Trump “furious” over leaks. TRANSCRIPT: 03/20/2018. The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell
THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O’DONNELL
March 20, 2018
Guest: Ezra Klein, Jennifer Rubin, Jeremy Bash, Gabe Gutierrez
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, I visit. I have 4-19. I wrote it down.
And I got to say as someone who is interested in your reporting and James
Comey’s career, I could not be more interested in what you’re going to do
on April 19th.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, “TRMS”: Can you hold that up again?
MELBER: Yes, I can hold – I have it.
MADDOW: Do you do little graffiti letter there’s? You didn’t just write
that in a big sharpie. You kind of spelled that out. Did you used to
write on the side of your sneakers in school? You did.
MELBER: I appreciate your attention to detail. I see this as kind of a
MADDOW: Fair enough. It’s bank Arisy (ph), I understand, I understand.
Well done. Thank you, my friend.
MELBER: Rachel, we’ll be watching. Thank you for a great show.
Donald Trump is facing new legal challenges tonight and we’re going to get
to that in a moment.
I also want to tell you there is a press conference expected in Austin,
given the series of explosions that we’ve been monitoring. We’ve been
reporting on this.
You’re looking at the footage there where we expect to get law enforcement
authorities to come out and detail what they know at this late hour about
the series of serial bombings. I’m telling you that because what we’re
going to do is monitor it in our control room tonight. And if we see
important news coming out of that or important disclosures, I tell you, we
will bring it to you as soon as we get it. And a lot of people keeping
their eye on what has been a very unpredictable situation down there in
Austin, Texas. So, we’ll keep an eye on that.
The other big story, though, that is our top story is a move away from not
only the criminal probe by Bob Mueller that’s put so much heat on Donald
Trump. Tonight, at least, that criminal case has been overshadowed by
three cases in civil court brought by women who say they deserve their day
Now, I’ll tell you straight up tonight. We didn’t choose to bring you
these three cases. This isn’t some kind of editorial decision to compare
three different women suing Trump or looking at their legal arguments.
This is just literally the news breaking on all three of these separate
cases right now, a new woman filing suit today, another who won a
procedural step as the judge green lights her case today. And the third,
Stormy Daniels releasing new evidence in her case that dates back far
before the presidential campaign.
So let me begin with a brief explanation, though, of the newest case filed
today by Karen McDougal. She is a former Playboy model. She is suing the
“National Enquirer’s” parent company, saying she deserves the right to
speak about her alleged relationship with Trump dating back to 2006.
Now, she says she signed a deal before the 2016 election for $150,000 that
would enable “The Enquirer” to basically silence her story. But now she
says she views that contract as void. She says she was tricked into
signing it while being misled as to its contents including by her very own
Then case number two, a judge clearing the path for a defamation suit
against Donald Trump by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUMMER ZERVOS, TRUMP ACCUSER: He put me in an embrace, and I tried to push
him away. I pushed his chest to put space between us, and I said, come on,
man, get real. He repeated my words back to me. “Get real”, as he began
thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again with my hands still on
his chest, and I said, dude, you’re tripping right now, attempting to make
it clear I was not interested.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, many Republicans argued Bill Clinton should face exactly
these kind of civil lawsuits while he was president. And that’s the exact
case that was cited against Donald Trump today. The judge noting no one is
above the law. It’s settled. The president has no immunity and is subject
to the laws for purely private acts.
Then case three, news breaking today about Stormy Daniels’ lie detector
test. Her lawyer who joins me in a moment releasing this picture of a test
she took in 2011 to support her claims for a detailed interview with “In
Touch” magazine about this alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump.
Now, this information is definitely newsworthy because it undercuts an
attack made on Daniels, the idea that this whole dispute was just about the
2016 election. The new material shows some of the lengths she went to
support her story all the way back in 2011 when the idea of Donald Trump
being president of the United States was widely considered a joke. Ha, ha,
ha. Here we are.
Now, does the tested self mean everything she said is automatically true?
As a matter of law, no, courts don’t generally admit these tests. They
have about a 70 percent accuracy rate. Now, this particular test asked if
Daniels had intercourse with Trump, whether it was unprotected, and whether
he offered to get her an appearance on “The Apprentice.” The examiner
asserting she passed the test clearly.
Now, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti says he paid $25,000 for the
tape over this test for one reason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS’ LAWYER: We caught wind of the fact there
were a number of main party, some in the mainstream media that were
attempting to purchase the video and the file for use in what I will
describe as nefarious activities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That very lawyer in the eye of the storm joins me now, Michael
Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, back on THE LAST WORD.
Thanks for being here.
AVENATTI: Thanks for having me, Ari. How are you?
MELBER: I’m all right. This case stays in the news, and partly because
there seems to be new evidence that comes out. For viewers who see what I
just walked through that you’ve released, what is the import of it?
AVENATTI: W, I think you put your finger on it, Ari. The import is that
back in May of 2011, my client sat in a room in Las Vegas with a licensed
polygraph examiner, was given a polygraph examine, and she passed with
You know, I do want to correct one thing. The three questions you put up,
she passed the first two. It was determined she was telling the truth. As
to the third, as to whether she was promised a spot on “The Apprentice,”
the polygraph examiner concluded that it was inconclusive.
