John Bolton willing to testify. TRANSCRIPT: 1/6/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And I saw your interview with Elizabeth Warren which was great, and you
know what we know about every single presidential candidate except one?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Hmm?
O`DONNELL: Everyone is going to drop out of the race. Every one except
one is at some point going to drop out of the race, and some of them may
not drop out until the convention, but they`re all going to do it except
O`DONNELL: And they`re all going to endorse that other one eventually and
may be making different endorsements along the way. And so, we had Julian
Castro`s big endorsement today –
O`DONNELL: – of Senator Elizabeth Warren.
MADDOW: The timing is fascinating, right, for him to be making this
endorsement at this point in the race rather than wait to see who the
nominee is going to be, it`s fascinating.
O`DONNELL: Well, so, I think it I – heard you say that this means he`s
not really placing a bet on the possibly of being Joe Biden`s vice
presidential pick. I think it actually still works perfectly well for him
in the following way. If you`re Joe Biden, you really want to get a vice
presidential nominee who represents that side of the party, what we can now
call possibly the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and now Julian Castro
side of the party. If it`s not Elizabeth Warren, well, how about Julian
So, I think it can work in a bunch of ways for Julian Castro, including
Elizabeth Warren`s possible choice as vice presidential candidate.
MADDOW: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, it`s – certainly, it`s a boost for
her. It`s an interesting calculation on Castro`s point, and you know,
things – I feel like everything is very scrambled right now in Iowa ahead
of that impending vote there. But it makes all more exciting (ph).
O`DONNELL: Completely, I find the whole thing completely unpredictable at
this stage, but the one thing I was not surprised by was this particular
endorsement, because knowing that they are all, except one, eventually
going to drop out, and knowing that this is one of the most impressive
groups of Democrat presidential candidates I`ve ever seen –
O`DONNELL: My favorite question, actually, for all of them who come on the
show, what is the most interesting thing you`ve heard, best thing you`ve
heard from one of the other candidates?
MADDOW: That`s very smart.
O`DONNELL: First person I asked, Julian Castro. He said, Elizabeth Warren
has some really good ideas. When I asked Elizabeth Warren a few weeks
later, she said, Julian Castro has really good ideas about immigration.
I think I`m going to try to squeeze in that video, actually, later in this
MADDOW: Oh, good.
O`DONNELL: – of showing the two of them answering that question on this
show which has now borne this endorsement.
MADDOW: A chronicle foretold –
O`DONNELL: A bet made at some point.
MADDOW: Well done, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
O`DONNELL: Well, President Obama`s national security adviser Susan Rice
will join us tonight. She wrote an op-ed piece saying, it`s hard to
envision how this ends short of war. Those are very difficult words for
her to write, but she means it. She is talking, of course, about Donald
Trump`s confrontation with Iran.
We`ll also hear from President Obama`s CIA director, John Brennan, at the
end of this hour. We`ll ask John Brennan how we can evaluate the Trump
administration`s claims that they killed Iran`s top general to prevent
imminent attacks by Iran when the Trump administration cites intelligence
that we don`t know whether it`s true or false, and we don`t even know what
intelligence they`re claiming to refer to says.
How do we – how do we evaluate statements like that? We`re going to ask a
former CIA director. And we will be joined by the Democratic presidential
candidate who has the most military experience and combat experience of any
of the Democratic candidates, but he was forced to drop out of the
presidential race back when those credentials didn`t seem so important, and
he could not get enough polling support to qualify for the debates.
Former presidential candidate, Congressman Seth Moulton, will join us.
Seth Moulton said this weekend, we have the most reckless commander-in-
chief in American history.
Also in this hour, we`ll be discussing the stunning and I mean stunning
switch today by John Bolton, who is now saying, now he is willing to
testify in the Senate impeachment trial. John Bolton will definitely be a
witness in the Senate impeachment trial now if just 51 senators decide that
he should be.
I`ll be learning from all of our guests throughout this hour, and you will,
too, on a day where the dynamics of the Senate impeachment trial have now
changed dramatically and the likelihood of a possible new war in the Middle
East has also changed dramatically. We have woken up to a more dangerous
world. That is what a French government official told the “Washington
Post” about President Trump`s choice of the most extreme option presented
to him to deal with Iran`s aggressions in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle
East. That extreme option was, of course, the killing of Iran`s top
military commander, General Soleimani, last week.
