Ukraine aid freeze TRANSCRIPT: 12/30/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening.
There is new pressure tonight on Utah`s Republican Senator Mitt Romney from
two newspapers, the editorial in “The Salt Lake Tribune” saying Senator
Romney must demand that the Senate trial of Donald Trump include witnesses,
and a new powerful investigative report in the “New York Times” showing
exactly who those witnesses should be, including the three men who stood
around the desk in a dramatic scene in the Oval Office, urging Donald Trump
to stop blocking military aid to Ukraine.
It`s a big “New York Times” night here at THE LAST WORD.
We will begin with “The Times” investigative report on how Donald Trump
blocked aid to Ukraine until he got publicly caught blocking aid to
And later in this hour, we will hear from “Times” reporter Jesse Drucker
who has co-authored the most valuable reporting yet on the truth about the
Trump tax cuts and how the corporate lobbyists pushing for those tax cuts
keep pushing even after the law was passed to get the Trump Treasury
Department to accept interpretations of the law that reduced corporate
taxes even more than the legislation intended to reduce those taxes.
This is the kind of story that has been largely lost in the Trump era
because there is so much novel corruption in the Trump administration for
journalists to pursue. But this story about the Trumps` tax cuts and how
they`re working is an important story about how it has always worked in
government, how this sort of stuff has always worked, how rich corporations
never stop trying to turn tax law, especially, in their favor. This is the
dirtiest version of that story that I have ever seen, and I used to work in
the United States Senate on tax policy. And I can tell you, this is not a
story of business as usual, this is a story of business out of control in
what is a virtual corporate takeover of the Trump Treasury Department.
We are very fortunate tonight to have “New York Times” reporter Jesse
Drucker bringing us that story later in this hour.
We begin with the headline that appeared it on the fold of “The New York
Times” today. Inside the Ukraine aid freeze, the 84-day clash of wills.
The article chronicles the 84-day drama in meticulous and incriminating
detail. Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman and Mark Mazzetti delivered this tour
de force of reporting and writing for “The New York Times”. The article is
based on, quote, interviews with dozens of current and former
administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously
undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages
of impeachment testimony.
The story unfolds with a suspenseful rhythm of “Seven Days in May”, the
classic Washington drama of the 1960s written by Rod Sterling as it reveals
new scenes in the 84-day drama from when Donald Trump first asked about
$400 million in aid to Ukraine, to Donald Trump`s final decision in
September to release his hold on that aid to Ukraine because as the very
last line of “The New York Times” article says, quote, he got caught.
People throughout the Trump administration worry that it was illegal to
hold up the aid, some of the permanent staff in the Office of Management
and Budget and the Defense Department were almost certain it was illegal,
and they did everything they possibly could to force the release of the
aid. The people who were holding it back were all political appointees
aligned with the president. They were all political and governmental
incompetence who no other president would put in their positions, including
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who sent this email to a Trump
appointee at the Office of Management and Budget, saying, I`m just trying
to tie up some loose ends. Did we ever find out about the money for
Ukraine, whether we can hold it back?
That was on June 27th. The person receiving that email was Robert Blair,
who said that it would be possible to hold back the aid, but he added,
expect Congress to become unhinged. Of course, Congress did not have to
become unhinged to break up that scheme that the then-Trump national
security adviser John Bolton was then privately calling a drug deal. All
Congress had to do to unravel the whole thing was to announce in a
relatively low volume at the time that it was going to investigate the
situation after “Politico” reported at the end of august that the
assistance to Ukraine had been frozen.
That is when Donald Trump got caught publicly, and not long after that, the
aid was released. But Donald Trump had actually been caught a month before
that, on August 12th. And the president and all the president`s men knew
that. Because it was August 12th when a whistleblower in the intelligence
community filed a report describing in general terms what was going on.
The president was holding up aid to Ukraine while asking Ukraine to conduct
an investigation into Joe Biden. It took 30 days but that whistleblower
debate actually forced the president to release the aid.
In the meantime, a scene occurred in the Oval Office that will be central
to the impeachment trial of the president of the United States. “The
Times” described the scene this way: On a sunny, late-August day, national
security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo arrayed themselves around the Resolute Desk in the
Oval Office to present a united front. The leaders of the president`s
national security team seeking to convince him face to face that freeing up
the money or Ukraine was the right thing to do. One by one they made their
This is in America`s interest, Mr. Bolton agreed, according to one official
briefed on the gathering. This defense relationship, we have gotten some
really good benefits from it, Mr. Esper added, noting that most of the
money was being spent on military equipment made in the United States.
