IG report TRANSCRIPT: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 12/10/2019
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And you know it`s December because in December, they start markups at 7:00
p.m. because they`re watching the calendar tick down to the Christmas
recess. And whether it`s legislation or it turns out in this case
impeachment, they start processes at 7:00 p.m., and in the normal section
of the calendar, they just start in the next day at 10:00 a.m. But this is
– they`re getting a head start on what will become their work also on
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, “TRMS”: Yes, exactly. They set their meeting
dates for 7:00 tomorrow night and then 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Now, I
don`t know how long they`re going to go tomorrow night, but there might not
be all that much time between those two meetings.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and the – it`s kind of unlimited time when you get into
this markup mode normally, and everyone involved sort of has an incentive
to get it done as quickly as possible when you go into markup mode. But I
don`t know what the Republican incentive is going to be when the Judiciary
Committee convenes on this. They`ll apparently have an opportunity to try
to amend the articles of impeachment. Their amendments will be strike it,
strike the whole thing. And so, maybe it`ll be quick. Who knows?
MADDOW: It`s going to be parliamentary, my friend.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to have a member of Congress in our first
discussion here tonight to talk about what exactly he expects tomorrow
night as the Judiciary Committee goes forward.
MADDOW: Well done. Thanks, my friend.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, on the day articles of impeachment were introduced against Donald
Trump, he gave Russia`s foreign minister what he continues to refuse to
give to the president of Ukraine, an Oval Office meeting. We`ll discuss
that meeting at the end of this hour. The former undersecretary of state,
Rick Stengel, and John Heilemann.
The last time Donald Trump met with the Russian foreign minister in the
Oval Office, it was the day after President Trump fired FBI Director James
Comey. This time, the day after Donald Trump`s meeting with the Russian
foreign minister, the House of Representatives is going to be debating
articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.
Donald Trump did not quite make it to a thousand days in office before the
House of Representatives began an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump.
And now, 1,054 days into the Trump presidency, the House of Representatives
has put it in writing, he betrayed the nation. He`s a threat to national
security and the Constitution, and he will remain a threat to the
Constitution if allowed to remain in office. All that appears in writing
now on this 1,054th day of the Trump presidency in articles of impeachment.
Most days in the lives of the members of House of Representatives in the
United States Senate are a blur of business as usual rushing from one
meeting to another, attending hearings not exciting enough for television,
squeezing time for campaign fund-raising where they can continue to hold
the job where they can only occasionally feel themselves contributing
anything that actually helps move the government in a better direction.
Most days in the lives of members of Congress won`t make it into their
memoirs. But every once in a very great while, sometimes only once in a
generation, there comes a day when it`s all about the oath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The president`s oath of office appears to mean
very little to him. But the articles put forward today will give us a
chance to show that we will defend the Constitution and that our oath means
something to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler signed his
name to House Resolution 755 submitted to House Representatives, quote:
Impeaching Donald John Trump, president of the United States, for high
crimes and misdemeanors.
The articles of impeachment summarized the case against President Trump in
just over eight pages. There are two articles of impeachment. Article one
is abuse of power. Article two is obstruction of Congress.
Article one says Donald J. Trump has abused the powers of the presidency in
that using the power of his high office, President Trump solicited the
interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States
presidential election. He thus ignored and injured the interests of the
nation. He has persisted in openly and corruptly urging and soliciting
Ukraine to undertake investigations for his personal political benefit.
These actions were consistent with President Trump`s previous invitations
of foreign interference in the United States elections.
In all of this, President Trump abused the powers of the presidency by
ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests
to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the
nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting
democratic elections. President Trump by such conduct has demonstrated
that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if
allowed to remain in office.
And article 2, obstruction of Congress says: Donald J. Trump has directed
the unprecedented categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas
issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its sole power of
impeachment. President Trump has abused the powers of the presidency in a
manner offensive to and subversive of the Constitution, and assumes to
himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power
of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.
In the history of the republic, no president has ever ordered the complete
defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so
comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate
high crimes and misdemeanors. President Trump has acted in a manner
contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional
government to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to
the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
President Trump by such conduct has demonstrated that he will remain a
threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.