So, it was – he did not conclude she was telling the truth. He did not
conclude she was lying. It was inconclusive.
So, you know that I strive to be very accurate as it relates to the
information that comes out. And so, when I see something that is not quite
right, I want to make it known. So, that was the detail.
MELBER: Appreciate that nuance.
AVENATTI: That was – it is a nuance, but it’s important.
AVENATTI: Because we don’t want the get over the tips of our skis.
But I think it’s important because we’ve heard various attacks on my client
relating to her motivations for doing this. People have said that she was
trying to blackmail a presidential candidate in the waning days of the
election, which is patently false. And it’s one of the things that I think
is most important about this.
Now, look, this is another piece of evidence. And it’s another document
that’s being presented to the American people. They can go online. They
can download it. They can read it for themselves. They don’t have to take
your word for it, or my word or anybody else’s word.
There is going to be other pieces of evidence that are going to come out in
this case. There’s going to be this interview that is going to be
broadcast on Sunday where the American people are going to be able to
observe my client’s demeanor and hear her answers. And they’re going to be
able to judge for themselves as to whether she is telling the truth or not.
And this has always been what we’ve said for weeks now. Don’t take my word
for it or someone else’s word for it. You should hear from my client.
Hear her story. Hear her version of events and judge for yourself.
And to the extent that Mr. Cohen or the president have a counter-narrative
or a different version of the facts, they should go on a show, have a press
conference, they could have a White House briefing, they could do any
number of things and explain their version of the –
MELBER: You’re giving Donald Trump a little media advice here on this
Let me read to you from Michael Cohen, because he’s speaking out to “Vanity
Fair,” says that Daniels’ former attorney, your predecessor, said her
number was $130,000. Cohen relates it was strange, a not entirely round
number, but he accepted, recalled he asked this lawyer why she would tell
her story when she previously denied it?
Quote, he said she needed the money. I didn’t come up with this number.
Is that false?
AVENATTI: Absolutely. And we’re going to prove it’s false.
And, you know, here’s the best thing that I can say about Mr. Cohen’s
veracity. Here is the best thing I can say. Highly suspect.
MELBER: So, Michael Cohen, in your view is not telling the truth about
your client needing money. Why?
AVENATTI: Well, I don’t think he is telling the truth about a whole host
of things, starting with the fact that he wants the American people to
believe that he drafted this agreement on his own, negotiated it on his
own. Mr. Trump never knew anything about it, didn’t have anything to do
with the payment.
And, by the way, here is an interesting question, Ari. If that’s to be
believed, then why is Mr. Trump’s signature line in the agreement? Why is
he listed as a party?
MELBER: And why did he jump into it on Friday?
I want to bring in our panel, and stay with me.
AVENATTI: I mean, this is very important question. It’s a very simple
one. If the whole plan was that Mr. Trump was never going to be a party to
the agreement and was never going to sign it, wasn’t even going to know
about it because Mr. Cohen, his very close friend, didn’t want to bother
him in the waning days of the campaign, and he was just going to pay the
money and never even tell Mr. Trump about it, then why did Mr. Cohen draft
an agreement with Mr. Trump’s name littered throughout the document with a
signature line for him to sign?
MELBER: I will tell you my legal analysis. I think it’s a good question.
Stay with me.
As promised, I want to bring in a few more voices, Matt Miller, former
spokesman for Attorney General Holder, MSNBC analyst, as well as Joyce
Vance, former U.S. attorney from Alabama, and a professor at the University
of Alabama Law School, also an MSNBC analyst.
Joyce, when you hear this and you hear the lawyers fighting and you see the
lie detector come out, what is your view of the wider significance?
JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC ANALYST: Lie detector tests are really interesting,
Ari. You’ve noted that they’re not admissible in court, and that’s because
their scientific validity hasn’t been established yet. Not to say it
couldn’t be done in the future. And perhaps this would be the case.
But lie detector tests are widely used in law enforcement, particularly
early on in cases when people are trying to decide whether a witness is
telling the truth. Also, widely used in the Justice Department as an
employment device. So, the introduction of this lie detector test, not as
evidence, but as an indication that Ms. Daniels is being truthful at least
in so far as her story about having intercourse with the president is very
MELBER: And, Matt Miller, when you were serving the Obama administration,
I don’t recall him making a joinder motion for any lawsuits like this.
MATT MILLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No. We never dealt with anything like
this. Look, I think Mr. Avenatti is pursuing this case the way you would
expect for somebody in his position. He is being very aggressive both in
court and with media strategy.
What is surprising is how you see the president responding. You know, if
Stormy Daniels were to come out and just start talking and explain that she
had a consensual affair with Donald Trump, I don’t think that would
surprise anyone. I’m not even sure it would hurt the president very much.