A team of “New York Times” reporters, using sources inside the Trump
administration, reported on the options presented to the president this
way. The options included strikes on Iranian ships or missile facilities
or against Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq. The Pentagon also tacked
on the choice of targeting General Soleimani, mainly to make other options
When Mr. Trump chose the option of killing General Soleimani, top military
officials, flabbergasted, were immediately alarmed about the prospect of
Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region. “The Times”
reports that the execution of the plan to kill the general depended
entirely on who might greet the general when he arrived at the Baghdad
airport. If General Soleimani had been met by someone else from the United
States who was unwilling to kill, General Soleimani would be alive today.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not one of the Trump administration
officials who was flabbergasted by the killing of General Soleimani. “The
Washington Post” reported Mike Pompeo had been urging the president to kill
General Soleimani for months. Secretary Pompeo did a victory lap on Sunday
morning television saying, quote, we took a bad guy off the battlefield.
We made the right decision. I`m proud of the effort that the president
Someone else who wasn`t flabbergasted is now Trump`s former national
security adviser, John Bolton. He tweeted his congratulations,
congratulations on the killing of General Soleimani. But unlike Mike
Pompeo, John Bolton refused to name President Trump as a person responsible
for the killing.
John Bolton`s tweet simply said, congratulations to all involved in
eliminating Qassem Soleimani. I hope this is the first step in regime
change in Tehran.
War hawks like John Bolton frequently tried to avoid the real language of
what they advocate, so they like to use words like eliminating when they
mean killing, and regime change when they mean all-out war. No one is more
aggressive to Iran than John Bolton, and it may be that John Bolton is now
so confident that Donald Trump has now put the United States on an
irreversible path to all-out war with Iran that John Bolton no longer needs
Donald Trump in the White House, especially with the “Washington Post”
reporting that Vice President Mike Pence was also urging the killing of
General Soleimani along with Secretary of State Pompeo, because today of
all days, as the situation got worse and worse for the United States in
Iraq with the Iraqi parliament having voted 170 to zero to expel the
American military and American government officials from Iraq, today of all
days is the day that John Bolton decided to publicly announce in writing on
his website that he is ready, willing and able to testify in the
impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the United States Senate.
Quote: I have concluded that if the Senate issues a subpoena for my
testimony, I am prepared to testify.
Now, you can believe in coincidence. We`ve all seen instances of it in our
own lives. But John Bolton doesn`t do coincidence. John Bolton does
calculation. And John Bolton calculated that the worst thing he could
possibly do to Donald Trump today is say, I am prepared to testify, and
John Bolton did that.
No one has dreamed of war with Iran and regime change in Iran more
fervently than John Bolton, and the reward that John Bolton gave the
president today who has brought us closer to that war than any previous
president was the announcement, I am prepared to testify in the impeachment
trial of that president. Does that mean now that war with Iran is
simmering, John Bolton wants the steadier hand of Mike Pence at the
John Bolton doesn`t want a rerun of the time when president Trump called
off an attack on Iran ten minutes before it was scheduled to take place.
John Bolton doesn`t want a president tweeting that he will commit war
crimes by bombing non-military sites in Iran, including cultural sites.
John Bolton wants war with Iran done right if it`s going to be done. He
wants it done Pompeo and Pence style.
In the Obama White House, Susan Rice was the president`s national security
adviser, the same job John Bolton had in the Trump White House. In an op-
ed piece for “The New York Times,” she writes that Donald Trump`s action
against Iran, quote, now locks our two countries in a dangerous escalatory
cycle that will likely lead to wider warfare.
Americans are not safer. American citizens are at greater risk of attack
across a far wider battlefield than before. It`s hard to envision how this
ends short of war.
Leading off our discussion tonight is Susan Rice who served as President
Obama`s national security adviser after serving as President Obama`s
ambassador to the United Nations. She`s the author of “Tough Love: My
Story of Things Worth Fighting For.”
Susan Rice, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
I want to go first of all to this tweet the president put out where he
basically said – basically committed the United States to committing war
crimes, attacking cultural sites, saying there are 52 targets, and that
number was chosen simply for symbolic purposes, not necessarily military
tactical purposes. And Mike Pompeo now trying to walk that back and say,
we won`t do that. Administration officials saying we won`t do that, but
the commander in chief has said we will.
SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Lawrence, it`s very
disconcerting, to say the least. When the president of the United States
is publicly and recklessly threatening to commit war crimes. And I should
hope that saner heads would prevail, that in the State Department,
certainly in the Defense Department, that they understand what the laws of
war are, what our domestic law also requires, and would refuse to execute
an order that was in stark violation of international and domestic law of
So I`m – as hard as it is to swallow some of the, you know, the rank
craziness that comes out of the president`s Titter feed, there at least I
think it would be a very difficult thing for the president to execute,
assuming that the leadership that is even now in the Pentagon has its own
O`DONNELL: What would you be looking for? I know the op-ed piece you
wrote is not an optimistic one, but if you were looking for signs that the
Trump administration is capable of steering away from war here, what would
you need to see them do?
RICE: Well, I think in the first instance, we would need actually to see
efforts by the administration to deescalate. You had Mike Pompeo blanket
the Sunday shows and claim that this was all about de-escalation, and you
had the president earlier saying this was about stopping a war, and in the
same moment, the president, you know, issues his extraordinary threat to
retaliate against 52 sites, including cultural sites.
He`s now threatened Iraq with sanctions, which is even more mind-boggling
in some ways, because the Iraqis are threatening to throw the United States
out of Iraqi territory. And so, frankly, you know, it`s very hard to
understand what to expect out of this crew.
O`DONNELL: I want to go to the announcement that Iran made about the
nuclear deal and what they now intend to do in that arena. It seems a
little more complicated than is generally being reported.
I want to read the “Washington Post” text on this. It says, Iran announced
over the weekend that it would no longer respect limits set on how many
centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium. The foreign minister said the
move was a remedial step but taken within the framework of the nuclear
deal, and he said that it could be reversed.
I heard commenters on the BBC today also being more optimistic, British
observers more optimistic about the possibility of salvaging the deal,
especially, for example, if a new president is inaugurated a year from now.
RICE: Well, I`m not optimistic. I think this really might have been the
last blow to the Iran nuclear deal.
But it was an interestingly crafted statement on the part of the Iranians.
It said they would no longer be constrained by any of the restrictions that
they adhered to in the context of the nuclear program, and that can be
interpreted in any number of ways. And they said that were sanctions to be
removed and the United States come back into compliance, that they would
then be prepared to come back into compliance. So that can be construed as
a potential off-ramp.
But given everything else that`s going on, given President Trump`s
extraordinary disdain for the nuclear deal, given the critical sanctions
that had been imposed, and now this escalation by killing Soleimani, it`s
hard to see how that happens in the near term. Of course, it`s very hard,
too, in this world, as you know, to have any predictions of where we`ll be
a year from now. And so, I`m not – I`m not going to jump off that cliff.
O`DONNELL: “The New York Times” kind of backstage reporting at the White
House indicates that the options that were give to the president in this
case included the options of killing the general only to make other options
look better and look more reasonable. Did you present options to President
Obama that way and include one that you firmly believed should not be an
option but did it just to steer him in the other direction?
RICE: No, Lawrence, I didn`t, and I don`t believe the Pentagon did.
You know, there are occasions where, particularly with things like
potential troop levels to be deployed in a particular operation, that you
might have sort of small, medium and large versions of options. And
sometimes the expectation is that there is a compulsion to steer towards
the middle option.
In this case when you have a member of the sort when, in fact, that`s the
case as “The New York Times” reported, it ranges very far and wide from
very limited to very extreme. You don`t give the president of the United
States, in particular, this president of the United States who has shown
himself to be incredibly unpredictable and impulsive options that you think
would be detrimental to the United States national security, which, in my
judgment, ultimately as bad as Soleimani was and as much American blood as
he had on his hands, I think from a strategic point of view, it was
extremely unwise to execute that operation given the likelihood of
reprisals, given what we`ve seen in terms of Iran further reneging on the
nuclear deal, the Iraqis on the verge of kicking us out of Iraq which would
be a huge strategic victory for Iran, and the fight against ISIS being
utterly suspended now.
O`DONNELL: Would you – if the option had been raised or was the option
ever raised during the Obama administration of killing the general?
