John Kerry on Trump and Iran. TRANSCRIPT: 1/8/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.

Guests:
John Kerry
Transcript:

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

 

And we have the person who I`ve been hoping to speak to about this

situation with Iran since these hostilities broke out, former Secretary of

State John Kerry, who`s going to join us. 

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Oh, great.  Excellent. 

 

O`DONNELL:  No one knows more about how we got to here since he finished

negotiating that Iran deal which President Trump decided he was going to

rip up. 

 

MADDOW:  Excellent.  Get to it, my friend. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Lawrence. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Well, we`ve had exactly one secretary of state who began his

public life as a war protester.  After serving combat in Vietnam, John

Kerry returned to the United States to try to stop the war in Vietnam.  He

asked the question that haunted a nation. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  We are asking Americans to think about

that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? 

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?  But we`re

trying to do that, and we`re doing it with thousands of rationalizations. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  John Kerry saved American lives in Vietnam, but he saved more

American lives by joining the peace movement that forced an end to the war

in Vietnam.  He served 28 years in the United States Senate before

President Barack Obama appointed him secretary of state.  In that job, John

Kerry took on one of the most difficult challenges any secretary of state

has ever faced, negotiating an agreement with Iran that prevented Iran from

developing nuclear weapons.  It is one of the most important

accomplishments of any secretary of state in the nuclear age. 

 

Today, Donald Trump publicly all but begged Iran to negotiate a new nuclear

agreement after Donald Trump ripped up the agreement John Kerry negotiated

at the direction of President Obama.  Since this latest round of

hostilities broke out with Iran, there is no one I`ve been wanting to talk

with more than the secretary of state who negotiated that nuclear deal with

Iran. 

 

And so, we`re lucky to have John Kerry as our first guest tonight. 

 

And later in this hour, we will get to the impeachment trial of Donald

Trump as the Senate seems increasingly ready to begin that trial, although

Nancy Pelosi is still holding on to those articles of impeachment.  We`ll

hear from former Solicitor General Neal Katyal whose “New York Times” op-ed

piece is titled: Why is Mitch McConnell so afraid of John Bolton. 

 

And Joy Reid will join our impeachment discussion later in the hour. 

 

More than 12 hours after tweeting “all is well” last night, the president

of the United States finally addressed the nation and said this before even

saying good morning. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As long as I`m president of

the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. 

 

Good morning. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  The president seemed to be, first, reaching for credit for

something that every president before him has accomplished, keeping nuclear

weapons out of the hands of the Iranian government.  No president did more

to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons than President Barack Obama

who reached an agreement with Iran joined by the United Kingdom, Germany,

France, Russia, and China in which Iran agreed not to pursue the

development of nuclear weapons. 

 

The structure of that deal remains in place with those other countries,

even though the United States has withdrawn from it. 

 

And today, President Trump said we all must work together to try to make

that same deal again. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia,

and China to recognize this reality.  They must now break away from the

remnants of the Iran deal or JCPOA, and we must all work together toward

making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful

place. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  That is exactly what the Iran deal did, made the world a safer

and more peaceful place.  That is why the world`s leading nuclear powers

all joined it.  They all participated in the negotiations.  They all

supported the deal. 

 

President Trump`s almost ten-minute speech was written for him and he read

it word for word from teleprompters.  There were no Trump improvisations. 

There were no Trump half sentences crashing into other half sentences that

didn`t add up to a real sentence. 

 

Every sentence was clear, but not every sentence was true.  And there were

passages of the speech that Donald Trump has already made clear, do not

actually reflect his real thinking about Iran, like when he said Iran can

be a great country. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper and

take advantage of its enormous untapped potential.  Iran can be a great

country.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  The president closed his speech by directly addressing the

people and leaders of Iran.  He did not repeat his threat to target

cultural sites and civilians from military attack.  Instead, he said

something that not one person in Iran could possibly believe. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Finally, to the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a

future and a great future, one that you deserve – one of prosperity at

home and harmony with the nations of the world.  The United States is ready

to embrace peace with all who seek it. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  We`re going to be leading up our discussion with John Kerry,

former secretary of state, right now.  He`s joining us from Iowa, but we

have lost that connection to his position in Iowa.  We will restore it as

soon as we can. 

 

And the control room tells us that we have him. 

 

Joining us now is former secretary of state, former Senator John Kerry. 

 

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  We really

appreciate it. 

 

I want to go to that last line in the president`s statement today.  I want

to begin there.  He said that last line, he said the United States is ready

to embrace peace with all who seek it, and he was speaking directly to Iran

then. 

 

Isn`t that what Iran was seeking in their negotiations with you when they

eventually signed a deal saying they would not develop nuclear weapons? 

