The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 8/18/17 Isolated president
Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: August 18, 2017
Guest: Jonathan Capehart, Steve Schmidt, Wil Hylton, Chris Whipple, Peter
Wehner, Jon Fasman, Barbara McQuade, Karine Jean-Pierre
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: – that library for themselves. Come on! The
best new thing in the world today. And you know you need it.
It`s true that what happens in national politics affects the whole country.
That`s why it`s national. But it`s not just the stuff happens in the White
House that happens everywhere. Sometimes what happens in little corners of
the country affects all of us too.
Best new thing in the world tonight. That does it for us tonight. We will
see you again Monday. Now it`s time for “THE LAST WORD” with the great Ali
Velshi. He`s in for Lawrence tonight.
Ali, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, thanks very much. I learned a lot in the
last hour. Have a great weekend.
MADDOW: Thank you very much, my friend.
VELSHI: All right. Well, it`s over. Steve Bannon is out of the White
House, back at Breitbart, and apparently ready for war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Steve Bannon is officially out at the White House.
ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Take him back to hell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go. Go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve Bannon was the heart of darkness of the White
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Controversial from the very beginning.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know,
I can run a little hot on occasions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire senior staff had basically turned against
him. And frankly, the President had turned against him.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ll see what happens with
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tonight, he is already back in charge of Breitbart
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says, quote, the Trump presidency that we fought for
and won is over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s almost laboratory test designed to enrage Donald
BANNON: Every day, it is going to be a fight, and that is what I`m
proudest about Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The problem here isn`t Bannon. The problem is Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man does not seem to me to have what we would
normally think of as a soul. He has an open sore.
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF
REPRESENTATIVES: I think he`s in a position right now where he is much
more isolated than he realizes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Kelly can change the people in the White House,
but that`s not going to change the President`s instincts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the malevolent fury.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: The presidency, that presidency, is over. Those are the words of
President Trump`s newly ousted chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Just this afternoon, in an interview with “The Weekly Standard,” Steve
Bannon was incredibly candid about how he views the Trump administration.
Quote, the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over, Bannon
said Friday shortly after confirming his departure.
He went on to say, we still have a huge movement. And we will make
something of this Trump presidency, but that presidency is over. It will
be something else. And there will be all kinds of fights, and there will
be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over, end quote.
Yes, you heard that right. Steve Bannon, the President`s chief ideologue
who helped channel Trump`s base and shaped the nationalist policies that
helped Donald Trump win the election, is now saying the Trump presidency is
over after just seven months.
Bannon`s departure is certainly a blow to the President who entered the
week with few allies and finished it with next to none. If you thought
nothing was getting done with Bannon in the White House, it seems even less
is going to be accomplished without him.
Bannon told “The Weekly Standard,” quote, now, it`s going to be Trump. The
path forward on things like economic, nationalism, and immigration, and his
ability to kind of move freely. I think his ability to get anything done
particularly the bigger things like the wall, the bigger, broader things
that we fought for, it`s just going to be that much harder.
Think about that for a second. Bannon barely has his foot out the door,
and he`s already sounding off. The President now has an unpredictable and
potentially troublesome ally on the outside now, who is not afraid to
criticize the administration that he just left.
Late today, Breitbart News announced that Steve Bannon has returned as
executive chairman, and he even chaired the company`s evening editorial
meeting. Bannon is no doubt going to use Breitbart to amplify his
complaints with the White House.
According to “Axios,” Breitbart`s operations are planning to go
thermonuclear against globalists that Bannon and his friends believe are
ruining the Trump administration. A source close to Bannon tells “The
Atlantic,” quote, Steve is now unchained, fully unchained.
I`ll tell you more about that in a minute. The President has had an
ongoing fight with the left since the start of his administration. This
week, he opened a rift on the right that Steve Bannon may exacerbate.
Folks, we are only 211 days into this thing, and we have a President who is
as isolated and weakened as Richard Nixon during his final days in office.
So the question is what happens now?
Joining us now, Steve Schmidt. He`s a Republican strategist and MSNBC
political analyst. Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for “The Washington
Post” and an MSNBC contributor. And Wil Hylton, journalist and
contributing writer for “The New York Times” magazine. He wrote the cover
story this week, “Down the Breitbart Hole.”
Gents, good to talk to you all. Thanks for being with us.
Jonathan, let me start with you. The President has an ongoing fight with
the left. He has developed a fight with the establishment conservatives in
Washington ever since the failure of ObamaCare. Now, it appears he`s
picking a fight with the far right by getting rid of Steve Bannon. Where
does this leave him?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I don`t know
if he really is picking a fight with the far right by letting Steve Bannon
go. What`s interesting in the interview with “The Weekly Standard,” I mean
he`s talking about the Trump presidency as he knew it being over, that he`s
going to take the fight to the administration.