RICE: In my know – to my knowledge, Lawrence, and certainly while I was
national security adviser, we were never presented by the Pentagon or by
the intelligence community with an opportunity to consider killing
Soleimani. Had we been, we would not have approached it in a slap-dash
way, an impulsive way, it would have been a very, very difficult decision
with all sorts of careful considerations about the costs and the benefits,
and we would have certainly weighed for potential of repercussions of the
sort we`re beginning to see now and more to come, undoubtedly.
And we would have taken the time for sure to ensure that American personnel
in the region and beyond were well-secured. So this seemed to me to be a
rather impulsive decision made in a day or two, if not much more. That`s
not the way we would have approached it in the Obama administration.
And there are good reasons to be very skeptical about the benefits of the
course that President Trump chose. And I, for one, think that it will
prove to have been a strategic blunder.
O`DONNELL: Susan Rice, thank you very much for starting us off tonight. I
really appreciate it.
RICE: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, in just one sentence on his website
today, John Bolton ruined Donald Trump`s day, ruined Mitch McConnell`s day
and made Nancy Pelosi`s day. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: John Bolton stunned, and I mean stunned, Washington today,
Republicans and Democrats, when he announced that he is ready suddenly to
testify in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump if the Senate
subpoenas him. John Bolton decided to make this announcement today on his
The big question now is why? Why is someone, who refused to testify to the
House impeachment investigation, willing to testify to the Senate trial of
the now impeached Donald Trump?
If John Bolton`s testimony could be the smoking gun that removes Donald
Trump from office, is John Bolton willing to testify now because he
believes Mike Pence would be a better prosecutor of a war for regime change
John Bolton has signed the biggest book deal of his life, a multimillion
dollar book deal for his story of working in the Trump White House. Has
John Bolton`s book publisher gotten nervous about allowing John Bolton to
tell his stories in the pages of a book after refusing to tell his story
under oath in the constitutional process of impeachment in the Congress?
Does John Bolton`s book become worth even more money if John Bolton
testifies? Does it increase book sales if he becomes the star witness in
the impeachment trial of Donald Trump?
What is John Bolton up to? There are many possible answers to that
And for that we turn to Mieke Eoyang and Rick Stengel. Rick Stengel is a
former under secretary of state in the Obama administration and an MSNBC
political analyst. And Mieke Eoyang is a former staff member of the House
Intelligence Committee, and the vice president of the national security
program at Third Way. She`s an MSNBC contributor.
We will go by the rank of office, which means the under secretary goes
before the House staffer. I know how hard it was for you, Mieke, and it
was for me when I was a Senate staffer.
Rick, John Bolton, so many possible motivations for him, including just
getting back at Donald Trump for what Donald Trump says was firing him,
even though Bolton insists, I quit, I wasn`t fired.
What do you – what do you see as the possible motivators for Bolton now?
RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I hope his
principal motivation is patriotism.
O`DONNELL: OK, it`s not that. So, go ahead, I`m sorry.
STENGEL: That he –
O`DONNELL: Where was that in the House of Representatives? I mean, didn`t
he eliminate that as a possibility in the House?
STENGEL: Well, I mean, it might be – he might feel that this is the big
ball game in the Senate, and this is the true historic measure, and he
didn`t want to be left out. I mean, it might be he just wanted to get in
that same soccer game and be a scrum.
You know, one of the things I talk about talking about service in
Washington is I brought along the form that you sign when you have to agree
to look at classified information and then not reveal it afterwards, and if
you`re writing a book, you have to actually then have it vetted by the
White House and the State Department. The problem is the people who serve
in Washington should not be able to financially benefit from this service
if they are asked to testify in a legal hearing and then don`t do it.
Their book advance should be garnished.
So I think he might just be recognizing the fact that this would benefit
his book, benefit the country and it`s the right thing to do.
O`DONNELL: Mieke, Rick just raised another issue involving a book, which
is a book like Bolton has to be cleared. The government has a process for
clearing that book to make sure there`s no classified information in it, to
say, yes, you can publish this. The government can take just about as long
as it wants doing that, and if it`s a Trump government, they`re not going
to clear the John Bolton book if it has anything negative to say about
But if John Bolton has managed to say all that in public in a Senate trial,
then the book is, in effect, cleared by the Senate trial.
