Trump denies bombshell reports. TRANSCRIPT: 1/14/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.

Guests:
Michael Isikoff, Andrew Weiss, Eliot Engel, Jennifer Palmieri, Adam Jentleson
Transcript:

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

 

And one of the committee assignments that Steve King e lost is the

Judiciary Committee.  And that, of course, is the committee where possible

impeachment proceedings of President Trump would begin.  And so, Donald

Trump can`t be happy tonight that someone who was sure to be one of his

most fervent defenders in any judiciary committee hearing about him isn`t

going to be there. 

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  I still remember Trump bragging at that event

with Steve King about how he`d raised more money for Steve King than

anybody other than Steve King.  I mean, the two of them have made quite an

alliance.  I think the president still hasn`t commented on what he thinks

about Congressman King`s white supremacist comments.  The president somehow

missed that in his daily news feed. 

 

O`DONNELL:  You know, this is the part of it that I don`t understand.  I

don`t even have a theory for it.  That is the why now?  Why was this the

tipping point for Republicans with Steve King?  Does it have something to

do with them learning something about losing the last House election?  I

really don`t know. 

 

MADDOW:  I mean, we don`t know, and I don`t know that they`ll ever tell us

in a way we feel like we can trust, but I mean I – I think it is probably

worth something mere that there that the speaker of the House, the

Republican speaker of the House is no longer Paul Ryan.  It is Kevin

McCarthy. 

 

And Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy have been on the same team and working so

closely together for so long we don`t know of divisions that we can see

between them from a distance, but we may learn something about Kevin

McCarty being a different guy than Paul Ryan in terms of what he is willing

to endure in terms of embarrassment from his own caucus.  This may be Kevin

McCarthy deciding to do the right thing for the right reasons.  I`m not

sure we`ll know why any time soon. 

 

O`DONNELL:  I don`t know.  Let me think. 

 

MADDOW:  It could be.  Come on. 

 

O`DONNELL:  No, Rachel, I want that to be true.  I want that to be true. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you. 

 

O`DONNELL:  I`m going to sleep on it.  I`m going to hope it is true. 

 

MADDOW:  I`m a little silver lining.  I thought we were around, I know your

dark cloud. I follow you around, I catch it every once in a while. 

 

O`DONNELL:  It was beautifully put.  I want to believe.  I want to believe. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Lawrence.

 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel. 

 

We have breaking news tonight indicating that while many reporters and

pundits recently have been speculating that the Mueller investigation is

close to an end, there is much more to the investigation than any of us can

know, including this new report in “The Daily Beast” tonight with the lead,

quote: The special counsel`s office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan

are scrutinizing a meeting involving former House Intelligence Committee

Chairman Devin Nunes, one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn, and

dozens of foreign officials, according to three sources familiar with the

investigations. 

 

The investigation is about a breakfast event at the Trump hotel in

Washington two days before the Trump inauguration.  The event came to the

attention of t prosecutors who were investigating possible misuse of funds

by the Trump inaugural committee.  Michael Flynn, of course, has already

pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and has been cooperating with

investigators.  This is the first time Devin Nunes` name has surfaced in

reports concerning the special prosecutor`s investigation.

 

And so, Robert Mueller`s investigation continues and none of us really know

exactly what he is investigating, who he is investigating or how many

different things and cases and episodes he is investigating, how many

potential defendants still face some jeopardy as Robert Mueller continues

his work. 

 

Is Devin Nunes now contemplating seeking immunity from the special

prosecutor in exchange for telling everything he knows about possible

Russian influence in the Trump campaign or the Trump transition or the

Trump White House or Russian influence over Donald Trump himself? 

 

Today, NBC`s Kristen Welker asked the president of the United States the

question that produced the answer that will follow Donald Trump for the

rest of his life and beyond.  It may turn out to be the most memorable line

of the Trump presidency.  It surely would be for any other presidency, but

Donald Trump is so verbally explosive, we have no idea what is coming

tomorrow. 

 

To put what the president said today in historical perspective, let`s

consider just for a moment how little most of us can remember of what

presidents actually say – and I don`t mean phrases like “hope and change”

or “shining city on a hill” or “a thousand points of light”.  I mean full

sentences. 

 

The truth of it is that most of us usually cannot remember a single full

sentence spoken by a president.  I mean, Jimmy Carter, I can`t remember a

single full sentence he said.  And that`s not unusual.  That`s true for

most presidents. 

