Trump denies bombshell reports. TRANSCRIPT: 1/14/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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.
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
We`ll be back after this break with more on Michael Cohen`s testimony
coming up next month in the House Oversight Committee.
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
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
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.
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
(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
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
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the