And each article of impeachment ends with the same sentence: President
Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office and
disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit
under the United States.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee explained why the House of
Representatives has decided not to use the courts to pursue the testimony
of Trump administration officials who have defied their subpoenas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: Now, some would argue why don`t you just wait? Why don`t you just
wait until you get these witnesses the White House refuses to produce? Why
don`t you just wait until you get the documents the White House refuses to
And people should understand what that argument really means. It has taken
us eight months to get a lower court ruling that Don McGahn has no absolute
right to defy Congress, eight months for one court decision.
If it takes us another eight months to get a second court or maybe a
Supreme Court decision, people need to understand that is not the end of
the process. It comes back to us, and we ask questions because he no
longer has absolute immunity and then he claims something else that his
answers are privileged and we have to go back to court for another 8 or 16
The argument why don`t you just wait amounts to this: why don`t you just
let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him cheat just one more
time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time? That is what
that argument amounts to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: As Rachel and I were just discussing, the House Judiciary
Committee will begin considering the articles of impeachment at 7:00 p.m.
tomorrow night and the committee expects to continue debating the articles
of impeachment on Thursday before voting on those articles of impeachment.
Leading off our discussion on this important night are Democratic
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. He`s a member of the House
Eugene Robinson is with us. He`s an associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-
winning columnist for “The Washington Post”. He`s an MSNBC political
And John Heilemann is with us. He`s a national affairs analyst for NBC
News and MSNBC. He is the editor in chief of “The Recount”.
Congressman Krishnamoorthi, can you tell us how this markup is going to
work in the House Judiciary Committee? The audience should understand that
the normal process in a markup is kind of open-ended and everyone involved
can offer amendments, and this is usually to legislation, offer amendments
to legislation. Markups for impeachment might be different in some ways.
What do you know about how this will progress through the committee?
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, it should progress in the way that
most markups do. And markup is just in my opinion kind of a fancy word for
saying this is an amendment process.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: So people on both sides are free to offer amendments, and,
you know, my supposition is that folks on the other side of the aisle are
going to offer an amendment that will likely strike the entire substance of
the articles and perhaps replace it with nothing or something that looks
far different than anything that the present article resemble. But the way
it works is that they have a chance to offer amendments, make comments in
support of their amendment, and then offer it up for a vote. And at that
time, folks do a voice vote and then usually a roll call vote where they
actually press the buttons or actually say aye or nay, and the roll call is
O`DONNELL: Are you aware of any Democratic amendments that might be
offered in the committee? Might any Democrat try to offer an amendment to
add something, say, from the Mueller report as an additional article of
impeachment, or to add something about the president being named as having
directed and participated in the crimes of Michael Cohen as an additional
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I`m not presently aware of such amendments. But the
markup process is one that is basically liberal in the sense it allows for
people to offer up amendments on both sides.
O`DONNELL: And, Congressman, you mentioned the likelihood of a Republican
amendment to simply strike the articles of impeachment. I`m sure that will
be offered. I can`t quite imagine what else will be offered. I mean, that
amendment will be offered to the committee. It`ll obviously be voted down
on a party line basis.
And after that I`m not sure what wording in articles of impeachment
Republicans would want to change because that`s really all that`s left
available to you is changing the wording within the articles once you`ve
already tried to strike them.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, that`s a very good point, Lawrence, because it`s
possible although not probable that Republicans might try to alter the
wording in other ways, maybe to offer what they believe to be a poison pill
or language that might not otherwise sit well with Democrats. But the
political problem for them is that in that case, they`d probably defy the
will of the president whose as you know doesn`t want to see any this. And
so, they might put themselves in the box that way.
All that being said, it`ll be very interesting to see how the Republicans
respond. I would not put it past them to make long speeches and generally
engage in semantics.
O`DONNELL: And, Eugene Robinson, I think we can guarantee the Republicans
will use their time with the microphones as long as possible and absolutely
as loud as possible. Loud seems to be the rule for a lot of Republicans in
the Judiciary Committee.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, a lot of table pounding I
think and shouting and hooting and hollering. But, you know, in the end,
as you know, they`re not going to get the amendment that streaks the entire
article. And it is unclear what else they would offer.
