Trump’s Russia ties TRANSCRIPT: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 12/9/2019

Guests:
Mike Quigley, David Cicilline, Mazie Hirono
Transcript:

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

 

And we`re going to get to the impeachment news.  We have David Cicilline

from the Judiciary Committee.  We`ll ask what he knows about articles of

impeachment that will be announced tomorrow morning.  We will also get the

inspector general`s report. 

 

But for you, Rachel, for you in particular, we need to report news of

Isabel Bueso.  This is very good news.  You helped make this news happen. 

Isabel Bueso`s family has issued a statement saying that we are elated to

share that on December 6th, our family received official documentation that

our deferred action status has been renewed.  The status is good for two

years. 

 

And, of course, Isabel Bueso is a story that you brought to everyone`s

attention, that here was this 24-year-old, who`s going to be deported,

deported by the Trump administration when she was in this country to

receive life-saving treatment.  She would have died if she left this

country.  Her doctor was on your show.  The doctor was on my show telling

this to the country.  And it was amazing how long it actually took to get a

resolution to this. 

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, “TRMS”:  Yes.  Well, she and her family have

been in limbo not knowing whether these deportation order – whether these

deportation proceedings would be brought against them.  That literally

would cost her her life.  So many families got brought beyond the brink by

what the administration did with this medical did he find action thing. 

It`s just – I mean, I`m very happy that Isabel Bueso has now received

notice that she`s going to stay here. 

 

But what he did to these families is kind of – what they just put them

through is – it`s enraging. 

 

O`DONNELL:  She is safe for two years, Rachel, and your coverage is a big

part of that. 

 

MADDOW:  It`s nice         for you to say.  Thanks, Lawrence.

 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  Thanks.

 

O`DONNELL:  Well, we will begin tonight with the breaking news about

articles of impeachment and we will later get to the Justice Department

inspector general`s report released today which did find political leanings

among FBI officials involved in the investigation of the Russian attack on

our presidential election.  But the inspector general`s report says that

the political opinions of FBI officials did not affect any FBI official`s

judgment about the investigation including, including the judgment of the

FBI special agent who revealed to the inspector general under oath that he

was thrilled that Donald Trump won the presidency because he thought

Hillary Clinton was a criminal. 

 

The inspector general`s report also found a stunning connection between

Christopher Steele and someone he used to call a friend, Ivanka Trump.  The

breaking news of the night is that specific articles of impeachment might

be announced by House leadership tomorrow morning.  The chairs of the four

House impeachment inquiry committees had a meeting with Speaker Nancy

Pelosi tonight in her office, and when the House Foreign Affairs Committee

chair left that meeting, he said there will be an announcement tomorrow

morning on impeachment with the relevant committee chairs.  Asked if this

announcement would be about articles of impeachment, Chairman Engel said,

yes, everything. 

 

In today`s impeachment hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, House

Intelligence Committee counsel Daniel Goldman presented the Intelligence

Committee`s case against Donald Trump.  And in making that case, Daniel

Goldman made a factual statement that every Republican in the room today

and every Republican in the House and the Senate has refused to admit. 

President Trump got caught. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DANIEL GOLDMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE MAJORITY COUNSEL:  By early

September, the president`s scheme was unraveling.  On September 9th, the

Intelligence Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees announced an

investigation into president Trump and Mr. Giuliani`s efforts in Ukraine. 

And later that same day, the Intelligence Committee learned that a whistle-

blower had filed a complaint nearly a month earlier related to some unknown

issue, by which the president and the White House knew was related to

Ukraine and had been circulating among them for some time. 

 

Then, two days later, on September 11th, in the face of growing public and

congressional scrutiny, President Trump lifted the hold on security

assistance to Ukraine.  As with the implementation of the hold, no reason

was provided.  Put simply, President Trump got caught, so he released the

aid. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  President Trump got caught, so he released the aid. 

 

Every Democrat making the case against the president should say that every

time.  Not one Republican admits that President Trump got caught.  Every

Republican pretends that Donald Trump out of the goodness of his heart

decided to release the aid.  That`s how every Republican tells the story. 

The Republicans do not rebut the specific evidence against Donald Trump in

their defense of Donald Trump.  That`s what they would have to do in a

courtroom to win a not guilty for Donald Trump. 

 

In a courtroom, the Republicans would have to take on every piece of

incriminating evidence and at minimum create a released reasonable doubt

about that evidence.  No Republican has attempted to do that with the

evidence against Donald Trump.  What every Republican does is ignore

evidence.  It is impossible for a Republican to tell the story of Donald

Trump`s dealings with Ukraine without ignoring the most incriminating

evidence, beginning with the White House transcript of the president`s

phone call to the president of Ukraine actually says. 

