I always admire because it`s not
something I ever knew how to do. Get to Evan in a second.

David, you`ve covered this Russia story a lot. Talk to us about when you
see that kind of response from someone like Sally Yates.

CORN: Well, you know, I think she`s reflecting what many people are
thinking inside and outside of the intelligence community. The president
also in recent days said, you know, it was only four intelligence agencies
that came up with this conclusion.

No, it was really the ones that count, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and
joined by the office of the – director of National Intelligence, which
oversees the whole community. So whenever he gets a chance, and you saw
this in the readout with Rex Tillerson today, they diminish and dismiss the
significance and the importance of this.

He says he`s honored to meet Putin, the guy who attacked this country? He
was talking this morning in a tweet about John Podesta not giving DNC
servers to the CIA. All that is wrong.

MELBER: So is it, David –

CORN: It has nothing to do with this.

MELBER: Yes . Let me jump in. Isn`t this part of the problem? So then
folks are trying to clean it up. So we`re talking about 17 agencies versus

CORN: Right.

MELBER: And you get the feeling that this is a person who is a master of
pettifogging, a master of parsing. How do you think the factual community
should deal with that?

CORN: Well, that`s why you`ve got to stick to the big picture in terms of
facts. It`s quite clear that Trump, from the very beginning, throughout
the summer and since then, he`s aided and abetted Putin`s campaign by
denying or diminishing it or saying it didn`t happen at all. Again and
again and again. And I think so we can make fun and say why is he doing
this, but there`s a reason why. And you have to keep presenting that
bigger context.

And I think it`s kind of disgraceful that even today he was not defending
America`s national interest when it comes to sitting down with Putin and
also joking with the guy about the media. And this is a guy who leads a
regime where journalists are killed. And you know.


[22:25:05] CORN: It`s easy to go on and on and be outraged about this, but
sometimes outrage is factual.

what we saw in this European visit or what we`ve seen so far was what you
would expect to see based on Trump`s signaling during the campaign, that he
was going to align with Vladimir Putin. That speech in Warsaw was full of
ethno nationalism language, talking about our culture, our civilization,
not about democracy, not about liberty and equality, but values – it
really is a term to describe ethnicity and describing a battle of
civilizations between what we have in the West and other cultures, namely,
I think, Islam.

And so then he goes and he meets with Vladimir Putin, and all of a sudden
the hacking isn`t an issue. All of a sudden, we`re making a commitment not
to interfere in Russian domestic issues just as the same as though it`s
equal as Russian interference in the United States. And all of a sudden
we`ve given up our whole ability now to push back. And I don`t think the
president has any intention to do that. I think our intelligence services,
the men and women will continue to serve honorably.

MELBER: Well, have we? I don`t want to get too fancy on you. It`s Friday
night after all.


MELBER: But have we bifurcated the response to Russia? The Congress is
trying to drive one response with sanctions with teeth, while the president
is obviously doing something else.

MCMULLIN: Yes, but you can`t have sanctions unless the president is going
to sign them.

MELBER: Or you override –

MCMULLIN: Or override him with a veto proof majority. And maybe we`ll get

MELBER: Well, in the Senate you`ve got 90 plus.

MCMULLIN: In the Senate you`re there, but the House is looking very weak.


MCMULLIN: And so – and that`s what Trump is doing here. When he talks
about – you know, when he talks about the U.S. intelligence community
being wrong, that`s a political move. He`s trying to keep his base, his
shrinking or small base which protects him in the House still strong, still
doubting what they`re hearing from the intelligence community.

As long as he can do that, then he`s protected politically. This is now a
political game, and that`s what I think he`s doing.

MELBER: David, listen to James Clapper, of course, who used to be the head
of DNI.

CORN: Right.

MELBER: The agency you were mentioning here, talking about this and


CLAPPER: It certainly isn`t morale-building, I`ll put it that way. I do
think, though, that the intelligence community will continue to convey
truth to power even if the power ignores the truth. And that`s one of the
great strengths of the intelligence community and the superb men and women
who are in it.