But when you see the president pursuing this strategy to silence her in
court, something we’ve not seen from previous presidents, something that is
completely inappropriate for the occupant of the oval office to do to a
MELBER: Let me ask you about that, matt, and then I want to go back to
Michael. You’re putting your finger on the fact that for a long time it
was said that Donald Trump would fight everyone in public but Vladimir
Putin. And there were inferences that some drew from that.
It seems that now here in the second year of the presidency, he will have a
public fight with everyone but Vladimir Putin and Stormy Daniels.
MILLER: Yes. And the question you have to ask, is he worried about
something damaging in this case in particular? Maybe. Maybe not.
Or is he worried about the precedent it might set, if there are other
nondisclosure agreements that he sign order that Michael Cohen signed on
his behalf, in a strange arrangement where Michael Cohen was a party and
maybe the president was or wasn’t? Are they worried about setting a
precedent here that if they let this one go by without a fight, that it
opens the doors to other people coming forward and talking?
I don’t think we know the answer to that yet. But that would be one way to
explain the president’s very aggressive, very unusual posture.
AVENATTI: Ari, I’m used to – I’m used to playing chess, OK, in my cases.
And I’ve had the good fortune to go up against some really good chess
players from around this country.
MELBER: Is Michael Cohen playing chess with you?
AVENATTI: Well, let me just say this. Really good chess players. I mean,
lawyers at the top of their game, really good lawyers that are really good
chess players, OK? And I like to count myself as a pretty good chess
Right now, we’re playing three dimensional chess, and these guys are
playing tic-tac-toe, quite honestly. And they’re not even playing tic-tac-
toe that well, all right?
When we filed this case, there was one response that made sense, and one
response only. And that response should have been, you know what? You’re
right. I was a party to the agreement. This is the president speaking.
She is free to talk. She can tell her story and I’m going to tell mine.
And guess what? Had that happened, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now
and we wouldn’t be talking about it. T
The fact of the matter is, that’s not what has happened. They have stepped
into every trap we’ve laid in this case the last two weeks. It’s
remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never had any good
fortune like this, OK?
We’re going to keep shooting until we miss. And the problem, Ari, is, is
that now, they’re doubling and tripling down. Now, we have the president
of the United States, and I think it’s important to take a step back and
think about this for a minute. We have a sitting U.S. president who is
carrying out a vendetta against a woman who alleges that she had an affair
with him and suing her for $20 million.
AVENATTI: And is attempting to continue to silence her and put her under
his thumb. That’s what this is about.
MELBER: I think that’s a significant part. And look, we have covered the
story, and we’ve covered it especially assertively since Friday, because
for everyone who says well, here is this Stormy Daniels story over here,
why should it be about the president? No. Starting Friday, the president
inserted himself and is literally seeking to bankrupt a private citizen for
their speech, for their words. I mean, that is clearly important.
I want to read for the benefit of response, Michael Cohen addressing when
you were questioned about whether your client faced threats of physical
harm and you said, yes. Michael Cohen’s new response, I’ve never spoken to
her, I’ve never e-mailed her, I’ve never texted her. Every interaction
with her was through a previous attorney. I reiterate, I’ve never
threatened her in any way, and I’m unaware of anyone else doing so.
AVENATTI: And the agreement was drafted without the knowledge of Donald
Trump and Mr. Cohen made the payment and no one else ever knew about it.
MELBER: Do you have reason to believe that specific denial is misleading?
AVENATTI: Yes. And I think people –
MELBER: Do you have evidence that Michael Cohen would know about the
physical threats allegation you have made?
AVENATTI: I’m not going to answer the question as to what we have and what
we don’t have. But here is what I will say. People should be very careful
about representations they make, unequivocal reputations. That’s what I’m
going to say.
MELBER: Joyce, your thoughts on any of the above?
VANCE: Well, it sounds like there is a little bit more evidence that Mr.
Avenatti has that we’ll all learn about in the future. There has been at
least some indication that there is additional evidence, that there are
documents. I think he said that.
And, of course, the nondisclosure agreement represents a whole host of
potential pieces of evidence, text messages, other information about former
sexual partners. So, I think a lot of folks will be looking forward to
listening into the “60 Minutes” episode if it airs. But at the end of the
day, we got to remember that what we have going on here is really a
credibility matchup between the president’s lawyer and a porn star.
And that is a phenomenal place for this country to be at this particular
point in time. And the president is in a real box because he’s denied
knowing her. He has denied knowing that they ever had any type of an
affair. For him to walk that back to the point where he could let her tell
her story and he could tell his I think is a very difficult path for him to
VANCE: And he may have really put himself in a box he can’t get out of
MELBER: And on that point, Matt Miller, your final word on us. I’ll hand
the mic here to Stormy Daniels who wrote today, technically, I didn’t sleep
with POTUS 12 years ago. There was no sleeping. He was a goofy reality TV
star. But I digress. People do care that he lied about it, had me
bullied, broke laws to visit covered up. PS, I’m not going anywhere, XO,
MILLER: Yes, it’s tawdry. It’s trashy. I mean, but what do people
expect? This is what happens when you elect a reality star president,
someone who has for years operate kind of in the tabloid world, in the
trashiest ends of the legal world and of the media world.
