The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 8/31/17 Trump’s do over on Harvey
Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: August 31, 2017
JOY REID, MSNBC: That does it for us tonight, we`ll see you again tomorrow,
now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell, good evening,
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Good evening, Joy. Let me
translate Steve Mnuchin for you, Joy, on this matter –
REID: Please do.
O`DONNELL: OK? His actual answer really meant, I had no idea that was even
a thing. You mean they`re going to change the $20?
When were they going to tell me? And, oh, by the way, Harriet Tubman has
absolutely no chance of appearing on anything in the Trump administration,
including even on a wall anywhere in a building of the Trump
REID: Yes, well, you know, she`s doing an excellent job, Harriet Tubman,
and she`s getting recognized more and more.
O`DONNELL: Yes, not by this group. I think –
REID: Yes –
O`DONNELL: We can have complete confidence that the Obama administration
proposal will not survive in this –
REID: Yes –
REID: It`s a shame –
O`DONNELL: It is a shame –
REID: It`s an absolute shame.
O`DONNELL: It is tragic.
REID: Yes –
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Joy.
REID: Thank you, my friend.
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump was the first presidential nominee who did not
release his tax returns since 1976, and you remember his reason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am being audited now. I`m
under a routine audit, a minor audit.
Every year I have a routine audit. It`s under routine audit. Like
routine. But as soon as my routine audit`s finished, I`ll release my
returns, I`ll be very proud to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And of course most of the news media fell for the audit excuse.
But there was never any evidence at all that Donald Trump`s tax returns
were actually being audited.
Donald Trump never produced an audit letter from the IRS. Easy thing for
him to do if he was being audited. If he wasn`t being audited then, Donald
Trump might be being audited now in the most serious review of his tax
returns that he has ever been subjected to.
Betsy Woodruff is reporting in the “Daily Beast” tonight, special counsel
Bob Mueller has teamed up with the IRS according to sources familiar with
his investigation into alleged Russian election interference.
His probe has enlisted the help of agents from the IRS Criminal
Investigations Unit. This unit known as CI; is one of the federal
government`s most tight knit, specialized, and secretive investigative
Its 2,500 agents focus exclusively on financial crime including tax evasion
and money laundering. Betsy Woodruff will join us in a moment with more on
The IRS special agents in the Criminal Investigations Unit are on a per-
dollar basis, simply the most valuable employees in American government at
any level, federal, state, or local.
At salary levels in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year, they each collect
millions upon millions upon millions of dollars in taxes that the Treasury
was otherwise not going to ever see.
They collect that as a result of their successful tax investigations. They
are a profit center in the federal government.
They are highly experienced professionals who know what they are looking
for in tax returns and how to find it.
Only an absolutely perfect tax return could survive their scrutiny. What
is the likelihood that Donald Trump`s tax returns are perfect?
That he doesn`t stretch the law in any way or violate the law in his tax
returns? How about his drowning in debt son-in-law Jared Kushner?
And what about Paul Manafort, who was doing millions of dollars in cash
business in countries like Ukraine? If there is a crime in Paul Manafort`s
tax returns, Robert Mueller, with the help of the Criminal Investigations
Unit of the IRS, is going to find that crime.
But a tax crime is the one thing that Robert Mueller does not have a free
hand in prosecuting. He will need the approval of the assistant attorney
general for the tax division.
That is one of the hundreds and hundreds of jobs that Donald Trump and his
administration`s incompetence have not filled.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump pretended that not filling those jobs had nothing
to do with his relentless incompetence.
It was all part of the grand plan. We are not looking to fill all of those
positions, don`t need many of them.
Reduce size of government. Of course, not filling the jobs with Trump
appointees does not mean that those jobs are empty because those jobs are
all occupied by someone.
And so the acting assistant attorney general for the tax division is David
Hubbard, who joined the Justice Department in August of 1999 during the
Clinton administration when Janet Reno was the attorney general.
Mr. Hubbard has since then worked under Democrat and Republican attorneys
general. In 2012, the Obama administration`s Attorney General Eric Holder
promoted David Hubbard to be the tax division`s deputy assistant attorney
And so the person who will have the right to approve a tax prosecution
against Paul Manafort or Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump or Donald Trump Jr.
or the president himself is an 18-year career Justice Department
professional who began his service under President Clinton, served eight
years in the Bush administration Justice Department, another eight years in
the Obama administration Justice Department.
