Mood inside WH verging on “mania.” TRANSCRIPT: 03/15/2018. The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell

Guests:
Jill Wine-Banks, Jonathan Capehart, Howell Raines, Rebecca Ballhaus
Transcript:

THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
March 15, 2018
Guest: Jill Wine-Banks, Jonathan Capehart, Howell Raines, Rebecca Ballhaus

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.

You know, when I read that line tonight in that report, I wondered, OK, so
what was the mood before? What was the word for it? Why wouldn`t it be
mania?

And I have to say, some of what “The Post” was describing is what people
out there in the country tell me they`re feeling everyday in the way they
watched this White House, what is the next crazy thing that`s going to
happen? These people just seemed worried that the next crazy thing that`s
going to happen might be something that happens to them.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, “TRMS”: And yes, that tells you something about
the mindset of people in there. It is also I think remarkable for me to
look at these there`s four “Washington Post” reporters who are bylined
here. These are beltway veterans, these are people who are importantly
Trump administration veterans who have seen all of the craziness who know
how blown out the number line is in terms of what counts as acceptable or
predictable behavior here.

And even these folks, you know, Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey,
Ashley Parker, these people who have seen what the Trump administration has
been thus far, are incredulous, right? Talking about how White House
officials appear as characters in an absurdist farce.

I mean, that`s not the kind of hyperbole. You know, that`s – they don`t
mean it as hyperbole. They`re saying –

(CROSSTALK)

O`DONNELL: Yes, yes, and these reporters have talked to these same sources
many times before and so, they`re telling us that their mood now is
something very different than what it has been already. They`ve had plenty
of reason to be worried about what`s going on in there before now.

But maybe the McMaster thing is the one that that`s tipping them.

And what do you – Rachel, what do you think the odds are that it will be
an upgrade in national security? I mean, it was before. When he went from
Michael Flynn to H.R. McMaster, that was an upgrade. Is there any chance
of another upgrade in that job?

MADDOW: You know, it`s – I don`t think we know that much about how H.R.
McMaster has been at his job. So much of the reporting about him in the
White House has been about the president`s feelings about him one way or
the other, and not about the incredibly difficult job of managing the
National Security Council, and handling all the synthesis work that has to
happen for it to be a good national security adviser.

I don`t think we know how good a job he has done, it`s hard to imagine how
somebody else might slot into it. But for me, I mean, to have you know
lost one national security advisor to a felony conviction and again a
cooperation plea with the special prosecutors, to have forced out the FBI
director, to have forced out an acting attorney general to have just
summarily fired the secretary of state, to have no permanent under
secretaries at the entire State Department, there`s six of them. Six of
those jobs nobody`s in any of those jobs.

To be about – reportedly about to fire the deputy director of the FBI, no
deputy of director of the FBI has ever been fired before. He`s thinking
about doing that too.

And now to be throwing out the national security advisor oh right before
you go talk to the North Korean dictator for fun. I mean, it`s just –
it`s – this is like, you know, national security is a gasoline-soaked
tinderbox on a good day and this guy has decided that he likes playing with
Zippos.

O`DONNELL: But, Rachel, you know, by the way you`ve got a studio audience
here they`re getting laughs from a couple of guys you might recognize.

MADDOW: Hey, guys.

O`DONNELL: It`s better working for the studio audience because you can
tell what`s working. But, look, I mean, here`s the second national
security advisor, if he`s leaving, he will not – he will be the first
Trump national security in history to leave without being accused of a
crime by the FBI.

MADDOW: That`s true.

O`DONNELL: So, come on. They`re maturing. They`re growing up in that
building.

MADDOW: That alone is probably worth a fourth star. Yes.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence. Good luck, my friend.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, the Trump Organization says that it is old news – it`s old news that
special prosecutor Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization
turned over documents, including documents involving Russia, and it is old
news within the Trump Organization because according to “The New York
Times” breaking news story today, that subpoena was delivered in, quote,
recent weeks.

But it is new news to us – to all of us today and the rest of the world,
that “The New York Times” is reporting that the special prosecutor has
subpoenaed the Trump Organization, the order is the first known instance of
the special counsel demanding records directly related to the president –
the President Trump`s businesses bringing the investigation closer to the
president.

The Trump Organization released a statement today saying that they publicly
stated last year that they would fully cooperate with the congressional
investigations and the special prosecutor`s investigation. The statement
said this is old news and our assistance in cooperation with the various
investigations remains the same today. “The New York Times” says the
subpoena was delivered in recent weeks.

So, let`s just take a glance back at the single-most, panic filled tweet
President Trump has issued in recent weeks. It would be this one witch
hunt. He couldn`t even come up with a sentence just the primal scream in
all caps, witch hunt, exclamation point.

February 27th, a couple weeks ago, on a Tuesday, Donald Trump just screams
witch hunt on Twitter. Was that the day the Trump Organization lawyers
told the president that Robert Mueller was finally knocking on their door
and he wasn`t knocking politely he was banging the door down with a
subpoena – a subpoena that makes it a crime for the Trump organization to
try to destroy or even misplace any of those documents.

