Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 4, 2018 Guest: Nick Akerman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bill Kristol, Alison Lundergan Grimes, James Peterson
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: Hello. I`m Chris Jansing in for Ari Melber.
Tonight, the Trump White House has gone to war with Steve Bannon, with a journalist, and with one of the largest publishers in the country, all over this book, "fire and fury" alleging massive dysfunction and paranoia in the Trump White House. That book originally slated for release next week has now moved up its on sale date to tomorrow. And it is already number one on Amazon bestseller list.
That means we could hear specifics from Bannon on the book because he said he would only comment once it has been released. And Trump now threatening legal action against Bannon, demanding he stop making quote "disparaging and outright defamatory remarks about the President and his family."
Trump`s lawyers also firing off a cease and desist letter to the author of that book accusing Michael Wolff a defamation by libel, invasion of privacy and reckless disregard for the truth.
But today, the White House was unable to confirm whether the Trump would actually follow through on those threats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump threatened some 20 lawsuits and followed through with two of them. So why should Steve Bannon and Michael Wolff be concern?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think regardless of whether or not there is a lawsuit, they should be concerned about peddling fake stories. It`s not from the United States government. It`s from the President`s personal attorney. And I think it is very clear what its purpose is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Now the President himself did not appear at the briefing. But instead, we saw this odd scene where a Trump video about the economy played out on monitors inside the briefing room. And asked about the controversy earlier in the day, Trump did not repeat any of the scathing criticisms in his written statement yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Steve Bannon betray you, Mr. President? Any word about Steve Bannon?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t know. He called me a great man last night. So, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick. Thank you all very much. Thank you. I don`t talk to him. I don`t talk to him. That`s just a misnomer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: So Trump right there referring to comments Bannon made on his radio show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: There is nobody we think hire of than President Trump and his agenda. And the president of the United States is a great man. Don`t worry about us and the Maga agenda, President Trump. It is we are as tight on this agenda as we have ever been. I think he has had he a heroic year the first year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: But notably, Bannon did not explicitly walk back any of the quotes in the book.
Meanwhile, the book`s author writing today about how Trump say viewed their boss.
Quote "my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency is that they all, 100 percent, came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job."
NBC chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson is live at the White House. Also with me, Bill Kristol, editor-at-large of the "Weekly Standard," John Harwood, CNBC editor-at-large.
So Hallie, Trump seem to pull his punches this morning when he was asked about Bannon. But give us a sense of what the mood there is like when this focus on dysfunction and paranoia inside the White House.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So Chris, I think you made the very smart observations that the President could very easily today have sort of pulled the pan out of a verbal grenade and tossed it right into Steve Bannon`s backyard.
JANSING: And a lot of people would have expected him to.
JACKSON: Totally. Based on the statement that we have last night, that didn`t happen, right. But let me tell you this. I have had -- I was talking with three people close to the President who describe him, frankly, described him as livid when this all happened. One person said, he used the word decisive. And that he was sort of decisive in deciding that Steve Bannon is now cut out, right. At the same time, there is I think a growing today, especially, a growing sense of palpable frustration that this story, that this book, that these he headlines continued to remain in the news and it continues to be talked about. And it continues to be driving a lot of the conversation.
One interesting moment from today`s briefing I think where you saw some of these frustrations was with Sarah Sanders and our colleague Kristen Welker when she asked about all of this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Just run the risk of increasing what fails though, Sarah, drawing more attention to this?
SANDERS: I think you guys are the ones that are drawing attention. Every question basically that I have been asked has to do with that. It`s not like I came out here and read excerpts from the book.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: You mentioned it. The book is now number one on Amazon. So clearly, it has gotten a lot of attention. There is a lot of people who want to know more about how this came about or what else Michael Wolff has to say about what happened inside the Trump administration.
Let me just tell you, though, NBC News has not independently confirmed a lot of the anecdotes in this book. Some of what is written in this book is demonstratively not true. So for example, this anecdote about Donald Trump not knowing John Boehner, for example. Now knowing who the former House speaker was. That doesn`t appear to be accurate. If you look at past comments on Twitter and elsewhere from Donald Trump. But it does raise some serious questions about chaos inside the west wing. And I think that is going to continue to drive some of the conversation here.
JANSING: Yes. And then Sarah Sanders said he even got some of the ages wrong of people inside the White House. I`m not sure that rises to the level of defamation for a lawsuit.
But Trump, I mean, frankly, has threatened to sue numerous times. He threatened the "New York Times." He threatened the Republican Party. And he didn`t follow through. We counted 20 times that he threatened to sue and frankly only went through with it twice.
So Bill, what do you make of all these threats?