You know, it`s fascinating. It`s an amazing day and the person who brought
us here was not Jerry Nadler or Adam Schiff or Nancy Pelosi. It was Donald
Trump. Really, if you remember, Nancy Pelosi and many of the Democratic
caucus had decided that as Pelosi always said, that Trump wasn`t worth
this, he had probably done impeachable things but he wasn`t worth putting
the country through this.
And then he did the Ukraine scheme, the Ukraine bribery scheme capped by
the phone call and then the whistle-blower came forward. And immediately,
the whole thing changed. And it became not unlikely there would be
impeachment, but really it became inevitable. He forced the hand of the
House. And the House had to respond.
O`DONNELL: And, John Heilemann, Nancy Pelosi, back when she was saying
Donald Trump wasn`t worth it as an impeachment, which is an odd thing to
say about the president and impeachment, she also said something else that
sounded strange at the time which was Donald Trump will self-impeach.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes.
O`DONNELL: Now we know what she meant.
HEILEMANN: I mean, look, you think about the behavior that brought us
here, as Gene says, it`s not just that he did these things that compelled
the House to impeach him, it`s that he got away with the Russia thing, he
got through Mueller, you had Mueller on the Hill, and the next day, he
picks up the phone and calls Zelensky, it still is the craziest thing that
happened in this entire scandal, he was doing the very next day.
I would say, though, it is true, Donald Trump self-impeached, but I also
think that what – if you think about what happened today, that we did not
know 24 hours ago was there would only be two articles of impeachment, and
that was very much I think tells you a lot about the power of Nancy Pelosi
who from the beginning of this scandal when she realized that she was
headed down the path to impeachment said to people privately in her caucus
– the congressman will probably affirm this – said, we`re going to be
done by Christmas, the House is not going to be voting on this in an
election year and we are going to have this be narrow. We`re not going to
let this be sprawling. We are not going to take on Mueller claims.
And there was a lot of debate, fractious debate in the Democratic Caucus
over this last weekend about, should we have three, four, five, some people
wanted seven or eight articles of impeachment and to go back and bring out
those very justified claims of obstruction of justice that Mueller laid out
in his report. Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff have – whether they`re proven
right or wrong, I do not know, but they have been very clear what they
wanted in this and they got it.
O`DONNELL: And, Congressman Krishnamoorthi, what can you tell us about the
party`s move to eventually agree on just the two articles? How recently
was there still consideration of the possibility of more than just two?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think there`s been a healthy discussion of this, you
know, until very recently. And I think that, you know, basically I think
there are very good arguments to go both ways. At the end of the day, as
you noted – you know, basically these articles of impeachment are very
simple and clear eight pages plus, basically eight pages.
And you can distill very quickly the wrongdoing at issue, and most people
understand it. Obviously, if you put other articles, including portions of
the Mueller report within this particular framework and add additional
articles, it requires a lot more explanation, a lot more witnesses. That`s
not to say those pieces of information can`t serve as a backdrop for
explaining the pattern of abuse of power or obstruction. But right now,
they are not stand alone articles in of and themselves.
O`DONNELL: Gene Robinson, in the impeachments we`ve seen in the past, one
of the strategic reasons, along with substantive reasons, that a larger
number of articles was brought, was to give to the president`s party the
members who were going to vote for at least one article, was that – they
actually wanted to give them an opportunity to vote against an article or
two, because you only need one to remove the president. And so, they kind
of left that in there where, you know, here`s an article you can vote
against. And then the Judiciary Committee, there was only one Republican
who voted for all the articles of impeachment against President Nixon, for
example. And there were several other Republicans who voted for some and
We don`t see that here and maybe that`s because of the assumption at this
point there will be no Republican votes.
ROBINSON: Right, and who could argue with that assumption? I mean, the
real answer to your question is that was then, this is now. Today is the
Republican Party, and it seemed crystal clear it was very unlikely,
vanishingly unlikely that were able to get Republican votes for any article
of impeachment against Donald Trump.
Now, I mean, look at – look at the obstruction of Congress article. I
mean, there`s nothing in there that that you could even begin to argue
with. You couldn`t begin to put up a defense on that. It`s very clear
that he`s obstructed Congress in his impeachment inquiry down the line.