 

KERRY:  Well, Lawrence, first of all, the president`s opening comment in

his speech was about as fatuous and unnecessary a comment as any that I`ve

ever heard a president make because the policy of every president

previously, including President Obama, was to make certain Iran could not

have a nuclear weapon, and, in fact, President Obama succeeded in

preventing Iran from having any capacity to build a nuclear weapon without

our knowing it. 

 

The Iran nuclear agreement is simply the most exhaustive, verifiable, and

transparent nuclear agreement on the face of the planet, which provided us

lifetime access to challenge any building we thought Iran might be messing

around in and inspect it if we thought it was necessary.  And we had the

absolute ability with France, Germany, Britain on our side to be able to

have a vote that was unimpeachable by China, by Russia, or anybody else to

prevent us from doing so. 

 

So what the president has done, Lawrence, is create this crisis.  There

were no missiles coming at our facilities before he pulled out of this

agreement.  There were no ships being detained in the Gulf.  There was no

protester at the gates of the Baghdad embassy.  There were no ships being

taken hostage. 

 

We were welcomed in Iraq.  We were fighting ISIS jointly.  We had a

foothold in other countries in the region, where now people are voting to

say we have to go home. 

 

We`re now – we`re at risk.  We`re now – our diplomats anywhere in that

region are at greater risk, and any American citizen I would proffer in

that region is at risk.  There is no way at all that the world is safer,

that the United States is safer, that the region is safer with the steps

this president has taken to create a crisis that didn`t have to happen. 

 

There are countless ways he could have gone to the British, the French, the

Germans, the Chinese, the Russians, all of whom stayed in this agreement

after he pulled out because they understood the strength of it.  But on the

contrary, there was no way he could have not gone to them and said, you

have to join me now in working on the agreement to deal with Yemen, to deal

with the missile crisis, to deal with their support of Hezbollah, to deal

with their interference in Iraq, to deal with their threats to Israel.  All

of that was on the table when we handed over the keys to the president. 

 

But the president is so fixated on undoing anything Barack Obama did, that

he was willing to run the risk of outright war in the effort to fulfill his

fantasy about this region and about his presidency.  It`s the most

dangerous thing I`ve seen since the war I fought in, which was lied about

and presented such a crisis to our nation.

 

And I think Americans need to stop and consider the recklessness and

impulsiveness of the decision that he made. 

 

O`DONNELL:  I want to take a look at another thing the president said about

the Iran nuclear deal.  He said and we`ll hear him say it, but he said,

hostilities increased after the Iran nuclear deal.  And he didn`t stop

there.  Let`s listen to this. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Iran`s hostility substantially increased after the foolish Iran

nuclear deal was signed in 2013.  And they were given $150 billion, not to

mention $1.8 billion in cash. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Your reaction to that, Secretary Kerry? 

 

KERRY:  It is an outright lie, an outright lie by the president of the

United States that they were given $150 billion.  They were not.  And the

money that they did receive was their money because they sued the United

States of America and won in court and were being paid interest. 

 

So, American citizens were paying interest every single day that was

accruing, more and more billions of dollars that were going to go to Iran. 

We cut that short.  We negotiated a deal that greatly reduced the amount of

money they were, in fact, supposed to receive under court order, and they

would have received it eventually.  And we transferred that to them, most

of which they owed to other countries and other people in a massive debt

that Iran had accrued. 

 

So the fact is that he has lied about that.  And also the budget of the

IRGC was well taken care of by Iranians, by the regime, which we didn`t

like.  Nobody likes what they`ve been doing in the region. 

 

And even during our negotiations on this agreement, we raised sanctions

against Iran, sanctions on human rights, sanctions for its transfer of

weapons to Yemen, sanctions for its support of Hezbollah, sanctions for its

behavior in its missile program.  We raised those sanctions and we

constantly said to people, the first challenge is take the nuclear weapon

off the table. 

 

And then you have an ability to be able to negotiate with Iran on all of

the other issues that consider all of us, that no one who still ever turned

a blind eye to Iran`s behavior in the region, but there`s a better way to

go at it.  And the best way to go at it is with the ability to have France,

Germany, Britain, China, Russia all on our side holding Iran accountable

for that behavior and using the United Nations Security Council to be able

to hold them accountable. 

 

Now this president has isolated the United States of America.  The

president has gotten Iraq parliament to vote that we have to leave Iraq. 

The president has actually opened the door for people to question our

credibility and our capacity in the region. 

 

The United States has been weakened by the steps this president has taken

in a sort of shotgun, impulsive, reckless way, without a process that

involves State Department, military, all the people who are part of a very

significant process of evaluating these kinds of decisions.  And moreover,

the president stood besides Putin in Helsinki and threw the entire

intelligence community of our nation under the bus and chose to believe

Putin over our own intelligence community. 