And in the later quote that you put there that, you know, the so-called
globalists within the administration, I think that`s who he`s going to take
the fight to. That a lot of pressure from Breitbart News is not going to
land on President Trump. He`s going to – he, being Steve Bannon, is going
to train his fire on those people within the Trump administration he thinks
are getting in the way of President Trump doing what President Trump wants
Now, the problem is, President Trump is going to war with those very
Republicans he needs to get that agenda through. You don`t think Senate
majority leader Mitch McConnell has – well – you don`t think he remembers
all of the mean, horrible things that President Trump has said about him?
What the President doesn`t understand, and I think, you know, Senate
majority leader Mitch McConnell said this – I think it was last week. So
much has happened since he said this.
CAPEHART: That the President doesn`t understand how things work here in
Washington. If he wants the wall built, if he wants that budget passed, if
he wants the debt ceiling raised, if he wants tax reform, if he wants, you
know, anything to do with immigration, he can`t do it by fiat. He needs
the Republicans in both the House and the Senate to push that legislation
along, to get it to his desk.
The President is at war with everybody. And Steve Bannon, now on the
outside, is going to take that war to the people within the White House.
VELSHI: Let me take your choice of words over to Steve Schmidt. Steve,
just after 3:00, as this news – in fact, just before 3:00 Eastern, as this
news broke, I was about to start a conversation with Joel Pollak of
Breitbart. And Joel had just, minutes earlier, tweeted a single word in a
tweet, “#war.” Here`s the discussion that ensued right after that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Is there an implication here that there is going to be a war that
involves Steve Bannon versus the Trump administration?
JOEL POLLAK, SENIOR-EDITOR-AT-LARGE, BREITBART NEWS: I don`t know. It
really depends on the Trump administration. The key to the
administration`s success has been and will continue to be whether it sticks
to the agenda on which Donald Trump ran for president. And in many ways,
he has, indeed, stuck to that agenda since taking office in January.
And the issues are what bind him to his base. It`s not personalities.
It`s not even Steve Bannon. It is his performance on those issues. And
those are issues that our readers, generally, want to see action on.
If he pulls in Arnold Schwarzenegger and tries to reinvest himself as a
liberal, he will see that support erode very, very quickly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: So, Steve Schmidt, where does this put Donald Trump vis-a-vis the
Republican base of support both in the public and in Washington?
STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: What the editor of Breitbart`s
saying that he`s going to declare war on Donald Trump is the least of
Donald Trump`s problems.
This was a week where we saw the collapse of all moral authority in the
office of the President of the United States through the personage of
Donald Trump. He`s lost moral authority internationally as well.
We saw the business community, part of the spine of the Republican Party,
walk away. We`ve seen every CEO. We`ve seen evangelical leaders now. We
see a president who is very, very isolated.
And what we see really is the crack-up of the coalition that elected Donald
Trump, the fusion of the conservative party with this Breitbart populism.
And during the campaign, of course, there were the dog whistles, the winks,
and the nods to these extremist elements that are now out fully in the
And so what Steve Bannon represents is a real fundamental test and choice
for the Republican Party. The Republican Party cannot remain in coalition
and survive with neo-Nazis, KKK, White supremacists, and their fellow
travelers and apologists. There`s no room for them in the party.
And so this week, the moral failure of the President, the moral equivalency
between neo-Nazis who venerate Adolf Hitler, who venerate the most
murderous and brutal and despotic and evil regime in all of history, you
can`t transact with them for political purposes. And what Steve Bannon
represents is a populist wing of the – of a coalition that winks and nods,
and it`s OK to be with those people.
They`re expedient for the moment. And this presents a profound moral test
for the Republican Party.
And so, Ali, I interpret these comments this way. Let`s say they have 12
days to avoid a government shutdown and a default on the full faith and
credit of the United States. I see Breitbart running editorials,
pressuring Trump to demand funding for the wall.
SCHMIDT: If there`s no funding for the wall, do we see a shutdown? And
the power of Breitbart is not direct. He can`t make anyone do anything.
Their power is reactive. It`s that they can make people react to the e-
mails that their people send out or the absurd stories that they write.
And we have a feckless enough political class in this country that they may
well allow, for expedient reasons, a tearing of the fabric of the country,
the destruction of the Republican Party –
SCHMIDT: – and maybe a debt crisis as we move into early September.
VELSHI: We might be six weeks away from that or less. Let me ask you,
Will. Very strange developments recently after Scaramucci gave that off
the record interview. And then earlier this week, we saw Bannon do
something like that. An on the record interview, I mean.