Ukraine is a corrupt country, the president said. We are pissing our money
away, and the aid remained blocked.
Tonight, it has obviously become impossible to have anything resembling a
fair trial in the United States Senate in the impeachment trial of Donald
Trump without the testimony of the president`s men who were standing around
the desk in the Oval Office pleading with the president to release military
aid to an ally in the middle of combat, and the president refused, refused
once again to deliver that aid.
We all know that Donald Trump is a very talkative man. In a meeting like
that, he wasn`t going to limit himself to just the two short sentences that
“New York Times” reporters have managed to extract from their sources about
that scene. What else did Donald Trump say in that room that day, and what
else was said to him? The United States Senate has a sworn duty to find
the answers to both of those questions.
Leading off our discussion tonight are Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett
of Texas. He`s a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Chuck Rosenberg is with us. He`s a former FBI official and former U.S.
attorney. He was the former U.S. counsel to Robert Mueller at the FBI. He
now hosts the MSNBC podcast “The Oath.”
And Neera Tanden is with us. She`s a former senior adviser to President
Obama and Hillary Clinton. She was working in the White House during the
Clinton impeachment trial in the United States Senate. She`s the president
and CEO of the Center of American Progress.
Congressman Doggett, I want to get your reaction to this new information in
“The New York Times” tonight obtained in ways that included emails, for
example, that you did not get access to in the House of Representatives
during the impeachment investigation.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX): Very powerful, Lawrence. You really get a
better understanding of why Donald Trump continually uses that old stylist
term about the press being the enemy of the people, because what is really
his enemy is truth. He can`t stand the facts. Now, the reason he has
followed this mafia-like stonewall defense, no witnesses, no people, no
documents, is because the truth is powerful here and it shows what a lie he
has pursued and the abuse that he`s provided of his office to have a Senate
trial without hearing the truth, without hearing the witnesses, it would be
the first impeachment proceeding in American history with no witnesses.
We do need to get to the bottom of this. If his associates, his chief of
staff, his national security adviser at the time, if they had any evidence
to show his innocence, he would have been pushing them out long ago. It`s
clear that he has a blockade on the truth. He does not want any of these
people to speak out because they can only further incriminate and elaborate
on the wrongdoing that has occurred here.
Our tax money being used to help Donald Trump win a political campaign,
apparently looking back on 2016, he realized how vital foreign interference
was to his success then, and he wasn`t confident he could win again without
more foreign interference.
O`DONNELL: Chuck Rosenberg, please take a look at that scene around the
Resolute Desk in the Oval Office where you have the three account-level
officials there making their case to the president about releasing this aid
to Ukraine. And clearly we can tell the “New York Times” did a great job
of delivering that scene, of reporting that scene. But it`s really, for
example, one line, half a line from John Bolton, half a line from the
secretary of defense. It doesn`t have a single word from the secretary of
state who was in that room, in that conversation, and it has just those two
lines from Donald Trump.
We know a lot more was said by everyone in that room, and if this was a
trial and you got to have those people on the stand as witnesses, I think
we would learn a lot more about what was said in that room.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh, absolutely, Lawrence. In real
trials, and I was a federal prosecutor for a long time, the prosecutors
call the witnesses. And then when the prosecution case is done, the
defense attorneys call witnesses if they so choose. Of course, they don`t
There is a weird thing here. In a Senate trial on impeachment, the jurors
decide who gets called. The senators decide who gets called. And if you
were to break that down further, it`s really those senators who control the
chamber. So the Republicans will decide whether or not anybody gets
What kind of trial we see, how long it lasts, what sort of evidence is
introduced. So, you know, it is a trial, but it`s not anything like the
types of trials that you see in federal courts around the country every
single day. Or even the trials that you see on television. This is a
political trial, and the jurors run it.
O`DONNELL: Chuck, another point here. The evidence is moving underneath
us as this trial approaches. That in itself is unusual. I mean, you as a
prosecutor and defense lawyers, as you know, you`re heading toward a trial
date. The evidence is pretty much locked in, has normally in most cases
been locked in for a number of months before you ever walk into a courtroom
and start a trial.
Here we are crawling up toward a trial, and there is evidence, like today`s
“New York Times,” that just keeps popping up.