 

Here is the full Republican defense of Donald Trump in 34 seconds, and it

can be recited in 34 seconds, because of all of the important incriminating

evidence that the defense of Donald Trump ignores. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

STEPHEN CASTOR, HOUSE INTEL & JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MINORITY COUNSEL:  The

transcript is completely inaccurate and shows no quid pro quo, no

conditionality.  That`s number one.  Number two, there was no pressure. 

Both Zelensky and Trump said that repeatedly.  President Zelensky said that

at the United Nations on September 25th.  He said in subsequent news

articles. 

 

On October 6th, 10th, on October 10th, and December 1st.  Number three, the

Ukrainians and Zelensky did not know about the pause in aid, at the very

least, at the time of the call.  And number four, no investigations were

announced.  The aid was released. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Number one, there is evidence in the phone call that the

president did make investigating Joe Biden a condition for receiving

military aid.  There is much more evidence of that from other witnesses,

including Ambassador Gordon Sondland who spoke to President Trump about it

and Ambassador William Taylor. 

 

Number two, there is clear evidence that President Zelensky and officials

felt tremendous pressure to publicly announce an investigation into Joe

Biden and his son.  Gordon Sondland testified repeatedly to putting that

pressure on President Zelensky and President Zelensky`s staff himself for

President Trump`s personal benefit. 

 

Number three, there is very clear evidence that President Zelensky and

Ukrainian officials knew that there was a hold on the military aid at the

time President Zelensky was on the phone with President Trump.  And number

four, President Zelensky planned to announce an investigation of Joe Biden

in an interview on CNN which was canceled only after the military aid was

released and the military aid was released only after President Trump got

caught. 

 

We want to go straight to our important guest tonight for more on the

breaking news about articles of impeachment that the House of

Representatives could be revealing articles of impeachment tomorrow morning

against pretty much. 

 

We`re joined now two members of the House of Representatives who are on the

verge of casting the most historic votes of their careers, a vote of

impeachment of the president. 

 

Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island.  He`s a member of

the House Judiciary Committee and was in today`s hearing. 

 

And Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois.  He`s a member of the

House Intelligence. 

 

And, Congressman Cicilline, what can you tell us about what`s going to

happen tomorrow morning? 

 

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI):  Well, Lawrence, we finished the hearing today

where we heard in detail the conclusions of the Intelligence Committee

investigation where the president clearly put his own personal political

interests ahead of the national interest and attempted persuade a foreign

leader to interfere in an American president`s election and leverage

taxpayer funds that have been appropriated by Congress to accomplish that

objective.  We also heard in detail about the president`s effort to prevent

the investigation of his misconduct.  And it really strikes at the very

heart of our democracy, of the right of people to decide their own future

and to select their own political leaders. 

 

We were here all weekend.  We have been engaged in robust discussions about

what the specific articles should look like.  We met today after the

hearing as a committee to go over the evidence again that we heard.  We`re

going to meet again first thing in the morning and continue our work until

we have articles of impeachment ready for consideration by the full

committee. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Quigley, NBC News is reporting tonight that they

have five sources telling them there will be probably two articles of

impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  The intent is to

bring those two articles, but the sources are cautioning us that that could

change, that this isn`t absolutely locked in at this point. 

 

Is that your understanding of where it stands tonight? 

 

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL):  Look, I can make that case the president

subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine, undermined our national

security for personal political gain, and then he obstructed it.  As you

know, the third article of impeachment against Richard Nixon was four

counts of obstruction.  I`ve been part of this investigation since day one. 

I think the president of the United States, the current president,

obstructed this investigation four times in a day.  There are ten witnesses

who were not allowed to testify and untold number of documents that we were

not allowed to see. 

 

So I can make the case for two articles, just depends on how they want to

present the case. 

 

O`DONNELL:  And, Congressman Cicilline, I think it`s very clear that all of

the Democrats in your committee are prepared to vote for articles of

impeachment in the Judiciary Committee.  Is it the objective of Speaker

Pelosi to get all of the Democrats to vote for the articles on the floor? 

And does the – does that objective limit how many articles you can bring

and what those articles can say? 