Bannon gave this interview to “The Weekly Standard” after being dismissed
from or resigning from the White House, however that turned out, in which
he says, now I`m free. I`ve got my hands back on my weapons. Someone
said, it`s Bannon the barbarian. I`m definitely going to crush the
opposition. There`s no doubt. I built – and something – machine at
Breitbart. And now I`m going to go back, knowing what I know, and we`re
about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do.
Wow! That sounds really serious, Wil Hylton. Who`s the opposition? Who
is he going after right now? Who should be watching themselves because
Bannon the Barbarian is loose?
WIL HYLTON, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Basically everyone
else in the White House. And so Trump, as usual, has no idea what he`s
doing or what he`s done.
I mean, he has let Steve Bannon walk out the door. And Steve Bannon was
already planning on walking out the door. It`s not clear who exactly
pulled the trigger on this relationship, but Trump should not have let him
walk out the door.
What`s going to happen here, Steve Schmidt is exactly right. Steve Bannon
has played footsie with the devil, and he is – the devil has turned around
and grabbed Breitbart. The commenters, the alt-right base, the White
nationalists, this is who they have allowed to fester in their comments
section, and that`s the army they`ve mustered.
HYLTON: And that`s the army that Steve Bannon is going to lead again now.
And they are going to turn all of their attention and all of their fury on
the factions in the White House who are now the dominant factions that are
aiming for more moderate policies. Now, that`s a relative term in the
Trump White House –
VELSHI: Well –
HYLTON: – but they`re more moderate than what Steve Bannon is interested
VELSHI: Well, according to some on the right, they`re not moderate in –
people in the White House. They`re actually Democrats.
VELSHI: Jonathan, let me just play to you something that Rush Limbaugh had
to say about Steve Bannon`s departure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: Look who`s gone from the
Trump White House. This is August, so basically eight months. Priebus,
Republican gone. Spicer, Republican gone. Bannon, Republican, who knows,
Who`s left? Gary Cohn, Democrat. General Kelly, Democrat. H.R. McMaster,
Democrat. Ivanka and Jared, they`re Democrats. So was Trump at one time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Jonathan, does he have a point?
CAPEHART: I guess so. But, look, when you get into the presidency, it`s
supposed to be, once you`re there – yes, you have your R or your D next to
your name, but the way Rush Limbaugh is talking, as he always talks, and
the way we`ve been talking about this administration, it`s as if he has no
obligation to try to lead the entire country. That he`s under no
obligation to try to reach out to Democrats to come up with solutions to
solve problems that a lot of angry people sent him to Washington to solve.
And so if Rush Limbaugh is going to, like, slander the Trump administration
as being now run by Democrats, and you`ve got Steve Bannon already back at
Breitbart gearing up with – what did he say, his hand on the gun?
VELSHI: Hand on my weapons, yes.
CAPEHART: – hand on his weapon, already trying to do battle with the so-
called globalists within the administration, I mean, I think Wil said it
best. You know, this is a president who doesn`t know what he`s doing, and
that is going to have major implications for the country that has nothing
to do with Democrat or Republican and everything to do with the stability
of this country.
Steve talked about, you know, a government shutdown. And, Ali, you of all
of us know that the really big thing that`s coming up on the agenda is
raising of the debt ceiling.
CAPEHART: Which is infinitely more important than a government shutdown.
You can rev back the government up once you pass a budget. But once you –
CAPEHART: – destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, we
don`t know what that will look like.
VELSHI: Steve, who wins with Bannon out of the house? And is it enough
for those who think that there are destructive forces in the White House,
this populist, nationalist movement that may have caused Donald Trump to
make bad decisions when it comes to condemning neo-Nazis and condemning
White supremacists and KKK and the things that happened in Charlottesville
What else has to happen there? Because what we know is we`ve got H.R.
McMaster who people, like Rush Limbaugh, calls a Democrat, and General
Kelly, and they`re trying to bring some order to the place. Sebastian
Gorka is still there, and he`s, some would say, a damaging influence to the
SCHMIDT: Well, the question is, who is it good for that he`s out of the
White House? It`s good for America. It`s good for all of us. He should
never have been in the White House in the first place. But that doesn`t
SCHMIDT: – he doesn`t have capacity to do damage to the fabric of our
institutions from his perch at Breitbart, combined with the fecklessness of
too many Republican leaders, for instance. Sebastian Gorka, of course, he
needs to go.
And I think it`s – I think it`s something now that you saw the slander of
a Lieutenant General of the United States Army, H.R. McMaster. General
John Kelly, who spent his entire life not in partisan politics, in service
to the country, to the constitution of the United States. And, of course,
John Kelly would have no claim on running anything or managing anything if
Steve Bannon was to remain in the West Wing after these bizarre interviews.
But I do think it`s worth mentioning, Ali, that Steve Bannon so hates the
Democratic Party, judging by his comments in these interviews.
