Trump purges Homeland Security leadership. TRANSCRIPT: 4/8/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And I believe it`s the next day that William Barr testifies to the Senate
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Yes.
O`DONNELL: And there`s a big overlap on Senate Appropriations with Senate
Judiciary. I`m just looking at the list, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein.
There`s more than a few who will have real knowledge about how to question
the attorney general about the inner workings of the department on
something like you know what do you do when you get a special prosecutor`s
MADDOW: Right, exactly. And he was very, very, very slippery on the
subject when he was at his confirmation hearing, kept talking about
everything as a hypothetical. Now, they`re asking about a specific matter
that is no longer the hypothetical. Hopefully skilled questioners from
either party, from either House of Congress over these next two days of
hearings with them will be able to get some explanation.
His behavior has been very freelance. He`s been sort of making it up as he
goes along for these last two and a half weeks. Hopefully, they`ll get
them to explain what he`s been doing.
O`DONNELL: Yes, America awaits the Mueller report and the attorney general
testifies twice this week. This is going to be interesting.
MADDOW: That`s right. Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the law that
makes it absolutely mandatory for the IRS to hand over anyone`s tax returns
to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee or the chairman of
the Senate Finance Committee, the tax-writing committees.
I`ve been reading you that law for the last couple of nights ever since
Chairman Richie Neal of the House Ways and Means Committee delivered his
demand to the IRS for those tax returns. But I learned something tonight.
I learned something tonight about that law and I learned it from a former
treasury secretary who is in a position to know these things.
And that is former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. He`s the Harvard
economics professor who was Bill Clinton`s secretary. He served in the
Obama administration also.
And he has identified an element of precedent in the treasury that makes
this a much more interesting situation than even I thought. And he has
words of advice including legal advice for the current treasury secretary
about how to handle himself in this situation, because it is much trickier
than I realized until Larry Summers wrote about it and Larry Summers will
be joining us tonight.
And also, at the end of the hour, at the end of the hour tonight, what did
Barack Obama do when he was being audited by the IRS? What did he do with
his tax returns? Because Barack Obama was repeatedly audited by the IRS.
And you never heard him talk about it, but he was. And I`ll tell you, at
the end of this hour exactly the way Barack Obama handled his tax returns
when he was being audited.
And, of course, we all remember that the big Trump reason for never
releasing his tax returns is that he was being audited. We never knew if
that was true during the campaign. But we do nope exactly what`s happening
to Donald Trump`s tax returns right now.
But the lesson of how Barack Obama handled his tax returns when they were
being audited is what we`re going to say for the end of this hour. It`s an
important lesson to consider this week, deadline week for the Trump tax
returns. Measuring the chaos level in the Trump White House has never been
an exact science, but it seems that each successive White House chief of
staff has made matters worse, much worse.
John Kelly was brought in as White House chief of staff to control the
chaos that exploded under the first White House chief of staff Reince
Priebus and now, Mick Mulvaney`s tenure as the third White House chief of
staff is reaching new levels of chaos tonight. President Trump is now on
the attack against his own administration, especially anyone involved in
the job of controlling the southern border.
The president got rid of his Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen
last night. So far, the president is allowing her to publicly claim that
she resigned, but we will surely be seeing the “I fired her” tweets
probably by the end of this week because President Trump never lets any of
his failed cabinet members leave without some kind of nasty kick as they`re
on their bay out the door.
Kirstjen Nielsen`s last day is supposed to be Wednesday of this week.
We`ll see if she lasts that long.
Today, the president fired the Secret Service director. And while he was
at it, he fired the Immigration and Customs Enforcement director. The
surprise firing of Kirstjen Nielsen last night came after the president
told Fox News on Friday when he visited the border in California, quote,
the country is full.
“The New York Times” is reporting that the president repeatedly, quote,
“called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to depend that she take
action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things
that were clearly illegal such as blocking all migrants from seeking
According to NBC News, President Donald Trump has for months urged his
administration to reinstate large scale separation of migrant families
crossing the border, according to three U.S. officials with knowledge of
meetings an the White House. NBC News also reports Nielsen told Trump that
federal court orders prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from
reinstating the policy and that he would be reversing his own executive
order from June that ended family separation. Senior administration
officials say that President Trump ordered Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso on March 22nd at
The plan was that in subsequent days, the Trump administration would then
shut down other ports, Kirstjen Nielsen then told the president that that
would be a bad and even dangerous ideas and proposes an alternative plan
that would slow down entries at legal ports. According to two people in
the room, the president said, I don`t care.