This is the subpoena that Donald Trump has feared more than any other.
This is the kind of subpoena that destroyed President Richard Nixon. It
wasn`t a subpoena that required Nixon to testify that destroyed his
presidency.

It was a subpoena that required Nixon to produce documents and other
records, including audio tapes of his conversations in the White House and
what Richard Nixon was forced to hand over after fighting that subpoena all
the way to the United States Supreme Court and losing was the material that
proved Richard Nixon committed crimes in the Oval Office and that spelled
the end of the Nixon presidency.

There are many possible places to look for evidence of the worst things
that Donald Trump has ever done in his life. It could be in the files of
“The National Enquirer”, in stories that “The National Enquirer” has
refused to publish because of the publisher`s friendship with Donald Trump
or it could be in confidentiality agreements that Donald Trump has signed
using the fake name David Dennison. That`s the name he used in the
confidentiality agreement with Stormy Daniels and possibly countless other
women who have found themselves in the same position as Stormy Daniels.

But it may be that the most likely place to find evidence of the worst
things that Donald Trump has ever done is inside the Trump Organization,
and we now know that even Stormy Daniels case has involved a lawyer in the
Trump Organization. But Robert Mueller is looking for evidence about much
more important stuff than what Donald Trump did with Stormy Daniels.

He wants to know what Donald Trump did with Russia. He wants to know what
business Donald Trump did with Russia. What business Donald Trump tried to
do with Russia. What business Donald Trump hoped to do with Russia, and
what business Donald Trump and his family might continue to hope to do with
Russia.

Donald Trump fears this line of investigation so much that last year, he
told “The New York Times” that Robert Mueller would be crossing, quote, a
red line, that`s what he called it, a red line if Mueller investigated
Donald Trump`s finances and his family`s finances. Donald Trump didn`t
tell “The New York Times” last year what he would do if Robert Mueller
crossed that red line, but knowing Donald Trump as we do, the very first
thing we would expect Donald Trump to do is scream witch hunt on Twitter.
And someday we`ll know, the date that Robert Mueller subpoenaed the Trump
Organization will become a publicly known historical fact someday.

And so, we will know if Donald Trump`s February 27th primal scream of witch
hunt was the day that he got a call from New York, from the Trump
organization telling him that Donald Trump`s business just received its
first subpoena from Robert Mueller. We now know that in response to that
subpoena, the Trump Organization will be hand over to the special
prosecutor any in all documents, emails, texts and any other material they
have concerning Donald Trump`s attempt to close a deal on a building
project in Moscow that would give him something he has dreamed about for
decades, a Trump Tower in Moscow.

And no one knows more about that deal and the authors of a new book
“Russian Roulette”, Michael Isikoff and David Corn and they are here to
begin this evening`s discussion.

Gentlemen, the subpoena has arrived we now know officially. You managed to
dig out an awful lot for this book without subpoena power.

DAVID CORN, CO-AUTHOR, “RUSSIAN ROULETTE”: Yes.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CO-AUTHOR, “RUSSIAN ROULETTE”: We`ve been great if we had
it.

O`DONNELL: What is the special prosecutor going to find with a subpoena
delivered to the Trump organization that`s interested in the Trump
Organization`s dealings with Russia?

CORN: Well, it makes a lot of sense that Mueller is doing this. Now,
everything he`s done, it`s sort of like the tip of the iceberg. We see
bits and pieces, but we don`t always know where he`s aiming at.

But in our book, we detail several different interactions that Trump had
with Russian business interests and how key they are to his own view of
himself and to his relationship with Vladimir Putin, and to what happened
during the campaign, the – one of the biggest ones most prominent came
when he went to Miss Universe in 2013. You know, he used that beauty
pageant as a stepping stone to do that – one of his big deals in Moscow –
because he teamed up with Aras Agalarov, an oligarch who was a builder. He
was called Putin`s builder because he was so close to Putin, and Trump, you
know, was there and in Moscow with two missions in mind, other than picking
finalists in the beauty contest, it was to meet Putin and forged a bond and
to cut a deal with Agalarov for a big building.

And while it`s really important that he made that connection because that`s
how during the campaign the Russian government reached out to the Trump
campaign. It was Aras Agalarov, his son, and his son`s business partner
who contacted Donald Trump said Moscow wants to help. We`re sending you an
emissary and that`s how it all began.

ISIKOFF: So, I say that if you want to understand that notorious Trump
Tower meeting that is so central to this investigation –

(CROSSTALK)

O`DONNELL: Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner gather with the Russians in Trump
Tower, during the campaign.

ISIKOFF: Right. The Russian government has official sensitive documents
that it wants to provide to you that could help you tear down Hillary
Clinton and help your campaign. So, if you want to understand that
meeting, you have to know how it came about and the people who set it up
are the people who Donald Trump was trying to do business with, did do
business with in Moscow.

So, to some extent I`m a little surprised it`s taken this long from Mueller
to get there, because it`s been in plain sight for a while that these are
the people who are central to that part of the case.