[18:05:25] BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think the fact that he called his personal attorney and ordered him to send this letter is a big deal. I mean, think about that for a minute. So he is the White House. The President of the United States. He has a White House counsel. He can call a lot of advisers to say this is a good idea to do this. He was he was so furious and so I think panic when the book came out that he launched this --
JANSING: And let me ask about that because I think furious is one thing. Panicked is another.
KRISTOL: I would say - I think it is panicked.
JANSING: He thinks he`s in trouble.
KRISTOL: Yes. He thinks he is in trouble. And the word we have not mentioned on this show yet is Russia. And what does Bannon says in the book? Bannon says in the book the Russia thing is serious. The Russian thing could bring down the Trump presidency. Maybe Bannon is being a little over rhetorical or a little hyperbolic. But that`s a clear threat, I gather. I read the book but I gather Bannon says that a few times. No one has denied that Bannon believes that. He` has said that to other reporter, I believe, off the record over the last year.
And I think Trump, seeing that - think about this. Why did he make such a big deal about the defamation and the nondisclosure agreements from the campaign? He want to intimidate other people on the campaign, maybe younger people who don`t want to have legal fees and so forth who are scared of the President of the United States. He wants to intimidate them for coming forth and saying gee, you know, now that you mention it. Donald Jr. did tell me that he enjoyed the meeting with the Russians. I mean, whatever, right. Who knows? Who knows?
Now obviously, Mueller is going to find this out anyway. But for me, this is being -- the press is playing it too much as a psycho drama. Is Trump angry? Is Trump angry about the family as Bannon? And I think Trump did panic.
No White House aide said that`s a good idea to have your personal lawyer send that letter. Trump clearly ignored everyone at the White House. He wanted to intimidate people and he did so because he is scared I think of what the door Bannon has opened to the Russia question in the campaign.
JANSING: Yes. And obviously, his comments about that there was absolutely zero percent that Donald Trump Jr. didn`t take those folks up to his office after the Russia meeting.
Having said that, John, what about Bannon? I mean, here is a guy who did he say what we have been reporting? What is in this book? Very mild comparatively. Very complimentary. Both last night and this morning on Breitbart radio, Bannon says he is going to comment on the book after it is released. Now that release has been moved up, he will certainly, if anybody gets a chance be ask about it point by point, what do you make of Bannon in all this? And what seems to be it according to the President, he, you know, changed his tune.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, Steve Bannon is obviously a loose cannon and has been for a long time. But I have got to be honest, Chris. I don`t think Steve Bannon is particularly important in this story.
President Trump`s problem is not Steve Bannon. His problem is his past conduct, his present conduct as President, and the expectations that the American people have of their President. He was depicted in this book. Not just by Steve Bannon, but by many other people that Michael Wolff interacted with, as unstable, as uninformed, as childlike. Somebody who is not fit to handle the responsibilities of the presidency of the United States.
And this comes in the context of him calling for the imprisonment of political opponents. Having a twitter argument about nuclear war with the North Korean leader. All of those things raise very serious questions.
At the same time, the Robert Mueller is conducting what as Bill indicated is an extremely grave investigation of the President and the President`s associates. So will anything happen in the immediate term in terms of accountability for Donald Trump. I think we are going to have to wait for Robert Mueller`s report for that.
But Republicans are in the line of fire right now. Because if you look at the early polls for 2018, they are way behind on the generic ballot. They just took sweeping defeat against Virginia and an unexpected loss in Alabama. This is a very difficult point for the Republican Party.
JANSING: And yet, to interrupt you, John. If you are watching the reaction to this and they want to frame this as Trump versus Bannon, a lot of them are siding with Trump. Let me play some sound for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Steve Bannon can do what he wants. I just hope it doesn`t cost us any more states like Alabama.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I would like to associate myself with what the President had to say about Steve Bannon yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are standing by the President. And if that means backing away from Steve Bannon, that`s what has to be done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Steve actually is somewhat delusional with some of these claims that he has been making.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He has a voice in the Republican Party. And I think he needs to knock it off. That is a bunch of total and complete nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:10:01] JANSING: So Bill, I want your perspective on where you see this battle and then I`ll get to you, John. And that is the President versus Steve Bannon and what seems to be an irretrievably broken marriage.
You and I are old enough to remember, although, you probably -- I think it was women`s day magazine. There used to be a column called, can this marriage be saved? I`m going to guess no but you pick it up from there.
KRISTOL: I mean, I would say, Chris, I very much agree with John. I mean, this is about Trump more than about Bannon. I don`t think the marriage will be saved.
It is easy for every Republican now to say to attack Steve Bannon now. No one likes him now. The established -- the Republicans never liked Bannon.