 

CICILLINE:  I mean, I certainly don`t want to speak for the speaker of the

House, but I think there is broad consensus in the caucus that the facts

are really uncontested and the evidence is overwhelming of the president`s

misconduct.  I expect that the vast majority of the members of the

Democratic Caucus will vote to move forward with the articles of

impeachment once the Judiciary Committee presents them to the full house. 

You know, if you watched today`s hearing, there`s no defense. 

 

Our Republican colleagues didn`t dispute the facts or evidence against the

president and spent virtually all the time talking about processing,

complaining about the speed and complaining about their inability to get

documents that the president has been responsible for preventing us from

getting.  So, you know, I think the reality is there`s a real sequence in

our caucus, the evidence is overwhelming that the president used the

enormous power of his office to advance his own personal interests, not the

public interest. 

 

This is exactly what the framers talked about when they talked about

articles of impeachment.  This was the only remedy available to the

Congress for a president who engages in this kind of misconduct and most

Democrats understand that.  I hope some of our Republican colleagues will

join us in this effort.  It shouldn`t be a Republican or Democratic issue,

but so far they have been unwilling to hold this president accountable. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Quigley, is it your sense that the Democrats will

vote unanimously for articles of impeachment on the House floor? 

 

QUIGLEY:  Well, I can never tell you for sure what my caucus will do.  It`s

a big tent.  There`s a wide range of views.  I think you saw the early vote

of procedural vote to move forward on the impeachment investigation and

only one Democrat voted against it. 

 

So I suspect the numbers to be pretty similar.  But anyone who predicts

what my party will do exactly is off kilter. 

 

O`DONNELL:  I want to take a look at something that attorney caster said,

the Republican counsel testifying in the hearing today, to show the

audience how difficult it is to reach any kind of common understanding

about facts with the Republican side.  This is Barry Berke, counsel for the

Judiciary Committee, questioning Attorney Castor. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARRY BERKE, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MAJORITY COUNSEL:  So President

Trump – President Trump was asking Ukrainian President Zelensky to have

the Ukrainian officials look into Vice President Joe Biden, correct?  Is

that correct, yes or no? 

 

CASTOR:  I don`t think the record supports that. 

 

BERKE:  It doesn`t say can you look into it, President Trump is not asking

him –

 

CASTOR:  I don`t think it supports that.  I think it`s ambiguous. 

 

BERKE:  Mr. Goldman, you`re an experienced federal prosecutor.  I know that

firsthand.  Is this President Trump asking President Zelensky to

investigate his political rival, Joe Biden? 

 

GOLDMAN:  I don`t think there`s any other way to read the words on the page

than to conclude that. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Cicilline, to have the Republican counsel sit there

and say he doesn`t think there was a request made by President Trump about

Joe Biden, it`s right here, I`m looking at it, I`m reading it.  Joe Biden

went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look

into it – the president mentions Joe Biden a couple times to the president

of Ukraine, and yet even on that you can`t get a Republican to admit that

that happened. 

 

CICILLINE:  Yes.  This was very disappointing.  The president`s own words,

in addition to that transcript of the president`s own, there were tapes

played of the president`s public statements in which he asked for this

investigation.  There was that transcript, of course, and there were 17

witnesses all who confirmed parts of this narrative. 

 

And it was very disappointing.  Don`t believe your lying eyes, it`s right

there in the transcript and shows the gravity of the danger the president

presents.  He`s a clear and present danger to our democracy.  He`s

willingness to do this – he made this phone call the day after Robert

Mueller testified. 

 

He sort of thought was close, and then he went out and reached again to ask

for foreign assistance in his re-election.  If he`s allowed to do this, it

will invite future presidents to do the same thing anytime they face a

tough re-election to get on the phone with China or Iran or Russia and we

will lose our democracy.  So this is deadly serious. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Quigley, 76 days since Nancy Pelosi announced an

impeachment inquiry, maybe about 80 days or so since we even discovered

this issue with Ukraine.  Are you moving too fast? 

 

QUIGLEY:  I think it`s on par with previous such investigations.  I think

we`ve moved with a deliberate pace.  It`s complicated and nuanced, but it`s

hard to argue with 35 fact witnesses, extraordinary number of open hearings

for the Democrats and Republicans to both ask questions of all those

witnesses.  So, again, the Republicans have attacked the process, but it`s

really on par with previous such investigations, and I think the American

people know where the facts are. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman David Cicilline and Congressman Mike Quigley, thank

you very much for joining us throughout this impeachment inquiry.  Really

appreciate your guidance on this. 

 

QUIGLEY:  Thank you. 

 

CICILLINE:  Thank you. 

