Four soldiers killed in Niger Transcript 10/18/17 The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell
Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: October 18, 2017
Guest: Al Franken, Walter Isaacson, Richard Painter
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. Thank you for
alerting the audience to that because as you alerted us all to this hearing
that was coming this morning, that we all watched.
And Al Franken had said on this program once he had the time to digest the
attorney general`s confirmation testimony that it was perjury. Said it was
perjury. And here we come back today and I know you saw that litany that
Senator Franken read off of the adjustments to Jeff Sessions` testimony to
his story since his confirmation hearing.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, TRMS: Yes. And Jeff Sessions today insisting
to Senator Franken as far as he thinks, as far as he`s concerned, no
surrogates for the Trump campaign met with the Russians. He doesn`t think
When he himself has now admitted that he`s one of the Trump surrogates who
met with Russians during the campaign.
That shrug and response from the attorney general is going to end up being
important and Senator Franken got that out of him today, too.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And one of the things that`s stunning to me about it just
as a student of the Senate is Jeff Sessions used to be the chairman of that
committee and former chairmen are treated like gods in those committees for
the rest of their lives. No matter what they`re doing in that room. And
this guy has had the roughest ride that any former chairman`s ever had
appearing before his own committee again.
MADDOW: Well, you know, if you want to avoid that, good rule of thumb is
if you lie to your colleagues, A, pretend it`s an accident and, B, say
you`re sorry. And in this case, he`s done a little of the former, none of
the latter. And I think it`s hard to face those people after you didn`t
clean up, after you looked them in the face under oath and told them
something that wasn`t true.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and I think we know how it`s playing with Senator Franken.
I`m going to ask him how he thinks anyway it`s playing with the rest of his
colleagues, including the Republicans, and see what he says.
MADDOW: Well done, well done. Thanks, my friend.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, as we all know, Twitter is Donald Trump`s pulse. Twitter is the
president`s clearest vital sign. Twitter tells us more accurately and more
frequently than any other source what`s going through the president`s mind,
what he cares about, and as importantly, what he does not care about.
On October 4th, that was Donald Trump`s deadliest day of combat as
commander-in-chief. That was the day that four U.S. Special Forces
soldiers were killed in action in Niger.
In the pre-Trumpian White House, the president of the United States would
have known about that before “The New York Times”. We can`t be quite so
sure about that in the Trump White House but “The New York Times” knew
about it and reported on it the day that it happened.
So, it should be safe to assume that the president was told about it the
day that it happened. But there is no hint in what the president did and
said that day that he knew about the death of those soldiers or was at
least even thinking about the death of those soldiers.
“The New York Times” got a confirmation, formal confirmation of the death
of three of those soldiers on the day it happened from Lieutenant Commander
Anthony Falvo, who is the spokesperson for the United States Africa Command
and that`s located in Germany.
So, the president had to know, right? I mean, he had to know. But on that
day, the president did not say anything about those soldiers or about any
soldiers serving in harm`s way. Twitter told us. Twitter told us what the
president really cared about that day.
On that day, the president tweeted about what he called fake news and that
was the NBC News report that the secretary of state had called the
president a moron, a report that the secretary of state to this day has not
denied. The president cared desperately about the moron story, about being
called a moron, and he proved it on Twitter the very day that those four
soldiers were killed.
The first three soldiers who were confirmed dead that day were Staff
Sergeant Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, 39, Staff
Sergeant Dustin Wright, 29. The body of a fourth soldier was not recovered
for another two days. And when that body was recovered and Sergeant La
David Johnson, 25, was confirmed killed in action, the president was still
silent – completely silent about that.
But during that time, the president was busy tweeting. He`s tweeting about
the thing that is he very clearly cares about most. Like, genuflecting at
football games. He was busy condemning NFL players who genuflect at
football games and did not say one word condemning the killers of those
four Special Forces soldiers.