We can only wonder who President Trump would have put in that job if the
president or anyone working for him had any idea how important that job is,
and I mean how important that job is to President Trump.
And so the acting assistant attorney general of the tax division is not a
Trump man. And in the end, it could turn out that filling that job was
actually a lot more important to Donald Trump personally than filling that
Supreme Court vacancy.
Nbc News has new details about the contemporaneous notes that former Trump
campaign Chairman Paul Manafort took during the now infamous June 2016
meeting that Donald Trump Jr. arranged with Russian nationals on the
promise that he would receive, quote, “dirt on Hillary Clinton.”
Paul Manafort`s notes, quote, “included a mention of political
contributions near a reference to the Republican National Committee, two
sources briefed on the evidence told Nbc News.
Nbc News initially reported that the notes contained the word “donation”,
but a spokesman for Senator Chuck Grassley; the chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee whose staff has reviewed the notes, disputed the word
The two sources who initially provided the information then said that the
word in Paul Manafort`s notes was not “donation”.
One said it was “donor”, and another said it was a word that referenced a
political contribution. Joining us now, Ken Dilanian; intelligence and
national security reporter for Nbc News.
Betsy Woodruff; politics reporter for the “Daily Beast”, and Mieke Eoyang;
former House intelligence committee`s staff member and Vice President for
the National Security Program at the Third Way.
And Ken Dilanian, I want to go to your reporting for Nbc News about these
Paul Manafort notes. Walk us through that.
KEN DILANIAN, INTELLIGENCE & NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, NBC NEWS: Sure,
Lawrence. Well, one of the most interesting things about it is that we
learned that Paul Manafort, while he seemed to be on his phone during the
meeting according to some of the participants, he was actually taking notes
on his phone.
And those notes are now in the hands of the House and Senate Intelligence
Committee and in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller.
And what we`re told is that those notes are rather cryptic. They`re not
sentences, they`re fragments, they`re words.
But some of those words included a reference to the Republican National
Committee, as you said, and a reference to political donations.
And the context is not clear according to my sources. But it raised enough
alarms that people want to look more closely into this because, of course,
it`s illegal for Russians or any foreign source to contribute to a U.S.
It`s illegal for an American political campaign to accept foreign
donations. So if there was any hint of donations from Russians being
broached at this meeting, whether by the Trump side or the Russian side,
that`s hugely significant.
And just to review for our viewers, this is the Trump Tower meeting back in
June 2016 between Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. and a
Russian lawyer and a Russian-American lobbyist.
And by the way, that lobbyist has testified to Robert Mueller`s grand jury
in Washington we confirmed today, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And Betsy, I want to go to your reporting on the IRS teaming up
with Mueller. And I just want to clarify for the audience that if Donald
Trump was under an audit last year, no evidence that he was at all.
But if he`s been under an audit, that does not mean that in an audit, the
Criminal Investigations Unit is involved.
They are not involved unless there is a reason to suspect there`s criminal
investigation worth doing. These are the top guns.
If these people have never gotten a look at Trump tax returns and they are
now getting a look at Trump tax returns for the first time, that`s a whole
new experience for Donald Trump.
BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, DAILY BEAST: Without a doubt, this is a
very elite, close-knit, highly skilled group of investigators.
And in fact, one of my sources told me that Bob Mueller is a long time fan
boy of the Criminal Investigations Unit at the IRS.
And the reason for that is because their work is so thorough, they produce
investigative packages that are just – what I`ve been told, typically air-
tight, very easy for prosecutors to understand, easy to make sense of.
They basically hand the prosecutors they work with a case on a platter. So
Mueller and also one of his top deputies on the probe, Andy Weissman(ph)
have both had a lot of experience working with this small, elite group of
And what I was told is that it wasn`t particularly surprising that Mueller
brought them in because he holds them in such high regard.
O`DONNELL: And Betsy, I made much of who is the acting director of the tax
division now in the Justice Department.
Talk about that for a minute because this is a career professional. Most
people have had no contact with him at all.
That job is removed from politics in Washington. It`s hard to find people
who even know people who work in that unit.
WOODRUFF: Right, and that`s a really important piece of this. I would say
it`s the most important thing here is who is not currently running the tax
O`DONNELL: Yes –
WOODRUFF: Of the Justice Department –
O`DONNELL: That`s the point, yes –
WOODRUFF: That`s what`s really crucial, right? I spoke with a former
federal prosecutor who worked in the tax division earlier today, and he
told me the Trump transition team was warned by some of their Republican
allies that they needed to get someone in the tax division who at least
would be sympathetic to the president.