Yet, we live in this sort of post-truth Trumpest world in which the
Republican Party has to somehow say that`s not all true when in fact it
obviously is all true. So, it just wasn`t worth putting in an article just
so it could be knocked off by Republicans who then wanted to vote for one
or two other articles. That wasn`t going to happen.
HEILEMANN: I`ll just tell you something else super important about having
only two articles was that the more articles you have, the longer the
Senate trial was going to go.
HEILEMANN: It`s going to be a more complicated trial.
And again Pelosi, Schiff, trying to keep it high on the politics of this,
trying to not let this drag out into the election year because they know
Democrats are vulnerable on the argument that let this be subtle to the
So, one of the things they will try to focus on was for something that all
Democrats can agree on, number one. Number two, something that could make
the Senate trial as compact as possible, especially if you believe that
there will be, and there`s no change Trump will be convicted. There`d be
fewer Republican votes. Let`s get it over with I think was the argument
that ran the day here.
O`DONNELL: Congressman, before you go, can you confirm that thinking in
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I wouldn`t necessarily say that was like the uniform
thinking. But what I think say is that there`s broad consensus that these
two articles are supported by overwhelming evidence. They`re very clear.
And for the sake of clarity, I think these articles are written very well.
And we`ll see where we go from here.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, Eugene Robinson, thank you
both for starting us off.
John Heilemann is going to stay with us for more later in the program.
And when we come back, our next guest Ezra Klein, has been writing about
impeachment for more than two years now. He will join us on this historic
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump is the only president who has created more reasons
for impeachment than the Congress knows what to do with. Donald Trump is
not being impeached for being identified by federal prosecutors in a
criminal case as the person who directed and participated in the crimes
that Michael Cohen committed while paying off a porn star to help Donald
Trump win the presidency. He`s not getting impeached for that.
Discussions of the possible impeachment of Donald Trump began on this
program then first year of the Trump presidency because the president was
so manifestly incompetent and in obvious public violation of his oath of
office repeatedly. Before the end of Donald Trump`s first year in office,
Ezra Klein wrote an important piece entitled “The case for normalizing
impeachment. Impeaching an unfit president has consequences but leaving
one in office could be worse.”
And joining us now is Ezra Klein. He is editor at large at Vox, and host
of the podcast “Impeachment Explained”.
And, Ezra, since the first year of the Trump presidency, many of us have
been contemplating possible articles of impeachment. Now we have them, and
there are only two.
Your reaction to today`s articles as published by the House Judiciary
EZRA KLEIN, VOX EDITOR-AT-LARGE: So what Pelosi is doing – what the House
Judiciary Committees are doing is keeping this pretty narrow. And I don`t
politically it`s a bad move.
You mentioned that article I wrote in 2017, the case of normalizing
impeachment. The argument there was that impeachment can be a remedy for
an executive who`s not fit to carry out the duties of the office, right?
You have the 25th Amendment is which is for incapacitation, but when you
have somebody writing and composing bizarre tweets early in the morning
about getting into a nuclear war with North Korea, somehow you have to
wonder, maybe we should fire the crazy guy in charge.
I want to be very clear, that is not what House Democrats are doing. They
did not listen to people like me who suggested that possibly this kind of
behavior is impeachable. And I`m not saying, by the way, politically, they
should have. Very clearly, the polling was not there for that.
But this is not normalized impeachment. This is impeachment for literally
exactly what the Founders imagined impeachment would be for. There are
debates at the constitutional convention about why we needed impeachment.
Some said we didn`t need anything like that, and the argument for it or the
one that carried the day at the very least if you didn`t have it, then
presidents could use all the powers of their office to do anything they
needed to do to get re-elected.
What Donald Trump is doing is exactly why the Founders created this power
in the first place – to not exercise it would be a breach of
O`DONNELL: And the past impeachments that we`ve seen have been for things
that the president has done. No one was suggesting that if you leave Bill
Clinton in office, he`ll do these things again and commit perjury again on
a civil case that`s about private matters. No one was suggesting that if
you live Richard Nixon in office, he`ll order – they`ll have another
break-in of the Democratic campaign headquarters.