 

So there are people reeling all over the world wondering about the

steadiness and capacity of the president of the United States and this

administration.  And we are not safer because this president has been

willing to personally invoke his anti-Obamaism to such a degree that he`s

run the risk of war. 

 

That response by Iran could have been significantly different.  And it is

not right for the president of the United States to put the United States

in a position where we are dependent on a regime that we don`t like to

somehow behave in a way that saves this president from himself. 

 

O`DONNELL:  What is – Secretary Kerry, knowing the Iranian military and

the Iranian regime as you do, what is your interpretation of the nature of

their response and the fact that were no American casualties, there were

casualties involved?  Do you think that that was a response that Iran was

carefully measuring and that was actually their intent? 

 

KERRY:  Well, I can`t define what the intent was or what choice they made

or whether it was debated or how it was debated.  I do know this.  In their

attack against Aramco in Saudi Arabia, I think they fired about 20

missiles.  And it`s my understanding that 17 of the 20 missiles landed

within one meter of their bull`s-eye. 

 

So make your own judgment about Iran`s capacity.  My judgment is that, in

fact, this – you know, is a process that is unfolding in the most

dangerous way for our country and for the region.  The fact is that we

would be better off to have had the agreement in place which actually

restrained their ability to be able to get a nuclear weapon without our

knowing it. 

 

I`m not vouching for Iran.  I can`t and never have in any of the testimony

when we passed this, we never said Iran will never do this.  What we said

is we`ve put in place a verification mechanism by which we have television

cameras.  We destroyed certain facilities.  They agreed to destroy certain

facilities. 

 

We`re in those facilities every day inspecting.  We know what they`re

doing.  If they jot up their enrichment, we will no it.  If they begin to

change their production, we will know it. 

 

And every military option that is available to us will be available to us

in five years, in 10 years, in 15 years.  We would have that.

 

But what we`ve lost is the support of the other people who were involved in

negotiating this agreement and signing this agreement and backing this

agreement and wanting it to work. 

 

And very important to this, General Soleimani opposed this agreement.  He

did not want the ayatollah to negotiate this agreement.  The entire IRGC

constantly made life miserable for President Rouhani and for Foreign

Minister Zarif.  And they were constantly under pressure about what they

could and couldn`t do in order to live up to what we demanded they do in

order to be able to have an agreement that was airtight to know what

they`re doing. 

 

So, some people have complained that in 15 years, if they live by the

agreement, they would have a right to increase some enrichment, yes, they

would.  There are 14 countries in the world that actually have lived by the

nonproliferation retreat, and they do increased enrichment.  But the point

is, because of the presence of the International Atomic Energy Agency,

because of our presence, because of sealed radio transmitters that are on

these centrifuges, because of our television cameras in their facilities,

because of our cradle-to-grave tracking of every ounce of uranium that they

produce, we would know what they are doing.  And we had the right to

challenge them. 

 

So, President Trump has taken a situation where the world got a nuclear

weapon off the table, and where we actually had the verification capacity

to make sure it stayed off the table or else.  That was there.  And we had

the support of the world in doing that. 

 

Now, President Trump has taken steps to get out of the agreement, to have

America invited out of Iraq, to have our embassies being attacked, to open

up the prospect of the nuclear deal, you know, totally being shredded

ultimately.  And I think what he`s also guaranteed is – I will be amazed

if this Iranian regime will negotiate with Donald Trump. 

 

They found out he`s not trustworthy.  They`ve seen his lies as we have seen

his lies, and that is not the basis on which to invite people to a table. 

Nor is it possible to squeeze and force them to that table. 

 

If we learned anything in our negotiation with Iran, they pride themselves

in a more than 5,000-year history as a nation state, as a culture, as a

presence.  And I think this president just doesn`t stop to understand those

kinds of things, let alone an awful lot of other things that are important

to the presidency of the United States. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Was President Obama ever presented the option of killing

General Soleimani? 

 

KERRY:  It was always an option.  It`s been an option through several

administrations.  But people made a judgment that the cost of doing so was

not going to change the dynamic sufficiently that it was worth that cost

because of the simple reason that we`ve already seen.  Within 24 hours, a

new general is appointed.  And I assure at you new general is as committed

to the track that General Soleimani was on as he was. 

 

And so, has the threat been taken away?  No.  Has the threat perhaps even

been increased?  Very possibly.  And our intelligence community is

obviously going to monitor that very, very closely.  And we got a president

that actually believed what the intelligence community tells him. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Secretary Kerry, it seems for the speech the president read

today in his teleprompter, that speech agrees with the Obama/Kerry approach

because that speech called for – the president said he wanted to ask NATO

to become more involved.  He also specified all of the countries that were

involved in the Iran nuclear agreement, saying they all have to get

together. That is the Kerry/Obama approach that was advocated by that

speech today. 