The Trump chaos comes while Congress and the country await Attorney General
William Barr`s redacted version of the Mueller report this week. Attorney
General Barr will be forced to testify to the House Appropriations
Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
Those hearings are supposed to be about the Justice Department`s budget but
you can expect questioning about the Mueller report.
Joining us now, Joyce Vance, former federal prosecutor and professor at the
University of Alabama School of Law, Maria Teresa Kumar, the president and
CEO of Voto Latino, and Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for
“The New York Times”. They`re all MSNBC contributors and all necessary to
the moving parts of this discussion.
Peter Baker, let me start with you. You`re part of the reporting team
that`s delivering us what we think is happening inside this White House.
But this is – we`ve said this before but with each successive White House
chief of staff, this feels like a new layer level of chaos with these
PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What you`re
seeing is a president frustrated after two years in office he hasn`t been
able to have the impact on the border he thought he would be able to have.
He hasn`t gotten the wall built, although he went down last week to claim
that it`s now under construction. He hasn`t gotten the numbers, you know,
down to zero obviously in fact they`ve been coming up the last couple
months. And he blamed Kirstjen Nielsen for this.
That`s not the only one who is going to leave as a result. Our reporting
shows a number of top people at the Department of Homeland Security will
leave in the coming days probably because he`s trying to clean house and
find a new team of people. That tells you something that two years in, and
he hasn`t found a team he thinks can carry out the wishes he has for this.
And sometimes for those reasons, you decide it officials like Secretary
Nielsen felt that the things he was asking them to do were not perfectly
legal, not appropriate, not effective even. But rather than accept that,
he`s going to find a new team until he finds one that he thinks is going to
be more effective at stopping people from coming over the boarder.
O`DONNELL: Peter, what do we know about the firing of the head of the
BAKER: Yes, that one is not directly related to immigration but it`s part
of the overall dissatisfaction with the department. It`s really a sign
that a lot of these departures are connected it seems like to John Kelly.
Kelly, of course, had been the first secretary of homeland security before
being White House chief of staff and Tex Alles has been his choice, a
former marine general, his choice for Secret Service director.
Now, the administration will say he didn`t fit in. He was the first Secret
Service director who hadn`t been from the agency more than a century and
therefore, didn`t really suit the job. You hear from his allies in Secret
Service. No, he was well liked in there.
But in any case, clearly he was associated with General Kelly. That was a
black mark against him with the president.
O`DONNELL: Maria Teresa Kumar, the shake-up of homeland security goes to
one your areas of expertise. The current immigration situation and all the
reporting seems to indicate that the hand of Steven Miller is in all of
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, PRESIDENT AND CEO, VOTO LATINO: Well, I think it`s
become very clear the one running the show inside the White House is Steven
Miller. He`s the last person standing. He is the one that puts out policy
and all of a sudden the people charged to deploy that policy doesn`t quite
figure out how to do it so he backs up and points the finger back at them
and he`s become Teflon.
It would be curious if we could do more digging and more profiles in what -
- you know, the influence he has with the president because it`s clear that
he is the person pulling the strings, that he has become the puppet master,
and the more we can better understand his intentions, I think that the more
that people could actually do not only better reporting but have better
negotiations with the president himself. But this idea that the reason
that they`re reshuffling Homeland Security at a time the president claims
we are under attack that our border is incredibly weak really should give
us all pause.
I`m just going to take a moment and redo all the folks that are missing
right now at homeland security, not only do we not have a cabinet member
with Secretary Nielsen resigning, but we don`t have, you know, the Secret
Service, we don`t have head of FEMA, we don`t have head of ICE, we don`t
have inspector general, we don`t have someone leading public policy on
behalf of the department, and now, we don`t have a custom control
So, basically, as the president claims that there is a huge national
security issue, all those people that could advise him and actually direct
policy and prevent anything from happening are missing.