 

So, just an example, I will now recite for you every full sentence that I

can remember a president saying since the dawn of mass media in the radio

age when the president of the United States first became a recognizable

voice nationally through the magic of radio about 90 years ago. 

 

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. 

 

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your

country. 

 

I shall not seek and will not accept the nomination of my party for another

term as your president. 

 

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. 

 

I did not have sexual relations with that woman. 

 

That`s all I can remember word for word in full sentences from the last 90

years of the American presidency.  It`s not about the eloquence of the

president.  We`ve had no more eloquent president than Barack Obama but his

sentences were not sound bites and perhaps more importantly, Barack Obama

was never at the center of a scandal or collapsing presidency.

 

And that`s what produces some of our most memorable presidential lines,

like President Lyndon Johnson announcing in 1968 as his presidency was

drowning in anti-war protest that he would not run for reelection. 

Johnson`s Party was deserting him for two anti-war candidates, Gene

McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy.  And so, at the lowest point of his presidency,

LBJ shocked us with that sentence we did not expect and could never forget,

that he was not going to run for reelection. 

 

Bill Clinton`s most memorable quote comes from his reaction to part of the

scandal that led to his impeachment in the House of Representatives.  And

The one line that I left out of that collection is the presidential line

that was echoed today by Donald Trump, and it is the most memorable line of

Richard Nixon`s five-and-a-half years as president of the United States,

and it comes from the heart of the scandal that led the House Judiciary

Committee voting to bring articles of impeachment against President Nixon

and not long after that, President Nixon`s resignation. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT:  I`m not a crook. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  I`m not a crook. 

 

Today`s easy-to-remember presidential line came in response to an

investigation which could lead to something we`ve seen before, the

resignation of a president or the impeachment of a president, and it could

possibly lead to something we`ve never seen before.  The impeachment of a

president in the House of Representatives and the conviction and removal of

that president from office by the United States Senate. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I never worked for Russia. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  In history, that line will have a longer life than Mexico will

pay for the wall.  Today, January 14, 2019, will hold its spot in history

as the first and only day on which a president of the United States has

denied being an agent for a foreign government.  That is what it has come

to.  That is the I-am-not-a-crook moment in the Trump presidency. 

 

That Nixon quote is not important because it is so memorable, but because

Richard Nixon was denying what became the essential accusation against him

by a special prosecutor and the members of the House Judiciary Committee

who voted to impeachment, and to impeach him.  And it turns out Richard

Nixon was a crook.  And that was the single-most important thing you could

know about Richard Nixon, and that is the space he occupies in history, our

criminal president. 

 

When Richard Nixon said he was not a crook, we out there in the audience

couldn`t prove he was.  And so, tonight, after hearing the president of the

United States deny that he is now or ever has been a Russian agent, we

don`t know if it`s true.  We don`t know what`s true.  But we do know that

the history of presidents deep in scandal, denying the most damning

accusation about them is a history of presidents not telling the truth. 

 

Bill Clinton actually did do what he denied doing in his most famous quote. 

Richard Nixon actually was a crook.  So, now, we await Robert Mueller`s

answer to the question Kristen Welker asked today, have you ever worked for

Russia, yes or no? 

 

That question came after a weekend of intense media coverage and reaction

to a Friday night “New York Times” report that the FBI opened a

counterintelligence investigation of the president of the United States

because in the first months of the Trump presidency after the firing of FBI

Director James Comey, the FBI had then the very same question that Kristin

Welker asked today, is the president a Russian agent?

 

Shortly after the FBI opened that investigation, Robert Mueller was

appointed special counsel to investigate, quote, any links and/or

coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with

the campaign of President Donald Trump and any matters that arose or may

arise directly from the investigation.  So, tonight, Robert Mueller is

working on the answer to that question, is the president a Russian agent?

 

When Robert Mueller writes his report on his investigation, President Trump

is hoping that Mueller will be handing that report to William Barr who the

president has nominated to be his next attorney general.  William Barr`s

confirmation hearing begins tomorrow morning at 9:30.

 

And in his prepared testimony released in writing today, William Barr says:

I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to

complete his investigation.  I have known Bob Mueller personally and m

professionally for 30 years.  We worked closely together throughout my

previous tenure at the Department of Justice under President Bush.  We have

been friends since. 