Now the Trump Republicans don`t like Bannon so they will have fun attacking Steve Bannon for a while. At the end of the day, Bannon said what he said. We will see if he challenges Wolff`s account of it. And again, Wolff has a lot of other people on record. Some of them perhaps on tape saying things. He has a lot of circumstantial evidence about what other people have said about Trump and then there`s Trump`s actions. After all the tweets that John mentioned and other things.
So I think it is a moment. I don`t know how big a moment it is. The Bannon part will pass. Trump being President and having behaved the way he has behaved. And the way in which those were closest to him think about hm, that is going to be harder to overcome I think.
JANSING: Yes. The Bannon part will pass, John Harwood. But none of this is going to pass for at least a couple days. Because presumably, yes, you know, tomorrow, news will be made by Wolff himself who will give his first interview. And then we will see if Steve Bannon makes good and whether or not he pushes back on what`s in this book.
This is going to run through the weekend. Everybody is going to be at least in this part of the country, sitting at home, not leaving their houses. They are going to be snowed in and they are going to be watching this drama.
HARWOOD: No question about it. But I think that piece of tape that you showed makes my point.
Steve Bannon is not independently important. His importance in this situation is derivative of President Trump`s campaign and his presidency. And so, the idea that Steve Bannon is somehow going to pull away Donald Trump`s base, that`s just not going to happen. It is not realistic.
Steve Bannon is a relatively small figure in all this. It is Donald Trump who has the problem and it is Republican candidates who have got the problem because they have been shielding him from accountability. And they are the ones on the ballot this fall. And all the indications we have are that it is a very difficult fall for the Republican Party. They could lose control of the Congress.
KRISTOL: If I could just have one point, Chris. I think it is bad can jump on Steve Bannon now, but why was Steve Bannon an important person? Who made Steve Bannon campaign chairman of the Republican Presidential campaign?
JANSING: And who brought him into the White House.
KRISTOL: Who brought him in to the White House at a level equal to the chief of staff? Donald Trump.
So it is very nice for them all to attack Bannon. But why - well, if that is the case, isn`t that kind of a failure of judgment of Donald Trump to make him one of his very top advisers in the White House?
JANSING: Hallie, I know you well. You are dying to jump in here.
JANSING: Let me ask you seriously about this. Because, again, to the whole point about, you know, how long this last and what the implications might be? I don`t think there is any doubt that all of this is selling a lot of books. There is controversy about what was said and what wasn`t said. Wolff said he has tapes of his conversation with Bannon, with other senior White House aides. And we mentioned number one on the bestseller list.
JACKSON: And there`s a couple of pieces to this, Chris. Because to sort of listening to the conversation here with Bill and John and you. Remember that this is also about the people who are close to Steve Bannon. People like Rebecca Mercer, by the way, a powerful donor who has now come out with the "Washington Post" with a very unusual public statement distancing herself, repudiating essentially Steve Bannon here. That`s significant. Because money talks, right.
Number two, to Bill`s point about the people that the President surrounds himself with, this is a President who promised to hire the best people during the campaign. You know that. And you know, that Mike Flynn is one of the people that the President hired. So I think that the questions of judgment now continue to linger on this president. These are questions that we have been asking for the last 11-and-a-half months now of this White House. Particularly ever since we learned about these questions surrounding Flynn.
As (INAUDIBLE), this is still going to be a story, to the chagrin to the people who are standing at the west wing, just down the drive way here, it will continue to be one.
And maybe it`s not about Bannon. Maybe it is. Maybe it is about what happens with the people who have aligned themselves with Steve Bannon and that part of conservative movement. But the bottom line is this is about the President and his judgment.
And one of the things that we want to know more about, what else does the President think about this? He very briefly spoke about Bannon today after that blistering statement last night. And I think that that is going to be something we will see develop over the next 72 hours or so.
JANSING: Hallie Jackson and John Harwood, mu thanks to you. Bill Kristol, you are going to be back a little later in the show.
And coming up, is Bob Mueller going to follow the money in the Russia probe? We will hear from two experts on Trump`s finances.
Also, new reporting about how lawmakers are more concerned about the President`s stability and state of mind. Some even calling on a psychiatrist.
Plus, new questions about why the homeland security department is taking over for Trump`s voting commission.
And we will tell you why Vinny, yes that Vinny from the jersey shore, is fact checking the President.
I`m Chris Jansing in for Ari Melber. You are watching "the Beat" on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[18:18:18] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to do this my way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You tell me what you know and I will confirm. I will keep you in the right direction if I can but that`s all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just follow the money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: The famous line from the movie, "all the President`s men," follow the money.