Who at least might be potentially open to cutting him a little bit of
slack, but they didn`t get it done.
That speaks to a broader competence issue on the part of the transition
team. And now, of course, it`s much too late for the president to be able
to put somebody who he sees as a useful ally in this spot because suddenly
this position has become so important.
And it`s such – it`s so clear how much power whoever runs the tax division
is going to have when it comes to this type of prosecution.
And remember, decisions about whether or not to bring tax charges are
really complicated. This isn`t often an open and shut, open and shut, easy
to decide call to make.
The folks who decide whether or not to bring these charges have to think
hard and sometimes it`s tough.
They can be judgment calls, and that`s why the president must be a little
bit disappointed that he doesn`t have someone there whose judgment would
potentially lean a wee bit in his direction.
O`DONNELL: Mieke Eoyang, there are now at least publicly, two big pressure
points in this investigation.
One is the meeting that Ken was talking about earlier in those notes from
Paul Manafort, that meeting at Trump Tower in June of the campaign year
with the Russians, Don Jr., Jared Kushner.
The other is what is perceived as the possibility of obstruction of justice
in the firing of Jim Comey. We know that there`s a lot of work being done
by that – by the special prosecutor on that.
We`re going to discuss that later in the program. But on this June
meeting, when we consider the possibility of what might be in Paul
Manafort`s notes, Ken raised the issue of possible illegal contributions.
What else might they be looking for that could be in Paul Manafort`s notes
or Jared Kushner`s notes or anyone else`s notes of that meeting?
MIEKE EOYANG, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, THIRD WAY: Right,
so I think that you would look for evidence of what kinds of tactics they
would be using and what was discussed in this meeting.
Remember, the Russian lobbyist who came to this meeting is alleged to be a
hacker for hire, for breaking into companies and stealing e-mail, exactly
what happened to the DNC.
And also remember in this meeting, this is the meeting where Donald Trump
on Air Force One dictated what the statement should be that his son put
So now the president is personally involved to the consternation of his
aides, who didn`t want him to be involved in this.
So there are a lot of different legal angles here.
O`DONNELL: And –
EOYANG: Also Paul Manafort – I was going to say Paul Manafort is somebody
who has tremendous experience working with Russian-backed oligarchs around
the world and trying to help them buy political influence in the U.S.
So this question of foreign contributions really comes to a head because
that is Paul Manafort`s expertise.
O`DONNELL: And Ken, talk for a moment about what might be in the testimony
that we know the special prosecutor has obtained on that meeting.
DILANIAN: Well, there are different stories about what that meeting could
be. And there are – many of them are equally damaging to the Trump case.
Because under one scenario, you know, the lawyer and the lobbyist insist
that they came to that meeting to talk specifically about a group of
esoteric sanctions called the Magnitsky Act.
And that they were presenting some information that really wasn`t of much
use to the Trump campaign. And what intelligence experts tell me is that
may well be true.
But the point was the Russian government sent them there, according to the
e-mail under which the meeting was set up, with an explicit promise of help
and of derogatory information about Hillary Clinton.
So if they may have been patsies, many intelligence experts say, for a
Russian operation that was designed to see whether the Trump campaign would
take the bait, would agree to a meeting under the auspices of help from the
Russian government, which they absolutely did.
So that`s one version of the meeting, another version of the meeting is
that substantive discussions about collusion were had.
Now, obviously, the participants explicitly deny that. And I guess a third
version of the meeting is that it was totally innocent.
It`s exactly what both sides say it was and Mueller is going to end up
doing nothing with it. So those are really our three options as we
consider this meeting, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And Betsy, to just go back to the IRS, these people, these
agents, many of them are accountants themselves.
They are – they are just in every way the people you don`t want looking at
your tax returns.
And Donald Trump knows this. It strikes me that this news tonight is the
kind of news that Donald Trump can easily comprehend the threat level of
WOODRUFF: Without a doubt. This is sort of a return of the geeks moment
almost. But these folks aren`t sort of your stereo typical pencil-necked
These are both highly intelligent people and highly experienced people who
understand the way that their tax law works incredibly well.
One of the things that a lot these tax agents are extremely conversant in
is the question of money laundering.
Another issue that they`re almost undoubtedly looking at relates to Paul
Manafort`s potential overseas bank accounts.