SCHMIDT: He so hates this institution that he`s willing to make common
cause with neo-Nazis. He`s willing to advise the President of the United
States to tear at the racial fabric of the country to create a scenario, to
create a reality, where the White supremacists are exalting that the
President has offered them cover through his moral equivalency. And he
thinks that`s going to help him in the next election.
I mean, that`s the caliber, the character of the person that we`re dealing
with. And all of these people who came in with him on this putrid ship,
they all need to be out of there. They need to be out of there before
The problem in the White House, of course, though despicable some of these
people may be, it`s the President`s lack of character. It`s the
President`s lack of stability. It`s the President`s actions.
And Steve Bannon wasn`t pumping those words into Donald Trump`s mouth on
Tuesday. And when Monday comes, those words that he uttered on Tuesday
don`t go away.
And I`ll just say this. For any Republican – any Republican – that
thinks that it`s OK not to repudiate Donald Trump personally for that moral
equivalency before this rally in Phoenix, I`ll just say, putting principle
aside, just politically and pragmatically, you`ve got to be nuts.
VELSHI: I just want to remind people, I think everybody knows you in the
world, but just in case someone is mistaken, if they`ve just landed from
Mars, what you just heard from Steve Schmidt. Steve`s not a – he`s a
conservative. He`s a republican.
So this is what you are saying as a Republican. That`s not Democratic
criticism of what`s going on.
But Wil Hylton, to Steve`s point, this takes attention away for a moment
from what President Trump has faced criticism for all week, including the
departure of all those business leaders. In the end, with Steve Bannon
gone, Donald Trump gets to prove to America whether the things that have
come out of his mouth in the last few days are his or Steve Bannon`s.
HYLTON: Yes. And to the extent that that offers some relief to President
Trump, it`s going to last about 30 seconds because Trump is going to
continue saying the same odious things that he`s been saying because it`s
what he believes. And meanwhile, he`s going to have this incredibly
vociferous critic who he had under wraps, approximately, within the White
House and is now going to be totally unleashed outside of the White House.
So the one place I might depart from Steve Schmidt is that, you know, to
the extent that you are – you find Steve Bannon objectionable and want him
out of the White House, it doesn`t necessarily mean that when he is out of
the White House, that the public sphere will become more civil, you know.
I mean, so is it really better for America to have him out of the White
House? It depends. But I think it`s going to be a lot noisier and more
chaotic in the public sphere than it even has been already because
Breitbart is going to be re-radicalized after a period of about a year
without Bannon when they were sort of moderating their tone.
And they`re going to become hysterical and shouty again under Steve Bannon,
and they`re going to pick a much bigger fight with the White House and with
the President. And I think we`re looking at a period of extreme chaos.
VELSHI: Gentlemen, my executive producer says that there are too many bald
guys on T.V. right now, so I have to say good night to Wil Hylton and Steve
VELSHI: Jonathan Capehart`s got a little hair on top of his head. So you
stay right where you are, my friend.
Coming up, a West Wing expert on what John Kelly`s next move should be
after ousting Steve Bannon. It might involve the number 25.
And today, more business leaders bailed on Donald Trump, the man who
presented himself as a world-class business guy during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Everybody said, his statement was beautiful. If he would have made
it sooner, that would have been good.
I couldn`t have made it sooner because I didn`t know all of the facts.
Frankly, people still don`t know all of the facts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who wrote that statement?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: All right. Joining us now is Chris Whipple. He`s the author of
“The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every
Chris, good to see you. We were just looking at those pictures –
CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR, “THE GATEKEEPERS: HOW THE WHITE HOUSE CHIEFS OF
STAFF DEFINE EVERY PRESIDENCY”: Good to be back.
VELSHI: – of General Kelly. You know, you could see the expression in
his face as Donald Trump was doing this, the man who he has been elevated
to protect, serve, and handle the affairs for.
VELSHI: This week, it`s coming apart.
WHIPPLE: Yes. I mean, you really have to feel for John Kelly looking at
those pictures. And you know, I mean, obviously, Bannon`s departure is a
win for Kelly, but it`s a small win. This is maybe the worst two weeks for
any White House chief of staff in history.
And, you know, fundamentally, Bannon`s exit changes nothing. You know, the
nuclear saber rattling by tweet, the White supremacy tantrums, the guy who
is temperamentally unsuited for office, all of that is Donald Trump, not
Kelly has learned, in the last two weeks, that you can`t manage this guy.
You can`t tell him hard truths because, 24 hours later, he rips up the
script and goes off on to an unhinged tirade.
So, you know, I think that Kelly, among other things, needs to take a page
from Al Haig, the last White House chief of staff who was a general, during
the final days of the Nixon administration.