Now, I should say in our book we add new information that expands upon the
relationship that Donald Trump had with these people, including the first
Trump Tower meeting before – seventeen months before that Trump Tower
meeting that`s gotten all this attention, there was an earlier Trump Tower
meeting in which Emin Agalarov, the – one of the key guys who sent up the
later meeting and Rob Goldstone who sent the emails that, you know, enticed
everybody to attend the meeting, we`re at Trump Tower meeting with Donald
Trump himself and at that meeting as we report, Donald Trump gives the
first hints to Emin Agalarov, who no doubt passed it on to his – to the
Kremlin that Donald Trump was planning to run for president in 2016.

CORN: And there`s another key piece of this, another chapter of the book.
In 2015, you know, it`s been reported that Donald Trump while he was
running for president, he had a secret. He didn`t tell anybody. The
secret was he was trying once again to do a Moscow deal through a
intermediary, Felix Sater, a former felon and this time, he wasn`t working
with the Agalarovs. He was working with a company owned by a guy, a
Russian fellow, who didn`t have any experience doing this but who said he
owned the company.

As we reported in the book, he didn`t own the company. Three offshore
companies in Cyprus own this company, and if you`re trying to figure out
Trump`s connections with Russia, you might want to look at that and again,
you know, it brings us back to the Steele dossier that`s dismissed or
disregarded for the salacious elements, but one of the key things he writes
in the very first memo is that for years, Moscow has tried to co-opt and
cultivate Donald Trump, how? By dangling business deals in front of him.

Here are two deals, one that happens while he`s running for president.

O`DONNELL: How far back does this go? And I want to read one passage from
the book that takes us back to 2001, and this is A.J. Benza, who was a
gossip columnist. He`s on the Howard Stern Show. And in the book, it
says, in the middle of an on-air spat with Trump in 2001 on Howard Stern`s
radio show, gossip columnist A.J. Benza took a shot at Trump by saying he
bangs Russian people, Benza told Stern that Trump used to call me when I
was a columnist and say I was just in Russia, the girls have no morals.

And so, there`s a little echo of the Steele dossier in there. But how far
back does his –

ISIKOFF: Goes back goes back 30 years. It goes back to the end of the
Soviet Union.

O`DONNELL: When did he first go to Russia?

CORN: 1987.

ISIKOFF: Yes.

CORN: He was he actually went at the invitation of the Soviet government
who wanted to do a deal with him and he eventually killed it because they
wanted 51 percent and he would only get 49 percent.

But, you know, the key thing about the A.J. Benza quote besides its
salacious element is that, you know, we have no one`s confirmed the
salacious details in the Steele dossier, but one thing is known with almost
100 percent certainty, that if you`re a prominent person and you go to
Moscow and you do anything that has any sordidness to it, it`s being noted.
It`s being recorded.

And so, Steele who was an expert in Russian affairs and an expert on the
use of Russian kompromat, compromising blackmail material, he was I think
quite worried that the president of the United States, or a presidential
candidate, might be susceptible to blackmail and if anything that A.J.
Benza said is correct, then there`s a good chance that Steele was right in
a big sense of the picture.

O`DONNELL: And let`s – if Trump was going there since 1987, it`s fair to
assume that certainly during the Soviet regime and the Russian regime
afterwards, that they were watching every moment of his life, if Benza –
when he was there.

CORN: Yes.

O`DONNELL: And possibly when he was here for that matter. But if Benza is
saying in 2001 that he – that the Russian girls have no morals and Trump
is having sex with Russian girls, they knew about all of those and it might
be fair to assume that Donald Trump was a less careful man in the 1990s
than he was by the time he was in his 60s in approaching 70, and visiting
Russia as a married man.

ISIKOFF: That is a fair assumption, but it`s also a fair assumption that
the FSB, the successor to the KGB, was as careful as they had always been.
They would have noted this and as we talked about in the book, the rich
history of compliment by the FSB, learning from their forefathers in the
KGB, in fact, Vladimir Putin, and we have this story in the book, came to
power as a result of sexual kompromat. There was a prosecutor who was on
the tail of Boris Yeltsin and was actually was going to it was targeting
Yeltsin`s daughter.

And then suddenly, suddenly, a tape shows up of this prosecutor in bed with
two prostitutes. It suddenly shows up on Russian television. The
prosecutor is forced to resign. The director of the FSB at the time was
Vladimir Putin. After that tape emerged, Yeltsin names him as a successor,
as president of Russia.

So, I`m just saying, this is something that Putin and his people know how
to do.

O`DONNELL: Quickly, David, if you had subpoena power, if you had Mueller
subpoena power, where would you aim it in the Trump Organization if you are
asking for specific materials?

CORN: I`ve looked at a lot of his loans. He has these hundreds of
millions of dollars and loans from Deutsche Bank. It`s – in the business
world they`re considered odd that Deutsche Bank who so leveraged with him.
It`s from the private side of the bank, so you don`t know where all that
money might be coming from. So, I would zero in on that.

I`d look at all the records for the two deals we`ve talked about, and what
might have happened afterwards. So, I think – you know, I think there`s a
big stack of paper that Mueller can look at and tell and, of course, I
throw, and gets a good measure the tax returns.

O`DONNELL: Oh, yes, I`m sure he`s going to give (INAUDIBLE).