The president didn`t say a word about those soldiers. Not one word. And
it would be nice to be able to find something, anything in Donald Trump`s
character and personality that would indicate that Twitter is not a look
into the place where his soul should be.
It would be nice to be able to claim convincingly that the president`s
failure to say a word about the loss of those four soldiers does not mean
that he did not care about them. It would be nice. At a minimum, though,
there is doubt about how much the president cared about the loss of those
soldiers. And if something like this ever happened with any previous
president, an awkward silence, an awkward, lengthy, longer than a week
silence about the death of soldiers like that, that president would very
likely be given some benefit of the doubt.
But Donald Trump lost the benefit of the doubt in this situation last year
when he viciously attacked the parents of Captain Humayun Khan who was
killed in action in Iraq heroically giving his life to save the lives of
troops under his command. Donald Trump lost the benefit of the doubt in
his very first days as a candidate for president when he demonstrated
himself to be the most heartless human being who has ever mounted a
candidacy for president and the most unqualified person in history to seek
the job of commander in chief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He`s not a war hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a war hero.
TRUMP: He is a war hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five and a half years in POW camp.
TRUMP: He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that
weren`t captured, OK? I hate to tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump on John McCain.
So, Donald Trump was suspect long before those four soldiers were killed in
Niger. He was suspect as someone who does not really care about sacrifice
of soldiers make, including John McCain`s five and a half years as a
prisoner of war.
When Donald Trump says he prefers soldier who is don`t get captured,
doesn`t that mean that he also prefers soldier who don`t get killed?
That is one of the sickening possible interpretations of what Donald Trump
said about John McCain`s capture as a prisoner of war. A new book with
essays from 27 psychiatrists and mental health professionals says that
Donald Trump is a dangerous president because he does not share the normal
range of human feeling. They find him to be such an extreme narcissist
that he has no capacity to empathize with anyone`s suffering and that the
only suffering he can feel is his own. And that his own suffering comes
from a bottomless well of self pity.
And so, the human tragedy in the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes in
Puerto Rico, to Donald Trump, becomes the tragedy of Donald Trump not being
praised enough for what he`s done for Puerto Rico, not being praised for
throwing paper towels at people.
And so, there`s a new round of public disgust on display tonight for the
president of the United States for what appears to be another exhibition of
what the psychiatrists have diagnosed in Donald Trump.
He made her cry. That is how Congresswoman Frederica Wilson described the
president`s phone call to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson. The
congresswoman`s account of that phone call first became public last night
during this hour. I was told about it in commercial breaks in this program
and though I was told that other news networks were reporting the comments,
I chose not to, because I wanted a confirmation from someone in Sergeant
Johnson`s family, someone who could confirm that the family was upset and
offended by what the president had to say.
Congresswoman Wilson is a Democrat. This could easily look like a partisan
issue. I was reluctant to report that story as it was breaking news last
night without more confirmation.
And so, we didn`t. It was my decision and we didn`t. Might not have been
the right decision, but that`s how I made it, and I knew that if more
confirmation were to come, we`d be talking about it tonight.
Congresswoman Wilson quoted the president as callously saying on the phone:
He knew what he was signing up for but I guess it hurts anyway.
I guess it hurts anyway. That quote hurt Donald Trump and we know that it
hurt Donald Trump. We know Donald Trump cared a lot about that quote
because he very angrily tweeted about it this morning attacking
Democrat congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a
soldier who died in action and I have proof. Sad.
There it is. There`s the proof – of how much he cares about what he was
quoted as saying to the widow of Sergeant Johnson. If he tweets, he cares.
If he doesn`t tweet, he does not care.