O`DONNELL: I want to read a report from the “Washington Post” indicating
one way that Kirstjen Nielsen apparently saved her job according to this
reporting earlier in her tenure. It says she appeared to regain her
footing after U.S. border patrol agents used tear gas to repel a large
crowd attempting to break through a border fence, the kind of tough action
Trump said he wanted in a DHS secretary.
And so, Maria Teresa, yet another possible reason we saw that tear gassing.
KUMAR: Unfortunately, I think Secretary Nielsen right now is trying to
basically wipe herself off and say I couldn`t do anymore for this
president. But the fact that she under her supervision (INAUDIBLE)
thousands of children being separated from their families, we are now
learning from the Trump administration and from judges that many of these
children that are still lost in the system may not be reunited with their
families for the next two years, demonstrates a lot of these decisions lie
squarely on her. And that is I think one of the things we have to insure
that there actually are at the end of the day certain types of
repercussions when people decide to basically stand by a president doing
things morally wrong and in many cases it seems like that are legally
O`DONNELL: And, Joyce, no legal ambiguity in some of the background
reporting about what was going on in the Oval Office. We just read
reporting that the president when he would hear things like the family
separation trying to do that again violates your own executive order and
also violates a court order you can`t do that, the president says I don`t
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: That`s his reaction to everything here.
We see that playing out in this massacre at DHS. These are people who
didn`t hesitate to carry out the president`s agenda. They separated kids
from their parents. They made it virtually impossible for people lawfully
trying to seek asylum to do that.
They did everything he wanted them to do. Apparently, the only line was
when he tried to push them over into outright illegality. And the only
thing we conclude from that is the president now seeks new leadership that
is willing to violate the law. Otherwise, why get rid of this team that
did so much for him to carry his water forward.
O`DONNELL: Peter, you`ve done so much reporting about the inside of the
Trump White House and about the various outbreaks of chaos that we get to
see publicly. The books that come out about inside the White House seem to
add to that with revelations of day to day chaos that never quite make it
into the news cycle.
What is your judgment about where we sit tonight in the chaos rhythms of
the Trump White House? Is this worse than it has been in the past?
BAKER: Yes, that`s a good question. You know, the one thing you`ll hear
if you talk to White House officials is this resentment that we say they
are in chaos. They say, well, this is not chaos. Everything is running
perfectly smoothly and Mick Mulvaney, the new acting at least chief of
staff, has tried to stabilize things and feels like things are going
And yet, this is a presidency that lives on what the outside world anyway
would consider to be a certain degree of chaos or a certain degree of
unpredictability at the very least. And I think that`s just the way they
roll and it`s not going to change. It`s not something – they`re not
looking for a different way.
In fact, I think they`ve come to understand that the president is the
president. He`s not going to change. He`s 72 years old. This is the way
he likes to operate.
It`s how he operated in business. It`s how he operated in entertainment.
He`s not going to suddenly become a different person.
And for their point of view, it`s fine. It works for him. It`s works in
the way he wants it to work. So we`re not going to try to stop him
That`s what you hear from people around him. They`re going to try to
manage it. They`re going to keep it from falling off the rails, bus in the
end, there`s going to be a certain degree of, you know, volatility in this
White House until the day it`s done.
O`DONNELL: And, Maria Teresa, the spinoff is that they have created chaos
in thousands of families that were separated at that border, some remain
separated. Estimates saying it might take two years to be able to put some
families back together, because the approach they brought to this never
included even a plan for putting families back together.
KUMAR: They had absolutely no plan when they did family separations that
they were going to track the children and the parents for reunification.
That just speaks to the amorality of this, the fact that they were
basically going doing deterrence at an all costs. It`s cruel but it`s also
a reminder for those who cross the border and seek asylum, that`s perfectly
legal. The fact the president is trying to circumvent the law and trying
to prevent people from even crossing over to Mexico and trying to put the
burden on Mexico, a judge today basically said that that`s illegal. And
that`s where we have to make sure we`re continuously doing due diligence.
Right now, the Tornillo facility that turned a lot of these unaccompanied
minors have shut down and they`ve basically doing a whack-a-mole, Lawrence.
They are now opened up homestead in Florida and housing over 3,200 children
as we speak. So, we have to make sure we are diligent. That we have the
same level of outrage as we had before to ensure not only that these
facilities are closes down and the families are reunited.