 

But what I want to ask you about as a final point here is, what does this

confrontation, what does this situation where the president of the United

States is in a confrontation with Iraq, simultaneously a confrontation with

Iran, the Iraqi parliament saying we don`t want you here anymore because of

the way you`re confronting Iran on our territory.  What is Vladimir Putin

and Russia`s reaction to this dynamic tonight? 

 

KERRY:  Well, Russia has to be delighted by the way in which the United

States has been con founded in the region.  That is clearly part of the

loss of what President Trump has brought about in his extraordinary

attitude towards President Putin and Russia itself, as we`ve seen evidenced

on so much occasions. 

 

Russia is thrilled by this.  Russia is visible, shaking hands and hugging

Assad.  Russia is visible visiting the region.  Bashar (ph) is in the

region.

 

And, you know, I think that the president`s speech today obviously

contemplates something different in terms of the actual outcome of a new

negotiation, even though he talks about it in the context he did.  But the

fact remains, the nuclear weapon that he now says they will never get, they

were never going to get because it was already off the table. 

 

And what was awaiting this president and others was the negotiation on the

follow-on agreement to make peace in Yemen, to bring to a halt Iran`s

involvement in uranium.  I agree with the Saudis that Iran has no business

being there and bringing rockets there that threaten Saudi Arabia.  We

didn`t want that any more than they wanted it today. 

 

But how do you get to that?  You have to have a negotiation.  And what the

president did by just unilaterally pulling out of the agreement and

simultaneously declaring effective economic war against Iran was to say to

them, I`m abrogating the agreement, you can`t trust me, you can`t negotiate

with me because I`m going to get what I want. 

 

And the result of that, they have hardened down Iran.  The IRGC never

wanted Iran`s nuclear ambitions curbed.  The IRGC constantly has been the

really aggressive arm of the Iranian regime.  And if you have a chance of

moving in a different direction and creating a longer-term stability in the

region which is so critical to everybody, it can only come through

negotiation. 

 

To date, there has been little indication that this administration has

really been serious about that negotiation. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Former Secretary of State John Kerry, cannot thank you enough

for joining us tonight.  Mr. Secretary, your insight on this has been

invaluable.  Your experience, the country needed to hear from you about

this and I really appreciate you joining us. 

 

KERRY:  Glad to be with you.  Thanks, Lawrence. 

 

O`DONNELL:  Thank you.

 

And when we come back, the current secretary of state`s briefing to the

United States Senate today could not have been worse.  One senator said it

was absolutely insane, and that senator is a Republican. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL:  Absolutely insane.  That`s not the kind of review you hear

often about secret Senate briefings by the CIA director, the defense

secretary, and the secretary of state.  But that`s how one senator

described what he heard from the Trump team today when they came to explain

why the president killed Iran`s top general. 

 

And the senator who said that is a Republican. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT):  Briefing, which I would add was probably the worst

briefing I`ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I`ve

served in the United States senate.  They had to leave after 75 minutes,

while they`re in the process of telling us that we need to be good little

boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public.  I find that

absolutely insane. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Senator Mike Lee said he went into the briefing undecided about

how to vote on a War Powers Resolution that Democratic Senator Tim Kaine

introduced that would prevent military action against Iran.  But the

briefing helped Mike Lee make up his mind. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

LEE:  I can say that after that briefing, that briefing is what changed my

mind.  That briefing is what brought me on board together with the

amendments Senator Kaine has agreed to make.  I`m now going to support it.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Republican Senator Rand Paul who was with Mike Lee in that

press conference there also announced that he would support the Democrats`

War Powers Resolution restricting military action against Iran. 

 

That provoked Senator Lindsey Graham to publicly say that he liked what he

heard in the briefing and he does not like what he`s hearing from Mike Lee

and Rand Paul. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I think they`re overreacting quite frankly. 

Go debate all you want to.  I`m going to debate you.  Trust me, I`m going

to – I`m going to let people know that at this moment in time to play this

game with the War Powers Act, which is unconstitutional, whether you mean

to or not, you`re empowering the enemy. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Empowering the enemy.  That was the last thing that Lindsey

Graham said about Mike Lee and Rand Paul. 

 

Here`s Rand Paul`s reaction to Lindsey Graham accusing him of empowering

the enemy. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY):  He insults the Constitution, our Founding Fathers,

and what we do stand for in this republic by making light of it and

accusing people of lacking patriotism.  I think that`s a low-gutter type of

response. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion, Joy Reid, MSNBC national correspondent

and the host of “A.M. JOY”.  She`s the author of the book, “The Man Who

Sold America.”