David Corn and Michael Isikoff, I don`t know if Amazon has a spot higher
than number one, but that`s where this book is and where it`s going to be
for a while. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, and I really
appreciate it.

CORN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: The Mueller investigation gets closer to the Trump family, with
that – that subpoena that we discovered was delivered a few weeks ago.

And getting dragged out of the Trump White House, another case of that this
week, this time someone who has a gambling habit, gambling tens of
thousands of dollars at a time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: We have a breaking news update to that report that we brought
you and I discussed with Rachel about the possibility that H.R. McMaster
would be fired as the national security adviser that`s been that`s a report
in “The Washington Post” tonight.

The White House has just released this tweet from the press secretary
saying: Just spoke to POTUS and General H.R. McMaster. Contrary to
reports, they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at
the NSC.

We will discuss that later in this hour, and balance it with what we have
learned from the “Washington Post” tonight. Of course, that is simply a
tweet from the White House press secretary, so its credibility is whatever
you want to assign to it.

Here is what the president told “The New York Times” last July about the
special prosecutor investigating his finances.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: If Mueller was looking at
your finances, your family`s finances, unrelated to Russia – is that a red
line?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Would that be a breach of
what his actual charge is?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. I would
say yes.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: When asked if crossing that red line would lead to firing
Robert Mueller, Donald Trump said, quote, I can`t answer that question
because I don`t think it`s going to happen.

Well, now, it has happened, so what is the president going to do?

In order to fire the special prosecutor, the president would have to fire
the attorney general first because only the attorney general has the
authority to fire the special prosecutor. The current attorney general has
recused himself from overseeing the special prosecutor`s investigation, so
only the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein can fire the special
prosecutor and he has made it clear that he will not do that. And so, it
doesn`t seem coincidental that there are new rumors about the president
firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Vanity Fair” reports, according to two Republicans in regular contact with
the White House, there have been talks that Trump could replace Sessions
with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt who would not be recused from
overseeing the Russia probe. Also as an agency head and former state
attorney general, Pruitt would presumably have a good shot at passing a
Senate confirmation hearing.

Joining us now, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and
MSNBC, and Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor
and an MSNBC contributor.

John, the red line has been crossed. What happens next?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, along with the
Rubicon is whatever other metaphors you want. I don`t think anything
happens in the sense that I don`t think that that the Mueller is going to
get fired anytime soon. I think there is some question about Jeff
Sessions` future.

The Pruitt rumor seems to have been emitted amazingly from Pruitt who would
like the job of attorney general and has been floating the notion that,
hey, if Jeff Sessions gets fired, maybe I could step in and take that gig.
But, look, we are now into a phase where I think largely the obstruction of
justice case has been made. The interview that Mueller wants to do with
Trump is still in the offing and so their questions are on perjury and
round those questions.

But the larger case which started out as I think what you would call a
collusion case but now has become a conspiracy and corruption case on the
international level involving complex financial crimes, that investigation
is just getting off the ground and this in some ways not the opening salvo
but an early salvo and what looks to me like an investigation on that front
that could go on for many months.

O`DONNELL: Jill, there is a counter report tonight as John just mentioned
about Scott Pruitt. There`s a “Washington Post” account saying that John
Kelly has called him and told him to stop gossiping in effect about the
possibility of being attorney general.

But if Jeff Sessions is fired, what would it take then to get the special
prosecutor fired?

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I can only say
that in terms of the environment, it might be good for Pruitt to be out of
EPA, but it would be horrible for the special prosecutor and for democracy.
So, I don`t hope that that happens, even though I care about the
environment.

In terms of getting rid of the special prosecutor, right now, it can only
be done by the deputy attorney general who as you said isn`t going to do
it, and whoever is appointed needs to be confirmed, and I think that there
would be some pushback even among Republicans if it looked like it was a
further step in obstruction of justice. And that`s what it would look like
to me. So I`m hoping it won`t happen and that we don`t have to go through
that.

O`DONNELL: John, the general disarray in this Trump White House, in this
Trump administration is all part of this it seems to have infected everyone
in it. And every other night or so, there`s a discussion will the special
prosecutor be fired. We don`t have any sources inside that operation but
can they be completely immune to this kind of talk or might they be taking
some kind of prosecutorial precautions against being fired in terms of what
they`re – what would be left of their investigation if the president tried
to kill it.

HEILEMANN: Right. Well, first of all, I`d love to hear Jill`s answer to
the question because I think she probably is in fact better qualified to
answer it than me about what exactly the special prosecutor can do in those
– in that vein.

I will say a couple things. One is that Bob Mueller is a lawman, first and
foremost, but he`s also a political creature. He is someone who
understands the ways of Washington. He has operated in that environment
for a long time and I think has understood that it`s possible that his
investigation could be curtailed at any time and that he`s on a short leash
in that sense.