 

I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public

service.  When he was named special counsel, I said that his selection was

good news and that knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter

properly.  I still have that confidence today.  The country needs a

credible resolution of these issues.  If confirmed, I will not permit

partisan politics, personal interest or any other improper considerations

interfere with this or any other investigation. 

 

I will follow the special counsel regulations scrupulously and in good

faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work. 

 

Leading off our discussion now, Michael Isikoff, chief investigative

correspondent for Yahoo News, and the co-author of “Russian Roulette”. 

 

Ned Price is with us.  He`s a former CIA analyst and a former senior

director and spokesperson for the National Security Council in the Obama

administration.  He`s an MSNBC national security contributor. 

 

And Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert who served on the staff of the National

Security Council and also in the State Department during the Clinton

administration. 

 

Michael Isikoff, I want to start with you.  Having written the book

“Russian Roulette”, you have been trying to get to these questions

literally for years now.  You have come closer than most of us to answers

here. 

 

I want your reaction to this reporting about the FBI`s investigation of the

president beginning sooner than we thought and, in effect, sliding into and

becoming part of the Mueller investigation. 

 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CO-AUTHOR, “RUSSIAN ROULETTE”:  You know, my reaction is

it is time for Congress to step up to the plate and fulfill its

constitutional responsibility and try to get answers. 

 

Look, we can spend weeks and months waiting for Bob Mueller to complete his

investigation.  I do think it is closer than you indicated in your opening,

but I grant it, we don`t know for sure.  What I am less sure about is that

when Mueller does complete his investigation we are going to instantly know

the results in any meaningful form. 

 

We don`t know what kind of report he is writing.  It could be an expansive

one.  It could be a very limited one saying, I`ve charged these people, I

haven`t charged these other prospective defendants. 

 

We don`t know how much will be publicly released.  There could be a battle

over executive privilege.  There could be a battle – you know, there`s

nothing in the regulations that requires public dissemination of this

report.  So, the only people who can get answers to all of the questions

raised in that “New York Times” story and all of the other story we have

been talking about for two years now is the Congress of the United States

with public hearings, with key fact witnesses, and stop waiting for, you

know, some Mueller report that may or may not come any time soon.

 

We have an opportunity, February 7th, the first opportunity, Elliott

Cummings is going to be questioning before the House Oversight Committee,

Michael Cohen.  All questions should be on the table, regardless of whether

they get directly into his Mueller testimony.  In fact, they should focus

on his Mueller testimony, the Trump tower meeting, the Ukrainian press

plan, peace plan, everything else we have been talking about. 

 

It`s the only way for us to finally get answers to all these questions and

it is really up to Congress now to step up and do its job. 

 

O`DONNELL:  And, Ned, what Michael`s describing is the way it worked during

Watergate, the special prosecutor was working, the congressional

investigative committees were working in the Senate, in the House, even the

impeachment hearings were going on in the House Judiciary Committee while

the special prosecutor was still working. 

 

NED PRICE, FORMER CIA ANALYST:  That`s absolutely right.  Unfortunately, in

this case, Lawrence, we have a very different model.  We have endured a

very different model, largely because of the individual you referenced at

the top of your intro, and that`s Devin Nunes. 

 

Devin Nunes ensured at the start, at the start of this administration

Congress, especially the House, would not be able to undertake a credible

investigation because he turned it precisely into partisan warfare.  Devin

Nunes started as a member of the Trump transition team and he never really

relinquished that role during his time as chairman of thee Intelligence

Committee. 

 

So, unfortunately, we haven`t been able to benefit from that model in this

presidency.  Yes, we have the Senate Intelligence Committee.  There`s been

a of greater degree of comity between the chair and ranking member of the

committee, but one committee alone that itself is not a special committee

around this one issue, it has a whole host of other oversight issues

pertaining to the broader panoply of intelligence activities and

institutions, cannot get to the bottom of this alone. 

 

So, for that reason, we had to put a lot of stock in Bob Mueller.  I agree

with Michael.  We don`t know precisely what he will present us with, but I

have no doubt that he will present Congress with at the very least an

opening to continue the important work that is now moving forward in

earnest, that we have a Democratic House and a House importantly with the

power of thee gavel and the power of the subpoena. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Later in this hour, we`re going to hear from Eliot Engel, the

new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  And he has announced

he wants to use his subpoena power and his investigative power in that

committee to find out exactly what Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have

been talking about.  And he is trying to find different ways to find that

out. 