O`DONNELL: Joyce Vance, it`s another week in which Robert Mueller will be
in the headlines but in the person of Attorney General Barr testifying two
days in a row to a House committee and then a Senate committee about the
budget of the Justice Department. It`s that time of year when the heads of
departments have to do that.
But obviously, the attorney general is going to get some real questions
about the Mueller report. Will he be able to in these appropriations
hearings dodge those questions do you think or will he have to add
something to our public understanding of where we are?
VANCE: You know, you know this so much better than I do, but no attorney
general looks forward to going up to Capitol Hill to talk about the budget,
right? It`s never a good day.
This is so much worse. And really the smart thing for Barr to do would be
to release at least the summaries that we know the Mueller team prepared to
put those out there as a show of good faith to try to re-establish some of
the credibility that he has lost so much of ever since this report came
out. We`ve seen no indication at this late date that that`s going to come.
So, apparently, this attorney general will go up on Capitol Hill and spend
the next two days trying to duck the only quell that at least the Democrats
care about, what`s really in the Mueller report.
You know, the country`s entitled to know. And I think that there are some
folks who know what they`re doing, some former prosecutors, people who are
unafraid to speak truth to power and I think that the attorney general will
– there will at least be an effort to hold him accountable. How he`ll
respond is still up in the air.
O`DONNELL: Just the people we need to start us off tonight on those
subjects, Joyce Vance, Maria Teresa Kumar, and Peter Baker, thank you all
for starting us off. Really appreciate it.
And when we come back, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers actually has
taught me something tonight about the law that governs the mandatory
handover of tax returns to the chairs of the tax writing committees by the
IRS. Larry Summers will join us, next. You`re going to want to be taking
And at the end of this hour, we will consider how Barack Obama handled
himself and his tax returns when his tax returns were being audited.
O`DONNELL: The president`s lawyers have one other full day to try to
figure out how to defy a very clear and simple law that no one has ever
defied. It is the law that empowers the chairs of the House and Senate tax
writing committees to demand, not request, demand from the IRS any tax
return that they want to see. The law does not put any limitations on that
I`ve known about that law since I worked on the staff of the Senate Finance
Committee in the 1990s and I thought I knew everything about that law until
Harvard economics professor Lawrence Summers` new op-ed piece in the
“Washington Post” that has just put online tonight.
Professor Summers was the head of the National Economic Council for
President Obama and he served as treasury secretary under President
Clinton. And he has something very important to teach us about this law
and as I`ve mentioned before, the law was written in 1924 and it says that
when the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate
Finance Committee demands a tax return from the IRS, quote: The secretary
shall furnish such committee with any return or return information
specified in such request.
The law was written to apply to the treasury secretary since the Internal
Revenue Service is part of the Treasury Department.
But in his op-ed piece, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers says the
treasury secretary should have absolutely nothing to do with Chairman
Richie Neal`s demand for the Trump tax returns because the treasury
secretary years ago specifically delegated this responsibility directly to
the commissioner of the IRS.
Larry Summers writes: the appropriate response of the treasury secretary is
very clear. Under a long-standing delegation order, the secretary does not
get involved in taxpayer specific matters and has delegated to the IRS
commissioners as follows, quote, the commissioner of internal revenue shall
be responsible for the administration and enforcement of the internal
revenue laws, end quote.
Moreover, this is not a delegation that is readily revocable. Federal law
provides that if the secretary determines not to delegate a power such
determination may not take effect until 30 days after the secretary
notifies the tax writing and other specified committees. So, for the
secretary to seek to decide whether to pass on the president`s tax return
to Congress would surely be inappropriate and probably illegal. Probably
I would truly not have done it. Rather, I would have indicated to the IRS
commissioner I expected the IRS to comply with the law as always.
And joining us now for an exclusive interview, Lawrence Summers, the former
treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and former director of the
National Economic Council under President Obama. Currently, he serves as
economics professor at Harvard University.
Professor Summers, thank you very, very much for joining us tonight. You
have taught me something once again. I`m used to taking notes when you
But I did not know that the delegation from the treasury secretary to the
IRS commissioner on matters of tax issues like this was actually in writing
and that it`s a formal delegation and there`s a formal process for revoking
LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: That`s right. You know,
it`s the first one of the first things my general counsel told me when I
became treasury secretary was any individual tax matter affecting any
individual taxpayer, you are under no circumstances going to be anywhere
near. And that applies to a request of this kind and for good reason.