 

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, we`ll get a senator`s reaction to the

impeachment developments this week.  Senator Mazie Hirono is a member of

the Senate Judiciary Committee where the Justice Department`s inspector

general will be testifying Wednesday about his report on the investigation

of the investigation.  That`s next.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL:  Here is the essence of the case against President Trump that

was presented today to the Judiciary Committee by Daniel Goldman, counsel

to the House Intelligence Committee. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

GOLDMAN:  First, that President Trump directed a scheme to pressure Ukraine

into opening two investigations that would benefit his 2020 re-election

campaign and not the U.S. national interest.  Second, President Trump used

his official office and the official tools of U.S. foreign policy the

withholding of $391 million in security assistance to pressure Ukraine into

meeting his demands.  Third, everyone was in the loop, his chief of staff,

the secretary of state, and vice president. 

 

And fourth, despite the public discovery of this scheme which prompted the

president to release the aid, he has not given up.  He and his agents

continued to solicit Ukrainian interference in our election, causing an

imminent threat to our elections and our national security. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Joining us now, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono from Hawaii. 

She`s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

 

And, Senator, I want to begin where Daniel Goldman left off there.

 

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI):  Good evening.

 

O`DONNELL:  Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine this week publicly now conducting his

investigation there.  

 

HIRONO:  Giuliani is like a total loose cannon and they continue to beat

basically a dead horse, and that is that the Ukrainians interfered with our

elections.  Nothing can come close to what the Russians did and their

systematic and very, very deep interference with our elections. 

 

But they continue to go there because what do they have?  I suppose they

can`t really – when they cannot justify the fact that the president shook

down the president of another country using $400 million and White House

meeting as a bribe.  They can`t answer that. 

 

Or maybe what they are finally going to end up saying is he did it, so

what?  I call it the so what defense.  That`s not OK. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Senator, we probably got a preview today of the Senate

impeachment trial in that the Republicans refused to admit – first of all,

that Republican witness refused to admit that Joe Biden was even a

presidential candidate at one point and he was testifying under oath.  He

also refused to admit that Joe Biden is in the presidential phone call in

the transcript with President Trump asking for an investigation of Joe

Biden. 

 

How do you expect to handle that kind of presentation in a Senate trial if

the Republicans actually try to say things like that that are provably

false by the transcript, for example? 

 

HIRONO:  They`re so afraid to say anything that somehow is going to get the

president upset with them.  What I`m looking for is for the House handlers

of the impeachment trial to present the facts and if the president has a

defense, that is a time for him to mount a defense.  And I`m looking

forward to that happening.  But right now, I don`t see it. 

 

O`DONNELL:  We saw something we`ve never seen before.  Today, the inspector

general of the Justice Department releases an investigation of an

investigation.  An investigation about the beginnings of the investigation

into Russian interference in the election, the inspector general says that

that was conducted very professionally, there were some mistakes made in

particular FISA warrant applications, and those mistakes were made

repeatedly in FISA warrant application for Carter Page, but that`s about it

in terms of errors made.

 

HIRONO:  That`s right. 

 

O`DONNELL:  The inspector general says no political opinions by any agents

involved affected the investigation, including the agent who said he was

thrilled that Donald Trump was elected president because he believed

Hillary Clinton is a criminal. 

 

HIRONO:  Yes.  This is after the inspector general had interviewed 100

witnesses and reviewed something in the order of a million pieces of

material and came to the conclusion that this was a duly constituted

inquiry, and yet you see the attorney general already coming in, just as he

did during the Mueller report, that there`s nothing to see here, folks. 

And for the attorney general to say that the investigation into the White

House, the Trump campaign`s involvement, the Russian interference, that

that investigation was based on the slimmest of assumptions or whatever he

said, that is really denigrating his own FBI, his own I.G., but that`s what

the attorney general does, his first instinct is to protect the president,

not the American people. 

 

O`DONNELL:  The inspector general is going to be testifying to your

committee on Wednesday about this report.  I assume you`ll be asking him

about the attorney general calling the evidence insufficient to start that

investigation when the inspector general said it absolutely was legally

sufficient. 

 

HIRONO:  That`s right.  So he`ll certainly be asked what do you think about

the attorney general weighing in in this way, and also the attorney

general`s own investigator who`s going around to show, in fact, Ukraine did

something that they didn`t do.  So, it was very unusual for Durham, is it?

 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.