 

But, Andrew Weiss, that strikes me as an investigative mode that although

it seems like relatively normal oversight for that Foreign Affairs

Committee do, it also feeds the investigative process of what`s going on

here.  And you have pointed out there`s a tremendous overlap of questions

here in what Robert Mueller is investigating and what has emerged in this

“Washington Post” reporting about the president trying to hide what he says

to Vladimir Putin, what Vladimir Putin says to him. 

 

ANDREW WEISS, VICE PRESIDENT OF STUDIES, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT:  Yes.  Right

now I think it is important for everyone to sort of focus on a key week of

events, and that was during the period for Donald Trump`s face-to-face

meeting with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany, in summer of 2017. 

 

And what`s remarkable about the chronology that is worth focusing on here

is how this very first in-person encounter between the two leaders

coincided with the scramble inside the White House and inside Trump`s own

family to respond to a breaking report in “The New York Times” that sort of

was the first confirmed report of a high level meeting between members of

the Trump campaign, and a Russian emissary.  And what was remarkable is

that after the first official bilateral meeting in the G-20, Donald Trump

went out of his way to seek out Vladimir Putin for an impromptu private

session on the margins of a dinner event at the G20 Summit. 

 

And we don`t know what they talked about, but when Trump basically helped

draft the statement for Don Jr., he emphasized that all the Russian lawyer

had come to talk to people about what this horrible humanitarian situation

where the Russian government had cut off American families` ability to

adopt Russian orphans.  We now know, of course, that was just a smoke

screen for what was going on, which was a Russian emissary saying, hey, I`m

here to give dirt on your political opponents. 

 

And so, Trump seems to have created this, you know, narrative of, oh, you

know, I`m really worried about Russian orphans.  And then he was promptly

embarrassed when that didn`t hold up.  But where`s I think we all are, you

know, struck by based on Greg Miller`s report over the weekend in “The

Washington Post” is this bizarre behavior, basically telling the

translator, don`t share any information about what you just witnessed,

preventing the rest of the U.S. government from even knowing that the

second meeting with Vladimir Putin had even happened. 

 

It was only about ten days later that the White House basically came out

and said, oh, yes, by the way we did this other meeting and we are just

informing you now as if it wasn`t meaningful.  And then the final point, I

will conclude on this, was about ten days later with “The New York Times”,

Trump repeated this canard about abortion – I`m sorry, about adoption,

pretending that that was the central aspect of why this Russian emissary

was received at Trump Tower by Don Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. 

It doesn`t add up. 

 

O`DONNELL:  And, Michael, as Andrew just lined up there in the timeline, it

is possible in what Andrew was describing that in his secret discussion

with Vladimir Putin where only the Russian translator was present at that

dinner, that Donald Trump could have been getting his story straight with

Vladimir Putin about what to tell “The New York Times” about the Trump

Tower meeting before then getting the story straight with Donald Trump Jr.

about what to tell “The New York Times.”

 

ISIKOFF:  Interesting speculation for which we have no evidence.  I mean, I

think the timeline that Andrew outlined is intriguing and I would add one

more data point, something I reported almost two years ago now or at the

time, which was that Trump`s lawyers knew about the content of those – of

the e-mails that led to the Trump Tower meeting in late June of 2017.  So,

it was two or three weeks before the meeting with Putin and when the White

House acknowledged that Trump was aware of it.  So, it seemed improbable

that Trump`s lawyers wouldn`t have these e-mails laying out exactly what

the Trump Tower meeting was about or what it was supposed to be w about and

not have informed their client. 

 

But all that said, I mean, look, you`re going to have Eliot Engel up later. 

I come back to my point before, he`s chairman of the House Foreign Affairs

Committee, and he could subpoena the translators, Secretary Tillerson,

then-secretary, was there for parts of the meeting with Putin.  He can be

called to testify. 

 

There are ways to get at this without having to wait for Robert Mueller,

who may or may not be able to answer the question. 

 

Just getting back to the point Ned made, Devin Nunes is no longer the

chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff is.  One of the

more disheartening things I saw last week was a tweet from Adam Schiff

saying he wants to call Michael Cohen is closed session before the House

Intelligence Committee.  Really?  At this point in the game?  Closed

session, behind closed doors? 

 

I mean, that just strikes me as completely off.  Getting back to my main

point, the American public and Congress deserve answers to these questions,

and let`s stop waiting for Bob Mueller who may or may not be able to answer

them. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Michael Isikoff, Ned Price, Andrew Weiss, thank you for

starting us off tonight.  I really appreciate it.