And so, part of the reason why I think that he has focused so much on the
obstruction case and trying to get it nailed down before moving on in the
more complicated matters that involve these international and financial
elements, he`s been working on those but before really focusing on that was
to at least get the obstruction piece essentially in place so that if he
were to get fired, if either the attorney general gets replaced or Rod
Rosenstein directly gets fired and replaced with a with a new deputy who
would do Trump`s bidding, that Mueller would have at least set in motion,
gotten as much on the record as possible first to lock up one case and then
to get as much on the record as possible on the second side of the case.

But again I`m interested to hear what Jill thinks is a technical matter
could be done.

O`DONNELL: Yes, Jill, on that, let`s suppose for the moment that that
special prosecutor has an obstruction of justice case made ready to go
against the president as an unindicted co-conspirator, whatever he might
want to call him. If the special party was fired, what happens to all
those files?

WINE-BANKS: Well, as you know in our case, less than five months after he
was appointed, Archibald Cox was fired in the Saturday night massacre, we
had taken precautions, we had made the decision to take home documents,
copies of documents. We took no originals, but we did copy documents that
were significant to proving the case against the president, and his top
aides.

And each of us on the actual trial team for the obstruction of justice case
took documents home with us and had them in our homes just in case we
needed them. We never expected the Saturday night massacre to be as
dramatic as it was and we debated what we would do in that case. It would
have been a violation of the rules of the Department of Justice and of the
rules of grand jury, which make them secret documents, that cannot be
revealed just in general.

But I think we had decided that if our democracy was at stake, we might
have to take the chance and violate that rule and make it public.

I`m very glad that we ended up being reappointed after the Saturday night
massacre and that we didn`t have to do that. But the comparisons to what`s
going on now and what they must be thinking every day not knowing who`s
going to be fired next. And David and Michael said something about the
first Trump meeting that we didn`t know about, there was also a first
Watergate break-in. So, every day, there`s another comparison that makes
me think of how similar this is to what happened to Watergate, and I hope
that we have the same ending where justice is done, president ended up
resigning rather than being impeached and his top aides ended up in jail.

So, I`m hoping that the evidence will support this. I don`t know what the
evidence will show, but it looks like Mueller is really proceeding in a
very careful way. The fact we didn`t know about the subpoena is because
he`s handling this in a proper way and not letting out any secrets that
shouldn`t be let out. I`m very proud of how he`s behaving. And I think we
all should trust him to keep going in the right way.

LAWRENE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Jill Wine-Banks would be invaluable in
the writer`s room of any television series dramas because she knows
something about cliff-hangers. Jill. you given us a nice one tonight. Jill
Wine-Banks, John Heilman, thank you both for joining us, really appreciate
it.

Coming up, we have breaking news on H.R. McMaster, Sarah Huckabee Sanders
has just tweeted that H.R. McMaster`s job is safe within the White House.
But that is a tweet from the White House, which is described by the
Washington Post now as being consumed in constant mania.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: And now it`s the White House Press Secretary versus the
Washington Post. The Washington Post is reporting tonight that the
President has decided to fire his National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.
The Washington Post report includes a description of personnel chaos in the
White House that has every one working there afraid they might be the next
one out the door.

The Post says the mood inside the White House is of recent days has verge
on mania. The Post report includes a list of possible targets for the next
Trump firing including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson,
Education Secretary Betsy Devos, Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan zinke and of course the
perennial White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The White House Press
Secretary just tweeted this about 20 minutes ago.

Just spoke to Potus and General H.R. McMaster, contrary to reports they
have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.
Joining us now Jonathan Capehart an opinion writer for the Washington Post,
an MSNBC Contributor. And John Heilman is also back with us. OK. Jonathan
Capehart you`re biased. We`re going to declare that right away. You are
employed by the Washington Post.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

O`DONNELL: But if you have to pick for credibility purposes tonight, the
Washington Post or the White House Press Secretary.

CAPEHART: That`s a tough one. That`s a tough one.

JOHN HEILMAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s a rhetorical question, right
Lawrence?

O`DONNELL: On H.R. McMaster`s future?

CAPEHART: I`m continuing John`s laugh coming out of this. Look, when you
read the story by Ashley Parker and my colleagues at the Washington Post,
the key line in there is that they talked to 19 sources in the
administration and people who talked to the President. So yes, Lawrence, if
I have to choose between the president of the United States and the
Washington Post I`m going to believe the Washington Post.

HEILMAN: Well and five people with direct knowledge of the plan.

CAPEHART: with direct knowledge and then 19 overall.

O`DONNELL: So the Sanders Tweet might just delay this somewhat when she
says just spoke to Potus and McMaster. There are no changes at NSC.

CAPEHART: Notice the verb tense. There are no changes.

HEILMAN: There are no changes. We have no changes to announce at this
time.

CAPEHART: Right.

HEILMAN: That`s basically what you`re saying which means that could be
different 12 minutes from now.

O`DONNELL: Yes.

HEILMAN: But the key element here is that we know the following is true,
one Donald Trump and H.R. McMaster have never gotten along. There`s ample
reporting on that from the day he was appointed to the job. Two, our own
Nicole Wallace reported about a week ago this same thing, not taking away
anything from The Post reporting, but this is now reported by multiple
organizations hearing from with credible news authorities, hearing from
multiple sources that what has seemed obvious for many months is about to
come to fruition. And we are watching Donald Trump strut around and
announce he is about to clean house and get rid of pretty much anyone who
isn`t – what he now thinks of as part of his war council.