MIEKE EOYANG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s right. And there are tremendous
protections for people who testify in Congress under the switch and bait
clause. There are some things that are important because it`s so important
to testify before Congress. So, yes, he is avoiding some of the questions
of redactions and excuses that you`ve seen in this administration to try
and withhold information.
But I also think there is a political motive for Bolton in his refusal to
testify to the House and his agreement to testify before the Senate if
called, and that`s he`s venue shopping. He knows he has a much more
favorable venue in the Senate where he`s likely to have Lindsey Graham or
Richard Burr as chairman of the committee, and he did not want to face the
questioning of Adam Schiff, who we have seen is a very effective and very
O`DONNELL: But he doesn`t know that he`s not going to face the questioning
of Adam Schiff. Adam Schiff could be one of the House managers, Mieke, on
the floor prosecuting the case.
EOYANG: That`s right, and this is why it`s so important for Nancy Pelosi
to withhold the articles of impeachment and appointment of managers until
she knows exactly what the structure is going to be in the Senate, because
it will matter a lot to her whether or not she has someone who is going to
be able to question witnesses or whether or not they are people who are
just going to read statements and give their case to the American people.
O`DONNELL: All right. We`re going to squeeze in a break here. Mieke and
Rick, please stay with us. We`re going to get to Nancy Pelosi`s strategy
after this break about holding back the articles of impeachment.
And you`ll hear from one Republican senator who said this today about John
Bolton. One Republican senator actually said, I`d love to hear what he has
to say. We`ll show you that Republican senator after this break.
O`DONNELL: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi`s decision to hold back House passed
articles of impeachment from the Senate was intended to keep the public
impeachment focus on the issue of a fair trial in the Senate, which Senate
Democrats say must include witnesses. The most important of those witnesses
is John Bolton.
And today John Bolton shocked Democrats and Republicans by publicly
announcing that now that he`s had time to think about it, time that Nancy
Pelosi gave him by holding back the articles of impeachment, John Bolton
has decided that he is ready to testify in a Senate trial.
He said, “I have concluded that if the Senate issues a subpoena for my
testimony, I am prepared to testify.” We`re back with Mieke Eoyang and Rick
Stengel. And here is Senator Mitt Romney`s reaction to John Bolton`s offer
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I`d love to hear what he has to say. He has
firsthand information. And assuming that Articles of Impeachment do reach
the Senate, why I`d like to hear what he knows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Rick, the Democrats need just three more. They need four
Republicans to say what Mitt Romney just said, and to then actually vote on
it, and create a vote of 51 for a subpoena to John Bolton.
RICHARD STENGEL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, bully for Mitt Romney. He
said the right thing. Marco Rubio said the wrong thing today. I don`t know
if you saw his quote where he said, basically, we don`t want to start a
whole new investigation in the Senate.
O`DONNELL: I want to have a crack (ph) here. Let me - let me give it to the
audience. Rubio said the testimony and evidence considered in the Senate
impeachment trial should be the same testimony and evidence the house
relied upon when they passed the Articles of Impeachment, and that`s where
he wants to stand.
STENGEL: It`s a disingenuous thing to say. I mean, there`s actually nothing
in the constitution about that. But, if I were Adam Schiff, I would
subpoena Mr. Bolton right now, in order to even just disqualify - I mean,
Marco Rubio`s argument,
O`DONNELL: Mieke, your reaction to Mitt Romney coming up where 71 percent
of the people are “Washington Post” poll says on the question of should
Trump allow aids to testify? 71 percent say, yes, they should they should
MIEKE EOYANG, FMR. STAFF MEMBER HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE: Yes, I think that
it`s totally reasonable that Mitt Romney would want to hear from a
firsthand witness who was in the room when the President was deliberating
about this. Who might have been in the room when the cabinet officials were
making a last ditch effort for the President to release the aid.
Who told his own staff that they needed to go talk to lawyers because there
was a drug deal that Rudy was cooking up. And this is someone who was very
uncomfortable with what was happening at the time. And I think it`s
important that Senators hear from this.
The question is how many of them will admit that they also want to and need
to hear from Bolton in order to figure out what happened with the President
and this Ukraine aid?