And that was the president`s very first tweet about any one of those four
soldiers who were killed in action. And that tweet came 14 days after they
were killed in action. That tweet came two days after the president was
asked by reporters why he had not yet said a single word about the four
soldiers killed on the deadliest day of combat under Donald Trump as
commander in chief. That tweet came two days after Donald Trump insisted
that he is the only president who bothered to call families of soldiers
killed in the line of duty, a lie that was immediately beaten back by NBC
News Peter Alexander in the Rose Garden after the president said it on
And that very first tweet today making a reference to one of the soldiers
killed in Niger was actually a tweet about the sad suffering of Donald
Trump, suffering the false accusation that his phone call was hurtful to
the widow of Sergeant Johnson and so this became the issue of the day in
the Trump White House when the message was supposed to be about tax cuts,
in a meeting with the members of the Senate Finance Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, what did you say to Sergeant Johnson widow on the
TRUMP: I didn`t say what that congresswoman said. Didn`t say it at all.
She knows it. And she now is not saying it.
I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who is –
sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say that the congresswoman said and
most people aren`t too surprised to hear that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And at that point, the public argument could then be labeled as
politician versus politician, although Congresswoman Wilson was not just
any politician. She was a politician who knew Sergeant La David Johnson
for most of his life through a mentorship program that she created in her
district. She didn`t lose a family member when Sergeant Johnson was
killed, but she did lose a loved one in combat, something Donald Trump has
And then today, Sergeant Johnson`s mother told “Washington Post,” President
Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.
Sergeant La David Johnson was the father of two children and his widow is
now pregnant with their third child.
Earlier today here on MSNBC, Ari Melber conducted an extraordinary
interview with Sheila and Calvin Murphy, the mother and father of Army
Specialist Etienne Murphy who was killed in Syria in May.
And to this day they have not received any acknowledgment of the loss of
their son from the president of the United States. Not a phone call. Not
a letter. Nothing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEILA MURPHY, LOST SON IN SYRIA IN MAY: So if that letter or that phone
call could bring my son back, I would run from here on foot to Washington,
D.C. to get that letter. But right now, it really doesn`t matter who did
the greatest thing. What matters right now is that people remember my job.
Specialist Etienne J. Murphy and all the other ones that are gone and those
that are out there right now at this moment fighting for us, remember them.
I just want my child back. I just want my child.
This is what happens when people, our young people go over there to fight
for a country that they love so much. We`re the aftermath. We`re the
casualties of war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: What we`re all feeling right now is empathy. We are not
suffering what Sheila Murphy suffers. We can`t.
But she`s just communicated with us in a way that allows us, makes us feel
some of what she has endured and we have no idea what Donald Trump would
feel if he watched Sheila Murphy talk about the casualties of war. We have
no idea if Donald Trump feels anything.
Dozens of psychiatrists who have studied his behavior for the last couple
of years are convinced that Donald Trump feels nothing. They are convinced
that the only thing Donald Trump would feel in listening to Sheila Murphy
is sorry for himself, sorry for himself that news coverage like this is
portraying him to be emotionally sub-human.
And what no one can point to, what no supporter of Donald Trump can point
to is a shred of public evidence that Donald Trump cares about any pain
that is not his own. There is simply no evidence that anyone`s description
of their pain can reach Donald Trump, move him in any way.
The world is on edge tonight and every night of the Trump presidency
because there is no public evidence that Donald Trump would be moved by the
deaths of tens of millions of people who could be killed in North and South
Korea if he launches a strike against North Korea. And there is no public
evidence that Donald Trump has any emotional or moral inhibition about
launching such a strike.
And there is no public evidence that Donald Trump can be moved even by the
searing anguish of a Gold Star mother who Donald Trump has not bothered to
call and who very clearly and absolutely does not care about hearing from
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: I dread the sun rise and I welcome the sunset because I`m hoping
that as the sun sets, maybe I don`t have to deal with another sunrise,
because my pain is just so great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: My daughter-in-law, my grandchildren, my son, my daughter-in-law,
they`re the casualties of war. Young people, those soldiers coming back
with PTSD, they`re the casualties of war. So, it`s not really about –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was Sheila Murphy talking about the loss of her son,
Etienne Murphy, in May in Syria. She`s not received a phone call or a
letter from President Trump about the loss of her son.