This is the kind of thing you get with Donald Trump as president. And I
don’t think that Stormy Daniels or the other two women who have filed or
are attempting to file suit against him, I don’t think these are the last
of these cases we’re going to see.
MELBER: Matt Miller, Joyce Vance, and the lawyer Michael Avenatti, thanks
to each of you for joining me tonight.
Coming up, there is breaking news President Trump was specifically warned
don’t congratulate Putin, but he chose to do that over advice from his own
national security adviser.
Also tonight, reports Steve Bannon was supervising the misuse of data from
Facebook two years before the Trump campaign. All of that coming up.
And we’ve been following of course as I mentioned the serious breaking news
out of Austin, Texas, tonight. I want to mention again for our viewers,
keeping an eye on this important story, we are still awaiting this law
enforcement news conference.
They were called about an incident at a Goodwill store, a reported
explosion a short time ago. We can tell you police says it does not appear
that that new report, however concerning it is, is at this time connected
to the string of bombings. One person injured.
After investigating, Austin police also tweeting this out, quote, there was
no package explosion in the 9800 block of Brodie Lane. Items inside the
package were not a bomb rather, but they called them an incendiary device.
There have been five explosions in Austin since March 2n. And as I say,
we’re also following that story. We’ll update you when we get it.
More of THE LAST WORD after this break.
MELBER: Donald Trump’s digital firm in hot water tonight. News breaking
their CEO suspended after a hidden video scandal broke this week.
Now, “The Washington Post” reporting Steve Bannon, who has long been linked
to the firm, Cambridge Analytica, was involved in how they used Facebook to
collect and potentially misuse data. The source here is former Cambridge
Analytica employee Chris Wylie, who says the 2014 effort was part of a
high-tech form of voter persuasion.
Under Bannon, they identified and tested the power of anti-establishment
messages that later would emerge as central themes in Trump’s campaign
speeches. Messages tested included: drain the swamp and deep state.
Now, Bannon helped launch Cambridge in 2013. He also served on its board.
And while Trump may want to get some distance from this firm right now,
that just got harder with the next wave of undercover videos leaking. And
we’re going to show them to you, the now suspended CEO, Nix, boasting how
they met with Trump personally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Have you met with Mr. Trump?
ALEXANDER NIX, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA CEO: Many times.
REPORTER: You have?
NIX: We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the
targeting. We run all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and
our data informed all the strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Other video showing Nix boasting they could set up political
rivals on tape for financial or I guess sexual scandals, and then they
would weaponize that online.
Now, we can all take stock of the obvious irony that that man, Nix,
boasting about all that was caught on tape and led to his suspension.
Also, members of Congress now demanding that more people linked to the
scandal come testify. Key Trump aides involved in Cambridge’s work include
Kushner, Manafort, and the digital director Brad Parscale who Trump
recently promoted to run the entire 2020 reelection campaign.
Now, one of the more dramatic claims that Nix made on tape was not even
illegal, but it probably is familiar to anyone following the alternative
facts strategy of this Trump White House. The tape also caught him saying:
it sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t
necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed.”
Joining me now, Brendan Fischer, director of the Federal Election
Commission Reform at the Campaign Legal Center. And Betsy Woodruff,
politics reporter for “The Daily Beast” and an MSNBC contributor.
Betsy, your view of the significance of this and the – what is revealed in
the link there between an alternative facts approach to politics and a
digital campaign that might be relentless at pushing misinformation.
BETSY WOODRUFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It speaks to the time we live in, and
ultimately, the responsibility for how – whether or not these ads work
falls with the consumers, the people who see the ads. At the end of the
day, these ads only work if Americans don’t follow politics closely enough,
don’t take the time to put in the legwork, fact check, and get a sense of
whether or not the things that they are reading, the media they’re
consuming is coming from reliable sources or not.
It’s harder than ever in this Internet age in some ways, but there is such
a rich variety of fact checking sites, and amazing Websites and newspapers
and television networks creating wonderful journalism that fortunately, it
shouldn’t be as difficult as sometimes it seems to be.
Now, speaking of the significance of this news we have, one thing I can
tell you is that I don’t think people should view the suspension of
Alexander Nix as big of a deal as perhaps it’s being covered. A suspension
is not a firing. It’s not a termination. And one thing I can tell you, as
someone who has covered Cambridge Analytica going all the way back to 2015,
to the early days of the Republican primary, is that I’ve been told by
newsroom rose people that Nix has or still has a close personal
relationship with Rebecca Mercer.
MELBER: Right, which is key.
WOODRUFF: Rebecca Mercer on the board of Cambridge Analytica. She is a
MELBER: I think you’re making –
WOODRUFF: And until she kind of turns on him, I think there is a good
chance he’ll be back in the good graces of the company.
MELBER: Well, I hear you making two points of skepticism. One, the
suspension might be meaningless window dressing during the week the heat is
on them. And two, that lies only work when they are believed, which fits
with what he was saying.