And H.R. McMaster is someone he hasn`t liked for months. So if you add up
both the deductive and the inductive the long term and short term and the
multiple sources from multiple credible news organizations, I think Sarah
Huckabee Sanders is not the person you want to believe on this.

O`DONNELL: I have a – I can tell you what the President is going to say
about his next National Security Advisor. He`s going to say he`s someone
of tremendous talent.

CAPEHART: tremendous talent

O`DONNELL: In fact, he said that about the current National Security
Advisor. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: General H.R. McMaster will become
the National Security Advisor. He`s a man of tremendous talent and
tremendous experience. I watched and read a lot over the last two days.
He is highly respected by everybody in the military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Tremendous talent, tremendous experience, highly respected. I
think we`re going to those words about the next one.

CAPEHART: Superlative soup. I mean everyone is the best, the greatest you
know, everything. Look, depending – no matter what happens to General
McMaster, the one thing from the National Security sources that I`ve talked
to that McMaster has brought to the NSC is a sense of stability. When you
think about it we`re only talking about McMaster. We`re talking about the
National Security Advisor.

We`re not talking about how he`s run that shop and whether it`s in
disarray. All of that was being talked about when Flynn was there, his
predecessor. And so you know if anything McMaster should be given some
props for bringing some stability into a tiny corner of that inferno that
is the Trump West Wing.

HEILMAN: But to Donald Trump because Donald Trump does not want
stability, He doesn`t like it. He says it. This again is not us intuitive.
He announces I don`t stability. What I want is conflict.

I like to see people fighting. I like to see – I mean he loves that.
He liked it in the private sector and he likes it now. So that is not mark
in for us. It`s a mark McMaster`s favor.

CAPEHART: Well no – I`ve been very clear about McMaster.

HEILMAN: No I know. I`m just saying it`s kind of a crazy thing that that,
you know, in any other administrator would be considered a merit is a
demerit to Donald Trump.

O`DONNELL: Now they had another episode of a White House staffer getting
dragged out of the building this week.

HEILMAN: I love when those things happen.

O`DONNELL: John McEntee and is the so called body man. The person`s
physically closest to the President at all times carrying personal items
the President might want, stays close to him. This is someone who knows an
awful lot about the President, they always do.

They`re not policy people. But Jonathan these are the kinds of people you
want to keep close. And so after he basically gets fired from the White
House For gambling, online gambling, probably using a White House computer
for it, tens of thousands of dollars in a shot, a guy who makes 100 grand a
year. That guy immediately gets hired by the Trump campaign to help pay
those gambling debts and to keep him close to the President.

CAPEHART: Well the Trump reelection. The 2020 campaigns, it`s going to be
– it`s sort of a dumping ground for people who can`t make it at the White
House or people as you just said, people who the President wants to keep
close, like really close.

O`DONNELL: John, this guy is being investigated for tax crimes.

HEILMAN: Yeah.

O`DONNELL: And gets really pulled out of the White House, just strong
armed physically out of the building. And that sounds like a first
qualification for hiring at the Trump Campaign.

HEILMAN: Well right. I mean look, the White House in normal times, the
White House has the highest possible standards for hiring. And the closer
you are to the President, the higher the standards are, in theory. And the
Trump Campaign has basically no standards and had no standards in 2016, and
will have no standards in 2020.

But I will say it raises interesting questions given that this gentleman,
also had been very close to the President for a full year or it`s suggested
here when we look at the investigation, he only started to gamble in this
way, at this excessive level in recent days or is this another character
who has been in fact, has been behaving in an inappropriate way for the
entirety of the administration. But only now in the wake of the Porter
Scandal do we now have, we probably should pay attention to these people
who pose Security Risks that are close to the President. I`m certain this
guys gambling problem did not start last Tuesday.

O`DONNELL: And my favorite line in the Washington Post reporting tonight
about the chaos in the White House and the personnel is this, it`s about
McEntee getting dragged out of the White House. It says everybody fears
the Perp walk. One senior White House official said if it can happen to
Johnny, the President`s body guy it can happen to anybody. So it can
happen to anybody in the White House who`s getting investigated for tax
crimes or has gambling debts in the tens of thousands.

CAPEHART: Or whatever else is out there. I mean that`s what we know. But
these people who are living in fear of being frog marched and then perp
walked out of the White House, what do they have in their backgrounds that
have them living in fear.

HEILMAN: I think it`s probably literally true. It probably could actually
happen to pretty anybody.

O`DONNELL: They didn`t know that online gambling was against the rules in
the White House.