O`DONNELL: And Rick Stengel, “The New York Times,” not surprisingly, when
we all know the drug deal, quote “The New York Times” reporting people
close to John Bolton saying his testimony would be harmful to the
STENGEL: Yes, I saw that. But I`d also say to the Democrats, be careful
what you wish for. I mean, Bolton is a political creature. He wants to have
a future in the Republican Party. If there is a Republican Party, he may
just try to cut the difference between the two.
O`DONNELL: Mieke Eoyang, Rick Stengel, thank you both for joining us
And when we come back, former presidential candidate Congressman Seth
Moulton who served four tours of combat duty in Iraq as a marine says that
Donald Trump is the worst Commander-in-Chief in history. Congressman Seth
Moulton joins us next.
O`DONNELL: Pete Buttigieg is now riding high in the polls and riding high
with campaign contributors, to some extent, based on his service in the
Navy Reserves, which included seven months of non-combat duty in
Afghanistan in 2014.
Military service did not seem to help Congressman Seth Moulton in his
campaign. Congressman Moulton was one of the first candidates to drop out
of the race last year, even though he served four tours of duty in heavy
combat in Iraq and won 20 times more votes in his reelection campaign than
Pete Buttigieg won in his mayoral reelection campaign.
After Donald Trump threatened to commit war crimes by tweeting that he will
attack cultural sites in Iran, Congressman Seth Moulton wrote, “We have the
most reckless Commander-in-Chief in American history.”
Joining us now is Congressman Seth Moulton, Democrat from Massachusetts and
member of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Moulton, first of
all, I want to get your reaction to what the President has been saying
about possibly committing war crimes and saying it on Twitter, and what you
think happens next in within this story of our confrontation with Iran?
REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): Well, what happens next is very frightening. We
don`t know, and it`s clear the administration doesn`t have a plan. But if
there`s one thing that Iran has said that I actually trust is that they
They get to choose when, how and whom they`ll target, but they will
retaliate against the United States. And there`s no question in my mind
that Donald Trump has made America less safe. He has weakened our national
security by the decision that he made a few days ago.
O`DONNELL: And when you when you consider what the possibilities are going
down the road here, in your own military experience, certainly you had
decisions to make, you had actual decisions to make in the field.
A decision that could create a certain risk this way a decision that might
create a risk from another direction. How do you make those decisions and
what is missing in the Trump processing of that kind of decision?
MOULTON: You make them by consulting advisors. You make them by talking to
people who are smarter than you. And fundamentally, you make these
decisions by putting the country first. Ahead of politics, ahead of trying
to be a tough guy, putting the country first.
A decision that Donald Trump made, really out of left field to take out
Qasem Soleimani, who by the way, we get it, he`s a terrible evil man. He
killed a lot of Americans. I saw friends die from Iranian whack weapons. I
faced Iranians on the ground in Iraq in 2004. So I get it, he`s bad.
But the decision that Trump made reminds me of a situation that I was in
Najaf 2005, Southern Iraq, where we had a militia controlled city, General
Petraeus sent me and a small team of Marines down to try to figure out how
to get that city back. And there was an Iranian proxy in place as the
This guy had blood on his hands too. He was an evil man. Trust me, I wanted
to kill that Governor. But we made a strategic decision that taking him out
would create more problems than it would solve.
And that`s the that`s the calculus you have to make in this kind of war.
Are we killing more terrorists than we`re creating by this action? It`s
very evident today with the news - it was evident within the first 24
hours, that by taking out Qasem Soleimani, Trump has made the situation
worse, and that`s dangerous for our country.
O`DONNELL: What do you think Congress`s role is now in this situation?
MOULTON: Well, it`s about time that Congress stepped up and exercised our
constitutional authority to decide when and how America goes to war. And
this is a power that we have abrogated for a long time. I have been a
consistent advocate in Congress for years now, I`ve only been here five
But from the very beginning, I`ve been advocating for having this debate
about the authorization to use military force. In the last Defense Bill
debate myself and Representative Ro Khanna of California, authored an
amendment to say to make it very clear as part of the Defense Bill, that
the administration does not have the authority to go to war with Iran.
And folks on both sides of the aisle agreed that that was true. But they
said, Oh, it`s too contentious. We shouldn`t debate this now. Well, failing
to have that debate then has gotten us that situation that we have today.
It`s never too late, though, for Congress to exercise the constitutional
responsibility that we have.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Seth Moulton, thank you very much for joining us.
Really appreciate it.