 

And Ned Price is with us.  She`s a former CIA analyst and former senior

director and spokesperson with the National Security Council in the Obama

administration. He`s an MSNBC National Security Contributor.

 

Joy, it got really hot with the Republican reaction to that briefing today.

I can`t think of the last time, I`ve seen one of these briefings happen and

a senator walks out and said, OK, that one made up my mind and it made up

my mind, I`m voting against my party.

 

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, AM JOY: Yes. Well, first of all, before I answer your

question, I will respond to you. I have to congratulate you on that

interview with Former Secretary of State John Kerry.

 

O`DONNELL: I just listened.

 

REID: It was a great interview and I`m just warning you now, I will be

stealing huge chunks of it for my show.

 

O`DONNELL: Good.

 

REID: But yes–

 

O`DONNELL: He did say a lot of important things, we should be repurposing a

lot of that video.

 

REID: Absolutely. But as far as Lindsey Graham, I`d like to introduce him

to the Tea Party. I don`t know, he remembers 2010, but people like Mike

Lee, people like Rand Paul, people like in the House, Justin Amash, ran for

office saying that they were constitutional conservatives first, Republican

second. They in the beginning became a huge amount of trouble for the

regular order warmongering Republicans like Lindsey Graham and the other

sort of pretending to be Tea Party, but really just sycophants like Marco

Rubio, the party men.

 

They became a lot of problems for them. They were a lot of problems for

poor John Boehner in the House. They are very difficult to control when

they`re on an issue that they really care about. Now, they were fine to

take the need because it`s Donald Trump who`s President. He`s a Republican,

so we`re going to - yes, sir, yes, sir him all the way through tax cuts,

all that stuff is fine. But war is one of those issues that they actually

have opinions on. So, good luck trying to make them be good boys. They`re

not going to be.

 

O`DONNELL: And Ned Price, what we were hearing about from and we - by the

way, all of our information about what happened there is coming from these

Republican senators, Democratic senators were very reluctant to make any

reference to what happened there. They did say they weren`t really

satisfied with what they were hearing.

 

But what the picture you were getting especially from Mike Lee is, Mike

Pompeo comes in there and the Defense Secretary comes in there, CIA

Director comes in there and says, don`t dare debate this. Do not debate

this. You will be empowering the enemy if you debate this. I mean, Lindsey

Graham was just echoing them.

 

NED PRICE, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Yes, you know, Lawrence we`ve seen something

incredibly disquieting over the past couple of days. This administration

has been more than happy to spike the football to thump their chests in the

wake of General Soleimani`s killing, even going so far as to send

fundraising emails based on the operation to President Trump`s political

base.

 

But at the same time, they haven`t been willing to explain the basis for

the operation, it`s predication or their strategy going forward to the

American people. They actually went to an extraordinary length the other

day. They submitted as required by law, a War Powers notification

consistent with the 1973 law to Congress but did so in a completely

classified form.

 

I had previously never heard of a War Powers notification being classified

in full. But I think the answer is starting to come into focus, and the

answer may well be that this administration doesn`t have answers. They

don`t have answers as to the basis for the strike or at least they don`t

have good answers. They don`t have answers for their strategy going

forward. And you know, I was listening to some of the reactions from these

senators and we actually have heard something somewhat similar to this in

the past and you won`t be surprised to hear it, it came from a Trump

administration briefing just late last year when the Trump administration

was trying to convince the Senate not to limit its involvement in the war

in Yemen.

 

They sent Secretary Pompeo and others up to the Hill and the response out

of that briefing was not quite as abysmal, but nearly as abysmal as what we

heard today. It seems that they would be better suited, that they would be

better placed if they just kept their mouths shut. But of course, they

can`t help themselves.

 

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Senator Tim Kaine said about the briefing.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): It is a far cry from meeting a standard of imminent

threat. They had to leave pretty quickly. So, about 10 of the attending

senators, 10 to 15 got to ask questions and many others did not get to ask

questions. But at least based on the presentation that was made, it does

not mean what I consider to be an imminent threat.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL: Yes, Joy, no one has come out saying, yes, they established the

imminent threat that made it absolutely necessary to kill the General.

 

REID: Right. I think Andrea Mitchell said this was the worst national

security team that she`s ever observed in a presidential administration.

Look, it would have been a lot more honest if the national security team

had come out and said, look, let`s just be honest. Donald Trump everyday

wakes up, thinks about every signal moment of Barack Obama`s presidency.