Joining us now, John McLaughlin, former acting director of CIA and MSNBC
national security analyst. Also with us, Jason Johnson, politics editor at
theroot.com and an MSNBC contributor.
And, Jason, just want to begin with you and feel free to take any part of
this story that you`d like to comment on.
JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: There is – there is no greater
sacrifice that is made sort of an American history than by our soldiers who
die and also the family that is support them.
There is no amount of phone calls or letters or anything from the president
that can replace losing someone that you have loved, raised and brought
together. And I go to sleep every night praying for a relative of mine who
is over serving now.
That being said, the only small sliver of kindness or hope that some of
these people can experience is being told by someone in official capacity
their child`s life did not end in vain and the inability of this president
to express consistent empathy, not driven by his own numbers, not driven by
his own concerns, not because he was cajoled or shamed or forced into it,
is just another searing example of his absolute inability to lead this
We judge our presidents, Lawrence, on basic things – leadership,
integrity, intelligence, competence. He`s failed on most things that any
politician scientist has ever assessed the president on. But empathy is
something that we don`t just expect from presidents. We expect from human
And someone who is incapable of showing empathy in any and all
circumstances is someone who`s not just unfit for the presidency but unfit
for any capacity whether expected to interact with other human beings, let
alone bringing solace or comfort.
O`DONNELL: John McLaughlin, what do you think we should be concentrating
on in this story?
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I`ve been thinking
about this story all day, Lawrence, as it`s unfolded. And I must say, this
is a difficult story to assess and discuss because we`re talking here about
the deepest of human emotions.
I think what deserves our focus here is really just the grief of these
survivors. Anyone who`s led in my former agency at CIA over the last
couple of dozen years has been to Dover, Delaware, any number of times to
receive the remains of fallen officers. I mean, at the CIA, we`ve got 125
stars carved into the marble and more than a third of those have fallen
since 9/11. So, it`s deeply felt.
So, I think the thing to concentrate on here is the need for the president
and the nation to learn something from this. That is, to learn that when
someone is experiencing the grief that`s the deepest grief anyone
experiences, the grief that comes from the loss of a loved one,
particularly in a war, that the only thing you can do is convey to them
sincerely as possible your sympathy and your sharing of that grief. And
You know, the president has this tendency to make things worse by bristling
the way he did. He made this worse. The empathetic thing to do here would
have been to just pick up the phone once this controversy broke, call this
grieving widow and say, you know, ma`am, I`m sorry. If this was heard in a
way that I didn`t intend it to be heard, I apologize. I`m sorry. This is
what I meant.
And people would understand that. Because we`ve all – I`ll bet there`s
not a viewer out there that hasn`t struggled at sometime to find the words
to console someone who is deeply grieving. So, that would have been the
empathetic human thing for the president to do here today.
O`DONNELL: And, Jason, when you hear John McLaughlin say that, this simple
notion of picking up the phone again and just saying, I`m sorry if I was
misunderstood, it sounds so simple, so easy to do and as I was listening to
John say it, so utterly inconceivable when the character on the scene is
supposed to be Donald Trump.
JOHNSON: I mean, have we ever heard, Lawrence, Donald Trump really
apologize for anything sincerely? But I think, also, even to go with what
the other guest said, this speaks to the larger problem we have in this
country in how we treat our soldiers.
They`re not toys. They`re not action figures. This isn`t G.I. Joe versus
Cobra. They`re not – they`re not just political pawns to be used to
attack people and their patriotism.
I go back, you know, you had a wonderful montage at the beginning of Donald
Trump when he made this comment, I don`t respect people that got captured.
It`s not just the callousness of Donald Trump making that statement. It`s
the people in the audience who laughed, who thought it was funny, the same
people who will be out there now complaining about football players taking
a knee, laughed and joked whether the president made fun of someone who was
a POW for five years.