MELBER: David, it may be a great strength of the intel community, but it
is a little more depressing than the optimism he`s trying to find.

CORN: Yes.

MELBER: Because the main client of the intel community is the president.

CORN: It`s a sad statement. Evan can probably speak to this better than
you or I could, Ari. But people who work for the CIA, case officers, often
have to take tremendous risks, and they have to put their agents, people
they use to get information, often in harm`s way.

Now if they all think that the guy at the top isn`t going to – he doesn`t
care about them or think there`s part of a deep state allied against him,
are they still going to take those risks? Are people going to leave?
They`re going to think twice. I mean, morale is important in the EPA.
It`s important in the State Department, every place else, but it`s very
important for people who are taking those personal risks.


CORN: And ultimately at the end of the day, you know, a president can only
make good decisions if he has good information and cares about that

You know, Trump is undercutting that whole premise and that could lead us
into even deeper and darker trouble.

MELBER: Yes. Evan, you get the last word of this segment, and also is any
of this going to potentially change based on the results of Bob Mueller`s

MCMULLIN: Look, I would say this. What David Corn just said is correct,
but I think the issue that I`m very concerned about is not what the rank-
and-file think or feel with regard to morale. That`s an issue, but it`s
really about how this administration is going to direct law enforcement and
counterintelligence resources.

Recent reporting has indicated that the Russians have stepped up espionage
activities even since the election. So forget about morale for a second.
Where are the senior leaders in this administration going to allocate
resources? Are they going to protect our democracy from interference going
forward? What we saw from the president and Putin in Europe today suggests
that we may not get the protection that we need from the president.

That should be very, very concerning to all Americans. We should be very,
very concerned about frankly free and fair elections in this country if we
don`t have a president standing up for them.

MELBER: Evan McMullin and David Corn, thank you both for joining this
Friday night.

MCMULLIN: Thank you.

CORN: Sure thing.

MELBER: And coming up, some breaking news while Donald Trump is overseas.
It appears he may have lost another key Republican vote on the repeal of

[22:30:08] Also new reports tonight, though, that Mitch McConnell and the
Trump White House have a special plan for a blitz. Our panel will explain


MELBER: We are live here on Friday night, and sometimes the breaking news
comes in on Friday. As I can tell you I`m holding a “Washington Post”
report out tonight that we`re discussing for the first time on air here on
MSNBC that the White House and Mitch McConnell are planning a final urgent
blitz to pressure reluctant Republican senators back into passing their
repeal and replace bill.

The new idea, the new strategy according to “The Post” tonight is a
deadline before the August recess. And key players in the strategy,
according to this new report in “The Post,” are Mike Pence and Ted Cruz.
Mitch McConnell allegedly relying on them to shake up and try to get a
consensus among Republicans. The idea is that Cruz can be a conservative
firebrand and bring it all home.

Congress returns on Monday. That means, according to this report, there
would be just 14 days to pass Trumpcare before this new self-imposed
deadline before the August recess.

I should note the obvious that you may know even if you are watching
politics here on a Friday night, and we welcome it, not everyone else is as
focused on this in August. I`m going to talk to my panel in a second about
why that might be part of the strategy. Meanwhile, senators openly
questioning what`s in the Senate bill. Senator Jerry Moran at a listening
tour in Kansas.


[22:35:00] SEN. JERRY MORAN (R), KANSAS: We don`t want to just go through
the motions of some kind of legislation that we say is going to solve the
problem when I`m not and others are not yet convinced that what path we`re
on is actually going to make a difference in the cost to you, your family,
and your businesses.


MELBER: Now why would a Republican from that deep red state be potentially
wobbling on the bill? Here`s some of what Senator Moran is hearing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Americans don`t work hard all their lives to have an
American dream and get somewhere just to say, oh, OK. Yes, you can have
all my taxpayer money, and I`m going to go over here and curl up and die
because you don`t think I deserve health care.