When Nixon was wandering the halls, drinking heavily, talking to the oil
portraits in the West Wing, Al Haig and the Defense Secretary, James
Schlesinger, made sure that the nuclear codes were safe. You know, those
are the kinds of things that Kelly has to be thinking about.
VELSHI: So you are suggesting, because there`s a lot of pressure on a
number of people to resign, there`s a sense that if you resign – if you`re
anywhere around the President, you resign in the next few days, you`ve got
cover because of this White supremacy nonsense. But you`re saying that
General Kelly, maybe General McMaster, these guys are now possibly serving
a greater cause by sticking around?
WHIPPLE: Well, you know, Kelly, you would think, here`s a guy whose place
in history is very important to him, a guy who values his integrity, and
you wonder why he wouldn`t be gone by now.
WHIPPLE: What he has been saying, what I`ve been hearing from former White
House chiefs, the word that we`re getting out of the White House is that he
is saying that, look, without me, things could be a lot worse.
The only trouble with that is that we`re getting to a point where it`s hard
to imagine how much worse things could get.
VELSHI: Right. What does the line that he`s drawn with the President look
like? If you –
VELSHI: You know, after which he will resign.
WHIPPLE: Yes, it`s hard to know. You know, I said weeks ago that he
should – the first thing he should do is go into the Oval Office, close
the door, and tell Donald Trump that, you know, I`m drawing a line right
here. If you cross it, I will resign.
WHIPPLE: Clearly, that never happened.
WHIPPLE: But now, you`ve got – we`re at a point where Donald Trump is
increasingly isolated. He`s more angry by the day. He is unraveling, it
seems, if this tirade is any indication. And so you have to wonder at some
point, you know, what`s the remedy if things –
WHIPPLE: – if things get much worse?
VELSHI: It is a question that everybody is asking, along with the question
about whether or not this raises issues about Donald Trump`s fitness for
WHIPPLE: Well, we may not be there yet. But the day could very well come
when Donald Trump is so unhinged if – as he gets angrier and more isolated
that he becomes a threat to national security and to domestic tranquility.
Some people would argue that he already is. But, you know, back in 1981,
when Ronald Reagan was on the operating table in George Washington
Hospital, his chief of staff, James Baker, had to make a decision about
whether to invoke the 25th Amendment.
He decided not to for two reasons. One is that he thought it would look
like a power grab by the Vice President, George H.W. Bush. The second was
he thought Reagan would come out of surgery pretty soon.
Donald Trump`s not coming out of surgery. Donald Trump is who he is. And
I think we`re at a point, as he – we may reach a point if he continues to
unravel the way he seems to be that Kelly has to think about these kinds of
things and having these kinds of conversations.
VELSHI: That`s a conversation he needs to have the Vice President involved
in, I suppose.
WHIPPLE: Ultimately, yes.
VELSHI: Chris, good to see you. Thanks so much for being with us.
WHIPPLE: Thank you.
VELSHI: Thank you, too.
WHIPPLE: Chris Whipple is the author of “The Gatekeepers.” It`s a great
book. It`s how the White House chiefs of staff define every presidency.
All right. Coming up, the President continue to hemorrhage support from
the business community today as his cabinet is facing new pressure to
resign after Trump`s disastrous response to Charlottesville.
VELSHI: Donald Trump is facing more criticism from business leaders today.
Mitt Romney, who ran for president on an arguably more successful business
record than Donald Trump`s, today said this about Donald Trump`s failure to
condemn White supremacists and Nazis.
Quote, whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists
to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn.
The President should address the American people, acknowledge that he was
wrong, apologize, state forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100
percent to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville.
That comes as another Trump council of business leaders is falling apart.
At least two-thirds of Donald Trump`s digital economy advisory board has
resigned according to “Politico.” Two other Trump advisory boards, as you
know, dissolved this week.
The business community has now abandoned Donald Trump, leaving him isolated
and undermining his central campaign argument that his business
relationships and success would make him an effective president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m really rich. I know the best people. I know the best
managers. I know the best dealmakers.
I`m a world-class business guy. I have to get along with everybody. I get
along with everybody. That`s my job.
I`m a businessman. I know how to do this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: If Donald Trump has lost business leaders, that raises the
question, who does he have left on his side?
Joining us now is Jon Fasman, the Washington correspondent for “The
Economist,” who contributed to “The Economist`s” latest cover package.
This is Donald Trump talking into a bullhorn shaped like a Ku Klux
Also joining us is Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public
Policy Center. He worked in the last three Republican administrations and
was a senior aide to President George W. Bush.
Peter, let me start with you, because one thing that Republicans have
enjoyed being able to do in the last few decades in the United States is,
generally speaking, claim the support and partnership of the business
community because they share interests in some deregulation or lower taxes.