It`s the men and women who constantly scream and wear the flag but don`t
want to pay more taxes to make sure that our soldiers receive education and
health care and benefits when they get home. Our country needs a wake-up
call about how we deal with war. Not just whether or not we should be
fighting this war which we shouldn`t, but how we care for the men and women
who come back. And this president is the epitome of the callousness and
the disingenuous nature of which way too many Americans view combat from
O`DONNELL: John McLaughlin, quickly before we go, on the president`s first
full day in office as president, he was at the CIA headquarters. He was
standing before that wall that you know so well there, that memorializes
CIA officers lost in the line of duty and he never acknowledged that and
talked in ways that were considered extremely irrelevant to the place that
he was in, highly politicized ways, talking about his election victory and
this sort of stuff, the typical shallow Trump comments.
This seems to be of a piece with this. This seems to be book-ended with
MCLAUGHLIN: You know, very much so, Lawrence. The president was basically
being very political in what is the least political spot in what I think is
the least political agency in Washington at a time when casualties there
have accelerated in recent years.
It`s a sacred spot at that agency, and so, it is of a piece with that. And
it`s almost as though he`s situationally unaware of where he is and what is
required and I don`t think it`s the sort of thing that you say after the
fact, oh someone should have told him. These are things that instinctively
a president has to know.
O`DONNELL: John McLaughlin and Jason Johnson, thank you both for joining
us tonight. Really appreciate it.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, another tough hearing at the Senate Judiciary
Committee today for Jeff Sessions. Senator Al Franken once again with the
tough questions. Senator Franken will join us.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: It has been rough going for Attorney
General Jeff Sessions in the Senate Judiciary Committee ever since his
confirmation hearing in January giving an answer to Senator Al Franken
about his contacts with Russians in an answer that Senator Franken later
judged to be perjury.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Was Jeff Sessions response to you perjury?
AL FRANKEN, UNITED STATES SENATOR: It is hard for me to draw any other
conclusion given the letter that he wrote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The Attorney General`s Defense against the perjury allegation
has required him to revise his answers several times. Here`s how Senator
Franken summarized those revisions today with Jeff Sessions once again in
the witness chair.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: First it was I did not have communications with Russians which
was not true. Then it was, I never met with any Russians to discuss any
political campaign which may or may not be true. Now, it`s I did not
discuss interference in the campaign which further narrows your initial
blanket denial about meeting with the Russians. Since you have qualified
your denial to say that he did not “discuss issues of the campaign with
Russians.” What in your view constitutes issues of the campaign?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, let me just say this without
hesitation that I conducted no improper discussions with Russians at any
time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, a member of
the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, I didn`t hear an answer to that
question you asked. i didn`t hear Jeff Sessions answer what constitutes a
discussion of a campaign matters.
FRANKEN: no. I don`t think he was telling the truth when I questioned him
in his confirmation hearing in January. I don`t think he was telling the
truth today. I just want to make sure that everyone understands, this is
This is about the number one law enforcement officer in our country and
whether he interfered with – in any way to Russia interfering in our
election. Actually, he did contradict himself earlier when he – Pat Leahy
asked him if he had talked with Kislyak of any of Trump`s policies and he
said, I could have, yeah, maybe I did.
And, of course, policies, foreign policy in a campaign, those are positions
in a campaign. That`s part of a campaign. And he kind of said, yeah, I
could have, and Senator Leahy used actually the policies in the campaign.
O`DONNELL: And you`ve been now pursuing a moving target it seems with
Attorney General for months over the substance of these conversations and
now it seems to be as you said today the bar seems to have been lowered to
collusion just simply the denial that there was no discussion of colluding
with the Russians to interfere in the election.
FRANKEN: Yes. As I said, it changed. The goal posts change on this and now
it`s I didn`t talk about interfering with the election. He also oddly today
said that he didn`t think that any surrogates for the Trump campaign had
talked with Russians. And so, I asked him, do you think General Flynn was a
Do you think Paul Manafort was a surrogate? Do you think Jared Kushner was
a surrogate? Do you think Donald Trump Jr. was a surrogate? So what he was
saying today, just didn`t make sense.