 

You know the people cheering outside the White House when he got Osama bin

Laden, when our military got Osama bin Laden. People loving him throughout

Europe, him getting a Nobel Peace Prize. He looks at all those signal

moments and he says, how can I get one of those from me. If the black guy

had one, I`ve got to have one, I`ve got to have one that`s better.

 

So, he tore up the Iran deal for no other reason than what the British

Ambassador to the U.S. at the time said, because Obama`s name was on it. He

tore it up for no good reason. We found ourselves in a spot. Iran started

to act out because they had been pushed out by the United States. And when

Donald Trump was watching TV, he saw images on TV that reminded him vaguely

of Benghazi. He got mad and that`s what he did. That would have been more

honest.

 

The problem is that would not have accrued to the War Powers Resolution

that they`ve got to do. The law says, the President just can`t decide to

kill a member of a foreign government because he`s mad, or because there`s

something on TV that bothers him. But that is who we have for President and

he doesn`t have anyone around him at this point that has the experience,

the know-how, the intel, the ability to do anything to explain it or to

make it legal.

 

And so, what they have to do is come up with excuses. Sure, Lindsey Graham,

who`s prime directive is to be Donald Trump`s best friend. Sure, he can

explain it, because it`s good enough for him if he has no explanation, not

good enough for Congress. Donald Trump has a problem.

 

O`DONNELL: We have to take a break here. Ned Price, thank you very much for

joining us. Joy Reid is going to stay with us. And when we come back,

Speaker Pelosi is still not ready to send those articles of impeachment to

the Senate. Neal Katyal has written a new op ed piece about the Senate

impeachment trial of the President. Neal Katyal will join us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL: At least one Republican senator is publicly in favor of hearing

from witnesses at these Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The Clinton impeachment process allowed for

witnesses to be determined after the opening arguments. I`m comfortable

with that process. At this stage, I`d like to hear from John Bolton,

another witness with direct information. But that process will accommodate

that.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL: Mitch McConnell says he has 51 votes to begin the Senate trial

using the same rules that were used to begin the Bill Clinton Senate

impeachment trial. That means Mitch McConnell has the votes to start the

trial without agreeing to any witnesses ahead of time. Senator Chuck

Schumer has vowed to repeatedly force votes on calling witnesses.

 

Neal Katyal`s new op ed piece co-authored with George Conway, the husband

of Kellyanne Conway is entitled, Why is Mitch McConnell So Afraid of John

Bolton. Neal Katyal will join us next to answer that question and more

about the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of the President of the United

States.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL: Here`s Kasie Hunt asking Senator Mitt Romney yesterday about

witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

KASIE HUNT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Do you think it`s realistic that for

Republican senators would vote to call John Bolton.

 

ROMNEY: I can`t begin to predict what other senators will do. I know that I

would want to hear from witnesses and - unless there`s some surprise along

the way we learn something that clarifies it and does not require

witnesses. But certainly, I`d like to see a process that allows us to call

for witnesses.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL: Joining our impeachment discussion now is Neal Katyal, Former

Acting U.S. Solicitor General and an MSNBC Legal Contributor. He`s the

author of Impeach, The Case Against Donald Trump. He co-authored the

opinion piece, Why is Mitch McConnell So Afraid of John Bolton.

 

So, Neal, I have a question for you. Why is Mitch McConnell so afraid of

John Bolton?

 

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: So, well, Lawrence you

know we`re just 48 hours after this bombshell that John Bolton said, he is

willing to testify. And already Mitch McConnell has put the squelch on it,

which is really quite remarkable, and it says a lot about where the

Republican Senate is.

 

I mean you just played a clip from Rand Paul saying you know how are people

insulting the founders and insulting the Constitution when it comes to War

Powers. I think the same question can be asked here.

 

McConnell is trying to proceed without even a guarantee that any witness,

even John Bolton will be called to testify. And I can`t think of something

more kind of antithetical to the founder`s idea. After all, the

Constitution requires them to try an impeachment case and I`ve never heard

of a trial without witnesses. I don`t know what`s next for McConnell, is he

going to be like a Supreme Court confirmation hearing shouldn`t have a

nominee or something like that. I don`t know.

 

I mean it`s we`re getting to the point of the absurd and I`m glad to see

Mitt Romney say, there should be witnesses. But it is a really striking

thing and to get to your question, why? I think there`s only one reason. I

mean we know that John Bolton from - to his Deputy Dr. Fiona Hill said that

this was a drug deal, the suspension of Ukraine aid and was incredibly

opposed to it.

 

We know that John Bolton gave a speech a couple of months ago, a private

speech in which he said, President Trump put his personal interest over

those of the American people when it came to foreign policy. This is

Trump`s guy. This is the Trump`s National Security Adviser saying that. So,

why are they afraid of him? Because he`s got some bad stuff on the

President and they`re trying to hide the truth. They know the President is

guilty.