And that`s exactly the same thing with Donald Trump. Business leaders want
him to achieve some of the goals that he said he could achieve. And now,
they`ve turned his back – their backs on him.
PETER WEHNER, SENIOR FELLOW, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: Yes, and
they`ve turned their back on him, not so much because of changes in policy,
but because it`s dawned on them that man is a moral offense. And they`re
right about that.
It`s an unbelievable moment. The business community is bailing on him, and
the White nationalists and neo-Nazis are rallying to him. And I give you
the times, as Thomas Moore said.
The Republican Party is in catastrophic shape right now because its – I
mean, its business center and core and its moral core is being eroded by
Donald Trump. And really, all that`s going to be left is this sort of
radioactive White nationalists, White supremacists element, and it`s just
going to get very, very ugly.
And having Steve Bannon on the outside now declaring war, as he says, on
the establishment is going to make things even more chaotic and disruptive.
This White House is coming apart. It`s going to get worse before it gets
And the last thing I`ll say, you know, about that is, is that the problem
is not Steve Bannon despite how loathsome he is. The problem with the
Trump presidency always at its core has been Donald Trump. And if he
doesn`t go anywhere, this malignancy will continue.
VELSHI: Well, having Bannon out of the picture does – will either prove
that to be true or false in the coming days.
Jon, you guys at “The Economist” are unabashed capitalists. But there`s a
– you know, what Peter was getting at is that there is an inability now,
regardless of whether you`re a Democrat or a Republican in America, there`s
an inability at the moment for the President to get things done, get those
things on his legislative agenda accomplished because the President has no
He has been, as my colleague, Stephanie Ruhle said, donkey-kicking
Republicans in Congress. He is fighting with – he`s going to be fighting
with the far right now with Bannon, and he has got no particular
relationship with Democrats in Washington.
JON FASMAN, SOUTHEAST ASIA BUREAU CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: I think that`s a
problem. I think in Congress, you have people who are chomping at the bit
to get things done. You have Democrats who, I think, would be excited to
build some real infrastructure. You have Republicans who really want to do
But he has, number one, alienated everything. And, number two, he`s shown
that he has no real understanding of the sort of patient lobbying work that
you need to do to get things done.
So the question of what happens is a good one. I mean, one possibility is
that the presidency just gets sort of shrunk down to its historical size,
and Republicans pass a corporate tax plan of their own and present it to
him to sign as a fait accompli. Now, the question there is, how will his
ego react to having that happen? And that`s something I fear we know the
answer to all too well.
VELSHI: So, Peter, this is an interesting point because we`ve had sort of
eight years of presidency, 16 years, really, of presidency before Donald
Trump of presidents who have tried to gain more executive power and make
the presidency bigger.
VELSHI: Now it may be that the presidency, as Jon, gets smaller. But
here`s what Grover Norquist, who, I think, prior to Steve Bannon, was the
most powerful unelected man in Washington. Here`s what he said in 2011
about what Republicans need. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GROVER NORQUIST, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: So the
leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years
will be coming out of the House and the Senate. So focus on electing the
most conservative Republican who can win, and then pick a Republican with
enough working digits to handle a pen to become President of the United
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Peter, I mean that is – that was an interesting theory, right?
Get conservatives, fiscal conservatives, that is, elected to the House and
the Senate, and get a president who will sign the bill.
That isn`t even what Republicans have at the moment because they don`t have
the moral leadership. They don`t have the thing that you count on the
White House for typically when you`re trying to get tough bills through.
And tax bills are tough bills.
WEHNER: Yes, you`re exactly right. Grover`s theory was interesting. It
was also wrong. This is exactly what the Republican leadership, Paul Ryan
and Mitch McConnell, thought could happen.
They understood on some level that Donald Trump was an extremely inept and
ignorant man. But they thought that they could push through an agenda and
that they would get him to sign it, and all would be right with the world.
They were wrong about that because they were wrong in the sense that they
underestimated the disruptive effect and just how psychologically and
emotionally unhinged Donald Trump is and the radiating effects of that on
his agenda and on everything else.
The other thing that they underestimated is that this is hard stuff,
legislation, and governing. These are big bills that the House and the
Senate were trying to pass, and you need an engaged and alert president to
get them through in the best of times. And not only was Donald Trump not
there to help them, he was actively hurting them.
It was to the point that if you talked to Republicans on the Hill, they
wanted him out of the meetings because he would set back their agenda. So,
look, the Republican Party legislatively is at sea. They`ve passed
virtually nothing at all.
But that is the least of their problems right now because it`s not a
legislative failure for the Republican Party. It`s a moral failure. It`s
an ethical failure, and it`s going to get worse. And the Republican Party
better realize that and stand up to Donald Trump on those grounds.