One of the simplest ways that you can bring tax charges is if somebody
doesn`t disclose when they file their tax returns to the IRS that they have
money in bank accounts overseas.
It`s called a check the box prosecution, and if you can prove, number one,
that nobody checked the box, disclosing they had that money.
And number two, that they actually did have money in overseas bank
accounts, then you have a slam dunk case.
And one think I`ve heard multiple times as I`ve been speaking to former
federal prosecutors and other folks who understand this world is that
that`s probably Manafort`s biggest legal liability.
Of course, the president is going to get that. He`s somebody who cares
about tax law, who understands the way that your tax forms can be used to
depict you in a very unflattering light in court.
So this is something I`m confident that has certainly raised stress levels
among folks who get what`s really going on and who are supportive of
O`DONNELL: And just before we close on this, this raises the issue of the
special prosecutor`s cooperation with the New York State Attorney General
once again because if Paul Manafort`s tax returns included New York state
tax returns, if there was any untruth about the income.
That appears on both tax returns. They`re both untrue. And so you have a
New York state income tax violation that could be prosecuted in place of in
– or alongside the federal tax violation.
And that`s all about trying to avoid the president`s ability to pardon on
federal charges. We`re going to have to leave it there for tonight. Ken
Dilanian, Betsy Woodruff, thank you both for joining us tonight.
Mieke, please stay with us. Coming up, Donald Trump`s attorneys make their
case to Robert Mueller about James Comey.
What they`re telling the special prosecutor about James Comey and new
reports today say that President Trump is under, quote, “house arrest, and
the person who has him under house arrest in the White House is the person
they now call “the church lady”.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Look, he`s a show boat, he`s a grandstander.
The FBI has been in turmoil. What I did is I was going to fire Comey, my
decision. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I
said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
It`s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they
should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was Lester Holt`s interview with the president, which may
become an exhibit in the case against the president if the special
prosecutor makes such a case.
New reporting from the “Wall Street Journal” tonight says Donald Trump`s
lawyers in the Russia investigation have made a case to the special
prosecutor, Robert Mueller, that the president did not commit obstruction
of justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey.
The journal reports, lawyers for Donald Trump have met several times with
special counsel Robert Mueller in recent months and submitted memos arguing
that the president didn`t obstruct justice by firing former FBI chief James
Comey and calling into question Mr. Comey`s reliability as a potential
witness, people familiar with the matter said.
One memo submitted to Mr. Mueller by the president`s legal team in June
laid out the case that Mr. Trump has the inherent authority under the
constitution to hire and fire as he sees fit and therefore didn`t obstruct
justice when he fired Mr. Comey.
Another memo submitted the same month outlined why Mr. Comey would make an
unsuitable witness, calling him prone to exaggeration, unreliable in
congressional testimony, and the source of leaks to the media.
Here`s what former FBI Director Comey told the Senate Intelligence
Committee in June.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I know I was fired because of something
about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation.
It was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and
I was fired in some way to change – or the endeavor was to change the way
the Russia investigation was being conducted.
That is a – that is a very big deal and not just because it involves me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: In a new twist in the James Comey matter, tonight, Senate
Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Judiciary subcommittee Chairman
Lindsey Graham have sent a letter to current FBI Director Christopher Wray
requesting all FBI records relating to James Comey`s public announcement
that there would be no criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton for the use
of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.
Based on documents, the senators have already reviewed, including
transcripts of some interviews conducted in the Justice Department`s own
investigation of Comey`s handling of the Clinton announcement.
The senators say, it appears that in April or early May of 2016, Mr. Comey
had already decided he would issue a statement exonerating Secretary
That was long before FBI agents finished their work. Mr. Comey even
circulated an early draft statement to select members of the senior FBI
The outcome of an investigation should not be pre-judged while FBI agents
are still hard at work trying to gather the facts.
The senators` letter came up today during the White House press briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senators Grassley and Graham revealed today that they
have evidence suggesting that former FBI Director Comey made a decision to
not charge Hillary Clinton several months before the investigation actually
wrapped up and before they interviewed Hillary Clinton.
Does the president know about this, and does he believe that that adds
weight to his decision to fire Comey?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I`m not sure if he is
aware of that revelation, but if it is as accurate as they say it is, I
think that would certainly give cause and reason that Jim Comey was not the
right person to lead the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining the discussion now, Ron Klain; former chief of staff to
Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore and a former senior aide to President
He`s also a former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and was
chief of staff to Attorney General Janet Reno.