And in the new bombshell book about the White House, Steve Bannon says that`s exactly what Bob Mueller is doing. Bannon telling Michael Wolff, the Russia probe is all about money laundering. And it goes through Deutsche bank and all the Kushner stuff. Although he used a saltier word than stuff.
And this week, the founders of the firm behind the Trump Russia dossier wrote they had seen widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raise questions about money laundering. And they suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump`s businesses.
Who would have thought Steve Bannon and the men behind the Russian dossier would agree?
With me, two reporters who literally written the books on Donald Trump and his money. Tim O`Brien, executive editor of "Bloomberg View," who wrote "Trump Nation." And David Cay Johnston is the author of the upcoming book, "it`s even worse than you think. What the Trump administration is doing to America." He is also the founder of the nonprofit news service, `D.C. reports."
It is great to see boat of you.
Tim, you write today that Mueller`s investigation will involve Trump`s financial dealings and Bannon knows this and he knows how devastating all of it could be to Trump and his children. Explain.
TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Well, you know, Steve Bannon is street smart. I think he watch his watch now for well over a year and a half, how team Trump operates. They are sort of apocalyptically inept. And he knows I think where some of the sharp points of the Mueller investigation are going to come to rest. And clearly, some of that is going to be around the Trump family and the Kushner family`s financial dealings. And the extent to which that does or doesn`t involve money laundering.
And it is not simply a random examination. Trump himself has had a long history of interactions. With career criminals, known money laundering. And it would be obvious for Mueller to explore this and I think Bannon knows it.
[18:20:41] JANSING: David, last month, the "New York Times" reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed Deutsche bank records associated with the Kushner family, but no indication it was part of Mueller`s probe. But what`s your thought here? How likely is that Mueller looking at those records, of those kinds of records?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON. AUTHOR, IT`S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK: Mueller and his team, the very first person he put on the team was a prosecutor expert at money laundering. And Donald`s involvement with deals that don`t make any obvious economic sense unless they involve payoffs and money laundering goes back more than 30 years.
Deutsche bank was the bank of choice for Russians laundering money. It has been fined more than $600 million just for laundering money for Russians in New York, in Germany and in Cyprus. So that is clearly going to be a deep focus of Mueller`s investigation. Not surprising in the least that they are working on Jared Kushner`s family first. They may be an easier target and they may be able to get leverage from that.
JANSING: And is this in some ways less complicated only in this sense? That you have paper records. That you have evidence that is written down. Evidence that is kept on computers. Evidence that has been preserved, as opposed to interviewing people and it becomes who is more credible.
JOHNSTON: Well, the financial crimes enforcement network to the federal government which is staffed principally with the IRS people is really good at finding needles in hay stacks. If you need tie down just a few hundred thousand dollars out of the trillions of dollars sloshing around this country and connect them to a crime, they are the people capable of doing it.
JANSING: Literally those kinds of numbers. Hundreds of thousands out of trillions.
JOHNSTON: Yes. With the exception of what is called the (INAUDIBLE) system which is a private system where you give somebody a number in one country and, you know, someone gives them the same number elsewhere to transfer money because no actual transfer took place, you can`t move money around the world without leaving a trace and these people are expert at tracing money.
JANSING: Now, you might make the argument if you think that something nefarious happened here that we think, may think (INAUDIBLE) protest too much. But to the President`s prominent supporters pushed back on this whole idea of money laundering today and I want to play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are making such absurd claims that the Trump family or people close to them are engaging a money laundering. I mean, it is silly stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about money laundering?
SCARAMUCCI: I don`t know enough about it, OK. So I don`t know what happened. But my guess is that is probably a bunch of nonsense too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Silly, absurd, nonsense. Lots of descriptors. But is it possible that there is really nothing here that we actually know? That it is really all speculations or is it at least in form speculation?
O`BRIEN: No. I don`t even think it is speculation. It`s in court records. Donald Trump was in a close partnership with the Bay Rock group which built the Trump Soho hotel. Bay Rock was controlled by a career criminal, Felix (INAUDIBLE). Other members of Bay Rock believed there was money laundering going around. That`s in court documents.
When Donald Trump entered Atlantic City back decades ago, his original partners Atlantic City had organized crime ties. These aren`t matters of speculations. They are documented and government investigations. They are documented in court papers. The issue isn`t whether or not it happened. The matter at hand is the extent to which Donald Trump knew.
JANSING: There is also another detail from Michael Wolff`s book that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner actively (ph) push Trump to fire James Comey. He writes the family focus of discussion, insistent, almost frenzied, became wholly about Comey`s ambition. He would rise by damaging them.
What do you make of that, David?