But this impeachment, these articles are saying, Donald Trump must be
impeached for what he has done, and he must be impeached for what he will
obviously continue to do.
KLEIN: I think that`s actually the most important part of the impeachment
article. So, as you note, it`s on page five, people should really read
this, by the way. It`s nine pages. It`s very clearly written.
On page five, there is a line. And I`m paraphrasing from memory but they
say that you need to remove Donald Trump from office. He must be impeached
because he`s made clear if he`s not, he will continue to abuse his powers
of office in exactly this way.
That impeachment in this construct is not simply a retroactive punishment.
It is a preventative measure. You were trying to keep him from doing this
again. You`re trying to keep him from distorting elections in this way
I think that`s genuinely important. Remember, this all comes after the
Mueller report. This all comes after all the activity and breaches of
constitutional obligation that were conducted there. Mueller did not find
confirmed evidence of collusion. But what he found was a fair amount of
obstruction. But even after all of that, even after all that concern about
collusion with Russia, afterwards, Donald Trump turned around, having
basically left off the hook in the aftermath of the Mueller report, he
turned around and did exactly what he was accused of there with Ukraine,
right? He moved arguably from collusion all the way up to extortion.
There`s no reason to think given how he`s acted, or how he`s acted for the
rest of his career that if you let him off the hook for this, he will not
simply double down and double down again. When he gets away with things,
he doesn`t say, whew, just like barely escaped that, I`m not going to do
that again. He says, great. That means it is a useable strategy and I
will try that again.
So, given that what he`s doing is actually distorting the potential to have
free and fair American election, given that what he`s doing is undermining
our ability to actually make choices of political accountability in this
country, he would leave him in there to continue to attack America`s
political system given the behavior he`s shown thus far, it is wild. It`s
just a wild thing that the Republican Party seems willing to say this is
all just completely OK.
O`DONNELL: Just to go to that line on page five, the actual word for word
quote of it. President Trump by such conduct has demonstrated he will
remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to
remain in office.
And that, Ezra, gives – also gives the Democrats that urgency about why
are you doing it now when you have a presidential election that`s less than
a year away.
KLEIN: I keep saying this, but this almost worked. Arguably to some
degree it did work. We are having some of this conversation at least about
Joe and Hunter Biden, but it is very easy to imagine him getting away with
all of this, right? We already know the Ukrainian president was planning
on announcement on CNN that he was opening up these investigations. And
the only reason that didn`t happen is the entire scheme began to leak out
and it became a liability to make that.
So, it is very easy to imagine a world where we woke up one morning and on
page A1 of “The New York Times”, it just had the headline, Ukrainian
prosecutor opens up investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden for
corruption, and Donald Trump would have made – it would have all worked
out for him.
And by the way, if he just had it, if he had just had staff who was maybe a
little bit more competent and he and his own discussion with Zelensky had
not repeatedly said Joe Biden`s name, had just said that corruption we
talked about, you`re going to investigate it, take care of it, right?
Had just allowed it to be just allowed it to be a little bit more wink-
wink, nod-nod. The idea that given this clear of a breach we would as a
country, as individuals do so little about it is, I don`t know what more
you would have to do to throw the door open to the people who will come
after Donald Trump, who will look at all this and say, oh there are no
consequences so long as I can keep my party behind me.
And that`s an incredibly dangerous prerogative to set, for a President to
set in American politics.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Ezra Klein, thank you very much for joining
us. I really appreciate it.
KLEIN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back as bad as the Trump presidency has been,
it could have been much worse. Imagine if Bill Barr had been Donald Trump`s
first and only Attorney General. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: Imagine the alternative Trump history in which Jeff Sessions was
not the first United States Senator who endorsed Donald Trump for President
and so Jeff Sessions did not become Donald Trump`s first Attorney General
and William Barr did.
If that happened, there would have been no Mueller investigation, none
because William Barr would not recused himself from anything and when
Donald Trump fired James Comey, William Barr would have cheered him on and
not appointed Robert Mueller, special counsel as Rod Rosenstein was able to
do because Jeff Sessions had recused himself.