CAPEHART: The best people.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan Capehart, John Heilman, thank you both for joining us.
Coming up, in December, Donald Trump was humiliated in a special election
in Alabama where he was supporting the Republican candidate, an accused
child molester. And this week Donald Trump was humiliated once again when
he was supporting the Republican candidate in Pennsylvania. We`ll cover
both of those and where Donald Trump`s effectiveness now stands as a
campaigner for Republicans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I won this district like by 22 points. It`s a lot. That`s why I`m
here. Look at all those red hats, Rick. Look at all those hats. That`s a
lot of hats. This guy should win easily, and he`s going to win easily.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Donald Trump wasn`t satisfied with having won that district by
20 points So he had to exaggerate it to 22, but enough Trump voters in that
district turned against Donald Trump Tuesday night to give that win in the
Special Congressional Election to Democrat Connor Lamb. That`s what
happened in the Alabama in the Special Senate Election in December when
Donald Trump campaigned for Roy Moore and Doug Jones beat the Republican
candidates. The Republicans have to be more careful in inviting Donald
Trump to campaign for them because he can do more harm than good.

Former New York Times executive Editor Howell Raines who is from Alabama
was invaluable contributor to our coverage of the Alabama Senate race.
Today in an nbc.com article Howell Raines wrote this about Alabama and the
Pennsylvania Special Elections. Connor Lamb and Doug Jones come at Trump`s
Political Foundation, the celebrated 40 percent base, from different
angles. But they both demonstrate an important fact, Trump`s core voters
are not as secure as he may hope.

Indeed, even in deep-red Alabama, key elements of the Trump base fell away
like chips from a hammered block of stone. If the base slides into the low
30s, Trump`s fragile coalition of angry, white swing voters and habituated
GOP loyalists loses its magic. Howell Raines ends the piece with the
question Republicans are surely asking after this loss, if Trump`s
endorsements won`t work in Alabama or Pittsburgh, where will they work?

Howell Raines would be a great and invaluable political analyst even if he
didn`t now have homes in Alabama and Pennsylvania but he does split his
time between Pennsylvania and Alabama. And so he is the perfect to get last
word on this week`s special election. Joining us now is Howell Raines.
Former executive Editor of the New York Times and MSNBC Contributor.
Howell, what did you see happening Tuesday night in Pennsylvania?

HOWELL RAINES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Lawrence, taken together with the
Alabama result, I think it`s brought us to a remarkable moment in the 2018
political year. It`s possible to place too much emphasis on off-year
elections, but these two taken together send a powerful signal. I think one
is, first, the drift among suburban Republicans who have, since the Reagan
days, been reliably voting for Republican candidates drifted away from the
Trump base and I think that is a very important development.

The other thing that I think is equally important in Conor Lamb and Doug
Jones, we have two young men who contrasted themselves with Trump in a
number of ways and I think they are showing a way to – that the Democratic
Party has to look at, as the kind of candidates they have to – to recruit.
That is people who are calm, who are empathetic, who seem more concerned
with going to Washington as Conor Lamb said to work on things like
infrastructure and healthcare than to fight.

And these types of candidates also tap into what I call the role model
issue in my piece. These young democrats that we have seen in Alabama,
Pennsylvania and governor`s race in Virginia are role models for young
people and with all respect to President Trump there are many Americans
look at him and say is this the kind of person I want my son or daughter to
be? So I think we`re really if you like political drama, if you like
political theater, indeed if you like to study the American Presidency we
are at one of the most fascinating points in my lifetime of covering
politics.

O`DONNELL: Howell in these district and states where the Trump voter might
swing back as we say this week in Pennsylvania, swing back to a Democrat.
Some of them by the swinging back to the first Democrat they have voted for
in over 20 years in some instances.

RAINES: Exactly.

O`DONNELL: But if they are going to do that do you think it will be based
more on the policy side of what the democratic candidates are saying or
will it be more on the behavioral side? Just a tiring of the Donald Trump`s
stage performance and looking for something like you say that is more a
role model, someone who they can let their kids watch and without any worry
about what the person might say.

RAINES: Yes. I think there is rage fatigue in the country. I think it`s
probably more important Pennsylvania which is a more balanced political
state than Alabama where there was the odd business of the child
molestation charge against the other candidate. But I think in both cases
there`s a policy element that goes hand in hand with personality element.
It`s completely wrong as Paul Ryan said, as the President said that Conor
Lamb is some sort of Trumpian in democratic clothing.

He made it very clear he is for Obamacare. He`s not for the Trump Tax Cut.
He`s unhappy about the deficit that Trump is running up. He is more
moderate on prospective gun buying regulation. And particularly he and
Doug Jones both found a way to handle the hot button issues of abortion by
saying we personally do not like the practice of abortion but we affirm the
right of women to make their own health care decisions. So I thing that
cluster of issues along with the behavioral drama that we watch everyday in
the White House, as indeed are watching this evening as you were just
saying. I think those things make a cluster of concerns that if I were
trying to plan Republican campaigns in 2018 I would be worried about.

O`DONNELL: Howell as you know there has been gerrymandering of
Congressional district as long as there have been Congressional district
just about. And so but some are way crazier than others. And this one the
PEnnylvania 18th was gerrymandered to the point gross illegality. To the
point of just gross illegality so found by the United States Supreme Court.
And so that means that the Republicans created a district in which it was
supposed to be impossible for a Democrat to win. It`s supposed to be
candidate proof. IT doesn`t matter how good the Democratic candidate is.
It doesn`t matter how bad the Republican candidate is. And yet the
republican story on Wednesday morning oh we had a bad candidate.