MOULTON: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, former CIA Director John Brennan will
help us evaluate the Trump administration`s claims that they have
intelligence, showing that General Soleimani presented an imminent threat
and that is why they killed him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: –made the right decision. There`s lots of
intelligence. You`ve seen some of its out in the public, right, the death
to the American on December 27th. We had intelligence on the go forward
basis of risk as well. The President made the right decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: How are we supposed to evaluate a statement like that. A
statement that refers to intelligence that might or might not be in the
government`s possession? Fortunately, for us, we have a former CIA Director
to help us with that tonight.
Joining us now is John Brennan, former Director of the CIA. He is a Senior
National Security and Intelligence Analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.
John Brennan, the audience hears things we`ve heard these kinds of
statements in, in my case from in high school from Vietnam forward, where
the government is telling us that they know things, they`ve established
this information, and that`s why they`ve taken this action.
How should we evaluate statements like that, particularly this one, coming
from a Trump administration where we know just about everyone in it,
including Mike Pompeo has been caught lying before?
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Lawrence, I have no idea what the
government currently has in terms of intelligence. But I have no doubt that
Qasem Soleimani was involved in planning operations, targeting U.S.
presidents inside of Iraq, as he has done for many years.
In fact, the individual who was riding with him when he was killed, and
also was killed, was the head of the Iraqi popular militias, which is the
Iranian proxy group. But it`s unclear exactly what type of imminent threats
may have been taking shape.
And Qasem Soleimani himself was not a terrorist operative. He was not going
to strap a explosive device on his body and go after some target. He has
been orchestrating these things over the years. So just because he was
killed, does not mean that the capability to carry out those attacks in any
way has been diminished.
In fact, because of the great anger that the Iranian government has right
now against U.S. forces and the United States government, I think it is
likely that the Iranians are going to try to orchestrate even more attacks.
So, again, I think it`s imperative that the Congress committees of
jurisdiction, get the intelligence briefing that they need from the CIA,
from the Office of Director of National Intelligence and others, to find
out exactly what Secretary Pompeo and others are referring to when they
talk about this imminent threat.
O`DONNELL: Let`s go see what Congressman Elissa Slotkin said this morning
on “Morning Joe.” I`m sorry, it was not - this is a tweet that was
apparently issued today on “Morning Joe.”
It says, “If there is an imminent threat, if people were truly at risk in
an immediate way, just bring that to us. I`m very open to hearing about
that. I`m not trying to be Secretary of State. I`m trying to understand, if
we as a nation should be having a conversation. We want to get into another
protracted war in the Middle East.”
BRENNAN: Well, this is exactly right, because obviously the assassination
of Qasem Soleimani was an escalation of the interaction between ourselves
and Iran at this point. And I agree that we need to do things to deter Iran
from carrying out these attacks that kill Americans.
But the question is whether it was a wise decision, and whether or not this
is going to help us in terms of deterring the Iranians, or is it just going
to reinforce those hardliners within the Iranian government who want to
lash out against the United States.
And what I`m concerned about is not just what might be authorized by
Khamenei and the other Iranian leaders, what might be undertaken by those
proxy groups that really revered a Qasem Soleimani and his acolytes
throughout the region. What they might do on their own that is not going to
be directed or controlled by Iran. So, again, I don`t think that there was
very good thinking that went on before this action was taken.
O`DONNELL: “The New York Times” was reporting that some of the people
involved in putting together the options list for the President, including
- included the killing of General Soleimani only to make the other options
look clearly reasonable to the President, because that one was so
Did you ever participate in any of the presidential administrations that
you worked in to, assemble a list that would include something that the
President should not do, just to make the things you should do look better?
BRENNAN: No, you try to give it presidents the best options available,
which may have a high, medium, low option. And it`s up to the President to
decide what is going to be in the best interest the United States. But
putting something like that forward, if you really don`t believe it`s in
the best interest United States, I think, is wrong.
Also I would question, what is the domestic as well as international legal
basis for assassinating a senior government official? I know of no incident
in recent memory where the United States has actually targeted an
individual working for a sovereign government, outside of the period of
We killed senior Iraqi leaders when we went to war with Iraq, as bad as
that war was, at least it was in the context of active hostilities. I know
of no other incidents in recent memory at all, where the United States,
again, selected an individual working for a sovereign government and
decided to assassinate them.