ROSENBERG: Yes, another excellent point. I mean, trials are locked down
in the grand jury in the federal system. Occasionally, you get a new
document or a new evidence, or maybe someone changes their story, and as
prosecutors you deal with it.
But the cases are, as you say, largely locked down. Not only do we see new
evidence in the “New York Times” article, I can assure you there is a host
of evidence we`re never going to see. There`s so much of it.
You know, the federal government can be large and unwieldy. Sometimes it
moves at the speed of a credenza. But when something happens, the
president tries to influence his own election by getting dirt on a
political opponent from a foreign country, lots and lots of parts of the
government touched that – Defense Department, State Department, Justice
Department, OMB, National Security Council.
So we know that there has to be lots of people out there who have bits and
pieces of the story. I presume we`re not going to hear from many of them,
and perhaps, Lawrence, not from any of them.
O`DONNELL: Neera, in the Clinton trial that Mitch McConnell says he`s
willing to adopt the rules of the Clinton trial, but as the case developed
in the Senate, the Senate decided, yes, they would hear from some
witnesses. They didn`t hear from them actually in the Senate but they kind
of did it with a deposition method and that was added to the Senate trial.
What`s wrong with that approach here?
TANDEN: The very, very large difference is that there was this special
prosecutor who would form the basis of the case against Bill Clinton and he
put an entire report together. And so, there was a years-long
investigation that formed the basis of the inquiry in the house. Many,
many depositions were taken. In fact, as you know, Bill Clinton himself
testified via video link which all of America ended up seeing.
And so, that`s very different from what we see here. In fact, when Chuck
talks about how we may never see these witnesses, what`s really happening
here is the president`s – the members of the president`s political party
are essentially obstructing this investigation themselves by trying to
shape a trial that`s not a trial at all. And I actually think the American
people have seen many “Law & Order” episodes, have seen many trials on
television and recognize what is a trial and what is a farce.
And the facts of “The New York Times” story, and obviously, we will likely
have more and more facts point to a situation in which Republicans are on a
ledge basically trying to cover up the president`s misdeeds by adding to
the obstruction, by forming a trial that is not a trial at all. And the
challenge they have is that more facts will come out. The evidence is
coming out as they try to obstruct, and their political cover-up will be
more and more clear to the public.
O`DONNELL: Yes, it`s a big difference. There was no evidence added to the
case, in the Clinton case, after the House impeachment. This was not new
evidence that was added when they took that testimony. It was from people
that already testified in other venues along the way to that spot.
Congressman Doggett, is it part of Nancy Pelosi`s strategy, was it part of
her strategy in holding back the articles of impeachment knowing, for
example, that there was a private organization out there with a civil
freedom of information act lawsuit out there that was going to force out
some of this information that “The New York Times” was using today, like
the emails from Mick Mulvaney and others, and that the body of evidence,
did Nancy Pelosi know that publicly the body of evidence would expand over
time basically every day that she`s holding onto the articles of
DOGGETT: Well, I can`t say precisely what she knew or didn`t know about
this, but I believe her thoughtful approach to not rushing these articles
over there, knowing that the house has the sole responsibility here for
impeachment under the Constitution, that there is no need to rush it over
there if there is only going to be the kind of sham proceeding that Neera
just described. I think in looking at that proceeding, Chuck`s point is
really important because it is each member of the Senate who will be held
accountable for whether there are any witnesses or not, whether it is a
totally sham proceeding. Mitch McConnell dominates, but he cannot block a
senator voicing his or her views on a witness being called the way he has
obstructed the many bills that we`ve approved in the House that have ended
up in his graveyard from gun safety to election security to prescription
All those things he`s blocked here, his power is more limited. And each
senator, whether it`s Mitt Romney responding to those editorials you
referred to, or Susan Collins, or any other members of the Senate, they
have to decide, are they going to be part of a sham trial or will they let
the truth come through, whatever its source?
O`DONNELL: Yes, and Chuck Rosenberg, this is much more difficult tonight
than it was even last week. For those Republican senators who could be
under that kind of pressure, we`re going to see this editorial later in
this hour from a Salt Lake newspaper urging Mitt Romney to demand
When you have that scene described by the “New York Times,” a scene that we
did not know 48 hours ago had happened of Pompeo, secretary of defense,
John Bolton standing around the desk in the oval office, pleading with the
president to release that aid to Ukraine, this is the heart of the case.
This is the direct heart of the impeachment case right here, every word of
that dialogue. The pressure on a Mitt Romney to come up with an answer as
to why he supports or does not support hearing that testimony is only going
to get greater with every day.
