Trump’s Russia ties TRANSCRIPT: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 12/9/2019
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
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.
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,
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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?
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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You can go to lastworddesks.msnbc.com and give a desk in the name of anyone
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(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
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.
(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
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
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
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
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”.
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 content.>
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