MELBER: Joining me now is Indira Lakshmanan, a Washington columnist for
“The Boston Globe,” and the chair of Journalism Ethics at the Pointer
Institute. And also Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for “The
Nation” and an MSNBC analyst.

Joan, Andy Card used to say, you don`t roll out a big product in August or
at least not a product you`re excited about.

really want to sell. You want to wait until the fall when you`re excited
about something. I remember that, too.

You know, this is crazy. And also the idea of Ted Cruz as pitchman? I
mean I know he`s doing some weird ideological shape-shifting by suggesting
that maybe they cut – not cut but actually leave the taxes, some of the
taxes in place. And he`s trying to act like, you know, the firefighter on
the scene, but he`s widely despised by his colleagues. I mean, Al Franken,
you know, joked that –


MELBER: I know what you`re going to say. Go ahead.

WALSH: I know. You know, people hate him more than I do, and I hate him.
So this is a very, very weird situation. And also people like Jerry Moran
are home and hearing about why people are afraid of what they`re trying to

MELBER: Right.

WALSH: So I don`t – I have no idea what they`re doing. They should have
talked to Andy Card.

MELBER: Well, it has a patina of panic, but it may be a reflection that
they think in the light of day, in the fall, you know, open season, the
bill has no shot. So maybe August is the only shot.

Now, Indira, I`m going to put it to you straight here. I ain`t that old,
but I`m old enough to remember when if you got a bad CBO score on a piece
of national policy legislation, the response was to reform the underlying
legislation to get a better CBO score.

I mean people in both parties said, OK, we care about the numbers. If the
thing is too expensive or has too many negative consequences, we`ll fix it
and go back to the CBO. Instead let me read to you, I guess what we might
call the new school of Trumpian response to a CBO score. Quote, “The goal
will now be to counter the non-partisan CBO analysis of the legislation
which shows 22 million fewer people would have insurance coverage, and to
counter it to show from conservative groups and other Republicans who say
there are more benefits and less disruptions should the bill pass.”

Translation, they don`t want to fix anything that the CBO found. They want
to point to alternative sources that make the bill look ostensibly better.

sources sounds an awful lot like alternative facts, Ari. And the problem
here is that, as you say, in the past the idea was to fight fire with fire.
If the facts were that the CBO said this doesn`t work, then you tried to
find a way to fix it and make it work.

This Trump administration and also the Republican leadership in the Senate
don`t seem to want to try to fix it. They want to counter it and say, no,
that`s fake news. That`s not true. Let`s just counter it with our own
information. But what you said, I thought, was really interesting, that
there was a tinge of panic or a patina of panic in the air, and they have
every good reason to be panicked, and why?

An analysis that just came out of MIT, and these are people who actually
understand math unlike most people in America, and I, you know, would say
that that includes most of us, they analyzed all the polls of, you know,
looking at attention to, you know, legislation over the last 30 years.
This is the least popular piece of legislation in 30 years.


LAKSHMANAN: You know, last month it was polling at 12 percent.

MELBER: I mean wow because it`s not like every other piece of legislation
that are unpopular Congress has ever talked about is also beloved. So
that`s really saying something.

I did say patina of panic and that`s because I like alliteration. I have a
simple mind and it just helps me remember things.

What I want to do is have you both stay with me. We are going to fit in a
quick break. And when we come back, Vladimir Putin`s controversial joke to
Donald Trump.


[22:43:05] MELBER: Now just before that anticipated meeting between Donald
Trump and Vladimir Putin, there was something caught on tape. It was a
joke, and it was a joke about journalists. This was right after the
official photo-op ended. News camera crews were just starting to break


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone.

TRUMP: These are the ones. You`re right about them.


MELBER: “These are the ones.” LOL. But it`s actually not that funny.
When you think about the fact that of course both these men have tangled
with the press. And while no prosecutor has ever accused Donald Trump of
criminally violating the First Amendment, he has of course been roundly
criticized for everything from publicizing false stories to mocking an
American journalist`s handicap, to allegedly threatening to impugn
journalists who wouldn`t call and apologize to him for their coverage.
That coming out just last week.