It`s the essence of the integrity of the tax system that politically
appointed officials not be involved in these matters and that`s why there
is a delegation to the head of the IRS and it wouldn`t have ever occurred
to me and wouldn`t have occurred to the treasury secretaries who I served
under or the treasury secretary I served with to become involved in an
individual taxpayer matter, much less an individual taxpayer matter
involving the president of the United States.
O`DONNELL: And so – and the part that I didn`t realize is that this is
actually written and in effect codified within the Treasury Department.
And so, what you`re telling us is, if Secretary Mnuchin does want to be the
one who decide what to do about the Trump tax returns, he has to file a
notice with the Senate Finance Committee and with the House Ways and Means
Committee right now, saying that 30 days from now, he will revoke – he
will resume or take back the power away from the IRS commissioner to deal
with these tax returns.
SUMMERS: That is the understanding that I have of the law confirmed by
legal officials who have served in the relevant tax positions in the past.
O`DONNELL: And –
SUMMERS: I do not think – I do not think it would be appropriate for a
secretary of the treasury to become involved in the resolution of a matter
of this kind.
O`DONNELL: And knowing the way the Treasury Department works, there`s a
council but there already also some people working as I understand it kind
of in the mid level of an office like that who have been there for years
through different administrations who really have institutional expertise
about this. Would you expect what you`re telling us now has already found
its way to Secretary Mnuchin, that he should have been made aware of what
you know about this even before your op-ed piece came out?
SUMMERS: I can`t know that for sure. I imagine different secretaries
operate differently. Certainly on matters of this kind, we would always
have been very careful to seek the guidance of and presumptively to follow
the guidance of career officials. And certainly, career officials are
familiar with the long history of the concept of independence of Main
Treasury from individual taxpayer matters.
O`DONNELL: And you make the point that while you were treasury secretary,
you never had to worry about or think about something like this. And you
explain in your piece why. Could you remind the audience why you as Bill
Clinton`s treasury secretary never had to think about it?
SUMMERS: Sure, President Clinton made all his tax returns publicly
available. All the presidents for the last 50 years have made all their
tax returns publicly available. So, this kind of issue would have been –
couldn`t possibly have arisen. It`s only arisen because this president has
chosen not to make his tax returns publicly available, which was his
But it is also the prerogative of the Congress as part of their oversight
function and one of their oversight functions is making sure that
presidential tax returns are adequately monitored and audited especially in
light of the fact that there were failures in that area during the Nixon
administration, for which reason they have requested access to the
president`s tax return.
By the way, this is – this is something that`s been considered
extensively. This isn`t something new. The relevant statute 6103 dates
from 1924, Congress during the time I was in the Treasury Department in the
`90s, passed the IRS restructuring act and as part of that IRS
Restructuring Act, they made clear that any employee of the IRS who failed
to comply with this law it was what was colloquially referred to as the ten
deadly sins, would be subject to being immediately fired.
So, this is not something that Congress has failed to consider carefully.
This is not something – these are not provisions that have never been used
before. For example, they were used in the investigations of bias against
what was felt to be biases conservative groups during the Obama
administration by the then-Republican Ways and Means Committee. So these
are long established provisions.
O`DONNELL: Lawrence Summers, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
Really appreciate it.
SUMMERS: Thank you.
And when we come back, so what will Steve Mnuchin do about Chairman Neal`s
demand for the tax returns? We will consider that next with two reporters
who`ve written an important new book that portrays Steve Mnuchin as the
class clown of tax policy in the Trump administration.
O`DONNELL: There`s a new book out tonight with more inside reporting from
inside the Trump administration and insights about how the Trump
administration operates, including – it might – some book that might be
able to help us with the question of will Donald Trump`s Treasury Secretary
Steve Mnuchin, what will he do on Wednesday when the deadline arrives for
the IRS to turn over Trump`s tax returns to Chairman Richard Neal of the
House Ways and Means Committee.