 

HIRONO:  For him to even talk about an ongoing investigation that he`s

doing is highly inappropriate for an investigator to talk about his own

investigation.  But this is, again, on par with what Attorney General Barr,

who, again, is certainly not the attorney general for the people of our

country.  He`s the attorney general for Trump. 

 

O`DONNELL:  I assume the next inspector general investigation will be the

investigation of the Dunham investigation.  We will see. 

 

Senator Mazie Hirono –

 

HIRONO:  Where does it ends? 

 

O`DONNELL:  – thank you very much for joining us tonight:  really

appreciate it.  Thank you.

 

HIRONO:  Thank you. 

 

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, today, the report by the Justice

Department inspector general contained a stunning revelation of a

friendship between Christopher Steele and Ivanka Trump.  That`s next. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL:  As we just discussed with Senator Hirono, today, the Justice

Department inspector released his report on the FBI`s investigation into

the Trump campaign`s possible involvement in Russia`s attack on our

presidential election.  The inspector general found that the FBI official

who ordered the investigation, the assistant director of counterterrorism

had sufficient reason to do so because the information the FBI possessed,

quote, reasonably indicated activity tutoring either a federal crime or a

threat to national security, or both, may have occurred or may be

occurring.  The report found that the Steele dossier played no role in the

opening of the investigation and was not even obtained by the FBI until

after the investigation was already open. 

 

The inspector general found that some FBI officials involved in the

investigation had strong political sentiment both for and against Donald

Trump.  One agent told the inspector general under oath that he was

thrilled Donald Trump that he won the presidency because he believes

Hillary Clinton is a criminal.  The inspector general said none of that

political sentiment affected the judgment of any of the FBI officials

involved in the investigation. 

 

And the one thing nobody could have seen coming in the inspector general`s

report is Christopher Steele`s relationship with Ivanka Trump.  Christopher

Steele, who cooperated with the inspector general`s investigation, quote,

stated that, if anything, he was favorably disposed toward the Trump family

before he began his research because he had visited a Trump family member

at Trump Tower and been friendly with the family member for some years”.

 

He described their relationship as personal. And said that he once gifted a

family tartan from Scotland to the family member and that family member is

Ivanka Trump. Joining our discussion is James B. Stewart, “The New York

Times” Columnist and CNBC Contributor, he is the author of “Deep State:

Trump FBI and the Rule of Law.” You covered so much of this ground in your

book. Here is the report everyone was waiting for and any reviewer of your

book will not be surprised by this review.

 

JAMES B. STWART, AUTHOR, “DEEP STATE”: No, I mean, I`m very gratified that

the Inspector General essentially confirmed everything that I found. We all

interviewed the same people. And I think what`s really important here is

that an Independent Justice Department Watchdog who reports to Barr and who

can be fired by the President has now debunked every sensational claim that

President Trump has made about a deep state out to get him.

 

The Russia investigation was legitimate. There was adequate predicate there

was no spying on the Trump campaign. None of these preposterous assertions

have been borne out.

 

O`DONNELL: And this was an interesting sequence because the Inspector

General`s Report comes out and then the Attorney General makes a statement,

as opposed to the Mueller report where the Attorney General got the Mueller

report, put out his statement about the Mueller report long before the

Mueller report itself came out.

 

And the Attorney General today seems to be chasing this Inspector General`s

Report saying, first of all, thank you, great work, we fully respect you,

that`s the first sentence. And then he says that he believes that there

was, in fact, insufficient evidence to begin this investigation. He

contradicts this report.

 

STEWART: Well, I think what we`re seeing is that President Trump and his

allies, including the Attorney General, are essentially weaponizing what is

supposed to be the non-partisan job of the Inspector General as they did

with the Mueller report. Mueller they did it before, now they`re doing it

after, but Barr is essentially spinning these facts.

 

He says it was only the thinnest of evidence on which the Russia

investigation was begun. That is not what this report says. It lays out all

of the facts, the compelling facts that the evidence was there. The United

States faced a very grave threat to its national security, and that crimes

were possibly being committed.

 

The job of the FBI, it is essential mission is to investigate claims like

that. It had to look into these things. It wasn`t thin evidence. It was

really serious evidence that any American citizen would be worried about if

they had been confronted with it.

 

O`DONNELL: And we`ve never seen an Attorney General come out and basically

disagree with an Inspector General`s Report.

 

STEWART: No. This is unprecedented. Not only that, Barr has commissioned

yet another major investigation into the origin of the Russia

investigation, the so-called Durham investigation.

 

O`DONNELL: And John Durham put out a statement today saying we disagree

with this Inspector General.