And yet, Brendan, I would take part – I would take part issue with the
idea that this is also up to consumers, because at the end of the day, the
reason that you have fraud laws is there will always be different types of
fraud. And do you see anything from these reports that suggests anything
beyond what is just shady or scummy and the implications of law?
BRENDAN FISCHER, FEC REFORM DIRECTOR: Sure. Sure. Well, one takeaway
from this is that whether we’re talking about foreign governments or
reclusive billionaires, it’s clear that there are vulnerabilities in our
laws. And there are vulnerabilities that can be exploited by actors who
don’t have the best interests of the American public in mind.
And Congress has failed to update our laws and regulations as political
campaigning increasingly moves online.
You know, one point I want to make about how Cambridge Analytica used this
data is through highly targeted ads that were only viewable by the
individuals to whom these ads were targeted. And Cambridge Analytica was
very explicit about the use of fear, about the use of fear in trying to
motive voters to vote for Donald Trump or to deter potential Hillary
Clinton voters from voting at all. And when you’re using highly
controversial fear-based messaging with no accountability whatsoever, there
is a tendency to further divide the American public.
And, of course, fear is not –
MELBER: Brendan, what about the thing I asked? Do you see any laws broken
FISCHER: Sure. So one – what brought Cambridge Analytica on to our radar
back in the 2016 election was the fact that the Mercers, who own Cambridge
Analytica were operating a super PAC that was working very closely with the
Trump campaign. And super PACs are supposed to be operating independently
of the campaigns that they’re supporting.
We know that the Mercers requested that the Trump campaign hire Steve
Bannon as campaign CEO. They did so. We know that the Mercers requested
MELBER: But you’re not seeing it in the videos? It’s OK if the answer is
FISCHER: Yes, well, so the short answer is we believe that there is
evidence that the Trump campaign and the Mercer-backed super PAC were
coordinating was –
MELBER: Right. Potential illegal coordination.
FISCHER: – through Cambridge Analytica.
MELBER: Got you. Which is a little different than what’s on the videos.
Betsy, final question on the Russia probe. Nix also on this video is
caught sort of suggesting that he didn’t have any problems with his House
testimony. Did you see this being a bigger flash point there with whoever
is left investigating that?
WOODRUFF: To be totally honest, I don’t think it is. The House
investigation at this point is basically running on empty. They’re putting
together reports there is going to be two different reports.
And unfortunately, the maxim that Alexander Nix handed down to us, that
people will sometimes believe false things is something we’re going to see
playing out when the House reports come out, and when there is a high
likelihood that within at least one of those reports, there will be
deliberate distortions of fact. So, people have to be vigilant news
consumers. They have to take these things seriously. They have to think
And they have to remember that the way democracy works, what makes
democracy work is people putting in the work and the effort that it takes
to make sure that they have a correct, clear understanding of what things
are actually happening.
MELBER: Yes, I appreciate your candor there. It’s certainly true. The
Republicans have locked most of this down.
The last part was Nix saying, caught on tape, regarding his testimony to
the house Republicans there, no secrets. They’re politicians. They’re not
technical. They don’t understand how it works. And then he said they’re
always just puppets, which was quite something for Trump’s director to say
about Republicans who, according to some allegations, were trying to defend
Betsy Woodruff and Brendan Fischer, thanks for your expertise tonight.
WOODRUFF: Sure thing.
FISCHER: Thank you.
MELBER: Up next, President Trump hiring new lawyers to go on offense
against Bob Mueller, and only a handful of Republicans seem to be stepping
up to the plate. What are the others going to do? That’s next.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR: You know, people say Donald Trump’s impulsive,
including his critics. But it can be a mistake to use just that lens about
all things Trump. There is evidence that shows he can also be quite canny
Bob Mueller is certainly probing whether Trump’s more than impulsive
because proving the mental intent for obstruction usually requires usually
more than impulse. It requires corrupt planning. Consider that for ten
months, Donald Trump avoided ever criticizing Bob Mueller by name or ever
impulsively even tweeting his name, until now.
After the Friday night firing of Comey deputy Andrew McCabe, Trump is now
singling out Mueller by name. It looks like a new phase. It looks
deliberate. It does not look impulsive.
And some Republicans I can tell you tonight apparently agree. Speaking out
in the most direct terms we’ve seen about what happens if Trump tries to
illegally remove Mueller. They’re talking about potential impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUGH HEWITT, RADIO HOST: If the President fired Robert Mueller, do you
think that would be an impeachable offense?
LINDSEY GRAHAM, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Probably so, if he did it without
cause, yes. I think what the President will have done is stopped an
investigation into whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians,
what effect the Russians had on the 2016 campaign. I can’t see it being
anything other than a corrupt purpose to stop the investigation without
cause. I think it would be a constitutional crisis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Or take Republicans Senator Jeff Flake who wrote this just
tonight. We’re begging the President not to fire the Special Counsel. Don’t
create a constitutional crisis. Congress cannot preempt such a firing. Our
only constitutional remedy is after the fact through impeachment.
No one wants that outcome, he writes. Mr. President, please don’t go there.