RAINES: Yes. Yes. Well, I must say I have been around politics long
enough to remember back in the years of the Kennedy`s and Nixon where there
was even among fierce competitors a kind of good sportsmanship. Now there`s
this grasping to find the reasons for defeat if it means eating your own
young. So there`s gracelessness about this moment that I think again, I
think it`s we erosive from Trump`s standing and I think the thing we need
to watch closely whether white independence in that base that we were
talking about begin to show signs of fracturing..

O`DONNELL: Howell Raines thank you for joining us again tonight, really
appreciate it. It`s always great to have you on.

RAINES: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: We now have breaking news. The Wall Street Journal has
confirmed tonight`s story by the Washington Post about H.R. McMaster from
the Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Ballhaus confirmed Trump has told
Kelly he has decided to oust McMaster , administration officials tell me.
Plus Michael Sieben Director – I don`t know what that says. Trump doesn`t
yet – Trump doesn`t have a replacement in mind and wants some more
graceful exit for H.R. McMaster than he afforded Tillerson whom he fired
via Tweet.

Rebecca Ballhaus joins us now by phone. Rebecca as you know the Press
Secretary has issued a tweet tonight saying there is no truth to this that
H.R. McMaster And the President are getting along just fine.

REBECCA BALLHAUS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s right. And so what were
hearing multiple Administration officials is that the President has made
this decision. He`s conveyed this decision to his Chief of Staff. But as
you mentioned he is trying to find a more graceful exit for his National
Security Adviser. And the Tweet from Sarah Sanders this evening maybe a
part of that.

O`DONNELL: And so that tweet was put in the presented tense where Sarah
Sanders says there is no change at NSC. But as we know when in the Trump
White House it could cover maybe for the rest of this week and next week it
could be a different position.

BALLHAUS: That`s right. We are hearing conflicting things about how soon
we should expect McMaster`s departure. One official told us that his
departure is expected imminently. Another one said that it could weeks or
even months before he leaves. It`s really now is the time where the
President is looking for a replacement for his National Security Adviser.
And he wants to make sure he has the one in mind before he officially moves
to oust him.

O`DONNELL: Rebecca I know you`ve worked with White House sources before.
How solid do you feel about your reporting tonight and what do you – I
mean should we look forward to yet another tweet the White House or from
the Press Secretary contradicting or trying to contradict with your
reporting?

BALLHAUS: I think itscertainly always possible. We feel condident in our
reporting. And we also know from reporting the story for months and months
that McMaster has been in sort of precarious territory for a while now. The
President has been unhappy with his – with how he is doing in that role.
He`s clashed somewhat with the way how Chief of Staff John Kelly. And this
has been in the works for a while even if the President hasn`t necessarily
made the final decision. And what we are hearing tonight is that he has
made this decision.

O`DONNELL: Wallstreet Journal Reporter Rebecca Ballhaus thank you very much
for joining us by phone with this breaking news, really appreciate it
Rebecca.

BALLHAUS: Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: John Heilman is back with us to take another shot at this
story. Now we have the latest report. This is from Rebecca Ballhaus. I
want to repeat it for the audience. She`s reporting tonight, tweeting
confirmed Trump has told Kelly she decided to Oust McMaster. Administration
officials tell me and Michael C. Bender. So that`s two reporters from the
Wallstreet Journal saying they have been told that that the president has
told John Kelly it is time for McMaster to go.

HEILMAN: Right adding to the panoply now. Look, I mean McMaster is going
to go. The question is the question you raised. And you guys discussed this
is how soon. We knew Tillerson was on shaky ground for months. And yet
Tillerson hang on for months.

There are others who Trump dispatches with great swiftness and apparent
ease. So this could mean McMaster could still be in this job three months
from now or he could be gone three hours from now. Who knows?

But I will say this just at the moment when in theory Donald Trump is about
to off on an incredible high stakes, genuinely dangerous, significant
summit meeting with Kim Jong-un we`ve now potentially and before that
happens potentially the Secretary of State and the National Security
Adviser both fired in that window when stability is not just important for
the administration but important for the world. It seems very dangerous.

O`DONNELL: And for McMaster this is peculiar. If he wanted to exercise
his dignity and quit he actually is not completely free to do that as
enlisted military officer. He technically has to wait for orders about
what to do next.

HEILMAN: Yes, I think that`s right. And you know look I mean I don`t
what H.R. McMaster – what`s left McMaster`s dignity given what he was
suffered like all of the rest of suffered over time. But he`s been in the
Trump Administration. But as I said it`s just – it seems like in a normal
administration which this is not. Changing out your two key foreign policy
appointees while your on a brink of a summit over nuclear weapons with
North Korea would be considered mildly nuts.

O`DONNELL: Well I think Brian`s going to have to carry this story later
into the hour. John Heilman gets tonight last word on H.R. McMaster. More
on this breaking news on the 11th hour with Brian Williams which starts
now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, 11TH HOUR ANCHOR: The breaking news tonight, the
Washington Post reporting the President`s now ready to replace H.R.
McMaster as his National Security Adviser and mulling over candidate

END

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