O`DONNELL: There was also another point that Senator Leahy brought up
about the Special Prosecutor`s Investigation, asking if he`s been
interviewed by the special prosecutor. Let`s listen to that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK LEAHY, UNITED STATES SENATOR: have you been interviewed by them?
LEAHY: You haven`t been interviewed by the special counsel in any way,
shape or manner?
SESSIONS: The answer`s no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And, senator, we know that Jeff Sessions was involved in the
President`s decision to fire James Comey. We also have reason to believe
that`s part of the special prosecutor`s investigation so it would seem -
O`DONNELL: The day will come at some point the special prosecutor will
want to talk to the Attorney General.
FRANKEN: Yes. And the Special Prosecutor will maybe ask him about some of
the questions the way he answered some of the questions today and during
his confirmation hearing.
O`DONNELL: The – what about the proposition that Jeff Sessions keeps
changing, adjusting his testimony in front of his old committee? used to be
Chairman of that Committee and when you say it`s not personal I know you
served with Jeff Sessions on that committee and had the kind of close
contact that you do with your colleagues on a committee like that. And
actually a great deal of friendliness that people might not see out there
during the hearings. How is this playing with the rest of the committee
and including to the extent that you can judge wit the Republicans?
FRANKEN: I don`t know. I think there`s some denial in – on that side of
the aisle. I think to us it`s pretty – we`re very, very skeptical. I think
your point about the Special Prosecutor, he is the one that`s supposed to
get to the bottom of all of this and i hope that maybe this testimony today
was useful to him and but we have a special prosecutor who will be taking
care of this. you know, it is – it is disturbing that the – you know,
head of the Department of Justice is having such difficulty answering
questions and keeps changing the goal posts.
O`DONNELL: Senator, I want to get your reaction to an unrelated matter
involving the president today. I know it`s an issue that you have cared
about for a long time, including before your time in the senate. You
visited troops in Iraq long before you were a candidate for public office,
and we have President Trump in this now controversial phone call to a
family and this is the family of army Sergeant La David Johnson.
And his mother, his guardian, when he was a child, has now said this about
the President. President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and
also me and my husband. That`s her interpretation of the President`s
condolence phone call to the widow of Sergeant Johnson. What`s your
reaction to that?
FRANKEN: Well, I don`t know what happened in that conversation. These are
very, very difficult conversations. I have made them when Minnesota
soldiers or marines have died in Afghanistan or in Iraq. And they`re very
difficult to make.
I don`t know what was said there but the President should leave this alone.
And my goodness, he should – he attacked gold star family during the
campaign. I thought that was just unfortunate to say the least. And I think
here he should try to leave this one alone.
O`DONNELL: Senator Al Franken, thank you very much for joining us
tonight, really appreciate it.
FRANKEN: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Donald Trump`s reading list, what the President who
doesn`t read books should be reading.
O`DONNELL: Time to lighten it up with tonight`s episode of Donald Trump`s
reading list. This is, of course, a wishful thinking concept because as we
know Donald Trump does not have a reading list. The President of the United
States has no shame in making it known publicly that he does not read
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I don`t get to read very much. I`m
working very hard on lots of different things, including getting costs
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Yes, so he doesn`t read books because, you know, they`re
books. And why work your way through a printed page when Fox News is on or
Mike Pence is walking out of a football stadium? Donald Trump couldn`t be
Donald Trump if he read books. The right books especially the right
The President`s mind could not remain so small and so closed if he read
Walter Isaacson`s biographies of some of the great and creative minds in
human history, some of the greatest, Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and, yes,
even Steve Jobs. and now we wished Donald Trump`s reading list included
Walter Isaacson`s new biography, that David McCallum has called magnificent
and spell binding of Leonardo da Vinci who Donald Trump would discover
spent 16 years painting the Mona Lisa, a painting Donald Trump could be
made to care about because of his worth at least a billion dollars or
possibly several billion dollars.