Mitch McConnell tried a different tact insisting that Mueller won’t be
going anywhere. And Paul Ryan claims he has assurances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you prepared to take any action to protect the
special counsel and Rod Rosenstein if it comes to that?
MITCH MCCONNELL, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Yes. I just don’t think it’s
necessary. I don’t think Bob Mueller is going anywhere. I think there is
widespread feeling and the President’s lawyers obviously agree that he
ought to be allowed to finish the job.
PAUL RYAN, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The Special Counsel should
be free to follow through his investigation to its completion without
interference, absolutely. I am confident that he’ll be able to do that. I
received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Not even under consideration. That sounds good. But it was more
than considered. the New York Times reported Trump tried to fire Mueller in
June and was only blocked when his own White House Counsel Don McGahn
refused to ask the DOJ to dismiss Mueller, saying he would quit instead.
I’m joined by Jennifer Rubin a conservative opinion writer to the
Washington Post and an MSNBC Contributor as well as Ezra Klein, editor at
large at VOX and host of the Podcast the Ezra Klein Show. Ezra, when you
look at this breakdown between leadership and some other republicans making
some noise, what direction do you think we’re headed in?
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Nowhere good. So I think you see a couple
things here. one, as much as I admire what Senators Graham and Flake are
saying, if they had the power that I wish they had in the Republican Party,
we would have had a solution, say, on DACA long ago. So I don’t think you
can look at them as the way of taking the temperature of where the center
of the party is.
What I do think is surprising is how little instinct for self-preservation
McConnell and Ryan have here. There are plenty of bills that could protect
Mueller right now. You could make him genuinely independent. You could
create an independent Congressional Commission.
There are all kinds of things that are in Congress right now that you could
do to protect Mueller to make sure you never have to face a scenario
they’re worried they’re going to have to face, which is a where they either
have to act or protect Trump at the cost of their own legacies. That they
haven’t done that. they’re relying on Trump’s good temperament to keep him
out of trouble here strikes me as a bet that if I were them, I wouldn’t
want to make.
MELBER: And Jennifer, a lot of this comes down to whether it’s time to
issue these warnings and talk about the I word, or whether if you follow
the logic of some of the Trump defenders, that’s getting ahead of what’s
happened which is Mueller has been on the job for 10 months. I don’t know
if you ever listened to the Rapper Dave East but he famously said I’m like
a bad doctor. I ain’t got no patience. And there’s a Trump defense here
that nobody has patience to just let this play out. Which side do you think
JENNIFER RUBIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think Ezra is right. It’s dangerous
to take assurances from this White House about anything. And what if next
time Don McGahn takes direction and does tell the Special Prosecutor that
he is toast, or does decide to fire Rod Rosenstein? So it is really playing
with absolute fire.
There is no reason, for example, why they can’t pass a simple resolution
which should pass unanimously saying that this would be an impeachable
offense. That at least would set out a clear line for the President. There
is nothing that prohibits them from doing that. There is no constitutional
prohibition on that.
I would say, though, I think Lindsey Graham unintentionally gave us a very
interesting argument. If corrupt intent would be demonstrated by firing
Bob Mueller, why isn’t corrupt intent shown by firing James Comey, by
coming up with a false cover story to explain the Trump Tower meeting, by
all the whole litany of things that he has done? And in essence, Lindsey
Graham is acknowledging that these actions in the course of his presidency
if made for his own self-preservation are impeachable acts, it doesn’t have
to be just the firing of Bob Mueller.
So someone should get a hold of Lindsey Graham and say but what about all
these other things that he has been up to? So I think the Republicans are
chasing their own tails here. They’re trying to simultaneously avoid the
issue at the same time trying not to look like utter hypocrites. And I
don’t think they’re doing a very good job, nor are they fooling the
American people into believing they’re actually doing their job.
MELBER: Ezra, speak to Jennifer’s point that essentially; if you’re
talking about firing law enforcement officials for the criminal probe, it’s
already happened. Why is there a celebrity aspect around Mueller when these
other people were also important?
KLEIN: I have often wondered what it is exactly that we are waiting on
Mueller to prove. I think a lot of people are expecting something to be
revealed that has not been revealed. And I think there are a lot of details
that are. But in the question of whether or not there has already been a
obstruction of justice, of course there is.
Donald Trump want on NBC and said it forthrightly. It is perfectly clear
what he did and why he did it. One of the things I do worry about in all
this, what we are actually watching, more than the firing of Mueller,
that’s been sort of a specter hanging over this. We’re watching the one so
discrediting of Mueller on the right. There has been a long-running and
fairly successful campaign within the Fox News universe, within the
Republican Congress, if you look at what House members who are
conservatives have been saying to discredit Mueller’s findings before they
And the other is that by drawing this out there simply in acculturation
process. People become less and less shocked by what they’re hearing. They
become used to what they already heard.