 

And when we come back, “The Washington Post” reports that President Trump

has gone to great lengths to hide what he and Vladimir Putin talk about in

their private conversations, but Eliot Engel is now the new chairman of the

House Foreign Affairs Committee and he may have subpoena power that can

find something out about all of that.  He will join us next. 

 

And the Trump shutdown continues with one of the Trump administration`s top

officials saying it is like a vacation for federal workers.  It`s a federal

vacation.  It`s a vacation where you don`t get paid.  And it`s a federal

vacation where a lot of them, like TSA agents and air traffic controllers,

have to actually work. 

 

And House representatives is now warning the president to stop trying to

interfere with their hearing next month in which Michael Cohen will testify

about crimes he says he committed with Donald Trump. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL:  “Washington Post” broke a big story this weekend about Donald

Trump`s communication with Vladimir Putin, saying that the president tries

not to let anyone in his administration know what he actually says to Putin

and what Putin says to him in private meetings. 

 

“The Washington Post” described the sources of the article this way,

current and former U.S. officials.  Donald Trump has fired a bunch of

people who are in a position to tell this story to “The Washington Post”,

including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former national security

adviser H.R. McMaster, and possibly the best position of all, former White

House chief of staff John Kelly, who is not mentioned in the article in any

way, which makes John Kelly one of the most likely sources of the article. 

 

For a report like this, you would expect “The Washington Post” to ask the

former White House chief of staff for a comment and then report that the

former White House chief of staff declined to comment, but there is no

reference to John Kelly at all in the article.  That is normally the way

articles like this protect their sources. 

 

Rex Tillerson answered some of “The Washington Post`s” questions by e-mail,

but when he was asked if the president seized the notes taken by the White

House interpreter and ordered the interpreter not to tell anyone what was

said in the meeting that Rex Tillerson was in, Rex Tillerson refused to

answer those questions.  Rex Tillerson was in the meeting where “The

Washington Post” said that that happened.  Rex Tillerson could have easily

told “The Washington Post”, I did not see the president take the

interpreter`s notes. 

 

But Rex Tillerson didn`t say that.  Didn`t help the president in any way. 

He refused to answer that question. 

 

“The Washington Post” reports on one of the encounters that the president

had with Putin that no other U.S. officials witnessed, including a one-on-

one encounter that the president had with Vladimir Putin for an hour at a

G20 banquet and the president did not allow an American interpreter to join

that discussion, which was a discussion between Donald Trump and Vladimir

Putin with Vladimir Putin`s translator.  What will we ever know about what

Donald Trump said to Vladimir Putin and what Vladimir Putin said to Donald

Trump? 

 

It could be that the American interpreters who have been present in those

discussions are the only people who can tell us, and right now the only

people who might be able to get answers from those interpreters are Robert

Mueller and our next guest, the new chairman of the House Foreign Relations

Committee. 

 

Joining us now is Congressman Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York City

and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. 

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  I really

appreciate it. 

 

And given this reporting in “The Washington Post”, you have announced one

of the first investigations or the first investigation you intend to do in

your committee is to find out what Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have

been saying to each other.  How will you try to do that? 

 

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS: 

Well, let me first say that since the time in 2016 when the Russians

interfered in our elections and tried very hard to get to Donald Trump

elected president, I was really offended like so many other Americans.  And

from that time on after Trump was president, there seems to be some kind of

a symbiotic relationship between Putin and Trump, where Trump is dissing

our traditional allies, the countries in NATO, which have served us well

since the end of World War II, and somehow with Putin, there`s a special

kind of relationship. 

 

You just can`t put your finger on it, but you sort of know it is there.  Of

course, with the revelation that the president instructed the interpreter

to not leave any notes around or took the notes or whatever it was, it is

clear that something is going on with Putin that the president doesn`t seem

to want anybody to know about.  So we`re going look at that. 

 

You know, the House is organizing now. We don`t have our full committee,

people on the committee.  That should happen after a few appointments to

the committee, after a few days, and we`re going to get cracking on this.

 

We`re going to be speaking with Chairman Schiff and our committees are

talking and we`re going to figure out the best way that the American people

can find out what really went on.  I think the American people have a right

to know what their president is talking about.  It has been many months

since Helsinki and we still don`t have a clue.  That is not acceptable.