ROSENBERG: I think that`s right, Lawrence.
You know, we`re at an odd place right now where we are celebrating, where
we revel in the fact that one Republican senator, in this case Lisa
Murkowski of Alaska, has stated publicly that she is going to keep an open
mind and is going to abide by her oath to do fair and impartial justice. I
mean, that`s the state of play right now. Whereas if somebody says they`re
going to abide by their oath, that we celebrate that and we talk about.
Every member of the Senate, Republican and Democrat, should abide by that
oath and we should hear the evidence.
By the way, that scene around the Resolute Desk that you described so well
in your introduction, those people spoke directly to the president. And
so, to the extent we keep hearing about witnesses who are one or two levels
removed, to the extent we keep hearing about hearsay, that`s no longer
hearsay. Those are people who spoke directly to the president on the
central issue in the case, and we ought to hear from them in the Senate.
O`DONNELL: Chuck Rosenberg, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Neera Tanden, thank
you all for starting us off tonight. Really appreciate it.
And when we come back, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to Ukraine
this week, but first, they had to make sure the ambassador of Ukraine was
fired and out of there, yet another ambassador of Ukraine in the way and
had to be pushed out. That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to Ukraine on Friday.
In order for Mike Pompeo to make that trip, yet another ambassador of
Ukraine had to be fired. The acting ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor,
who testified to the impeachment inquiry in defiance of Donald Trump`s and
Mike Pompeo`s order not to, had to be removed from that job before Mike
Pompeo went to Ukraine because Mike Pompeo reportedly did not want to be
photographed with Ambassador Taylor, who is a Vietnam combat veteran, a
West Point graduate and a distinguished diplomat.
Today, a senior State Department spokesman refused to answer a reporter`s
question whether Mike Pompeo will be pressuring the president of Ukraine to
investigate Joe Biden, just like his boss did. Thanks to the Russian
government, we now know that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had a
telephone call today, and as usual, the Russian government was the first
one to reveal that phone call, saying they talked about terrorism, and,
quote, arrangement of issues of mutual interest.
When the Trump White House eventually was forced to issue their own readout
of the phone call because Russia already did, it was essentially the same
as the Russian summary of the phone call, all of which means, as usual, we
have no idea what Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin really talked about.
“The Washington Post” report earlier this month gave a possible clue into
what Vladimir Putin and Trump talk about. Quote: One former senior White
House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he
knew Ukraine was the real culprit in the 2016 election because “Putin told
Joining us now, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, former undersecretary of state
for political affairs in the Obama administration. She is an MSNBC global
Ambassador Sherman, your reaction, first of all, to the way we get the news
yet again of a Trump-Putin conversation. It is the Russian government, not
the most open government in the world. It`s the Russian government that
lets us know that happened.
AMB. WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS :
True. As you opened the show tonight and talked about really a movie
script sort of like “The Twilight Zone,” all I could keep thinking about
was “All the President`s Men”. And in this case, the president is Vladimir
Putin, not Donald Trump.
Putin is aware of all that`s going on here, whether that`s the president
holding up money to Ukraine because he wants to self-deal for his political
future, whether it is what`s happening with Russia and the United States,
whether they`re going to control our next election.
But the echoes of “All the President`s Men” really was in my head the
entire time I was listening to your first segment this evening.
O`DONNELL: And here`s the secretary of state on his way to Ukraine, State
Department officials speaking to reporters today. One asked specifically,
is Mike Pompeo going to get involved in this demand for an investigation of
Joe Biden? The State Department spokesperson does not say, oh, of course
not, absolutely not. The State Department spokesperson says, I can`t tell
you every topic that`s going to come up. That`s the answer.
SHERMAN: Extraordinary answer. The answer to that question, when the
secretary of state of the United States is going ought to be, well, of
course not. He`s not involved in the reelection campaign.
I hope your viewers understand that traditionally and historically the
secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury do not campaign –
secretary of defense do not campaign for the president of the United
States. Other cabinet officers might, but the secretary of state in
particular does not, because he`s supposed to be concerned about the U.S.
national security and be above politics.
Instead, we have a secretary of state who is deep, deep over his head in
politics – not only the president`s but perhaps his own run for the U.S.