It`s worth so much money it`s actually impossible to calculate what it`s
worth. And that`s the kind of fact that could get Donald Trump`s attention.
But what we`d also like Donald Trump to learn is that Leonardo da Vinci was
an extraordinary mathematician and scientist, an aeronautical engineer
centuries before the occupation aeronautical engineer existed and this mind
of da Vinci that dazzled the world for centuries now came in to the world
as a child born scandalously out of wedlock, who grew up to be a gay
heretic with no formal education but who could fit right into the 15th
century Florence because the Republic of Florence had become open to
diversity and open to immigration. And open to new technology.
Did not fear what other places had. Was interested in what other places
had. And that Florence thrived then because of that rich mix of different
kinds of people with different ideas. And we would especially like Donald
Trump to learn the lesson of the reactionary Friar Savonarola who led an
uprising against the liberalism of Florence and instituted a fundamentalist
regime that imposed strict new laws against homoexuality and adultery with
punishments of stoning and burning people to death, a militia of young boys
was organized their version of Tiki torches to patrol the streets and
enforce the strict new moral code.
Tiki torches produced in 1497 known as the Bonfire of the Vanities in
which books, art, clothing, cosmetics were burned and a year after that,
just a year after that, popular opinion turned on Savonarola and he was
hanged and burned in the Central Square of Florence. Joining us now, the
New York Times best selling author and former editor of Time magazine,
Walter Isaacson and Walter as I –
WALTER ISAACSON, AUTHOR: Wow, Lawrence, that was –
O`DONNELL: This is I have to say, this is your most magical life brought
to us on the pages yet. This is – it is such beautiful writing. it is so
fascinating. It is an education for me on every page.
I mean, I knew the Mona Lisa. I knew he did the Last Supper and then
vaguely something about very ambitious scientific exploration. But what
the book is all about in every page is curiosity. And that seems to be the
single most absent characteristic of Donald Trump. There seems to be no
curiosity at all in Donald Trump.
ISAACSON: The amazing thing about Leonardo is you don`t `t have to be some
genius like Einstein. You just have to be curious and open to new facts and
every day Leonardo would make a list and figure out the fossils and what
that teaches us about the earth, the sex of the fetus in the womb.
But he does the beautiful smile of the Mona Lisa because he has curiosity
for its own sake because he knows that if he understands nature`s patterns,
if he has a real appreciation for it, his mind will expand, he`ll be more
in touch with other human beings and as you said, Florence thrived because
people like that were not only tolerated they were celebrated.
O`DONNELL: And part of the technology that changed his life was the
printing press which allowed him to then dig into the things Donald Trump
avoids of books. And I keep – you know, when you – when anything now in
the age of Trump is a different experience.
I feel like reading this book two years ago if it had existed would be a
different experience than I`ve had reading it now because I`m finding
parallels to it to say look how dark it got in Florence in the Bonfire of
the Vanities and look at how they came out of it because we keep looking
for those cycles because many of us can feel we`re in a dark period now.
ISAACSON: Well, the good thing about history is it teaches us there are
cycles. And that things react. And we had seven or over lasted - a little
bit less than four years if you want to take heart from that.
O`DONNELL: Yes, yes.
ISAACSON: And, you know, Florence became more tolerant again. And we had
it during the Joseph McCarthy period. You`ve a book coming out about 1968
that really has resonance.
O`DONNELL: Very dark period, yes.
ISAACSON: We came out of that.
O`DONNELL: In the middle of the it we didn`t know we could, right?
ISAACSON: Right and then Gerald Ford comes along.
ISAACSON: We`ll get out of this period we are in now because people are
curious in this country. They actually want to understand things. And, you
know, I think somebody like Leonardo`s as an inspiration is not political.
He just inspires us to say curiosity, observing and being open to the
mysteries of life. T that makes for an enriched life.