Also with us, David Cay Johnston; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who
founded DCReport.org; a nonprofit news organization that covers the Trump
And Mieke Eoyang is still with us. Ron Klain, let`s work in reverse order
on these stories –
RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO JOE BIDEN & AL GORE: Yes –
O`DONNELL: The James Comey developments tonight, including this letter
which is a long letter that includes references to transcripts from the
senators to the FBI, seeking more information about how Comey reached his
decision on Hillary Clinton.
They are suggesting in that letter that it appears to them that he made up
his mind before the investigation was complete.
KLAIN: Yes, Lawrence, you know, I`m old enough to remember when President
Trump claimed he was firing James Comey because he was too harsh on Hillary
Clinton in the investigation.
So I think you have to take all of this with a grain of salt. I have no
doubt that Jim Comey, like any lawyer, probably drafted an initial
preliminary draft of his decision and circulated that before the
investigation was finished.
He could see where it was heading. He obviously wanted to begin to prepare
what he was going to do about that, it was a consequential decision.
He wanted others to review it. There`s nothing improper about that as long
as he didn`t reach a final decision and didn`t make a statement until the
investigation was done.
I mean, after all, he had spent months already looking into this issue.
The law was pretty clear to him.
And so the fact that he prepared a draft of a statement before it was over,
shared that draft with others, got input on others, means nothing as long
as he withheld a final decision and withheld issuing that draft until the
investigation was complete, which is what happened here.
O`DONNELL: And David, one of the key elements of the investigation, if not
the key element of the investigation, was what was on that e-mail server
and what were in the actual e-mails?
That is something that the FBI had completed the study of by the time James
Comey started forming – clearly forming his opinion, as I think the
senators are right, that he was in the process of forming his opinion.
And in forming that opinion, he already had the information of what was
actually in the e-mails.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, JOURNALIST: Right, well, Lawrence, it`s – as Ron
pointed out, it`s not at all unusual to start drafting something you
generally know where the facts are going to go.
It`s like journalism. You know, you prepare a draft of a story that –
what ultimately appears in print could be entirely and totally different
from what you`ve otherwise seen.
But there`s nothing amiss about that, and clearly at the point that Comey
would have written something, he knew a lot of information.
But what`s going on here is dirtying up anyone who is going to go after
Donald. It`s a basic strategy he`s used for years, dirtying up anyone who
is going to go after him.
O`DONNELL: So Mieke, if you`re the special prosecutor, and let`s just look
at the – let`s take the senators` letter at face value –
JOHNSTON: I am now, it wasn`t them –
O`DONNELL: And let`s just assume that they`re right completely. Let`s
assume that James Comey did make up his mind before all the investigative
work was done.
How would that affect James Comey as a witness to what Donald Trump said to
him in the Oval Office?
EOYANG: Not at all, Lawrence. The – whether or not James Comey made up
his mind beforehand, which I assume that he did not because he could have
gotten more evidence in later that would have changed his final decision,
that – he wouldn`t have made up his mind.
But it`s one of those things where they – it doesn`t matter what he was
thinking in the Hillary Clinton investigation.
What matters is why he was fired. And Donald Trump probably didn`t know
what was going on inside the FBI at the time.
The senators only just found this out. So that wasn`t a factor in Donald
Trump`s decision. So the decision on whether or not to fire Comey, to
remove him from the Russia investigation has nothing to do with the Senate
O`DONNELL: So, Ron, let me give you a shot at that. Let`s just assume
that you can find evidence that James Comey handled a certain
investigation, whether it`s the Clinton investigation or some other
investigation – did a really terrible job handling a certain investigation
and pre-judged the evidence on a certain investigation.
KLAIN: Yes –
O`DONNELL: How would that affect him as a witness to what Donald Trump
said to him about the investigation that he was conducting?
KLAIN: Well, I think I agree with Mieke here. I mean, obviously it will
color his testimony at trial or something like that.
But as a legal matter, it doesn`t affect it at all. It goes back to this
argument you mentioned a minute ago, the Trump lawyers` argument that Trump
had the inherent authority to fire Comey.
Well, of course he did. But he can`t fire him, he can`t exercise authority
inherently, otherwise for an illegal reason.
Now if someone walked in with a sack of cash to the Oval Office and said,
fire Comey and put my brother in, that would be bribery.
That would be illegal. He has the authority to fire and hire an FBI
director, but he can`t do it for an illegal reason.