Senate in Kentucky. So, he doesn`t put national security interests first,
he`s putting his own interests first. This isn`t the way it`s supposed to
O`DONNELL: Mike Pompeo asked William Taylor to go into that job in Ukraine
as the acting ambassador after they got rid of the ambassador that Rudy
Giuliani wanted them to get rid of. And then Mike Pompeo apparently has
just abandoned what was his own choice for that job.
SHERMAN: He has indeed abandoned. He had his counselor let Ambassador
Taylor know he should be gone by the 3rd when Secretary Pompeo is there. I
find it very interesting that it also appears that the president may be
holding Evangelicals for Trump Rally in Miami on the 3rd, and the 3rd is
the first day the Senate is back in session.
So, this is going to be quite a consequential day in the lives of where
we`re going with our future. Not only that, it will be very curious,
Lawrence. David Holmes, who is the counselor for political affairs at the
embassy in Ukraine who testified about overhearing the conversation that
Sondland had – Ambassador Sondland had with President Trump were indeed,
there was a direct conversation about going after Biden in Ukraine, for the
president`s own purposes, still remains a political counselor. And under
normal circumstances, he would be very much a part of what`s called the
country briefing, bringing the secretary of state up-to-date, getting ready
for his meeting with President Zelensky. It will be very curious to see
whether David Holmes is sent to Siberia, no pun intended, as well.
O`DONNELL: Former Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, thank you very
much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.
SHERMAN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, there is more important reporting from
the “New York Times,” this time about what the Democratic presidential
candidates should be campaigning against every day the Trump corporate tax
cuts. We could do the entire hour on this next story when we`ll be joined
by “New York Times” reporter Jesse Drucker who has revealed of corporate
lobbyists have made the Trump tax cuts work even better for corporations
than the Trump people designed them to do. That`s next.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, ANCHOR MSNBC: In high school, most of us are taught how
a bill becomes a law, but most of us are never taught what happens to the
law after that and who decides how that law will be enforced - how it will
As this year comes to a close, “The New York Times” has delivered the most
important lesson of the year in what happens after a bill is signed into
law by the President. In this case, tax law. The giant Trump tax cuts for
corporations have become even more giant after the relentless corporate
lobbying about how to enforce that law.
The enforcement of tax law is decided by the United States Treasury and
written into formal rules and regulations of enforcement that all of us
taxpayers have to live by, but it is a lot easier to live by those rules
and regulations if you had a hand in writing them.
As today`s “New York Times” report by Jesse Drucker and Jim Tankersley
reveals under the headline, “How Big Companies Won New Tax Breaks From the
Trump Administration?” This is the real story of government in action, and
as with all important decisions made in government in Washington, C-SPAN
cameras are not allowed in the room where that happens.
Joining our discussion now is the co-author of that “New York Times” piece,
“New York Times” Reporter Jesse Drucker.
I, for one, cannot thank you enough for this reporting, because as someone
who worked in the Senate Finance Committee where we would write these tax
laws, we knew we were sending them over to another world that we couldn`t
control, which is that rules and regulations world, and it seems more out
of control than ever.
JESSE DRUCKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: Right. I mean, what we had here
in 2017 was we had a very significant tax cuts package that came out of
Congress and signed into law by President Trump. But the law was written
incredibly quickly and incredibly poorly. And so, from there, it has to go
to the Treasury to write a series of regulations to help administer the new
And what happened as part of this law is it was a combination of more than
$5 trillion in tax cuts and $4 trillion in new taxes. And the most
significant new taxes on companies was about a quarter of a trillion
dollars on multi-nationals that were supposed to help dissuade them from
pushing profits in tax savings overseas.
And what happened is, as soon as that bill was signed into law, several
dozen of these companies realized that this was not something they were
eager to do. A lot of them were not expecting it, in part because the law
was done so quickly, there were no hearings on this. It all took place over
And so what we`ve basically had over the last two years is Treasury kind of
pretty much - I wouldn`t say under cover of darkness, but in a process that
the public really has very little visibility into, has written a series of
very significant regulations that have had the effect of basically rolling
back the quarter of a trillion dollars in new taxes on multi-nationals to
the tune of tens of billions and possibly hundreds of billions of dollars
in tax reductions, if that all make sense.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And this regulation process is, I guess what we could call,
a semi-public process, in the sense that there are public notifications
that this process is underway, we`re writing the regulation for X law, you
are theoretically invited to comment on this, but it`s only people with
high-priced lobbyists who even know that that`s happening and know how to
comment on it.