O`DONNELL: There`s also a stunning lesson in here about a modern
circumstance. there`s a lot of complaint now legitimate about how do we
sort our way through all the bad information. The internet delivered us
almost anything we want might to know. But it also has delivered us a
massive amount of just bad information.
These people had terrible information around them all the time, the earth
is flat. You know? You can – you just draw more blood from that person to
cure him of his illness and of course you`re killing him. And yet, he finds
his way through that horrible world of bad information to the good
ISAACSON: Exactly. He`s a disciple of experiment and experience so when
people give him the scholastic information and what was taught in the
medieval times, he says let`s test that out and that`s the renaissance.
That was what it was about which is sorting out the bad information by
looking for the fact.
We`ve lost that in our society a bit today which is let`s be open minded.
Let`s not have an instant reaction on things. Let`s look at the facts.
O`DONNELL: I had lunch today with our mutual friend Alan Alda. I gave him
one of these. He also is one of the great explainer of science as you have
ISAACSON: And he loves science and art coming together. And that`s what
O`DONNELL: And Alan Alda at least was a Presidential candidate on TV.
that may be the closest we can get to getting this to a President. Walter
Isaacson, author -
ISAACSON: Thank you. Lawrence. Thank you very much.
O`DONNELL: And good luck with your book. Thanks again. Coming up,
another look at the 25th amendment.
O`DONNELL: In an Op-ed Column today on nbcnews.com George W. Bush Ethics
lawyer Richard Painter and Psychologist Leanne Watt wrote though remote we
cannot rule out the possibility the President in a downward mental health
spiral could destroy important global partnerships, alter centuries old
alliances and leave the United States vulnerable to terror attacks or war.
Attorney Richard Painter a veteran of the Bush as we said says that the
Trump Cabinet now has a duty to invoke the 25th amendment to remove
President Trump. That`s Next.
O`DONNELL: The 25th amendment says that whenever the Vice President and a
majority of the cabinet submit their written declaration that the President
is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice
President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office of
acting President. Joining us now Richard Painter, former Chief Ethics
Lawyer for former President George W. Bush. And Richard today in your op-
ed piece about the mental health and 25th amendment you insist that the
time has come, that it is the obligation of the Vice President and the
Cabinet to act on the 25th amendment.
RICHARD PAINTER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It is. I believe it is time to act.
And the 25th amendment we should remember was adopted in 1967 in the
nuclear age when we were well-aware of the enormous risk to the United
States and the human civilization, of having a mentally unstable person in
the presidency in control of the nuclear weapons. And we make a mistake
here, and that could mean the death of millions of people or indeed the
destruction of human civilization.
We have to get this right. And the evidence is in. Iit`s clear over and
over again President Trump has demonstrated that he has several serious
disorders that we describe in that op-ed, extreme narcissism. He focus only
on himself, his own battled in life. He described his sex life as his own
He more recently is obsessed with his fight with NFL. That goes back to his
own lawsuits against the NFL when he tried to start the failed United
States Football League. It`s all about himself. And now we see the fallen
soldiers family treated like dirt. And I guess that`s OK to treat a fallen
soldier`s family like dirt so long as we stand for the national anthem at a
These comments go on and on. And we see each week new comments. But it`s
the same old story. President Trump is not fit psychologically for office.
And that`s abundantly clear. And a lot of Republican Senators and Congress,
people know it.
They just won`t say it. I`ve talked to several people privately who
acknowledge this in the Republican Party. Only a few have come forward.
Why? Because President Trump will threaten to run some extreme right wing
nut job against them at a primary, another Roy Moore.
So they stay silent. They`re intimidated. But at some point we need to
realize that the future of our country is at stake. And hey, we could by in
very serious trouble if he flies out of control with the nuclear weapons. I
don`t think he`s fit to be President.
O`DONNELL: And we are out of time. Richard Painter gets tonight`s Last
Word. Thank you, Richard. The 11th hour with Brian Williams starts now.
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