 

O`DONNELL:  “The Washington Post” says that the sources for its reporting

include former administration officials, people who are in a position to

have information that could help your inquiry, include former White House

Chief of Staff John Kelly, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.  Are those the kind of witnesses

you would like to hear from?

 

Well, we haven`t – again, we haven`t gotten that far yet but yes.  I think

witnesses who would be in the know, who would understand what happened or

didn`t happen, who would understand why this is different than what we`re

used to with American presidents.  So we would seek, I would imagine, down

the line to speak to anyone who might have knowledge of what is really

going on with Putin and Trump.

 

O`DONNELL:  And I want to ask you about a late-breaking piece of news that

the Republicans, your Republican colleagues in the House, the action

they`ve taken tonight.  They have removed Steve King from his committee

assignments in the House of Representatives, in effect rebuked him that

way, removed him from the Agriculture Committee and the Judiciary

Committee.  I want to get your reaction to the Republicans finally taking

some action against Steve King for some of the racist comments that he has

made.

 

ENGEL:  Well, you know, the old adage better late than never.  I think this

was a good thing to do.  I mean it is sad but it was the right thing to do. 

I think it was important that the Republicans did it as well.

 

So we can`t tolerate that kind of bigotry or that kind of talk.  That`s not

tolerable.  I don`t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican, it is not

tolerable.  And so I think that they did the right thing.  And hopefully,

people will learn from this that this is not the kind of way that certainly

anyone should act, but certainly not an elected official.

 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Eliot Engel, now Chairman Eliot Engel, thank you

very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

 

ENGEL:  Thank you, Lawrence.  My pleasure.

 

O`DONNELL:  Coming up, the Trump shutdown continues and one of the Trump

administration`s top officials is now saying it is just like a vacation for

federal workers.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL:  This is the Trump administration`s new face of cruelty.  He is

the one who said on the “PBS NewsHour” that 800,000 federal workers who are

not being paid are better off.  He actually used the phrase “better off”

because he said they`re now on vacation.

 

His name is Kevin Hassett.  And he seems to think that smiling is the best

way to get you to believe him because you will never see him speak publicly

without smiling.

 

He is Donald Trump`s chairman of the council of economic advisers.  He is

one of the least distinguished economists ever to hold that position.  And

judging by his public comments, he is by far the cruelest person ever to

hold that position.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS:  They have the

vacation but they don`t have to use their vacation days, and then they come

back and then they get their back pay.  Then in some sense, they`re better

off.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Are they all so oblivious?  Are they all cruel?  Is that a job

requirement for working for Donald Trump?

 

It is not like a vacation because when you are on vacation from your job,

you still get paid for your job so you can make your car payments and your

mortgage payments and your rent payments.  And it is not like a vacation

for air traffic controllers and TSA agents and many others, coast guard

officers, who are still going to work every day and not being paid for

their life-saving work.  They`re not better off.  No one is better off in

this shutdown.

 

Joining our discussion now, Jennifer Palmieri, a former White House

Communication Director for President Obama and a former Communications

Director for Hillary Clinton`s presidential campaign.  Adam Jentleson is

also with us.  He`s a former deputy chief of staff to Senator Harry Reid

and the director of Public Affairs for Democracy Forward.

 

And Jennifer, it is just astonishing to me.  I mean I`ve watched Kevin

Hassett just make the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard an

economist make from the White House about the exploding national debt under

President Trump which President Trump promised to reduce, the exploding

deficit under President Trump with the tax cuts, a deficit President trump

promised to reduce.

 

Kevin Hassett has said a lot of horribly embarrassing things just at a

professional level as an economist, but this, this about vacation takes him

to a whole new level.

 

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  And what it

portrays is that they think this is all a game, right.  The shutdown to

them is all a game of brinksmanship and they get caught up in it and it is

about getting a big win for themselves and for President Trump`s

supporters.

 

You know, what`s – I think he is pretty far removed from the concerns that

everyday families and federal employees have who aren`t making mortgage

payments this week, who aren`t able to make their car payments.

 

And, you know, if you fly a lot like I do, TSA employees who are showing up

and being – doing a great job and being really courteous in the face of

long lines and uncertainty if they will ever get paid.  And it just shows -

- I think it really portrays how they treat all of this as if it is a game.