 

STEWART: That is also shocking, that somebody who is still conduct an

investigation would rush out and criticize the Inspector General Report.

Let me also add the Inspector General said he reviewed over a million

documents, interviewed 700 witnesses. How much time - I mean, he has spent

months of government employee time.

 

I can`t even calculate how much of the taxpayer money he has spent on

something. And there`s essentially nothing new here. We knew the origins of

the Russia investigation. We knew the Steele dossier had nothing to do with

it. Yes, he found some irregularities here and there in the FISA

application those should be addressed and corrected.

 

But even he admitted that if all of this were corrected he can`t say the

result would be any different. And so now the taxpayers we`re supposed to

finance another investigation into the same question? Is this going to go

on forever until Trump and Barr get the answer they want?

 

O`DONNELL: It`s going to go on as long as Donald Trump and Barr can keep it

going on. James B. Stewart, thank you very much.

 

STEWART: Thank you.

 

O`DONNELL: We really appreciate it. And when we come back we have more

breaking news. “POLITICO” now reporting that the House Judiciary Committee

plans to vote, actually vote on articles of impeachment on Thursday,

history will be made on Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee. That`s

next.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL: We have breaking news on top of breaking news. In addition to

NBC News reporting earlier in this hour about the House of Representatives

being ready to unveil two articles of impeachment tomorrow, “POLITICO” is

now reporting House Democrats plan to unveil at least two articles of

impeachment Tuesday, charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power

and obstruction of Congress according to multiple lawmakers and aids.

 

The Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the articles on Thursday, setting

up a vote on the House floor next week to make Trump the third President in

history to be impeached. The markup will be the last major step before the

House votes to formally impeach Trump.

 

Joining our discussion now is Benjamin Wittes, Editor-In-Chief of Lawfare a

senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an MSNBC Legal Analyst, and

Norm Orenstein a Congressional Historian and Resident Scholar at The

American Enterprise Institute.

 

Ben, let me start with you. At this point, it seems that the Mueller report

findings will not be part of the articles of impeachment. It will - at this

point, the preliminary reporting is indicating these two articles of

impeachment, your reaction to that?

 

BENJAMIN WITTES, LAWFARE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Well, I find it a little bit

surprising and actually a little bit disappointing. On the one hand, you

know, it`s understandable in the sense that a certain number of Democrats

were always uncomfortable with the Mueller allegations as a basis for

impeachment, and so it`s possible that the Democrats simply don`t have the

votes on the floor to pass an article of impeachment based on the

obstruction of Justice allegations in Volume II of the Mueller report.

 

That said, I do think it`s a very odd thing to leave out. If you`re going

to impeach Donald Trump for abuse of power and for obstruction of Congress,

it seems kind of conspicuous to leave out the kind of flamboyant

obstructions of Justice that Mueller describes, and I do think that runs

two risks.

 

First of all, while a criminal offense is by no means necessary for an

impeachable act, I do think it`s odd to leave out the most flamboyantly

criminal behavior and the most clearly criminal behavior that the President

has engaged in. I also think it runs some risk of suggesting that Congress

kind of doesn`t mind if Presidents obstruct criminal investigations.

 

So I think it`s an odd thing to do and I think it`s probably not wise on

the part of Democrats, at least not to have a vote on it and let people -

let their members decline if they want to support the article, but not

advancing it at all seems strange to me.

 

O`DONNELL: Norm, your reaction to this, including the question of does the

House have to worry, or do the Democrats have to worry about what precedent

they will set by not bringing certain articles of impeachment?

 

NORM ORESTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL HISTORIAN: I`m less worried than Ben is. I

think there are some compelling reasons as to why Speaker Pelosi and the

Democrats in Congress are taking this route. And we don`t know for sure

whether the abuse of power and obstruction charges will leave out entirely

what was in the Mueller report.

 

But the first point is a critical one. To make this work, knowing that

you`re not going to get Republicans because they have decided to ignore the

evidence and stick together in opposition. You need to have nearly all of

your Democrats. They`ll probably lose one or two, but keeping those

Democrats from red districts who signed on after we learned about the

Ukrainian situation was a critical element to this. You have to set that

marker.

 

The second is you want to keep this focused on things that make it easy for

a public to understand and understand where you`re going. That means you

streamline the debate, you focus on things where you have this clear-cut

evidence. So I agree with Ben that what was in the Mueller report where he

basically said he was - his hands were tied by the OLC ruling, the Office

of Legal Counsel ruling that you could not bring criminal charges against a

sitting President.