JOHNSTON: Well, I`m not surprise that anybody around Donald Trump wanted to get rid of Comey, particularly after Donald`s ham handed effort to get a pledge of personal loyalty from him just as he asked voters in the campaign to pledge their personal loyalty. You know, I think they believed wrongly that this would blunt the investigation and make it all go away. And obviously that was a major mistake by people who, they don`t have any experience in politics. They don`t understand how the game works.
[18:25:06] JANSING: And Tim, you are one of the people Trump didn`t just threaten. He actually did sue you for defamation because you wrote his net worth was between $150 million and $250 million. I think at the time he said it is $5 or $6 billion that I`m worth. And a judge tossed the suit out.
But what is your sense of this? He is threatening to sue over this new book. Do you think he will and could it get any more traction than your - the suit against you did?
O`BRIEN: I don`t think it will get any more traction. I don`t think it is strategically wise to go this route. I think he opens himself up to discovery. He is the most public of public figures. There is going to be a strong first amendment standard around all of this that will protect the writers. But first and for most, he usually doesn`t follow through on lawsuits. I was the very case in which he did. Most of the time --.
JANSING: Why do you think he went after you ultimately?
O`BRIEN: Well, I think I was at the "New York Times." I think that the opinion of the "New York Times" mattered to him quite a bit. I was writing about a number of things. The stuff about his wealth was only two or three pages of a longer book. But he is very insecure about his intellect. He is very insecure about how attractive he is to women. And the third and probably most vulnerable things he is very insecure about his wealth and his business success.
JANSING: Tim O`Brien, David Cay Johnston, fascinating stuff. Thank you, guys.
Up next, the infamous Trump tower meeting. The President`s initial statement about and it new questions of obstruction of justice. I`ll talk to Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman.
Plus, questions about the President`s mental state now coming from Congress. What lawmakers have been asking?
JANSING: Was it obstruction of justice? We are now learning the spokesman to the legal Trump`s team quit over the statement that Donald Trump drafted about his son`s now infamous Trump tower meeting with the Russians.
According to Michael Wolff`s new book, the spokesman, Mark Corallo, was worried about obstruction of justice. Here`s Trump getting off air force one after drafting a statement. You see him coming down the stuff with first lady Melania Trump. But Wolff reports on what was happening behind the scenes just moments earlier on that same plane. He says Trump drafted the response along with Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Spokesperson Josh Raffel. Wolff reports that an aggrieved, unyielding and threatening President dominated the discussion and that Trump didn`t consult his lawyer. Trump insisted on the narrative that his son`s meeting was about Russian adoptions. An explanation that you probably know evolved in the following days. As it became clear, Trump Jr. had actually taken the meeting after being offered dirt on Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Saturday when news of the meeting with the Russian lawyer first broke, he said in a statement, we primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children. Well, yesterday he had a new statement acknowledging he had a meeting with someone who "might had information helpful to the campaign."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At first, Trump Jr. said the encounter with Natalia Veselnitskaya was to discuss Russians adoptions. Then acknowledging he was promised information about Hillary Clinton that might be helpful to his father`s campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: With me, Watergate Special Prosecutor Nick Akerman. Nick, one of the more fascinating parts of this book which is filled with heavy lines, Wolff writes, Trump actually did believe that the meeting was about adoptions and here`s what he writes. The President believed belligerently what he believed. Reality was what he was convinced it was, or should be. So if that really was what Trump believed, that this was about adoption. Is there obstruction here?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I don`t think that`s what he believed. I mean, he may have told people that`s what he believed but adoption is just a code word. It`s the Magnitsky Act that has to do with the sanctions that were placed on the Russians. I think that`s what this whole thing was about. There was a quid pro quo here. That`s what the Flynn guilty plea is about. The materiality of his false statement goes back to the collusion and the coordination between the Russian government and the campaign. What I think we`re going to find is that this dirt that they were bringing to the meeting at Trump Tower were the stolen e-mails that were taken from the Democratic National Committee in March that Papadopoulos learned about in April that he wound up telling a diplomat from Australia about in a bar and I`m sure he told everybody in the campaign. So that what we`re talking about with this dirt are the stolen e-mails. That`s what this is all about. That`s what the crime is here.
JANSING: You know, there`s a couple of things here. One is what did the President really believe? And we don`t know. We can`t know. But the other thing is what did he know about what he was doing? Ignorance is no defense, right of the law. John Dean who was the White House Counsel of course for President Nixon talked to Politico earlier this week and here`s what he had to say about obstruction of justice during the Watergate scandal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT NIXON: Everybody who got involved in the obstruction of justice at the Nixon White House didn`t have a clue what obstruction of justice was including me. They thought because what they were doing was purely political and trying to minimize the impact of this blundered break-in at the Watergate, they had no criminal intent. They intended to do the actions they did which was stop the investigation. That`s what Trump did. His motive is irrelevant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: I think the other part of this is obviously, in Watergate, you had very experienced politicians or political operatives. They both didn`t know anything about politics around Trump. Nevertheless, do you agree with John Dean? It doesn`t matter if you know what obstruction is.