DRUCKER: Yes. I mean, there`s kind of a couple stages in this process. For
the first year, there isn`t really even anything in the public. In other
words, for the first year of the regulatory process, this is basically all
private communications going on between lobbyists and staffers of the
Treasury Department and officials there. And there`s really no public
disclosure of any of that, of who is having the meetings and what they`re
And then kind of a year into the process, the Treasury Department issues a
series of proposed regulations, and at that point, it becomes public. And
then there are dozens, if not hundreds of comment letters, that become
public about this. But those are things that are really understood.
I mean, if you look at some of the letters, I mean, they`re literally
written almost in Esperanto. I mean, you - these are things only understood
by literally a few hundred tax attorneys in America. And so now we`ve got
is, after a very, very complicated two-year process, we are now seeing how
these new taxes are shaking out.
And part of the issue here is that because the law was so poorly written,
Treasury Department had an incredible line of latitude or decided that it
should exercise a level of latitude to try to make a law that didn`t make a
lot of sense in places make some sense.
And in doing so, they`re really only hearing from one side. There is no one
out there lobbying the Treasury Department to make the taxes more
stringent. 99.99 percent of their meetings are with representatives for
companies that are seeking the taxes to be cut.
O`DONNELL: And they all - each company makes the case that, oh, you don`t
understand how my company works. Yes, this - that might be OK for some
other kind of company, but this particular company, if you tax us this way,
it will crush us this way.
DRUCKER: Yes. We`re–
O`DONNELL: And each of them are making that argument all the time.
DRUCKER: Yes, or the intention of Congress was not to tax these types of
transactions. These types of transactions aren`t meant to avoid or dodge
taxes. These are transactions we have to do in the course of our regular
business. They have nothing to do with dodging taxes.
And there may be some legitimacy to those arguments, that maybe they are
unfair, maybe they`re poorly conceived. But it isn`t necessarily in the
authority of the Treasury Department to decide that Congress has written a
law that maybe is unfair or maybe doesn`t make a lot of sense.
And in the case of some of the things we wrote about, for instance, an
exemption that Secretary Mnuchin signed off on that essentially exempted
giant foreign banks like Credit Suisse and Barclays from one of the major
new taxes, there isn`t really - there`s a lot of discussion about whether
Treasury had the authority to do that. And staffers at Treasury did raise
these objections to the officials at Treasury that were in charge of this
and ultimately they did not win the day.
O`DONNELL: Yes, the permanent staff.
O`DONNELL: Yes. The bottom line, as it were, is that as much as we thought
the Trump tax cuts cost the Treasury, it cost much more.
O`DONNELL: The deficit is much higher and now CBO is projecting new numbers
for where the deficit is going. And the deficit and the debt are going way
up higher than they projected, even when they saw what the Congress
intended the tax cuts to be.
DRUCKER: Yes. I mean, there`s two things to say about that. For one thing,
the deficit doesn`t have to go higher. The alternative is the government
can just cut spending. They can continue to cut spending at the EPA and at
OSHA and the Department of Education and NASA and - take your pick. They
can cut spending and then you don`t have to worry about the deficit getting
Other issue here is that, remember, the reason the Republicans were able to
get the law passed so quickly is they did through this process called
reconciliation, which basically they promised that the deficit is only
going to be above over a certain amount and then they`re going to ram the
law through and the Democrats don`t have the ability to filibuster or stop
the bill from becoming law.
But what has happened is that number, the number they essentially promised,
is really no longer a real number–
DRUCKER: –because the Treasury through the regulatory process has
effectively added hundreds of billions of dollars potentially to that
O`DONNELL: Yes. And as your article so masterfully points out, if they had
used what has become the real number, they couldn`t have used
reconciliation. They would have–
DRUCKER: Right. Correct.
O`DONNELL: –needed 60 votes. The bill never would have passed.
Jesse Drucker, this is invaluable work.
O`DONNELL: Thank you very much–
DRUCKER: Thanks for having me.
O`DONNELL: –for doing it and joining us tonight.
O`DONNELL: Really appreciate it.
When we come back, the Pelosi strategy of holding back the articles of
impeachment. Is it working? That`s next.