And the evidence here is pretty clear that the reason he fired Jim Comey is
not because he messed up an investigation but because he was pursuing an
investigation, the Russia Investigation. And Trump`s firing him to stop
that investigation. That is obstruction of justice.
And however Comey might have botched one way or the other the e-mail
investigation. It doesn`t change the fact that Trump had no legal right or
was committing a crime if he fired Comey to obstruct an ongoing
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And David, that brings us to the
Obstruction of Justice matter that the President`s lawyers seem to be very
concerned with. Here they are delivering memos to the Special Prosecutor,
pleading that the firing of James Comey is not Obstruction of Justice.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Lawrence, just as you can
have a perfectly legal act become illegal by its intent, what we should
keep sight of here is that Congress decided to put the FBI Director into a
five-year position. And the reason they did that was to – or 10 year
position, to depoliticize the job. And what Donald Trump did here was make
it very clear that he was going to run contrary to that.
Comey testified that he thought the president had a right at any time to
ask for his resignation. I thought that was a strange thing for him to say
because you`re only supposed to get rid of the FBI Director for cause. And
there`s no indication of any cause here whatsoever except Donald Trump`s
clearly corrupt effort to try and shut down an investigation that was
threatening to him.
O`DONNELL: Mieke, as I said before, we know – at least publicly we know
the two big pressure points in this investigation are that June meeting in
Trump Tower and the President`s firing of James Comey and the President`s
lawyers are proving that this is their principal concern by delivering
these memos to the special prosecutor, arguing their defense case now to
the prosecutor on obstruction of justice.
MIEKE EOYANG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It makes sense lawyers would try to argue
their case as soon as they can and they better make a case for the
President or they`re not doing a very good job as lawyers. But when they
try to argue that James Comey is not a reliable witness, I was one of those
Congressional Staffers who took testimony from James Comey for what
happened in the Bush Administration on electronic surveillance and let me
tell you James Comey is a very reliable witness.
He has excellent recall. He is very objective at saying what`s happening in
the room. He admits to when he has made a mistake.
He is not someone we found was an unreliable witness. So for them to make
that argument that he`s unreliable in Congressional Testimony. It just
O`DONNELL: Mieke Eoyang and David Cay Johnston thank you very much for
joining us tonight, really appreciate it.
Coming up, we have more breaking news tonight. A new report tonight that
insiders believe that Donald Trump is on what they`re calling an inevitable
collision course with his new Chief of Staff General John Kelly, who the
Whitehouse staff – some of them anyway – now call “The Church Lady
O`DONNELL: Tonight the Washington Post reports some of the President`s
friends are worried that he`s on a collision course with Whitehouse Chief
of Staff John Kelly. Trump chafes at some of the retired Marine Corps
General`s moves to restrict access to him since he took the job almost a
month ago said several people close to the President. They run counter to
Trump`s love of spontaneity and brashness, prompting some Trump loyalists
to derisively dub Kelly the Church Lady because they consider him strict
and morally superior.
The Washington Postt article also says Trump appears to pine for the days
when the Oval Office was a bustling hub of visitors and gossip over which
he presided as impresario. Ron Klain is back with you. Ron, you`ve worked
in well organized Whitehouse`s, and what Kelly is trying to do is just what
we would call business as usual in the Whitehouse.
KLAIN: Yes. you know, Lawrence, only in a Whitehouse that was like this
one, which seems like it was written by Damon Runyon, would someone trying
to impose some basic order on the place come across like they were a Church
Lady. I mean if anything, you`d have to say what these stories point to is
how modest an effort to control John Kelly is putting on. He`s largely
given up on controlling the outputs from the Oval Office. He said he`s not
going to try to control Trump`s Twitter. He`s not trying to control
He`s only trying to organize the inputs into the process. And that`s a
pretty modest level of organization, truth be told lower than any other
Whitehouse we can think of. And even so, this crazy hall of mirrors white
house is rebelling against even that level of control.
O`DONNELL: And General Kelly refuses to play some of the Trump games like,
say, when Donald Trump tries to call him up onstage during a rally. Let`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John – where`s John? Where
is he? Where is General Kelly?
Get him out here. He`s great. He`s doing a great job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And Ron, John Kelly was there. He just refused to go out.
KLAIN: Yes. Look, General Kelly is a very serious person. He`s not going
to be a political prop for Donald Trump. He`s not going to be a rally toy.