VELSHI: Jon, to your point about a smaller executive, a bigger legislative
branch, is it obvious to you who, in these days that we`re in right now, is
going to lead that effort, and perhaps for the rest of this presidency as
we have a less relevant, less consequential president, because that`s what
he`s doing to himself, that we end up with a more relevant, more
FASMAN: It`s not obvious yet. Someone really needs to step forward. And
what we`ve seen so far is the initial bits of courage coming from the
business community, and that`s really not a surprise.
If you want to – if you run a business, there`s no – you know, there`s no
electoral college for business. You have to sort of be a – if you are a
consumer-facing company, you have to take account of what people want.
And so I think the question is, who are we going to see in Congress follow
the business community`s lead first? And I think that`s not quite yet
VELSHI: Gentlemen, good to talk to you. Thank you for being with us on
this summer Friday night. Jon Fasman is the Washington correspondent for
“The Economist.” Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public
Policy Center. He was a senior aide to President George W. Bush.
All right. Coming up, Donald Trump`s lawyer says he thinks Robert
Mueller`s investigation into the President could be wrapped up by
Thanksgiving. That as there is new reporting that Mueller is honing in on
Donald Trump, Jr.
VELSHI: It`s been a rough week, but even amid the fallout from the latest
shake-up at the White House, the one constant is the Russia investigation.
Today, new reporting from BuzzFeed indicates that prosecutors working for
Special Counsel Robert Mueller are keeping a tight focus on Donald Trump,
Jr. and are, quote, trying to determine his intent when he attended a
controversial June 9, 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, according to a
source familiar with the investigation.
The President`s son has acknowledged that he took the meeting seeking
damaging information on Hillary Clinton but claims that he received no
useful opposition research.
Joining me now is Barbara McQuade. She`s the former U.S. attorney for the
Eastern District of Michigan and a professor of law at the University of
Michigan. She`s also an NBC News and MSNBC legal contributor.
Barbara, thanks for being with us. Good to see you. Let`s talk about
Of all the things out there that Bob Mueller and his team may be
investigating and have to investigate, this one seems to have meat on the
bones because you`ve got all the parts that would lead one to figure out
whether or not the Russians had made contact with and established a
relationship with the Trump campaign in terms of exchanging information.
BARBARA MCQUADE, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Well,
certainly, the e-mail, on its face, that talks about meeting with the
Russians, part of the Russian government`s efforts to support President
Trump, providing information damaging to Hillary Clinton, all of that
should absolutely have red flags and alarm bells for Robert Mueller.
So it makes sense to me that they`re focusing on this episode. And that
intent is also part of it because proving willful intent would be an
element of a crime of campaign finance law violations.
VELSHI: You and I talked about this earlier when this first developed,
when we first found out about this. And you said the one thing about these
meetings, because there are e-mails, is that there are likely more e-mails.
And Bob Mueller has the ability to subpoena the necessary equipment and
records that will get him the whole story. Donald Trump, Jr. has disclosed
some e-mails to us, but the question is whether there are more.
MCQUADE: Sure. I think some of the things that Mueller and his team are
likely doing are getting their arms around all of the e-mails. There have
been some reports that some documents were exchanged at this meeting.
They would want to get their hands on those documents, and they would
certainly want to interview, if not put before the grand jury, everyone who
was present at that meeting. And we now know there was something like
eight people –
MCQUADE: – present at that meeting. So all of them have some
information, and all of that could be probative of Donald Trump, Jr.`s
intent and willfulness to violate those campaign finance laws.
VELSHI: Barbara, you know a thing or two about investigations. What do
you make of Thank you Cobb, Donald Trump`s lawyer, saying that he thinks
this is going to be wrapped up by Thanksgiving?
MCQUADE: Yes. You know, it seems unlikely to me that they could wrap it
up so quickly. Now, Robert Mueller certainly has a reputation for acting
with urgency in all of his work, and he has a team of 16 really top
prosecutors working, no doubt, in teams on these different fronts of the
But it`s – because of the complexity, it involves international matters.
It involves complex financial transactions. No doubt they`re also looking
at foreign counterintelligence surveillance collection. All of those
things strike me as being incredibly complex.
And although he wants to act with urgency and the country would like to see
this resolved with urgency, I think they also want to make sure they`re
being thorough. So I`d actually be surprised if they resolve it before
VELSHI: Barbara McQuade, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
MCQUADE: Thanks so much.
VELSHI: All right. Coming up, why we could see more ugly pictures like
the ones from Charlottesville this coming weekend.
VELSHI: I think it`s safe to say we could all use a cathartic moment right
now, a moment to relax, have a little chuckle maybe. For some, that moment
was last night with Tina Fey`s return to “SNL Weekend Update,” but not
everybody thought her skit about eating cake was the right prescription for
America this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TINA FEY, ACTRESS: The next time when you see a bunch of White boys, boys
in polo shirts screaming about taking our country back, when you want to
scream, it`s not our country, we stole it from the –
FEY: – from the Native Americans. We stole it from the Native Americans.