 

O`DONNELL: Well, Chuck Schumer guarantees us there will be multiple votes

in the trial on the question of witnesses. Mitt Romney has made it very

clear; he will vote for John Bolton as a witness and he uses the word

witnesses, plural. There are others that he is willing to vote for. We`re

not sure exactly which ones, but definitely Bolton. And so, on Bolton now,

we just need - you need a few more Republicans to get to 51 to have John

Bolton as a witness.

 

KATYAL: Yes. And I suspect that they`re going to get that with Bolton and

with many other witnesses including Pompeo and indeed perhaps even the

President himself, President Trump who after all is the central figure in

this.

 

And you know look, this is a Senate controlled by Republicans. I can`t

think of any reason why the President should be afraid to testify in a

Senate that his own party controls, except one, which is, he knows he`s

guilty.

 

And you know it is a pretty remarkable thing to start this trial without

the guarantee of witnesses and Senator McConnell has said, oh, that`s what

happened in Clinton. There was a big difference in Clinton. President

Clinton didn`t try and gag all those same witnesses in the House. Here,

President Trump did that. No president has ever done that in our history

and said, every witness, every document has to be gagged and can`t appear

in the House.

 

So, it`s a little rich to say now, oh, well, Bolton didn`t testify in the

House, so therefore he can`t testify in the Senate. The reason he didn`t

testify in the House is because the President blocked him. And so, these

kinds of inane shell games are being played by the President, by Senator

McConnell and I think the American people just have to ask one simple

question, why? Why would they go through all this effort to try and hide

the truth from the American people? And I think the question answers

itself.

 

O`DONNELL: Always clarifying, listening to Neal Katyal. Neal, thank you

very much for joining us and I really appreciate it.

 

KATYAL: Thank you.

 

O`DONNELL: And when we come back, Joy Reid and Jonathan Alter will join us

to consider Speaker Pelosi`s strategy of continuing to hold the articles of

impeachment. We`ll show you what the Speaker said about that today as she

was hustling through the corridors there, right in that video.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

O`DONNELL: Here`s what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to say tonight about

sending articles of impeachment to the Senate.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): When we saw what the arena is that we would be

sending them was in, then we would send over the articles. We haven`t seen

that. So I don`t know how many more times I have to say that or how many

times you want to ask it, but when we see the arena in which this will

happen, we will then be prepared to send articles, the pay fors, and the

managers.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

O`DONNELL: And back with us Joy Reid, MSNBC National Correspondent and host

of AM JOY. She`s author of the book, The Man Who Sold America, which I

loved reading. And joining us now, Jonathan Alter, Columnist for The Daily

Beast and an MSNBC Political Analyst and the author of many books that I

have loved reading.

 

Jonathan can someone here explain to me what Nancy Pelosi is doing with the

Articles of Impeachment. We now have about eight Democratic senators

saying, we`d like to see them, you can send them over now.

 

JONATHAN ALTER, THE DAILY BEAST COLUMNIST: She doesn`t have to listen to

them.

 

O`DONNELL: No, she`s not.

 

ALTER: She`s the Speaker of the House. So, the arena, she used that word

the arena, a couple of times, not just Theodore Roosevelt, the man in the

arena. What she`s talking about is, she needs to know whether this will be

a real trial or a fake trial, one or the other. A trial without witnesses

is not a trial. It`s a fake proceeding and a cover up, as Chuck Schumer

said.

 

And even if you look at some of the practical things, she has to do like

decide who the House managers will be, the prosecutors in this case. If

it`s just opening and closing statements, she wants orators. If it`s

witnesses, she wants litigators, people who are really good at questioning

witnesses. Those are two, sometimes different kinds of people, maybe Adam

Schiff is both. But she needs to think about what her strategy is.

 

And also, this strategy is working for her. It`s very possible that this

will get delayed all the way until February 4th, when the State of the

Union takes place. What I think Democrats are hoping is that Donald Trump

is not allowed to get up there and say from the House of Representatives,

in front of the whole country. I`ve been vindicated. It was a witch hunt.

 

If the trial hasn`t yet been resolved, he`s under more of a cloud like Bill

Clinton when he gave his State of the Union during the Lewinsky scandal.

That`s not as good for him politically. So, Pelosi is still holding cards

here.

 

O`DONNELL: Yes. And Joy, this timing issue I think is probably the most

important of all about how does this interact with the State of the Union

and all that. But I think we now see how this is going to go, because Mitch

McConnell is not going to agree, not going to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi,

not going to agree to that. I think not negotiate with Schumer. He`s got

the votes. He has Mitt Romney`s vote to proceed under the Bill Clinton

rules.