 

O`DONNELL:  Adam, I flew last night and my plane took off on time, it

landed early, thanks to air traffic controllers who have to worry about how

they`re going to make their mortgage payments, who have to worry about how

they`re going to make their car payments, tuition payments possibly for

kids they may have in school.

 

These same air traffic controllers are the people I`m counting on to get my

plane back on the ground safely.  They`re doing a remarkable job.  There`s

nothing like a vacation here for them.

 

ADAM JENTLESON, FORMER SENIOR AIDE TO SENATOR HARRY REID:  No, that`s

right.  And you know, one of the things we see happening here I think is

the Republican myth of government is running smack hard into the reality of

what government really is.

 

And you know, government is a force for good in people`s lives across the

board.  And from, you know, TSA workers you guys were talking about to

people who process tax returns, you know, these are not jobs that are often

heralded but they`re incredibly important to our daily lifts, to our

safety, to our prosperity.

 

And one of the things the Trump administration is trying to do here is to

keep some of the sort of more high-profile and essential parts of the

government open.  Some of them are funded by an appropriations bill, but

other parts the government are just keeping open illegally.  They`re trying

to keep the national parks open because they don`t want to deal with the

public relations disaster that comes from closing the national parks.

 

The organization I work for, we actually think that is illegal and we asked

for an IG investigation into that.  But that`s what`s the Trump

administration is trying to do is avoid the sort of nasty parts of shutting

the government down to try to convey this myth that government doesn`t

really matter when in reality it is extremely important.

 

O`DONNELL:  And Jennifer, Kevin Hassett makes a living in his job in the

White House by basically saying – better off is like his motto for

everything, that the farmers who are suffering under the Trump tariffs that

are preventing them from reaching export markets they normally reach are

better off.  He will make that kind of argument all the time.

 

And he will do this with anything, that the Trump administration, any

horribly perverse economic policy that the Trump administration has gotten

itself into.  But for him to sit there and actually talk about these

federal workers this way is just a new height for me.

 

I have known some of the Republican chairs of economic advisors for

presidents, honorable economists with whom you can have reasonable

disagreements about policy outcomes.  I have never heard anything like this

from them before the Trump administration.

 

PALMIERI:  Right.  Other comments I don`t necessarily agree with that

Republican heads of the council of economic advisors, Republican

administrations, they have a different theory about how the economy can

work best than I do.

 

But then you have someone like Kevin Hassett who comes in, who is merely

there to spin whatever he needs to in order to make whatever the situation

is be positive for Trump.  And that this is – but this is really - I think

this is particularly telling about how little they care on the – about the

impact that this has on actual Americans who are going – you know, very

few people in America can go – are not living paycheck to paycheck

anymore.

 

And to not have any kind of certainty as to whether – when this thing will

end, and you certainly have no leadership from the White House about when

it will end, and facing the sense that they may never get – there`s no

certainty they will get the lost payback either.

 

O`DONNELL:  Adam Jentleson, having worked in the Senate as you have, I

don`t know if you see this the way I do now.  As far as I`m concerned it is

now the McConnell shutdown because I`ve never seen a Senate majority leader

who would stand for this conduct in the White House that Mitch McConnell is

accepting.

 

Any previous Senate majority leader under any previous president, even if

the president was in his own party, would have taken up these House bills

and gotten this government reopened over veto if necessary.

 

JENTLESON:  Yes, that`s right.  I mean to be completely clear about this,

Mitch McConnell could end this shutdown tomorrow.  He could bring a variety

of different funding bills to the floor to let them pass, but one of the

bills he could bring to the floor is the bill that passed his own Senate

just a few weeks ago unanimously.

 

So he could bring that to the floor tomorrow, it would pass the House

immediately.  He would have to face the prospect that it could get vetoed

by President Trump but since this bill passed in December by a hundred to

zero, he can overwrite that veto and end the shutdown.

 

O`DONNELL:  We`re going to squeeze in a break here.  When we come back, so

far the worst day of congressional testimony about Donald Trump was James

Comey describing President Trump trying to get him to drop his

investigation of Michael Flynn.

 

But there is a much worse day of congressional testimony coming up for

Donald Trump and that is when Michael Cohen testifies to the House next

month about crimes that he says he committed with and at the direction of

Donald Trump.  And that`s why Donald Trump is attacking Michael Cohen again

and House Committee chairmen are warning the president not to interfere

with their investigation.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL:  We are now three weeks away from Michael Cohen`s public

testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. 