He`s not going to be something sold on the Trump website for 40 bucks. You
know, he`s put his credibility and his career on the line in trying to sort
out what`s going on in the Trump Whitehouse. And he`s not going to play the
kind of games that Donald Trump likes to play. So we`re going to see how
long that lasts. Whether or not Trump is willing to stick with this kind of
organization or discipline, as modest as it really is by historical
standards, or whether or not even this modest level effort to keep Trump
somewhat organized is going to fall apart.
O`DONNELL: You know, from the day he was named for the job, I was
wondering how long will it be before we`re doing this segment. And, Ron
Klain, thank you for joining us in the first Trump versus John Kelly
segment. I`m sure there will be more. Thank you, Ron.
KLAIN: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, when Donald Trump makes a promise, always, always
stakeholder for the receipt.
O`DONNELL: The Washington Post`s David Farenthold won a Pulitzer Prize
exposing Donald Trump`s lies about his charitable giving. No one has told
more public lies about charitable giving than Donald Trump, who might just
be the least charitable self-proclaimed billionaire in America. Sandra
bullock, who is not a billionaire, is contributing $1 million for Hurricane
Harvey relief to the American Red Cross. And so after that the President,
who claims to be a multi-billionaire, sent the Whitehouse Press Secretary
out to say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Whitehouse Press Secretary: I had a chance to
speak directly with the President earlier, and I`m happy to tell you that
he is – would like to join in the efforts that a lot of the people that
we`ve seen across this country do, and he`s pledging $1 million of personal
money to the fund.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Most of Donald Trump`s public charitable giving has been done
with other people`s money that has been contributed to something he calls
the Donald J. Trump Foundation. NBC actually contributed half a million
dollars to the Donald J. Trump Foundation. So that Donald J. Trump could
pretend to be contributing to charities on his TV Show.
It was really just all part of the show`s budget. So when Donald Trump
makes a public promise to make a charitable contribution, there are two
questions to be asked. First, whose money is he going to use?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Will that be coming from Trump personally as opposed to the
Trump foundation or the Trump Organization?
SANDERS: I know that the president, he said he was personally going to
give. I don`t know the legal part of exactly that, but he said his personal
money. So I would assume that comes directly from him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: David Fahrenthold never assumed that, which is why David
Fahrenthold now has a Pulitzer Prize. The other question to always ask
about any Trump promise on charitable giving is when can we see the receipt
and a copy of the actual cashed check? The other way for Donald Trump to
prove he`s made a charitable contribution is, of course, to show us his tax
returns, but we might only see those if Robert Mueller introduces them as
an exhibit in a courtroom.
And so today the president added a White House press briefing room stunt
about charitable giving to his response to Hurricane Harvey, we`ll have
more on the president`s response to Hurricane Harvey next with Ana Marie
Cox and Charlie Sykes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Texas is a unique place.
It`s a great, great state, great people. And I think you`ll be up and
running very, very quickly. Really very quickly so, yes, I think you`re
going to be in a fantastic shape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That is but one of the platitudes that President Trump offered
this week when the death toll earlier in the week for Hurricane Harvey was
still in single digits. Today as the death toll rose to 32, the president`s
response was to promise to make a personal contribution of a million
dollars to Hurricane Harvey relief. Walter Shaub the former director of
the United States Office of Government Ethics tweeted this in response.
If POTUS really does donate a million dollars of his own money not his
children`s money, not his company`s money, not his foundation`s money, not
money from others to an actual legitimate 501C3 charitable organization.
Not one that he or his family or company controls. Not his foundation that
uses donations to buy a portrait of himself.
And provides the public with verifiable proof that he fully completed the
transaction in the reasonably near future not distributed over ten years,
not whenever the IRS tax audit is completed then I will gladly offer up a
genuine thank you to him for donating one, one hundredth of one percent of
the $10 billion that he purports to have which would be exactly equivalent
to a donation of $100 by a family of four Americans with a home, a
retirement plan and personal savings worth a combined total of $1 million.
Joining us now Ana Marie Cox a contributor to the New York Times Magazine
and the host of the podcast “With Friends like these.” Also with us
Charlie Sykes, author of the forthcoming book, “How the Right Lost Its
Mind.” Charlie is a MSNBC contributor and Ana your review of the
president`s response to Harvey so far?
ANA MARIE COX, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR: Underwhelming I guess
would be the gentlest critique that I could give it. You know I was
actually driving somewhere earlier this week and heard Mike Pence on the
radio talking in Texas. And I had this like moment of like both fear and
relief at thinking he might be the president.