We don`t know what he`ll do but in a new book, Steve Mnuchin is portrayed
as the class clown of economic policy and tax policy in the Trump
administration. The book is called “The Hill to Die On by Jake Sherman and
It chronicles the first two years of Trump`s struggles with Congress and it
contains this report of how congressional leaders and everyone else
involved regarding Steve Mnuchin`s input when they were trying to pass the
Trump tax cuts.
“Most everyone discounted Mnuchin. Much like Trump, Mnuchin seemed to
latch onto the last concept he heard. For example, the Treasury secretary
wanted to craft rules that would in effect allow earnings up to $1 million
to be taxed at 20 percent. This could allow a lobbyist making $900,000 to
pay a lower effective tax rate than a teacher.
Some involved in the negotiation preferred that Mnuchin stay far away. One
day in November, Mnuchin was at an event in Los Angeles and a White House
aide joked that he was going to find more events thousands of miles away
from Washington for Mnuchin to attend.”
We don`t know how Steve Mnuchin will handle Chairman Neal`s demand for the
Trump tax returns by Wednesday but it seems very clear that the Trump
administration is not going to leave that decision up to Steve Mnuchin.
Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer will join us next with their insights on how
the Trump administration will rely to Chairman Neal`s demands for the Trump
tax returns and what their reporting tells them about the new levels of
chaos we`re seeing in the Trump White House tonight.
And we will review the book`s description of one of those rare moments when
President Trump surprised everyone in the room by studiously taking notes.
Well, they thought he was taking notes. Until they saw what was really on
that piece of paper. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: President Trump does not take notes in meetings. According to
all accounts, the president barely listens to what people are talking about
in meetings. And so there was real surprise one day at Camp David when the
president was busily taking notes.
Here was the scene as reported by Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer in their new
book, The Hill to Die On. Trump was nodding his head taking what appeared
to be furious notes on a note card in front of him. People in the room
were impressed that Trump who cared little about policy particulars, seemed
to be so engaged in Gary Cohn`s proposal. The notes had nothing to do with
infrastructure. Sloppy Steve, Trump had scrawled on the top of the card in
As Cohen had detailed his plans to rebuild America`s roads, the president
was writing down how he wanted to trash Steve Bannon the next time someone
asked him about it.
Joining our discussion now Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, co-authors of the
new book “The Hill to Die On, the Battle for Congress and the Future of
Trump`s America.” They are co-authors of the “Politico” playbook.
Thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate this in your
first MSNBC primetime interview about the book.
ANNA PALMER, CO-AUTHOR, THE HILL TO DIE ON: Thanks for having us.3
JAKE SHERMAN, CO-AUTHOR, THE HILL TO DIE ON: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: We`ll sell as many as we can. So many things about the furious
taking of notes and it turns out to be Sloppy Steve.
He does rehearse the nicknames. He doesn`t just rehearse them, he writes
them, he sits down and he thinks about them really hard.
SHERMAN: I think the president is something that came up time and time
again in this book and I think in multiple instances throughout the book is
the president really does have a vision for Hollywood flair, right?
I mean he – in another incident in the book talked about how a meeting he
got, he told Paul Ryan, “A meeting got good ratings.” Paul Ryan turned to
him and said, “What ratings are you talking about?” He goes, “Everything
has ratings. This is why I was so good at The Apprentice.”
So that`s the way he thinks about governing is through a lens of a
Hollywood and Hollywood flair which is something we haven`t really seen in,
especially, in the context of Donald Trump.
O`DONNELL: So Anna, I think the way we read these books is the books are
always about something that`s happened. You try to get them to press as
fast as possible. But you are always dealing with something that`s a
minimum of 90-days-old and sometimes a year or two old.
But we`re always reading them today, in today`s news environment. So we
are reading about this chaos in the Trump administration and basically
cleaning out the Homeland Security Department in 24 hours. And what did
you find in your reporting that gives you a way of looking at today`s chaos
PALMER: Yes. I mean I think what you see today happened in the last 18
months, it`s kinds of stunning, you forget there`s so much news happening,
a deluge of people being fired, people coming in as acting different
secretaries that you kind of look back from election day.
And you look at this kind of political novices who came into Washington,
Jared Kushner thinking that he was going to upend the entire wait
government operated and you see them still having a lot of the same
mistakes which is pretty surprising.