Now there is no moral equivalence between that kind of conduct and Vladimir
Putin`s track record. And that`s why it was shocking to see an American
president laughing with Putin, who according to reports like this one in
“Business Insider” has been accused of being involved in the deaths of more
than two dozen journalists in his own country.

Indira Lakshmanan and Joan Walsh are back with us.

Joan, your thought watching that exchange between them.

WALSH: It was kind of horrifying. You know, Putin is obviously trying to
cozy up with Trump. Trump is trying to cozy up with him. But the idea
that these two really authoritarians are making common cause around, you
know, the free press, the allegedly free press, is scary. And Trump needed
his backing.

I mean Trump is kind of like the odd ball at these global meetings now.
He`s sort of an outcast because he`s behaved so abominably. And Putin
showed up today like he was going to be the guy that protects the odd kid
from the bullies or, you know, from other kids.

[22:45:06] And that`s what it felt like when he was like, you know, this is
what`s going on with the – they`re bonding over something that –

MELBER: Over that.

WALSH: Over something that`s really kind of awful.

MELBER: Indira, Joan calls Trump the odd ball. “Foreign Policy`s” David
(INAUDIBLE) today said it sometimes looked like G-19 Plus One. Put this
exchange about journalists in that context.

LAKSHMANAN: All right. Well, here`s the larger context. The larger
context is that since 1993, 60 journalists have been murdered in Russia.
So whether Vladimir Putin was directly involved with those murders or not,
certainly the Russian regime has shown no love for journalists or the free
media. It jails them. It, you know, has certainly been responsible for
the murder of many of them.

It is a very serious problem to try to conduct any kind of independent
journalism in Russia. It`s just not possible. And our president has
cozied up not only to Vladimir Putin as an authoritarian leader who has no
respect for the press, but also Turkey`s leader, Erdogan, Egyptian leader
Sisi. He`s made very flattering remarks about the Philippine leader,

All of these men who are strongmen, who have cracked down on the free press
at home, it`s appalling that these comments would be made in a country that
is supposed to be setting an example.

In Warsaw, he also made comments that, you know, were attacking the free
press. We`re supposed to be out there as a beacon for the rest of the
world, and it is disturbing that someone would make a joke on this.

And I want to say why would Vladimir Putin do this? Let`s not forget he
was the head of the KGB. He was the head of the state spy and security
service. He knows very well how to do personality profiling to know how to
appeal to someone`s weaknesses and strengths, and he knows this appeals to
Trump`s ego. Trump is obsessed with the press.

MELBER: Right.

LAKSHMANAN: Appeal to him. Cozy up to him by saying something like this.

MELBER: And to undercut any potential future U.S. statement about the
treatment of journalists in the country, which would just dredge up that
video which, to some eyes, would be embarrassing.

Indira Lakshmanan and Joan Walsh, thank you as always. I appreciate your
insights tonight.

LAKSHMANAN: Thank you, Ari.

WALSH: Thanks.

MELBER: Now while Trump was abroad, the top ethics watchdog for the
federal government resigned. We`ll tell you why next. I`m going to break
down his new MSNBC exclusive interview.



approach that I`m running into in dealing with this council`s office has
been if it`s not illegal, we`re going to do it. And if there`s an argument
that it`s probably not illegal we`re going to do it.


MELBER: “If it`s not illegal we`re going to do it.” That`s a standard
that can lead you towards all sorts of potentially terrible, dangerous,
unethical behavior, if the only thing you care about is literally not
becoming a felon.

In most large organizations and government agencies there are some lawyers
and they say what`s legal. And then there are a whole bunch of other
people who decide what`s good policy, what`s fair, what is ethical.

Now the man that you just heard speaking is Walter Shaub, the top dog among
federal ethics bureaucrats. And he just resigned early before his term is
up. Tonight he explained in detail to MSNBC`s Chris Hayes the reason. He
says the Trump White House just didn`t care about ethics.