Yesterday, Democrats in that committee issued a warning to President Trump

saying he cannot discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness

not to provide testimony to Congress.  And they did that following what the

president said about Michael Cohen on “Fox News” on Saturday.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  In order to get his sentence reduced, he says I have an idea.  I`ll

tell – I`ll give you some information on the president.  Well, there is no

information.  But he should give information maybe on his father-in-law

because that`s the one that people want to look at because where is that

money?  That`s the money in the family.

 

And I guess he didn`t want to talk about his father-in-law.  He is trying

to get his sentence reduced.  So it is pretty sad.  You know, it is weak

and it`s very sad to watch a thing like that.  I couldn`t care less.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Couldn`t care less.  Did it sound like he couldn`t care less? 

The “Fox News” host then asked the president the most gentle possible

follow-up question, what is the name of Michael Cohen`s father-in-law?

 

The president`s answer was, “I don`t know.”  But he does know just how

harmful Michael Cohen`s testimony is going to be for him.  And as these

three weeks tick down to Michael Cohen`s big testimony day in the House of

Representatives, you can expect Donald Trump`s Michael Cohen panic to only

increase.

 

We`ll be back after this break with more on Michael Cohen`s testimony

coming up next month in the House Oversight Committee.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL:  Thanks to Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen is going to testify to

Congress next month and describe crimes he says he committed with Donald

Trump to cover up Donald Trump`s relationship with Stormy Daniels.  And we

would know none of this if Stormy Daniels hadn`t gone public and then

provoked a federal investigation that now refers to the president as

Individual-1.

 

And we`re back with Jennifer Palmieri and Adam Jentleson.  Jennifer, the

Michael Cohen testimony next month in the House of Representatives, with

Stormy Daniels attending – by the way, she`s announced she`s going to be

attending – will surely be the, so far, the worst day of public testimony

in Congress about Donald Trump.

 

PALMIERI:  Yes.  It has the potential of being worse than Jim Comey.  And

the – we are seeing the impact of having a Democratic House.

 

Donald Trump`s days of having unchecked power are over.  And when you have

someone who`s going to come to testify about the crimes that he committed

with you, and you try to intimidate him publicly, chairman of congressional

committees are going to call you out and say that you may be committing

obstruction of justice.

 

I think the fact that Steve King lost his committee assignments today, I

think that is an impact of the – an effect of the Democratic House because

if the Republicans hadn`t taken action, the Democrats in the House would

have censured Steve King.

 

So for the first time, you see the Republicans actually taking some action. 

It shows the impact of when one body of Congress, at least, is willing to

really stand up and do its job and Trump is going to be held accountable in

ways he hasn`t done before.  Be quite a scene next month when Cohen

testifies.

 

O`DONNELL:  Adam Jentleson, what do you expect in the Cohen testimony, and

included in that, the Trump panic in the next three weeks leading up to it?

 

JENTLESON:  Yes.  I mean, look, Trump ran his business and is running his

White House as a casual criminal enterprise.  He wasn`t big on due

diligence and Michael Cohen has all the secrets.

 

So I think, you know, a lot of the road – I think Michael Cohen has the

ability to put pieces together and connect some of the dots from a lot of

the individual pieces of information that have come out over the last

couple years on Trump`s various criminal activities.  And in particular, I

think some interesting things about Russia will be put in context.

 

O`DONNELL:  Adam Jentleson, Jennifer Palmieri, thank you for joining us.

 

Tonight`s last word is next.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL:  Time for tonight`s LAST WORD.

 

Thirty thousand teachers in the country`s second largest school district

went on strike today in Los Angeles.  Their struggle with the school board

is not just about salary but about important issues like class size that

they believe impact the quality of education.  Here are two of those

teachers.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

MICHAEL, ART TEACHER:  I`m out here fighting for students, fighting for

smaller class sizes, fighting for nurses, fighting for our librarians,

fighting for counselors, school psychologists.  Just fighting because the

kids deserve it.  There shouldn`t be a nurse on school one or two days of

the week.

 

ANDREW KIM, SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER:  We entered this profession because

we care about young kids. Young lives.  We care about them.  We want them

to succeed in their future.  We`re out here fighting for them.  Their

future.  My sons and my daughter.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Los Angeles public school teachers get tonight`s LAST WORD. 

“THE 11TH HOUR” with Brian Williams starts now.

 

 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY

BE UPDATED.

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