O`DONNELL: And you mentioned that there is a passage in the book that
includes Senator McCain. He`s talking to the president and Jared Kushner
weighs in and Jared Kushner says, “We`re going to change the way the entire
government works,” Kushner said without a hint of irony in the book.
McCain says “Good luck with that, son.”
It seems to me that good luck with that son is actually too subtle for the
Jared Kushner who is portrayed in this book because Kushner would think, o,
well, McCain is wishing me luck. I can get this done.
SHERMAN: Well, I think the entire Trump administration came to Washington
which is a town as you know well is not really into change, is not into
upending structures that have been around for a hundred years. And Jared
Kushner is somebody who fancies himself a dealmaker, who fancies himself
somebody who could tear apart the government and rebid it in his liking.
It does get to the point frankly what you were talking about before about
cleaning out the Department of Homeland Security. The president likes
that. The president likes people who are going to try to complete his
missions, try to do things in his image.
And I think Kushner was trying to do that there. He`s trying to, in front
of the president, say we`re going to remake this whole government. Donald
Trump got elected and that`s what we got an office to do.
O`DONNELL: There are so many things in here that stun me. During the
presidential campaign when I didn`t think Donald Trump was going to win, I
would sometimes think, if he ever was president, he would discover that
speaker of the House is way more powerful than he is on most things not
involving foreign policy. Turns out I was completely wrong.
Paul Ryan turned out to be the weakest speaker of the House I`ve ever seen
in my lifetime. I have never been able to be explain how Paul Ryan and
these Republicans who sounded like they meant half of what they were saying
at least which is kind of the normal political level of Washington, how
they gave up on all of that on any concern for the deficit, any concern for
the debt, when Trump came in and seemed to hypnotized them.
PALMER: I mean think what you really saw is pretty stunning when you look
at Paul Ryan for 20 years, deficit hawk. You look where he was on
immigration trying to cut deals with Republicans, really almost seeming
like a dove on that issue. And when the president came into office, he
really fell in line behind all of his –
PALMER: I think he would say now in the book when you talk about this is
that he felt like the bigger things that they were able to get done in
particular tax reform for him which was really his hill to die on and I
would say as a member of Congress was able to get done.
O`DONNELL: But Jake, they did what they call tax reform. This was not tax
reform. It was a cut.
Under Ronald Reagan, they actually did do both tax cuts and tax reform and
they didn`t sacrifice Republican principles along the way.
SHERMAN: Well, what happened in 1986 was very different from what happened
in 2017 or `18, whenever that happened. The Donald Trump Tax Reform,
Donald Trump, and Republicans were dishonest about this.
They said that Democrats, they tried to get Democrats involved and they
just couldn`t get them involved. That was not true. They designed this
process to go around Democrats.
And on the Paul Ryan point, I just want to add one thing. And we get into
a lot of Paul Ryan in this book. I think a lot of people close to him
would say that his takeaway was he trashed Donald Trump throughout the
entire 2016 campaign.
You remember, he didn`t endorse him. He was very fervently against Trump.
We have a chapter there called “Not a Trump Guy” about Paul Ryan.
But then Donald Trump won and Paul Ryan felt like he had two choices.
There was a fork in the road. He could either concede that he lost the
argument and stay in government and do what he could – what he thought was
keep the government on the rails.
That`s what he thought. He said he didn`t want to just never Trump and
take his toys home or he could leave. And he chose to stay in government.
O`DONNELL: But ended up driving the Republicans into a defeat in the House
of Representatives. We could go on and on about this. Thank you very much
for joining us tonight, Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer. The book is “The Hill
to Die On.”
When we come back, Donald Trump says he can`t release his tax returns.
He`s always said he can`t release them because they`re under audit.
So what did Barack Obama do when he was being audited by the IRS repeatedly
as he was? When we come back, we`ll tell you all about it.
O`DONNELL: It is the standing policy of the IRS to routinely audit tax
returns filed by the president of the United States. There`s no law that
requires the president`s tax returns to be audited, but that is something
that the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal is actually
considering, passing a law that would require the IRS to audit presidential
That is one of the reasons that Chairman Neal has demanded President
Trump`s tax returns from the IRS as the law allows him to do. The reason
this has never come up before, the chairman of the House Ways and Means
Committee demanding to see the president`s tax returns is because all past
presidents since Richard Nixon have publicly voluntarily released their tax
returns but not Donald Trump.