SHAUB: I`d say the ethics program has been a very serious disappointment
in the White House. Because this is a risk management program it`s become
clear that they have a much higher tolerance for risk –


SHAUB: – than we do. For instance we have a lot more control over
presidential nominees. They have to get our signoff before they can get a
hearing and come into government. White House appointees are in government
long before we get their financial disclosure reports and we`re almost
doing a post-mortem to see if there was a conflict of interest. Where with
nominees we work to prevent them in advance.

And so adopting a higher level of risk is inconsistent with how we run this
program because people have been asking me is there definitely a violation
or can you definitively say there is no violation, well, if we`re the
prevention mechanism. Once that violation has happened we`ve already

And so it`s incumbent upon a director of the Office of Government Ethics or
my staff as a whole to object before we reach that point.

HAYES: Right.

SHAUB: Because we`re supposed to be running around preventing that from


MELBER: Now up next I`m going to speak with Don Fox. He previously ran
that same ethics office. He`ll react from those new statements from his
former colleague who resigned.



[22:56:48] HAYES: Can you definitively say, sitting here today, that
everyone in that White House is, including the president, free of conflicts
of interest?

SHAUB: Well, no. We have received very little information about what the
individuals in the White House do on a day-to-day basis for a living.
They`ve negotiated ethics agreements with them and they refused to even let
the Office of Government Ethics so much as see those ethics agreements.
And when we worked on the financial disclosure reports, we asked for
information, and it`s like pulling teeth.


MELBER: The departing head of the Office of Government Ethics speaking
there tonight. And now I`m joined by Don Fox who was a former acting
director in the same office.

Good evening to you, sir.

evening, Ari. Happy to be here.

MELBER: Your thoughts on this position taken here by Mr. Shaub who left
and says the Trump White House doesn`t care about ethics.

FOX: It`s just so profoundly disappointing that this is where we find
ourselves. I don`t blame Walt at all for the course that he`s decided to
take. And thinking that he can be more effective now on the outside.
Because this is just unprecedented in the seven administrations during
which the Office of Government Ethics has existed to have this lack of
cooperation and taking the program seriously.

MELBER: You know, we filed a FOIA early this year to obtain some of his e-
mails and dealing with the Trump officials, I`ll put one up on the screen
here. He said he was more concerned about this extraordinary assertion
that many of the ethics regulations would be inapplicable to employees in
the executive office of the president. He told them that was incorrect and
that their letter cited no legal basis and it`s critical that White House
employees be held to the same standard ethical accountability as other
executive branch employees.

Was he right and the Trump officials wrong about that?

FOX: Walt is absolutely right. The whole discussion about what applies
and doesn`t apply as a technical matter is a lengthy one. But the fact of
the matter is that no previous chief executive has ever acted as though all
of those standards did not apply to him.

MELBER: Why do you think people who are already quite wealthy, and many of
whom are at an advanced stage of their career, seem so concerned about
continuing to carry on business and make more money? I mean, I don`t know
if you listen to Lil` Wayne the rapper but he famously said too much money
ain`t enough money. Is it simple greed in your view or something else from
your experience?

FOX: Well, for those of us who spent our lives, our professional lives,
you know, working for the government, whether on active duty in the
military or as a civil servant, frankly it really is hard to understand.

It`s also difficult to understand simply from the standpoint that
government jobs and particularly senior jobs are very demanding. And it`s
like, well, what are you paying attention to, your private business or the
people`s business?

MELBER: Yes, you put it well, especially when the folks have so much power
at their disposal.

Don Fox, thank you for joining here on Friday night.

FOX: You`re very welcome.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

I am Ari Melber. This is THE LAST WORD for you tonight. And you can
always find me on Facebook at I post report on
articles and soon I`ll be posting updates there about my new nightly MSNBC
shows which airs weeknights 6:00 p.m. Eastern starting soon.

“THE 11TH HOUR” is next.


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