And when they have a peaceful protest –
FEY: – at Standing Rock, oh, we shoot at them with rubber bullets. But
we let you chinless turds march through the streets with semi-automatic
FEY: And when you want to yell that, don`t yell that at the Klan, Colin.
Yell it into the cake.
FEY: Now, thousands of White nationalists and counter-protesters are
expected to demonstrate this weekend. Should the White nationalists be
meet with counter-protests or should they be ignored? Karine Jean-Pierre
and Jonathan Capehart join us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEY: I really want to say to encourage all good, sane Americans, to treat
these rallies this weekend like the opening of a thoughtful movie with two
female leads: don`t show up. Let these morons scream into the empty air.
I love you Charlottesville. And as Thomas Jefferson once said, who is that
hot light skinned girl over by the butter churn?
COLIN JOST, ACTOR: Tina Fey, everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: All right. Joining us is Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior advisor for
MoveOn.org and a contributing editor for Buzzle. And Jonathan Capehart is
back with us. Thanks to both of you.
Karine, let`s start with you. Don`t show up. In fact, we often – you
know, I`ll often get criticism here for having some guests on or even
playing the clip of things, saying why are you giving oxygen to this hate
that is out there?
What is your sense? Should people not show up and not give these White
supremacists and neo-Nazis and KKK members oxygen, or should they be
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISOR, MOVEON.ORG: Look, as somebody who is
part of the resistance movement, if you will, working for MoveOn.org, I
truly believe that we are the final, the last line of defense, and we
cannot be silent.
We have a President, as we just saw a couple of days ago, on Tuesday, who
stood up for and just – and said that the White nationalists and the White
supremacists and Nazis were, essentially, not in the wrong and basically
had their side and stood against all the – all of our values, everything
that we know that is good and that we fight for.
And so, no, we can`t be silent at this moment. I saw the Tina Fey clip
that you just played. That`s satire. She`s making –
JEAN-PIERRE: She`s trying to make a really important point by using
JEAN-PIERRE: But in reality, where we are right now, we cannot – we
VELSHI: Jonathan, people are at different places in their evolution about
their relationship to race in this country. Some people have never escaped
They have stories of their parents and the green books that they had that
told them African-Americans, where it was safe to go in America and where
it wasn`t. I spoke to somebody from the NAACP probably a week and a half
ago because they have issued a travel warning in the state of Missouri.
On the other hand, you have whole lot of Americans who have woken up to the
idea that there neo-Nazis in our midst. There are people who are prepared
to identify themselves with the KKK. And there are White supremacists who
are proudly displaying their faces in the streets of Charlottesville and
elsewhere. Does it matter when and how you came around to this?
CAPEHART: No, it is never too late to stand up for what is right. It is
never too late to come to the aid and defense of your fellow Americans. It
is never too late to be on the right side, the moral side, of an issue that
is truly facing our country.
Race has never not been a part of the conversation. But I think what makes
this time so important now is that race is coming into play because the
President of the United States said to the entire country that there is
nothing wrong with White supremacists, nothing wrong with White
nationalists, nothing wrong with the KKK, nothing wrong with Nazis.
And in fact, they`re on the same plain as the right and fair people who are
out in the streets in Charlottesville and probably in cities across the
country who are not just standing up for their neighbors, but they`re
standing up for the American ideal.
This country is not perfect, and the constitution is not perfect. But what
it says is we will strive to be a more perfect union, and you could only do
that when you stare down hate and you stare down bigotry and you stare down
CAPEHART: – who do things that are in violation of all that we hold dear.
VELSHI: Karine, I got 30 seconds, but you wrote an article that said none
of these surprises you.
JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely, none of this. I think if you`ve been paying
attention, if you are a Brown person, a Black person, a woman, LGBT person
living in this country, and you have watched this election the last 18
months or you`ve been paying attention to Donald Trump, his own entire life
if you lived in New York City or since 2011 when he pushed birtherism, it
is not surprising.
This is what he was doing. He was pushing hate. He was tapping into hate.
He saw something that was going on and used it to his advantage. He used
it as a platform to really get his campaign moving.
And he did it the moment that he announced when he talked about Mexicans
and being rapists, all the way through talking about Black people, in front
of all White audience, trying to ban Muslim, I mean, you name it. This is
not surprising at all, but it is never too late to get involved and to
really have those hard conversations about race.
VELSHI: Karine Jean-Pierre, great to see you.
VELSHI: Jonathan Capehart, thank you. You both get the last word tonight.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Ali.
VELSHI: “THE 11TH HOUR” with my friend Brian Williams starts right now.
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