Today William Barr cheers on Donald Trump in everything Donald Trump does
and says and to do that William Barr has to do what every Republican in
Washington has to do. Ignore evidence, distort other evidence and when
necessary, lie about the evidence.
Attorney General Barr did all those things today in an exclusive interview
with NBC`s Pete Williams. William Barr said, based on absolutely no
evidence whatsoever “in most campaigns there are signs of illegal foreign
money coming in.”
That is absolutely not true. That is a lie that the Attorney General told
today to try to help Donald Trump. He also said he disagreed with the
Justice Department`s Inspector General that there was sufficient evidence
for the FBI to start an investigation of the Trump campaign`s possible
involvement with Russia`s attack on our election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think when you
step back here and say, what was this all based on, it`s not sufficient.
Remember, there was and never has been any evidence of collusion and yet
this campaign and the President`s administration has been dominated by this
investigation into it that turns out to be completely baseless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The investigation that the Attorney General now calls baseless,
delivered criminal convictions Donald Trump`s first national security
adviser Michael Flynn, Donald Trump`s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, Paul
Manafort`s deputy who was also part of the Trump campaign, Rick Gates.
Trump`s political adviser Roger Stone and others along with a dozen Russian
military officers who conducted these cyberattacks on our election act,
that is to say indictments of those officers, not convictions because they
are of course are being harbored in Russia by Vladimir Putin and will never
face those charges.
Attorney General Barr described the Inspector General`s investigation in a
way that Attorney General knows is absolutely not true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: He starts with limited information. He can only talk to people who
are essentially there as employees and he`s limited to the information
generally in the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Not true. William Barr knows that the Inspector General spoke to
Christopher Steele who is not an employee of the Justice Department or the
FBI. When you knowingly say things like that, that are not true, that`s
what we all call a lie.
I`m sorry but there`s nothing else to call it. Why did William Barr do that
again today for Donald Trump? After this break, I`ll ask Chuck Rosenberg, a
former FBI official and Justice Department official and John Heilemann will
join our discussion.
O`DONNELL: Here`s what the Attorney General of the United States said today
about the Justice Department`s investigation headed by Robert Mueller of
Russia`s attack on our election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: I think our nation was turned on its head for three years. I think
based on a completely bogus narratives, that was largely fanned and hyped
by an irresponsible press and I think that there were gross abuses of FISA
and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is Chuck Rosenberg, a former senior
FBI official and a former U.S. attorney. He was the former counsel to
Robert Mueller at the FBI when Robert Mueller was FBI director. Chuck now
hosts the MSNBC podcast, The Oath.
And John Heilemann is back with us to join this discussion. Chuck, your
reaction to what you heard the Attorney General say today in that
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL: Lawrence, I`m mystified. Let me
tell you why. But first, let me back up a bit, let me tell you what the
Inspector General found because the top line findings by the Inspector
General are really important to understanding what the Attorney General
The Inspector General found first, that there was no political bias, no
political motive, no improper motive in the FBI`s investigation of Russian
interference, nor in their opening of the case and with respect to opening
the case, that the predication was proper.
Now predication is sort of a fancy legal word. What it means is basically
this. An FBI agent cannot open a case based on a hunch or suspicion or
fevered dream or because she doesn`t like her next door neighbor, she needs
some quantum of proof, she needs some evidence, a threshold, we call that
And Inspector General found that they had, that they absolutely had
predication to open this case. So for the Attorney General to say that that
is not true, that the Inspector General was wrong and the FBI acted
improperly or didn`t have predication or threshold of evidence, it`s just
That`s not what the Inspector General found and the Attorney General
offered absolutely no evidence other than saying so, to rebut the Inspector
General`s findings. It`s really mystifying.
O`DONNELL: What about when he says things like the Inspector General was
limited to only talking to people who are employees of the Justice
Department and the FBI, when we know in the Inspector General`s report that
How can he say something like that?
ROSENBERG: Yes, it`s absolutely untrue so here`s the difference when I was
a federal prosecutor and I was working with the grand jury, I could compel
people to appear before the grand jury. The Inspector General doesn`t have
that compulsory process but he can ask anybody he wants to come, talk to
them and often and in this case, many people from outside the Department of
Justice were asked.