Well look, he already fired Comey and nothing happened so he could go and
do the rest of it. People become used to things. And one thing that
concerns me is Bob Mueller could come out with a searing report months from
now. The report could show without a shadow of a doubt obstruction of
And then what? Republicans and Fox News are going to say some of it is old
news and they already knew about it. Some of it will just disbelief. And
there isn’t a remedy. This is a political process. And politically
Republicans have done everything in their power to recover and protect
Donald Trump. I don’t see what we’re expecting to be different in the
MELBER: Ezra Klein giving everybody a lot of good vibes to go to bed to.
MELBER: The slow flouting of all constitutional norms and the lack of
political backbone to save our republic. Having said that, I think you are
both articulate these concerns well. Ezra Klein and Jennifer Rubin thank
Coming up, more breaking news. Warned not to thank Vladimir – excuse me,
not congratulate Vladimir Putin on the Russian election, and then he went
ahead and does it anyway. Also, we’re going to keep monitoring the
situation as I mentioned in Austin, Texas. The Austin PD called on the
scene of this reported explosion.
Police that was incendiary device. but – but what police are saying, what
I’m hearing fresh from our control room as told you we would monitor, this
law enforcement briefing is that the latest materials that were collected
in the latest investigation they’re doing on that most recent site was not
actually incendiary. That was not actually what they view to be explosive
materials and not connected to the other bombings.
You may recall we mentioned some of the reporting on that. What’s new right
now, as you can see on your screen is law enforcement officially saying
that on the record in this briefing. We wanted to get you that update, and
we’ll have more on that coming up, including a report from NBC’s Gabe
Gutierrez that a mail employee was going through basically some materials
that had been dropped off.
That there was a kind of a flash, and there were minor injuries sustained.
So I wanted to mention our reporting from my colleague Gabe Gutierrez as
well as we monitor those events and bring you more as we get it. I’m going
to fit in a break and have more politics after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I had a call with President Putin
and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This looks bad. The Washington Post” is breaking news tonight
Trump’s own top security advisers told him bluntly don’t congratulate Putin
on his reelection because the U.S. as policy doesn’t try to condone the
anti-democratic activities there. So you just saw Trump ignore that
warning in public, and in his private call to Putin as well that you could
say, hey, let’s be fair maybe Trump missed the advice.
But here is what is new in this Washington Post report tonight, and why
that’s unlikely. It says the warning in his briefing was in all caps
letters stating do not congratulate, which as everyone knows shouting in a
security memo. The report also says Trump also chose not to be heed
talking with some agents talking him to condemn Putin about this recent
poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K. with a powerful nerve agent.
Senator John McCain weighing in saying an American President does not lead
the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And
by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian
citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to
determine their country’s future. And Lindsey Graham said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: What is disappointing is President Trump didn’t mention the
poisoning of the two people in Britain or the continued interference in our
election. Every time you talk to Putin and you give him a pass that
emboldens him. It’s clear to me we’re not sending the right message to
Putin about his behavior here in our own backyard, and we had a chance to
reinforce an ally and we missed that opportunity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The subtext there, Lindsey Graham saying Donald Trump all but
sided with Putin over our ally Britain. I’m going to turn next to Jeremy
Bash. He joins us for this breaking news and what it means for the Trump
MELBER: Donald Trump under new fire tonight for refusing to confront Putin
about the poisoning of a spy on British soil. Once again Trump a long ways
from where most Republicans draw a line with Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MCCAIN, UNITED STATES SENTOR: Vladimir Putin is a thug and a murderer
and a killer and a KGB agent.
MITT ROMNEY, FMR. GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: Donald Trump says he admire
Vladimir Putin. At the same time he called George W. Bush a liar. That is a
twisted example of evil trumping good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Putin Regime is a totalitarian, autocratic regime
that preys off the people of Russia. He’s a crook, he’s a thug.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: the Russians did a number on us. I hate Putin. …
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining me now, Jeremy Bash, MSNBC National Security Analyst,
former Chief of Staff to the CIA and the Pentagon and Jennifer Rubin back
with me. Jeremy, let’s start with a negative interpretation of this that is
not the worst interpretation. The worst would be the ongoing questions
about whether Vladimir Putin has some sort of reason to have sway over
A better but still negative interpretation would be that Donald Trump can’t
be told what to do. He’s going through some sort of coming of age, self-
discovery as President, we’re told by the New York Times this week. He
feels unbridled. I don’t know what that means, if the last year plus was
bridled. But this is more about him acting out and rejecting advice of
something larger. Your view of that theory?
JEREMY BASH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Or maybe he can’t read all caps. I mean I
think really Ari this is the latest manifestation of President Trump
pursuing an American foreign policy that is manifestly pro-Russian and
therefore anti-American and fundamentally weak. It undermines our allies,
in particular Great Britain which suffered this nerve gas agent attack on
its soil. And also it sends a horrible message around the world because it
basically telegraphs to our adversaries that the President will easily
capitulate to you if you flatter him or show him so favor.
RUBIN: Yes. I think the – Trump doesn’t read anything that’s put in
front of him is a probably a good one. But I do agree with Jeremy. There
is no person whose so intimidates Donald Trump and renders him speechless
as Vladimir Putin does. And how does this comport to his behavior towards
everyone else? Why is it that Donald Trump is so compliant, so afraid to
confront Vladimir Putin?