AKERMAN: Well, it doesn`t matter. As long as your corrupt intent is to stop the investigation. I would disagree with him to the extent that there was a meeting in the Oval Office where they talked about paying a million dollars in hush money to Howard Hunt and his lawyer. So the idea that they thought they were not doing anything that was normal and legal is a little bit of the mark here. But Trump knew what he was doing. He knew what was going on. On June 7th, this is three days or four days after Don Jr. gets the e-mail promising the dirt, which is the e-mails. Don Senior, the President, after he wins in the Jersey Primary tells people, at the following Monday, a few days later, he was going to have a press conference where he would detail all these horrible things about the Clintons. Well, he didn`t. That never happened.
And what did happen is even more interesting particularly when you tie it in with what Bannon says in his book. He says that this Trump Tower meeting, what they should have done was set it up in Manchester, New Hampshire at some little hotel and then giving them the information to Breitbart or some other publication. Well, that`s what they did with these e-mails. They wound up farming them out to Guccifer 2.0 and then to WikiLeaks through Trump`s political hack job Roger Stone. I mean, exactly in a sense, Bannon is admitting to exactly what happened and what Trump did with respect to the so-called dirt on Hillary Clinton.
JANSING: Nick Akerman, always great to have you here. Thank you so much. And coming up, the White House forced to respond to questions about the President`s mental health and the reality show President fact-checked by another reality show star.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s the President`s reaction to the growing number of suggestion both in this book and in the media that he`s mentally unfit to serve as President?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: The same way we have when it`s been asked before that it`s disgraceful and laughable. If he was unfit, he probably wouldn`t be sitting there and wouldn`t have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: So that`s the White House today pushing back against questions again over Donald Trump`s mental health. Some of those questions are now coming from Congress. Politico reporting this morning that more than a dozen lawmakers met with a Yale Psychiatrist last month for a briefing about Trump`s mental health. Dr. Bandy Lee warns Trump is going to get worse and it will become uncontainable. She edited a book called the Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. It`s a collection of testimonials from psychiatrist, none of them actually examined the President. Meantime Michael Wolff writing today that over the course of 2017, inside the West Wing, "everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of Trump`s repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes, he`d repeat word for word, and expression for expression, the same three stories. Now it was within 10 minutes.
He also wrote, at Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends. I`m joined by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, one of the co-sponsors of the bill to set up a commission to evaluate the President`s fitness for office, Bill Kristol is back with us as well. Let me start with you, Congresswoman. The former Law Professor at Harvard Alan Dershowitz said this, all about the 25th Amendment, about his mental condition. This is hope over reality. If we don`t like someone`s politics, we rail against him. We campaign against him. We don`t use the psychiatric system against him. That`s just dangerous. What sort of precedent could this set?
REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON D.C.: Well, actually, I agree with my good friend Alan Dershowitz. We don`t use disability or mental fitness against the President. The reason I went on with this bill is because I think it`s irresponsible not to begin to think about what we might have to do. I am not among those who think that the President is as yet unraveled. I must say I`m unnerved when two men, both unfit for office, go at each other on nukes. My nuke is bigger than your nuke. That`s something that is not even funny. No one plays around with even on talk shows or comic shows.
On the other hand, it ill behooves Congress just to sit there holding our hands while this kind of unraveling occurs and the suggestion, this latest suggestion again, who can say that that`s the reason of some kind of dementia, is very unnerving and I don`t think is either the case. I think the man has very limited memory and very limited vocabulary. All of that can be seen as psychiatric. But I don`t think members of Congress ought to just sit there and say well, this is going to work itself out.
JANSING: So we should say that over the last couple months, your bill has gained some traction. You picked up 56 co-sponsors. On the other hand that`s still a fraction of Congress. And at today`s White House Press Briefing, Sarah Sanders was asked about the President`s upcoming physical and here`s what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next week when he goes to his physical, are there mental acuity test that go along with that or is it purely physical in nature?
SANDERS: We`ll discuss as I said when I announced that he was going to be doing the physical. We`ll have a read out of that after that is completed and we`ll let you know when that come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: I mean, is a physical, Congresswoman, the proper place for an evaluation? What do you say to people who see your bill as pure partisan politics?