Some said yes, some said no but the Inspector General clearly talked to
people who were outside of the Department of Justice, outside of the FBI
and could approach and ask anybody that they wanted to.
So again I`m mystified. I`m disappointed. I`m just heartened by the things
that the Attorney General has said. He has characterized the Mueller work
in a way that was untrue and he`s characterizing the Inspector General`s
work in a way that`s just simply untrue.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what FBI director, Chris Wray said today about
the FBI`s work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you have any evidence that the FBI targeted Trump campaign
CHRIS WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I don`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And so John Heilemann, that got him referred to as the current
FBI Director in a Donald Trump tweet today where Donald Trump did not like
that one bit.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Can I tell you how much I
admire and respect and love Chuck Rosenberg?
O`DONNELL: Because of his restraint and the way he handles these questions.
HEILEMANN: I do. I love all those things about him. He`s a brilliant man
and he knows more about these things than I ever will. I`m not mystified by
O`DONNELL: I knew you would go there.
HEILEMANN: I`m not mystified by it the least. The Attorney General from the
moment he walked into this job has behaved in a - as a ruthless relentless
political hack and a thug and who has behaved not as the Attorney General
of the United States.
You`re only mystified if you think that - if you`re still maintaining the
fiction in your mind that we - that he is an Attorney General in the
classic mode of what Attorney General`s been in every administration of our
There have been good ones, there have been bad ones. There have been some
pretty bad ones but the - what he did with - he mischaracterizing the
Mueller report is consistent with what he`s done throughout. He made a
travesty of the Mueller report and he continues to lie on Donald Trump`s
behalf at every opportunity.
And I think it`s not surprising to me in the least and I think the most
terrifying parts about this are not just that he lies so gratuitously when
asked whether Ukraine interfered in the election and he says, I don`t know,
I haven`t looked into that.
Christopher Wray, the entire consensus of the American Intelligence
establishment said in Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, Republicans,
everybody was access - who has access and preview too high level
confidential, the most top secret intelligence product to the United States
which includes Bill Barr knows there is no evidence that Ukraine interfered
in this election.
Yet Bill Barr continues to pretend, well, I haven`t looked into it, I don`t
really know. He will say that Russia intervened, good for him but he
continues to lie about this matter and the most terrifying thing, I want to
come back to is this notion that this outside probe that he`s running.
He promised us that we could come to a crescendo of some kind this spring
which is telegraphing, given the political intent and the kind of political
behavior that we`ve seen from him, that we were going to see Bill Barr
trying to interfere in the American election come this spring when he`s
going to bring out up a piece of cooked - cooked investigation to try to
advance Donald Trump`s political interest.
I would bet every dollar in my bank to see that whenever this report comes
O`DONNELL: Yes, Chuck, quick last word about that. That was odd for the
Attorney General to offer some timing on - exact timing as he did in that
Interview with Pete about when this next report that he has commissioned by
another U.S. attorney will come up.
ROSENBERG: Right. Real investigations Lawrence, are done when they`re done,
not when someone you know requires them to be done and by the way, I keep
Johns point. The reason I`m mystified is because I`ve worked for and under
many Attorneys General, from Democratic and Republican administrations and
I`ve just never seen this behavior.
There`s probably a better word for it and I`ll leave it to John because
he`s a lot smarter than me but it makes me sad.
HEILEMANN: Now we agree.
O`DONNELL: Don`t ever let John Heilemann put words in your mouth. Chuck
Rosenberg, who John Heilemann and I, both respect as highly as we possibly
could, thank you very much for joining us tonight. John`s going to stick
And when we come back, on the day the House representatives announced
Articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, President Trump gave the
Russian foreign minister, the White House meeting that the President of
Ukraine was so eager to get when he was on the phone with Donald Trump and
Donald Trump said to him, I would like you to do us a favor though. That`s
O`DONNELL: So who are you going to believe about what happened in the Oval
Office today between Donald Trump and the Russian foreign minister. The
Trump White House issued a public statement claiming, President Trump
warned against any Russian attempts to interfere and United States
elections. The Russian foreign minister then said that did not happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The White House just put out a statement about your meeting with
President Trump saying that the President did warn about - warn you not to
interfere in U.S. elections and also urged you to try and settle your
conflict or the situation with Ukraine. I just want to know if you did
discuss these two items and if so, can you tell us about the discussion?
SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We haven`t
even actually discussed elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Now he`s calling Donald Trump a liar. After this break, former
Undersecretary of State, Richard Stengel will tell us who to believe about
what happened in the Oval office today between Donald Trump and Sergei
Lavrov and hint, no one.
O`DONNELL: A senior representative of the government that attacked our last
Presidential election to help Donald Trump win the presidency was welcomed
into the Trump White House, today and at the Trump`s state department where
he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAVROV(through translator): We have highlighted once again that all
speculations about our alleged interference in domestic processes of the
United States are baseless. There are no facts that would support that. We
did not see these facts. No one has given us this proof because simply it
does not exist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now Richard Stengel, former Undersecretary of state
in the Obama administration and the author of the new book, `Information
Wars.` Rick, the part we showed before the commercial where there`s Lavrov
saying, he`s told that Donald Trump issued a statement claiming that he
talked to him and told him, don`t you dare interfere in our election and
Lavrov says, oh no, he didn`t, we never even discussed it.
RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE UNDER OBAMA: Lavrov is the
pro of pros. By the way if you were writing the screenplay version of the
Trump presidency and you said on the day that President Trump was indicted
by the House on impeachment charges, on the day that the Inspector General
released a report that saying the Russia investigation is fine, that he was
meeting with the Russian foreign minister, you`d say, that`s just too
It couldn`t possibly happen and the fact is he has no NSC, nobody to say,
Sir, I don`t think it`s such a good idea for you to meet with the foreign
minister and by the way, why is the head of state meeting with Russian
Vladimir Putin doesn`t meet with Mike Pompeo when he comes to Moscow so
it`s very curious and very strange. Lavrov has played all of these guys.
He`s lasted for years and years and they`re sort of toying with Trump. I
mean they do not admit under any circumstances that they interfered in the
U.S. selection at all. They won`t even go there one inch.
O`DONNELL: But like Pompeo today sitting beside him did say you know, I
said don`t interfere in the election. I gave that warning so Lavrov
couldn`t stand there and say no, he didn`t say that to me. Lavrov wouldn`t
even do Trump the favor of saying yes, he did say that.
STENGEL: You know, they don`t–
O`DONNELL: And by the way, it`s very unlikely Trump said it, right? I mean
less than one percent chance that he said it.
STENGEL: Yes, so they don`t want to seem like Trump`s errand boy. The other
thing that`s interesting by the way, is Sergei Lavrov is absolutely fluent
in English. He speaks better English than the President of the United
The fact that he did that news conference in Russian also shows that he
wants to distance sums himself from the U.S. a little bit. He wants to seem
like he`s Russian rather than a crony of Donald Trump.
O`DONNELL: And when Lavrov and Trump are in that room, what possible agenda
could they have today?
STENGEL: You know, it`s so strange and you`d know this of course Lawrence
is that a bilateral with a Russian foreign minister and the U.S. President
is prepared for months and weeks and you have deliverables and you have all
of these things.
I mean Trump is just not prepared for this. He just kind of wings it and
brings stuff up, the thing about the Russians is they are ultra-prepared.
They know exactly what they want to get out of every meeting and so one
reason that it`s scary that we don`t know what happened there is we don`t
know what Lavrov extracted from Trump in that meeting.
O`DONNELL: And it`s possible that Trump doesn`t even know what Lavrov
extracted from him, right? The way that those exchanges go.
STENGEL: Yes and - and again, I`m not exactly sure what it does for the
Russians, it makes Trump still look like a toady like he`s–
O`DONNELL: Well, they love going in that room when they know that the
President of Ukraine is not allowed in that room.
STENGEL: Yes exactly, and they love having Trump meeting with the foreign
minister. He`s not even opening the word of Putin, he`s foreign minister.
O`DONNELL: And surely Trump doesn`t understand that - that status imbalance
that he`s engaging in.
O`DONNELL: Rich Stengel gets tonight`s Last Word and the Eleventh Hour with
Brian Williams starts now.
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