 

And Mitt Romney has said, the Bill Clinton rules include the option to call

for witnesses during the trial. And Mitt Romney is going to vote for

witnesses. He`s going to vote specifically for John Bolton and possibly

more witnesses. And who knows how many other Republicans are going to vote

for it.

 

REID: But that`s the question, who knows how many others. And I think that

- I think Jonathan is exactly right. It is in the Speaker`s - to the

Speaker`s benefit to wait, to see where Cory Gardner is going to go, where

Martha McSally is going to go, where Joni Ernst - the vulnerable senators

who are up for reelection need to make decisions because you`re not really

going to get re-elected in Colorado, rubber stamping a fake trial. Some of

these guys are in a tougher position than others.

 

The other thing that a card that Speaker Pelosi has not played that she

could, and that Adam Schiff could play is to say, OK, we`re going to go

ahead and we`re going to do what your counsel said for us to do. We`re

going to reopen hearings and we are going to call John Bolton. John Bolton

has said he wants to testify. There`s no difference testifying to the House

than to the Senate, come testify here, if you`re just going to stipulate to

what the House found. So, what Mitch McConnell, he thinks he`s quite wise,

but he`s really quite foolish because Speaker Pelosi holds all the cards.

 

If they want to reopen hearings on Donald Trump and call those same

witnesses and say stipulate to that.

 

O`DONNELL: So, Nancy Pelosi needs reporters in Maine (ph) to be asking

Senator Susan Collins.

 

REID: Yes.

 

O`DONNELL: Are you for witnesses, are you for witnesses.

 

REID: That`s right.

 

O`DONNELL: And she needs time for that to write.

 

ALTER: Not just for witnesses, are you for a real trial or fake trial.

 

REID: Yes.

 

ALTER: Because if you`re not for witnesses, you`re basically saying

Senator, this is the way Sam Donaldson used to ask the question. You`re

saying Senator that you`re not for a real trial.

 

I think a lot of reporters now they ask the questions in kind of a passive

way. This is one where they can frame it very squarely for these

Republicans. One other thing that`s not getting enough attention that

Walter Dellinger said on this network earlier tonight, not four votes,

three votes for witnesses. Because if there is a tie, a 50-50 tie, it`s not

the Vice President who breaks the tie, it`s Chief Justice Roberts.

 

O`DONNELL: No, no, that`s not going to happen. The Chief Justice would

never cast a deciding vote in this situation. And isn`t really authorized.

 

ALTER: So, then he would just do what?

 

O`DONNELL: It`s a 50-50 tie that you can have–

 

ALTER: So, what happens then.

 

O`DONNELL: You don`t get the witnesses. I mean he`s a Rehnquist clerk,

Rehnquist deferred to the Senate on everything. Rehnquist didn`t even rule

himself. Whenever a question came up during the Clinton impeachment trial,

he just handed it to the Senate for a vote. And so, there`s no provision

for the Chief Justice to be casting the deciding–

 

ALTER: OK, so four, they–

 

O`DONNELL: They`ve been aiming for the four.

 

ALTER: They`ve got Romney and–

 

O`DONNELL: Bill Kristol says today, Bill Kristol, who used to have his

finger on the pulse of Republicans in Washington, I mean he really did. He

really knew. Now, he`s a little on the oust with them. But he believes

you`re going to get 12 Republicans to vote for Bolton to testify.

 

REID: I think that`s possible, because again, if you`re Cory Gardner, if

you`re Martha McSally, let`s just face it, the appointed Senator usually

loses when it comes to the real election. She`s not in a great place. These

guys need to vote for a real trial. Being a rubber stamp for Donald Trump

works for Lindsey Graham possibly, didn`t work for her. Doesn`t work for

Ernst. It doesn`t work for the ones who are vulnerable.

 

ALTER: And they also don`t get a primary challenge just because they vote

for witnesses. It`s hard to imagine a conservative Republican saying, I am

running against this incumbent in this primary, because he or she voted for

witnesses.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

O`DONNELL: Bring out a vote for four witnesses and it might be that a

Senator decides. I`m only going to vote for one.

 

REID: That`s right.

 

O`DONNELL: But if that one is Bolton, that might be enough.

 

REID: And remember, Jonathan Turley–

 

O`DONNELL: It`s 11:00.  Sorry.  It`s Brian`s turn.  It`s Brian`s turn to

work.  Joy Reid and Jonathan Alter, thank you.  Joy Reid sort of gets the

last word.

 

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  “THE 11TH HOUR” with Brian Williams starts

now.

 

 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY

BE UPDATED.

END

 

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