O`DONNELL: It was just 12 days ago that the House of Representatives
impeached President Trump. And minutes after that historic vote, House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi shocked the system, which in this case I guess
includes me, when she said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We have legislation approved by the Rules
Committee that will enable us to decide how we will send over the articles
of impeachment. We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on
the Senate side. So far, we haven`t seen anything that looks fair to us, so
hopefully it will be fair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And so she did not send the articles of impeachment to the
United States Senate, as expected. And because Nancy Pelosi said that, the
news has been focused on what the rules should be for the Senate
impeachment trial. And Mitch McConnell made the mistake of saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this, I`m coordinating
with the White House Counsel. There will be no difference between the
President`s position and our position as to how to handle this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And so now Republican senators like Lisa Murkowski and others
are trying to distance themselves from McConnell`s position so that they
can try to claim to be fair jurors in the impeachment trial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I think Senator McConnell is entitled to his
opinion and his approach. I can only speak for me. I`m going to keep an
open mind. I want to be fair to both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Nancy Pelosi`s decision to hold the articles of impeachment
appears to be holding the focus now on how to achieve a fair trial in the
United States Senate.
After this break, we`ll be joined by David Frum and David Corn to consider
how Donald Trump and the Republicans are reacting in different ways to
Speaker Pelosi`s decision to hold on to those articles of impeachment while
demanding that fair trial in the Senate. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Our founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that
there could be a rogue President. I don`t think they suspected that we
could have a rogue President and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is David Frum, Senior Editor for “The
Atlantic,” and David Corn, the Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones and
MSNBC Political Analyst.
David Frum, is it working? Holding the articles of impeachment, is it - it
seems the Speaker`s intent was to focus on the fairness of the rules of the
Senate impeachment trial.
DAVID FRUM, THE ATLANTIC SENIOR EDITOR & FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH
SPEECHWRITER: I want to throw an idea about what`s happening here. It`s not
mine. It belongs to Paul Rosenzweig of the R Street Institute, which is a
conservative-leaning but non-Trump, a think tank here in town.
And Paul points to this point. February 4th is the State of the Union. If
President Trump, if there`s been a trial and there`s been a sham hearing
and the Senate has slapped together acquittal, imagine the tone of
President Trump on the 4th of February. Triumphal, obnoxious, overbearing,
I win, I win, you lose, you lose.
If the impeachment is still pending on the 4th of February, can you imagine
how insane that State of the Union is going to be? It`s going to be like
the Twitter feed. Like, it`s going to be like the Christmas Twitter feed
when the family is all gone. It`s going to be an hour of paranoia and
grievance and narcissism of a kind that is going to I think terrify even
many - and Paul suggests, terrify even many of his supporters. So, having
this not wrapped up by the 4th of February, that could have very dramatic
O`DONNELL: OK. So that sounds like one vote for it`s working.
O`DONNELL: David Corn - David Corn, look, I was shocked because it was an
idea that had just been floating for few days before. It wasn`t being
floated by people with real experience in the Congress, but it took hold
very much to my surprise.
And from where I`m sitting, it seems to be working. The focus seems to be
on the question of fairness in the Senate trial.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF & MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, my concern a few weeks ago before they voted for impeachment was that
once the Democrats wrapped up the hearings about the Ukrainian extortion
play and then voted for impeachment and kicked it over to the Senate, the
narrative would be lost.
It would be lost to Mitch McConnell, who would have all these openings to
create a new narrative, whether it`s the focus on the Bidens or Ukrainian
servers, whatever you wanted to do, or to wrap it up within two days, that
basically the story that the public still, as you noted earlier on this
show, has not gotten the full account of would be sucked up into whatever
narrative McConnell and his Republican comrades would cook up.
So I think Pelosi, whether this was what was the intent, whether it was
what David suggested, it was just to figure out how to drive Donald Trump
even crazier. In any event, it`s preventing that from happening at least at
O`DONNELL: David, a piece you wrote, you`re talking about Donald Trump.
O`DONNELL: His gangster mode.
O`DONNELL: And this holding of the articles seems to have actually brought
out even more of that in a kind of wilder range of Trump tweeting.
FRUM: Well, this is something that got lost over Christmas when many people
who have families and love them were not on Twitter, but the President was.
Donald Trump has been tiptoeing, and his supporters have been tiptoeing to
naming the whistleblower. And in his Christmas tweeting, the President re-
tweeted two things, one of which had the whistleblower`s name in the
headline as a newspaper story and the other of which had the whistleblower
or presumed whistleblower`s name in the body of the tweet.
Now, the whistleblower or the presumed whistleblower`s name has been
circulating in conservative media for a while. And if this is accurate,
it`s not exactly a secret. But for the President to do it is unprecedented.