It doesn’t make sense when you look at his America first boasting. So the
only conclusion you can come away with is that he’s scared of Vladimir
Putin. And why would he be scared of Vladimir Putin? Well that’s back to
the initial quandary, the initial question that’s at the heart of the
MELBER: There you go again, Jennifer, as the saying goes.
RUBIN: Exactly. And you know if you can come up with a better explanation
for why he’s afraid to confront Putin on mangling and misleading and
twisting our electoral process, why he won’t confront them about the
poisoning on ally soil of two people, and why he feels compelled to
congratulate him for a victory in a non-election.
Other than that, I don’t know what it is. By the way, this extends a little
bit beyond Putin as well. He also, if you recall, congratulated Erdogan in
Turkey after he ran a fixed election. So this is what Trump does. He
doesn’t really understand or care to understand the difference between a
real election and a fake election, which should be of concern. And this is
not America first, this is Russia first.
MELBER: Russia first. And you know Jeremy, earlier in the show I played a
little bit of Mitch McConnell trying to dodge questions on Mueller. I will
note that Mitch McConnell did take a harder line of disagreement with Trump
on this Putin issue today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: When I look at a Russian election, what I see is the lack of
credibility and tallying the results. I’m always reminded of the elections
they used to have in almost every communist country where whoever the
dictator was at the moment always got huge percentage of the vote. So
calling him wouldn’t have been high on my list.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Well, it shows you that the mainstream Republicans are anti-Putin
and that Trump is really out of step with them. And I think Jennifer kind
of points to the ultimate question here, why? What is the leverage that
Putin has over Trump? Why has Putin become kryptonite, if you will.
The mere mention of his name despite warning from his aides basically
render the President and therefore America powerless. It’s really stunning.
And I think obviously part of it is what Bob Mueller’s looking at. Part of
it has to do, I think, frankly with longstanding business ties and
financial relationships between Donald Trump, the Trump organization and
people around Vladimir Putin who have lent him money and who have actual
financial leverage over him and who could wipe him out at a moment’s notice
if they called those loans.
MELBER: Jeremy Bash and Jennifer Rubin digging right into it. Thank you
very much for joining us on the Last Word. As promised, we turn again to
new updates on this breaking news. Authorities in Austin have wrapped up
that press conference. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez was there on the story. What
can you tell us?
GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC REPORTER: Hi there Ari. Well this news conference just
wrapped up and as you mentioned. And authorities now say that this incident
just a little early on today, one, is not relate to do that string of
bombings, the serial bomber the authorities described before. But they also
described a little bit of how this unfolded at a goodwill store here in
Austin. They say that someone dropped off an incendiary device, an
artillery simulator, what they described as a military memento that dropped
off in a bag of donations.
One of the employees of goodwill e took it out back, was suspicious and
then there was some sort of flash. That employees suffered minor injuries
through his hand and then treated and released. Now Ari, this is a
neighborhood that is extremely on edge, and over the last several weeks has
now had at least five explosions, and in addition to that, a sixth package
that was intercepted before it could explode.
So certainly this is an ongoing investigation. Hundreds of Federal Agents,
ATF and FBI, working this case but again the breaking news. The early
reports of a new explosion here in Austin. It appears to be a false alarm
at this point. That’s what we were just hearing from authorities, Ari.
MELBER: And so, Gabe, putting the wider context beyond just this incident
which we’ve been monitoring tonight to see, OK, was it related and what’s
going on down there, how does this relate to the larger investigation they
have going which has been scary for that community, this seemingly series
GUTIERREZ: Right. Well I think this really speaks to how seriously
authorities are taking this, even the first whiff of any explosion. They
sent massive amounts of police here. This is a serious investigation. We’re
now looking at five explosions that appear to be linked, six packages
Two people have been killed and at least five injured. Today we learned a
lot of new information that these packages are now being spotted in FedEx
facilities, one near the San Antonio area that exploded last night in the
overnight hours. That had a minor injury with a FedEx employee. But then
authorities found another package at a separate FedEx facility here in the
Austin area near the airport.
They are now poring over surveillance video from another FedEx store where
they believe the serial bomber or someone who knew the serial bomber may
have dropped off those packages and mailed them through the FedEx delivery
system. Ari, that is extremely significant, because up until now, we hadn’t
heard of any of these explosives being sent through official delivery
channels. We gad those three packages and delivered on porches and in that
trip wire bomb that exploded on Sunday. But this a massive investigation
right now. And authorities are now trying to nail down a suspect by
looking at that surveillance video, Ari.
MELBER: Gabe Gutierrez on the ground in Austin, thank you very much. Stay
safe. That is tonight’s LAST WORD. I’m Ari Melber. You can always find me
on my show the Beat with Ari Melber 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
Up next, there is a former American Ambassador whose job was literally to
give the kind of advice about Russia that the President would have received
here today which he choose not follow. Also I want to tell you Steve
Kornacki and that guest will join Brian Williams with a lot of new –
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