O`DONNELL: Let`s just go to that word assassination, because you seem to
have drawn a distinction there that the use of the term assassination
applies if we`re not in active hostilities, as you put it.
BRENNAN: Well, I - again, I question the legal basis for this. When Osama
bin Laden, and even Baghdadi, when they were killed by U.S. forces, it was
the result of a document, “The Authorization for the use of Military
Force,” against these forces of Al-Qaeda and their associates. That enabled
the President to take those actions.
These were terrorist organizations. They`re not national states. Qasem
Soleimani was one of the senior most leaders of the Iranian government. And
for the United States too, I think, very arbitrarily and on its own, I
think it just shows great indifference to international law and the respect
for sovereignty of other nations. As bad as Qasem Soleimani was, killing
him like this, I think, is not just strategically unwise, but also I think,
O`DONNELL: Former CIA Director John Brennan, thank you very much for your
invaluable input tonight. Really appreciate it.
BRENNAN: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, it is already Tuesday in Iran, a country
that has been transformed from an outbreak of antigovernment protests last
month to what appears to be a unity in opposition to Donald Trump`s action,
killing Iran`s top general. We have a live report from the region next.
O`DONNELL: Here`s what Iran`s capital city looked like just a couple months
ago with antigovernment protests breaking out around the country. Here`s
what Tehran looked like today for the funeral of General Soleimani, which
appears to have brought her on more unity than we saw last year.
“The Associated Press” estimated at least a million people turned out to
mourn and protest, some chanting Death to America. “The New York Times”
reports, “The General`s funeral was attended by a broad swath of Iranians,
including reformers, who opposed the government of President Hassan
Rouhani, but who perceived the killing as an attack on all of Iran.”
Joining us now Cal Perry, International Correspondent for MSNBC and NBC
News. He joins us now from Doha. Cal, we saw a very different Tehran today
than we did during the antigovernment protests.
CAL PERRY, MSNBC INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these were some of the
biggest protest that the country has ever seen since 1979. And quite
frankly, in his death, General Soleimani has managed to unite the country
and really prop up the government even further than it was before.
When you look at sort of the history of General Soleimani, and why he was
so important to the Iranian people, it`s all about Iran fighting their
enemies outside of Iran. He ran the Quds Force, which operates outside of
Iran. It is why he built up Hezbollah, the largest Shia wing of the Iranian
power. That is why they fought Israel in 2006 in Lebanon, so they wouldn`t
fight them in Iran.
It is why, for example, he partnered with Bashar al-Assad in Syria to fight
ISIS in Syria and not in Iran. He was seen as a hero to the country. It`s,
frankly, why when you heard there that U.S. troops were targeted - some 600
- 650 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq. The idea was to fight the U.S. in
Iraq and not Iran.
It`s why this area, the Persian Gulf, is so nervous this morning. It`s why
we`re hearing that U.S. diplomats are reaching out to leadership here. We
know that Secretary Pompeo has spoken to the leader of Bahrain in the last
12 hours. We know that the leaders of Kuwait and Qatar as well have
received phone calls.
And we know that the Iranians war game, the same thing over and over again,
and that`s the Strait of Hormuz. It`s the idea of scuttling something in
the Strait of Hormuz. That very narrow, 20-mile passage that a quarter of
the world`s oil moves through. That`s what their war game. It`s what the
U.S. war games.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet based out of Bahrain is always worried about that
possibility. I was on the USS Eisenhower years ago, and I asked commanders,
what is your biggest nightmare? What is the nightmare scenario of an
Iranian attack? And back then it was the same as it is today. That the
Iranians can shut down the straits.
And as commanders put it, to me, the Fifth Fleet is then basically trapped
on an Iranian lake. Imagine that, a U.S. aircraft carrier unable to make it
out to sea, stagnant in those waters. That`s the concern this morning as
the region wakes up.
And the general consensus here, Lawrence, is that once General Soleimani is
buried this morning - Tuesday morning in his hometown in Iran, that`s at
what point the windows opens the possibility that Iran can take the gloves
O`DONNELL: Cal Perry in Doha where it is already Tuesday morning, thank you
very much for joining us. Really appreciate it. That is tonight`s LAST
WORD. “THE 11TH HOUR” with Brian Williams starts now.
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distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
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