And the reason this is so important is it`s not actually probably illegal
for the President to disclose the whistleblower`s name. The law forbids the
Inspector General to whom the complaint was brought to do it, but it`s not
clear that anyone else has obligation. What is forbidden is retaliation.
What Donald Trump is doing my sending his - putting - attaching his Twitter
feed to a naming is he`s inciting a retaliation on a continental scale. I
mean, not just inside the government, but outside. And that is clearly
lawless. But the - the President has taken a long time to make up his mind
to do it, and he clearly deliberately decided to do it, not once but twice
O`DONNELL: We have proven once again that the only thing better than one
David is two Davids, and they`re going to stay with us.
And when we come back, we`re going to discuss Mitt Romney`s local Utah
newspaper wanting him to demand witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial.
O`DONNELL: Senator Mitt Romney is facing new pressure to do the right thing
in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump. Mitt Romney`s local
state newspaper, “The Salt Lake Tribune,” published an editorial titled,
“Senator Mitt Romney`s Mission: Trial first. Verdict afterwards.”
“In the current unpleasantness, Mitt Romney has at least tried to hold
himself out as an impartial juror, attempting to not prejudge the matter
before the evidence has been heard. It would thus be helpful to his own
cause if Romney could muster whatever influence he has to make sure that
the Senate does, indeed, hear the evidence.”
We`re back with David Frum and David Corn.
David Corn, pressure like that on Mitt Romney and the - As Nancy Pelosi
continues to withhold the articles of impeachment, that`s the kind of
pressure that could build.
CORN: It could build. And I always believe that if you bet on the
Republican hand wringers to not really come through that, you`ll make
money. I mean, whether it`s Susan Collins or Mitt Romney, they`re always
concerned - Lisa Murkowski. We`ve got to get beyond expressions of concern.
And I don`t think - Mitch McConnell has a pretty strong control of the
Senate. You`re a veteran of the Senate. You know how that works.
I think the most effective thing Mitt Romney could be doing in that
situation would be speaking out publicly. There has been more - the more
public attention that`s brought to bear on this, that will have - that`s
the only thing that may put an iota of pressure for McConnell to pull back
from his ridiculous position of working in lockstep with the White House.
So until Mitt Romney says something publicly, until Lisa Murkowski gets
beyond being concerned, I think we`re not going to see a lot of action
within the Republican caucus.
O`DONNELL: And David Frum, on Christmas Eve, and I missed this, because I
was otherwise engaged on Christmas Eve, that`s when Senator Lisa Murkowski
said in Alaska to the “NBC” affiliate that she wants to be able to look at
both sides of this case and that it has to be taken seriously by the
Senate, really distancing herself at least rhetorically from the Mitch
FRUM: Well, how much does Lisa Murkowski owe Mitch McConnell? Remember, she
had to run to return to the Senate as an independent. Her own party turned
on her. I think all of this happening out of doors. And this conversation
we`re having tonight is part of what`s going on.
During the Clinton impeachment, which I think we all remember well and
maybe we`re on different sides of it, but the public became an increasingly
important factor. There is no point in the year of the Clinton impeachment
where President Clinton`s support dipped below 60 percent. It tipped 73
percent on the day the vote was called.
This is different. And that will matter.
O`DONNELL: David Frum, David Corn, thank you both very much for joining us
tonight and thank you very much for your contributions to this program
throughout this year. Really appreciate it.
CORN: Same to you, and Happy New Year, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you. Happy New Year to you both.
FRUM: Happy New Year.
O`DONNELL: And tonight, a last word about the K.I.N.D. Fund with all of the
crush of impeachment news this Christmas season. We weren`t able to share
as many of the stories of what we`re doing at K.I.N.D. Fund as we would
We`re providing desks to schools in African schools where the kids have
never seen desks. We`re providing scholarships for girls to attend high
school in Malawi where the graduation rate from high school for girls is
half the graduation rate for boys. We do that with your help and only with
your help and only through the contributions that you are inspired to give
by seeing their stories at this hour on this program.
Over the course of the holiday, I decided to double my own personal
contribution to the K.I.N.D. Fund this year because we haven`t been able to
spend as much time with it during the program as I would like. I hope some
of you would consider the K.I.N.D. Fund before the year ends.
You can go to lastworddesks.msnbc.com at any time of the year and help
these girls stay in high school and help improve that classroom
environment. The kids there really appreciate everything you do for them.
And they thank you for your kindness, and I thank you.
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the