 

But he made it crystal clear that it was up to Congress through impeachment

to carry this forward. But right now the focus has to be on making

something happen that gets Democrats down and that the public accepts, at

least a large share of the public other than the diehards who are with

Trump no matter what.

 

O`DONNELL: Yes. I think that`s the Speaker`s dilemma, is how broad should

these set of articles be versus what can politically be sustained by the

Caucus. I have to say, Ben, the first time I seriously discussed

impeachment with a member of House of Representatives is when we discovered

in the prosecution of Michael Cohen in the Southern District of New York

federal prosecutors standing up in court and saying the President of the

United States directed this and participated in this crime.

 

From that point forward, I didn`t see how that could be left out of

articles of impeachment. But it seems like Donald Trump has left such a

wide record that the Democrats are struggling with what to include?

 

WITTES: Right. So, I mean, look, I actually don`t disagree with Norm in the

sense that - it`s not fatal if you leave it out. It`s not like there`s some

hole that you`re in a worse position in the Senate when you have to go try

case.

 

My point is, it`s almost a little bit aesthetic in the sense that I do

think when somebody like Bob Mueller with his stature and credibility puts

down a record like the one that he put down in the second volume to look at

it and say, ah, we care a little bit more about Ukraine, so we`re going to

kind of leave it out, does send a signal. And I do worry about that signal.

 

That said, I`m not the one who has the count votes, you know? And Nancy

Pelosi has to keep her Caucus together. There is a kind of least common

denominator factor that is operative here and there is a simplicity virtue

as well to say we`re going to focus now early on Ukraine. So while, I

wouldn`t do it, I wouldn`t describe myself as comfortable with it. I`m not.

I`m not shaking with rage about it either.

 

O`DONNELL: And Norm - go ahead, Norm.

 

ORENSTEIN: You know, another element to this, which is there are so many

scandals and so many potential articles of impeachment that you could stack

them as high as the Washington monument. You`ve got all of the corruption

and kleptocracy, the degree-degree to which he has violated over and over

again the two emoluments clauses, the shocking lack of security down at

Mar-a-Lago where Chinese agents and others were roaming freely with a

completely unguarded system with an internet that was open to virtually

anybody.

 

You have the President making calls on his unsecured cell phone. You`ve got

the kleptocracy and corruption involving all the members of his cabinet, of

his family. You have the relationship with MBS and the covering up of the

brutal murder and dismemberment of “The Washington Post” journalist.

 

One of the difficulties here is when you start to move down that road,

where do you stop? In some ways, having that narrow focus may make it just

a little bit easier to make it stick.

 

O`DONNELL: Norm Ornstein and Benjamin Wittes, thank you for joining us on

this very important night. Really appreciate it.

 

ORESNTEIN: Thanks.

 

O`DONNELL: And coming up, today`s impeachment hearing, how it affected the

first ever meeting today between Vladimir Putin and President Zelensky of

Ukraine. That is next. But first, with just 14 days of Christmas shopping

left, we want to remind you about kids in need of desks, the partnership

that I created with UNICEF and MSNBC to deliver desks to schools in Malawi

where the kids have never seen desks in their schools.

 

You can go to lastworddesks.msnbc.com and give a desk in the name of anyone

on your holiday gift list and UNICEF will send that person a notification

of the gift that you have given in their name. You can choose to contribute

any amount toward the purchase of a desk or to a scholarship fund for girls

to attend high school in Malawi where public high school is not free. No

contribution is too small. Thank you for your kindness.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARRY BERKE, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MAJORITY COUNSEL: Ukraine was

pressured then and still is pressured. They are desperately in need of the

United States` support as they battle the threat of Russia. So of course

they have to be careful what they said, but contemporaneous documents,

emails, texts from the Ukrainian officials themselves show the pressure

they felt, show they knew what President Trump was doing, showed what they

had to do.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL: On the same day that the President of Ukraine was the center of

an impeachment investigation on the House of Representatives, he met today

for the first time with Vladimir Putin. That meeting took place when the

President of the United States was in the center of an impeachment

investigation because of his phone call with the President of Ukraine.

 

The White House says now confirmed that tomorrow possibly at the very same

time that the House is revealing articles of impeachment against President

Trump, President Trump will be meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov

in the White House. The last time that Foreign Minister Lavrov was at the

White House was the day after President Trump fired FBI Director James

Comey.

 

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul will join us next to

consider what President Trump will be saying to Russia`s Foreign Minister

as the House is revealing articles of impeachment against him tomorrow.