And so here we are facing a deadline, the day after tomorrow. The deadline
that Chairman Neal gave the commissioner of the IRS to turn over the Trump
We`ll show you how Barack Obama and other presidents and vice presidents
handled their tax returns after this final break. And we`ll remind you of
the story that some of you might remember of the time the vice president`s
tax returns showed very little charitable giving which created headlines in
some newspapers calling him the “Cheap veep”. Who was the cheap veep? The
answer is next.
O`DONNELL: When Barack Obama was president, he publicly released his tax
returns every year by April 15. As soon as President Obama filed his tax
returns, and he always filed them on time, he released them publicly.
And that wasn`t Barack Obama`s idea. Presidents and vice presidents had
been doing that for decades. President Bush and Dick Cheney publicly
released tax returns or partial tax returns every year they were in office.
Bill Clinton and Al Gore released their tax returns every year they were in
office. And since Bill Clinton filed jointly with Hillary Clinton, that
means Hillary Clinton was also releasing her tax returns every year she was
None of the presidential tax returns that were released particularly
controversial. The release of the presidential tax return and vice
presidential tax return was a routine news story every April, right around
And the only tax return release that I for one can remember being even
slightly controversial was one very peculiar year in which Vice President
Al Gore gave only about $350 to charity from an income of about $200,000.
Al Gore gave more to charity the year before and the year after.
This looked like the kind of slip-up that sometimes happens when people
delay their charitable giving until December and then miss the December 31
deadline to get their charitable giving included in that year`s tax return.
But that tiny amount of charitable giving for Vice President Al Gore got Al
Gore the headline, “Cheap Veep”. And that is the only thing that I can
remember from presidential and vice presidential publicly released tax
returns that was controversial.
Al Gore was probably horrified when he discovered he had only given $353 to
charity that year, but there was nothing he could do about it. It was out
of the question for him to decide not to release his tax returns because it
contained an embarrassing item like that.
The next year, Al Gore`s charitable donations were $15,197 which is as far
as we know much more than Donald Trump gave to charity that year or any
Here are the dates in which President Obama and Vice President Biden both
simultaneously publicly released their tax returns after filing them with
the IRS. Four times the president did it on the last day, April 15. The
earliest he did it was April 10. And most presidents use the filing of
their tax returns to make a public statement about tax policy.
In his last year as president when he released his taxes on April 15 to
prove to the country that he was doing his part in paying his taxes on
time, President Obama said “While we`ve made progress toward ensuring that
the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, there is more work to do.
We need to close special tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires
and invest in the middle-class.”
That was a typical statement from a democratic president on April 15 when
he was filing and releasing his tax returns. Donald Trump has no message
for the American taxpayer on April 15. Donald Trump makes no attempt to
show them that he is paying his fair share and paying it on time.
Donald Trump simply tells the lie that he cannot publicly release his tax
returns because they`re being audited. Well, that is finally true. The
tax returns that Donald Trump has filed while he is president have been
audited automatically because it is the IRS` policy to automatically audit
presidential tax returns unless President Trump has ordered them to stop
But that also means that all of Donald Trump`s predecessors since Richard
Nixon have been publicly releasing their tax returns while their tax
returns are being audited by the IRS. Every single time, President Obama
publicly released a tax return, that tax return on that very same day was
under audit by the IRS. And we know that because it`s IRS policy to audit
presidential tax returns.
And not one president has thought that`s a reason not to release tax
returns. Not one. President Bush, President Clinton, President Reagan,
President Carter, none of them said, “I can`t release my tax returns
because I`m being audited.” They all released their tax returns and they
were all being audited at the same time.
What message for taxpayers will President Trump have on April 15? I hope
you get away with as much in your tax returns as I get away within mine?
Chairman Richard Neal is going to get Donald Trump`s tax returns. The law
is very clear about that. It might take several months in court to enforce
that law, but that law will be enforced. But as we approach April 15,
Donald Trump continues to undermine tax law in America by defying the
presidential tradition of publicly releasing tax returns and in effect
encouraging taxpayers to try to get away with whatever they can on their
tax returns, the Trump method.
That is tonight`s LAST WORD. “THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS” starts
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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