Then you know it`s – it`s a low bar to sound presidential these days. But
this guy who has the personality of a Ken Doll managed to seem
compassionate and empathetic in comparison to the actual president who
literally did not see any of the flood damage himself. Literally saw
nothing on his own with his own eyes about the devastation that`s going on
there, didn`t touch a single survivor.
It`s - it`s astonishing. I mean I also – you know you did a lot of really
good contextualizing for his donation so-called. I would like to point out
it`s also one tenth of one percent of the billion dollars that the Trump
budget proposes to cut from FEMA among other disaster aid agencies. The
other reason why a lot of us give money in times like is because we can`t
do anything else. Like this is the way that we choose to feel involved.
We`re far away so we can`t get physically involved. We`re not a member of
the government. So we can`t do anything structurally so we give money. The
president can do a lot. A million dollars is – even if he literally –
even if he actually gives it it`s literally almost the least he could do.
He could do a lot more in terms of preparedness, in terms of climate
change, in terms of getting people to realize that we need to change the
way we think about development.
I am going on a little bit. I want to hear from Charlie.
O`DONNELL: OK. Charlie, the president – the president could make out
that personal check to the United States Treasury, just send it in there.
Of course then it would not be a deductible. He would not be making a
charitable contribution but certainly FEMA they know what to do with the
CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No, I mean Congratulations if in fact he
writes out the check but all the questions you`re asking -
SYKES: Are completely legitimate. I - I like your comparison with Sandra
Bullock was right on point but no one`s going to think of asking whether
Sandra Bullock`s really going to write out the check really you know and
whether it`s her own money because unlike the president of the United
States she is not a grifter when it comes to charity, that`s the problem.
But also and I think Ana Marie was - was - was touching on this. You know
the - the absolute complete lack of empathy by this man was on display this
week. And I actually think people are starting to see this. You know, you
watch some of the - you watch some of the focus groups. Look at some of
the polls. You know people are sort of stepping back and going, OK we
might have supported him because we thought he was going to fight for us.
But it turns out it`s always all about him. It`s all about Donald Trump.
And you can kind of sense you know a growing sense of understanding about
the character of this man. And, again, now when you have a natural
disaster like this is it too much for the president of the United States to
be a healer. Somebody who will focus the nation`s attention? Do the kinds
of things that Ana Marie was talking about.
Is it really too much to ask that? And the contrast between Mike Pence who
is not necessarily the warmest, bubbliest, you know cuddliest guy in the
world and Donald Trump was pretty - was actually pretty dramatic this week
O`DONNELL: And Ana the – the congress has a lot of important business to
do in September. Raise the debt ceiling, get a budget passed and pass some
new money that – money that no one has contemplated until now. Pass some
new money for this Hurricane Harvey relief and that`s going to be a very,
very big package.
The truth of where the president is on this will come in how he tries to
help in managing that legislation.
COX: Or if he doesn`t do anything at all.
COX: Which is what I imagine is going to happen. I think he is going to
tweet Fox and friends and talk about what he saw on TV. His entire
reaction to the storm seems to be as though it was sweeps week. You know
as though he was watching a weather channel special and not actually seeing
this horrific, catastrophic event take place and in something that is going
to be unprecedented that is unprecedented in terms of how many people
displaced and how much rebuilding there is going to be. He – he doesn`t
feel anything except what he feels for television.
O`DONNELL: And Charlie we`ll see how much he pushes the congress to get
SYKES: Yes, absolutely or – because I - I - I do – I do think that you
know for him it is the show it`s not the policy it`s not the results.
O`DONNELL: Ana Marie Cox and Charlie Sykes, thank you both for joining us
COX: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Tonight`s last word is next.
O`DONNELL: President Trump reportedly has his problems with Secretary of
State Rex Tillerson. This could be one of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Particularly I want to
thank the government of Mexico for its offered assistance to the state of
Texas. They have offered a wide range of assistance, coordinated with the
governor down in Texas and also through FEMA. But a very generous of
Mexico to offer their help with this very, very challenging time for
citizens down in - in Texas. Thank you very much Mr. Secretary.
LUIS VIDEGARAY CASO, MEXICO SECRETARY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: You`re
absolutely welcome. And we are - we`re here to help. We are neighbors.
We`re friends and that`s what friends do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was yesterday at the state department. That`s tonight`s
last word. The 11th Hour starts now.
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