That`s next.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D-RI) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Am I correct that the

witnesses had to appear before your committee confirmed that there was no

credible explanation withholding the military aid and that it was the fact

against our national security interest to do so?

 

DANIEL GOLDMAN, DEMOCRATIC ATTORNEY: Everyone agreed it was against our

national security interest to do so.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul,

he is an MSNBC National Security Analyst. And Ambassador McFaul, I want to

get your reaction to the Russian Foreign Minister meeting tomorrow at the

White House in the Oval Office with President Trump. That`s his second

time.

 

President Zelensky still hasn`t gotten that meeting and Donald Trump

apparently, apparently may be voted articles of impeachment in committee

this week because of his interactions with President Zelensky.

 

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Incredibly shocking,

coincidental, but the bottom line is 2 versus 0 that you just pointed out

Lawrence. It is customary, I can tell you, because I served at the White

House with President Obama to have a courtesy call with the Foreign

Minister of Russia in the beginning of a term.

 

It is highly unusual to have a second return of the Foreign Minister. I

think in eight years of the Obama Administration Foreign Minister Lavrov

only visited that once, and it underscores the fact that President Zelensky

has yet to have an Oval Office visit with the President of the United

States with the leader of the free world.

 

O`DONNELL: Why are they having this meeting tomorrow? What could it

possibly be about?

 

MCFAUL: I think it`s shocking. I sometimes wonder what are they thinking?

What is Secretary of State Pompeo thinking? He`s literally flying from

Paris, from the meeting that Mr. President Zelensky and President Putin are

at. President Zelensky could easily be flying from Paris to have this

meeting.

 

And instead we`ll have the Lavrov readout of the meeting between them. I

just think optically it`s bad. In terms of the substance, there`s nothing

big going on in U.S./Russia relations right now, so I just think it`s

highly inappropriate. Both the substance and the optics I think are bad.

 

O`DONNELL: Well, what any other President would be doing is pushing the

Russians around on the way they`re dealing with Ukraine and this war that

they`re conducting with Ukraine, 14,000 Ukrainian casualties already. We

know Donald Trump is not going - probably not going to talk about that at

all.

 

MCFAUL: Well, that`s exactly it. If President Trump stood next to Lavrov

and said I`m glad you guys made progress yesterday, because they did make a

little bit of progress today in their meeting, but I urge you to leave

Ukraine and protect and leave the sovereignty of Ukraine, we`re not going

to recognize Crimea, all the obvious talking points that every national

security expert I know, Democrat or Republican, agrees to, that would be

something worthwhile to do, but my suspicion is that`s not the conversation

you`re going to have between President Trump and Minister Lavrov.

 

I just hope they avoid all the happy talking giggling and slapping of the

backs that they had at the first meeting, especially given what is going on

with respect to our relationship with Ukraine right now. That would be

highly inappropriate.

 

O`DONNELL: Ambassador, I just want you to take a moment to reflect on where

we are in history and where we are in the American history with Russia.

Here it is, basically a problem that originated with Russia, which is the

Russian attack on our election. This has led to what is about to be the

impeachment of a President of the United States who became obsessed with

trying to shift the blame away from Russia to Ukraine, and at the same time

obsessed with trying to get Ukrainian influence in the next election by

getting a Ukrainian investigation of Joe Biden announced. The region of the

world where you`ve spent your life and your expertise is now bringing this

President to the verge of impeachment.

 

MCFAUL: And all because of what he said and did. What is so amazing about

all of this going back to even 2014 to start when there was real

confrontation, when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea and then the

2016 intervention, it would have been so easy for President-elect Trump or

after the inauguration to say the Russians meddled in our affairs and I`m

going to make sure it never happens again.

 

And everybody would have rallied to him. I would have rallied to him and I

would have said him that is the appropriate attack. Instead he has time and

time again against all facts, let`s just be clear, there`s no facts to

support this contention, said that Russia did not meddle in our elections.

And then he`s taken it a step further to say that Ukraine did, and I

honestly to this day after many times talking to you for years and years

watching this story do not understand President Trump`s obsession with

protecting Putin when I don`t think it`s even in the President`s own

personal interest. And as a result of that, he is now going to likely face

articles of impeachment tomorrow.

 

O`DONNELL: Ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you very much for joining us.

Really appreciate it.

 

MCFAUL: Thank you Lawrence.

 

O`DONNELL: That is tonight`s “Last Word”.

 

 

 

 

 

END   

 

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