NORTON: It doesn`t have any Republican co-sponsors and frankly if something has to happen with respect to this President, I don`t expect the 25th Amendment, that`s what we`re talking about, to do it. And (INAUDIBLE) that`s even more complicated than impeachment. You have to get the Vice President of the United States, chosen by the President, and a majority of his cabinet, chosen by the President, to essentially declare that the President who chose them is unfit. That`s harder to do than impeachment. So if we were to get rid of this President, I think it`s more likely to be impeachment than it is to be the 25th Amendment process.
JANSING: Well, there are couple of different sets of questions here, Bill Kristol, which is you`ve the Yale Professor who met with mostly Democrats but one Republican. And then --- and they obviously are concerned about a whole series of issues that they have seen with the President. And then you have the quotes from Wolff`s book which I mean, you can argue sound more like dementia. You tweeted about the Vice President needing to prepare a draft document transferring power in accordance to the 25th Amendment. You heard what the Congresswoman just said. What`s your argument?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I was apparently exaggerating for a fact there and maybe -- and suggesting that Vice President Pence might have had that conversation in private with his counsel. Look, what do we know? We know that Tillerson and Mattis, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense have talk privately. No one has really charged these accoutns about one of them always being in town to try to check the President.
We know that in 1973, 1974, the Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was very concerned to tell people at the Pentagon. Don`t take a phone call from the President. There`s a chain of command. He has to go through me if he wants to order military action. I don`t think that Secretary of Defense Mattis has the key he`s got to some of those same (INAUDIBLE) saying things very privately. As Vice President Pence actually had a conversation with the council, no, but -- and I think it`s unlikely that any of these would happen. But is it -- you sort of want to be prepared.
JANSING: But ever conversations happening Bill, among Republicans. Are the --
KRISTOL: What if -- you know, three years -- three years is a long time Chris, and you know, you`d want to be prepared possibly to do the right thing for the country. I tend to agree with the Congresswoman that impeachment is much more likely than the 25th Amendment, but it`s a serious matter and I mean, I do pick nuclear -- the North Korea tweet for me was sort of a moment if -- I mean that is you know, it`s fine if his memory is as great as it once was. That happens. But if you really have a kind of instability that leads to recklessness, then people -- maybe you don`t invoke the 25th Amendment but I think and I do believe this. I believe that Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of Defense Mattis, people like that have spent some time thinking about ways to make sure that nothing really irresponsible is done because the President barks it out one day.
JANSING: And you feel confident that if that situation arose, they could do that? They`re not the President of the United States.
KRISTOL: There -- no, and that`s the problem. They`re very impressive people who I think are real patriots, a lot of them, and all been really. And I think they would do their best as Kissinger and Schlesinger did with Nixon who was becoming unraveled a bit in `73, `74. But I agree with Congresswoman. Impeachment -- I mean, look, many things will happen, but if anything were to happen, I think impeachment -- and just earlier in the show, I`m very struck by the conversations we`re having now and the degree to which the Trump family wanted Comey fired. The degree to which Bannon thinks that there are real problems both on the money laundering front and on the Russia meeting front. The people who know the most are the most worried. What does that tell you right? I mean, think about that for a minute.
JANSING: Bill Kristol, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, great conversation. Thanks to both of you. I appreciate it. Ahead, I`ll talk to one of the election officials who fought against Trump`s voting commission.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMERICAN CROWD: Hey, hey, ho, ho, Trump`s sham commission has got to go. Hey, hey, ho, ho, Trump`s sham commission has got to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Those were protesters at one of the few meetings of Trump`s voting commission. After the 2016 election, the President insisted he only lost the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally so he formed a commission to investigate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time voter fraud occurs, it cancels out the vote of a lawful citizen and undermines democracy. I can`t let that happen. Any form of illegal or fraudulent voting whether by noncitizens or the deceased and any form of voter suppression or intimidation must be stopped.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: But there was never any evidence of his claims. The commission only met twice and was bogged down by lawsuits as well as being under investigation by a government watchdog agency. And so months later Trump suddenly shut the commission down tweeting, many mostly Democrat states refused to hand over data. They know that many people are voting illegally, system is rigged, must go to voter I.D. push hard for voter identification. Fact check, not true. There were Republican states as well. But with me, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky, James Peterson is Professor at Lehigh University and Host of the Remix on WHYY. So Secretary Grimes, let me start with you. Trump is blaming officials like you for the failure of the voting commission and in fact in a White House statement said they were forced to do it in spite of, "substantial evidence of voter fraud." What`s your response?
ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES, SECRETARY OF STATE, KENTUCKY: Well, Chris, it`s a pleasure to join you this evening. It`s simply not true. This was a commission that was founded based on a lie, as you just reported, bogged down by over 15 lawsuits, an overreach by the sham commission and actually requesting personal private information of every eligible registered voter, their social security number and voting history in addition to their registration. They overplayed their hand and the public scrutiny that they were under, it`s no surprise that the commission folded. The bourbon was flowing last night here in Kentucky, but we know one victory does not the triple crown make. The President has made his agenda as well as the Republican Party clear. Theirs is an effort to keep people away from the ballot box, to build up barriers to that ballot box, to make it harder for people to go vote.
JANSEN: And to that point -- and to that point, there`s been a suggestion that maybe the Democrats didn`t play this right and it comes from the co- chair of the commission, Chris Kobach, of course, a Trump ally. Let me play for you what he said to you on Fox Business today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS KOBACH, SECRETARY OF STATE, KANSAS: Now the Department of Homeland Security will take over and the investigation will continue in the executive branch of the government, not in an open bipartisan commission. So effectively the Democrats lost their seat at the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSEN: The Democrats lost their seat at the table. So Madam Secretary, did you and others opposed to this commission who are worried about voter suppression misplay your hand?
GRIMES: I don`t think so. I think we had the overwhelming majority of support of Americans all across this nation. And indeed, here in Kentucky, I was proud to lead the way on behalf of 3.3 million Kentuckians. And what you saw, there was no Secretary of State across the nation that fully complied with the request. Indeed, over 15 secretaries outright refusing any information because they saw what the American people saw. This was a commission that was based on one man`s insecurity, the President`s insecurity for losing the popular vote. And the question must be begged now, when are we going to actually be able to turn away from the 2016 election and instead of one man`s insecurity look out for the security of all-Americans. Our 2018 elections are upon us. We do have issues that we need to address, low voter turnout among them, election equipment that needs upgrading and, yes, foreign actors that are continuing to seek to do harm to our democracy.
JANSING: Professor, after the election Donald Trump tweeted this, I`m quoting. "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." He now says he wants Voter I.D. laws. So if Democrats are celebrating and I will say, I got a number of celebratory e-mails in my inbox from liberal groups. Is it premature?
JAMES PETERSON, PROFESSOR, LEHIGH UNIVERSITY: Well, it`s not premature. I mean, obviously, there`s been no evidence presented whatsoever that there were 3 million people who voted illegally and it seems as if the transition that this commission is making now is to sort of situate this in a kind of witch hunt. What I see (INAUDIBLE) undocumented folks in the U.S. who also there`s no evidence of undocumented folks voting in presidential elections of the United States.
JANSING: So what do you make of him turning this over to homeland security?
PETERSON: Yes, I think -- I think that`s where the witch hunt piece comes in. The fact that it`s in the Department of Homeland Security suggests that they`re trying to tie it to some rhetoric and the ideology around persecuting undocumented folks in the U.S. But -- so the Democrats can celebrate the end of this commission, that`s fine, Chris, but the reality is that the real challenges around voting come with disenfranchisement, what the secretary was talking about.
There are various ways in which the powers that be are denying access to the polls, whether that`s through voter I.D., whether that`s through erasing results to the polls in early voting, whether that`s through making voter registration more difficult, whether that`s through gerrymandering and different practices. I mean, there are a lot of things that need to address to make sure that we`re enhancing access to the polls for all elections. We should change the time in which we actually are voting. We vote on Tuesdays. You know, why aren`t we voting on weekends? Why is it - -
JANSING: I have to let that be the last word, I`m afraid but I appreciate it. It`s always good to talk to you, Professor Peterson. Secretary Grimes, thank you so much as well. And still ahead, why Vinny from the Jersey Shore is fact checking the President.
JANSING: of course, a massive winter storm is hitting the East Coast. In just a few days ago, conditions like this prompted a tweet from Donald Trump, "it could be the coldest New Year`s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming." Usually, statements like that are fact-checked by scientists. But this time Trump got fact- checked by this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VINNY GUADAGNINO, TELEVISION PERSONALITY: All we need is FPC. Fist bumps, pushups, Chapstick.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fist bumps, pushups, Chapstick. Fist bumps, pushups, Chapstick
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: That`s right, Vinny from MTV`s Jersey Shore. Vinny tweeted at the President, "I think climate change is more complex than global warming will make it hotter. It has to do with disruptions of atmospheric conditions, ocean patterns and jet streams and stuff like that." This got a lot of attention online, mostly mocking that one reality T.V. star fact- checking another who`s now President. Vinny defended his credentials in a follow-up tweet. Why does having a summer house automatically make you stupid? No smart people ever partied with friends on weekends? So with that, Vinny has the last word. And that does it for me, Chris Jansing in for Ari Melber --
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.