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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/22/2016

Guests: Michael Grynbaum, Richard Painter, Ron Klain, Robert Barnes

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: November 22, 2016 Guest: Michael Grynbaum, Richard Painter, Ron Klain, Robert Barnes

JOY REID, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Mr. Hayes, great to see you.

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: I even gave you the throw early. How about that?

REID: I love it. We`ll use every second of that extra time. Thank you, my friend, appreciate it.

All right. Thank you, Chris.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Rachel has the night off but she will be back tomorrow.

But for now, let me take you back to 2008. It was three days after the historic presidential election in which the country had elected its first black president. The United States Senator Barack Obama was giving his first press conference as president-elect.

It was on kind of a gloomy day. The jobs report came out showing the tenth month in a row of catastrophic job losses in the U.S.

President-elect Obama began the press conference by addressing that news and he also made a little bit of news, saying the country should expect to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later. In terms of the transition, he told reporters that he would take his time choosing members of his cabinet.

But the big news that President-elect Barack Obama made that day, the actual controversy he stirred is up began with this.


REPORTER: Here`s my question. I`m wondering what you`re doing to get read you. Have you spoke to any living ex-presidents, what books you might be reading?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In terms of speaking to former presidents, I have spoken to all of them that are living. Obviously, President Clinton. I didn`t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any seances.


REID: Oh, snap.

President-elect Obama first day out of the gate making kind of a wise crack about former First Lady Nancy Reagan apparently doing seances at the White House. And while the former first lady did actually use to consult with an astrologer, that`s actually true, the seance stuff had more to do with Mary Todd Lincoln, more than anything else.

In any case, that Nancy Reagan seance crack was the big headline news that day of President-elect Obama`s first press conference. He later had to call Nancy Reagan to apologize. It was a huge deal at the time. It kind of haunted him any time he had to go see Nancy Reagan.

Fast forward to what seems to be today. Donald Trump as president-elect has not had a first press conference. In fact, he`s not had any kind of a press conference at all since back in July during the campaign. Instead, today, Trump did decide to sit down with "The New York Times" at their headquarters, not at Trump Tower, for the closest thing the press has gotten to a news conference since last summer. And it went about how you`d expect.

First, the meeting was on, then Trump cancelled it, apparently because Reince Priebus gave him wrong information, claiming the time had suddenly changed the ground rules from totally off the record to something else. Some sources suggested that Priebus had deliberately lied about the meeting in order to get Trump to cancel because he was concerned that Trump wouldn`t be prepared.

Then, suddenly, the meeting was back on with Donald Trump suddenly saying he was looking forward to it.

Then, when he arrived at "The New York Times", Trump sidestepped the front lobby and went in secretly through the back door. There was no video or audio recording of the meeting but the entire sit-down was live tweeted by reporters at "The New York Times" who were in the room.

So, the way this all came together today was itself very bizarre. But we really actually did get some new information out of it.

The big headline of President-elect Obama`s press conference was that weird Nancy Reagan seance thing. Well, today`s headline topped that by a mile, with Donald Trump insisting he did absolutely nothing to energize the white nationalist movement that`s tried to rebrand itself as the alt-right. Even saying he disavows them.

At the same time, Trump says he definitely does not think the person who once ran Breitbart, the website that Trump chief adviser Steve Bannon himself, called the platform for the alt right, helped perpetuate the white nationalist movement at all.

Donald Trump also made news by backing off some of his previous beliefs and promises to his supporters. He said today he now does not want to prosecute Hillary Clinton over her private e-mail server. Quote, "It`s just not something I feel strongly about."

Now, to be clear, despite the fact that Trump repeatedly promised to prosecute Hillary Clinton and led chants of "lock her up" during the campaign, American presidents don`t get to decide whether or not to prosecute people. That`s kind of what separates us from non-democratic countries. And the decision to not prosecute Hillary Clinton was already made by the Justice Department last summer after the FBI criticized her e- mail use but found nothing to recommend prosecuting her for.

Trump today also revealed that he now believes that climate change can be manmade, which may come as a surprise to his followers.

And after berating President Obama throughout the campaign, including calling him the father of ISIS, today he spoke of the president in glowing terms, saying, quote, "He said very nice things the after the meeting and I said very nice things about him."

So, all of that came out today in the course of this meeting with "The New York Times", but perhaps the weirdest thing that Donald Trump addressed today was the fact that he really does believe that the rules don`t apply to him when it comes to the ways in which he handles his international business dealings moving forward.

According to Donald Trump today, quote, "The law`s totally on my side. The president can`t have a conflict of interest." In fact, his brand is hotter now.

If only there had been cameras at "The New York Times" today. Alas, they were all downstairs in the lobby waiting for Donald Trump to emerge paparazzi walk style from a news making meeting that we don`t get to see. Such a bizarre day.

Joining us is Michael Grynbaum, media correspondent for "The New York Times", who is one of "The New York Times" reporters who met with Donald Trump today.

Mr. Grynbaum, thank you for being here.


REID: Let`s talk about this meeting. How weird was it? How long did it take to go from doing it to not doing it to doing it again?

GRYNBAUM: Yes, there`s an era we`re waking up and having the president- elect tweet that "The New York Times" is a failing institution and I`m pulling out of a meeting with them might have seemed unusual. But I think we`re definitely past that point where this is now kind of par for the course.

The whole setup was as unpredictable as you might expect from the Trump administration which seems to have its power struggles. It seems to be going on. As you mentioned, Reince Priebus, apparently, gave the president-elect erroneous information hoping that he would cancel on the meeting.

But after all that, after all the drama, the president-elect came up to our 16th floor boardroom, shook everybody`s hand, sat down and it was actually quite a civil discussion, I would say.

REID: You know what`s interesting because we`ve had a lot of other news about Donald Trump sort of going after the media, being angry at the media, he does seem to have a particular fixation with "the New York Times." He`ll either tweet that that "The New York Times" that it`s failing but then he`ll turn around and give interviews to "The Times". He seems to want "The Times`" approval, like he seems to really need "The Times" to like him.

What do you make of that?

GRYNBAUM: Well, it`s his home town paper. And, you know, since the late `70s and early `80s when Donald Trump was a young Manhattanite on the make trying to build his reputation, he`s always been fixated on kind of getting covered in "The Times" and in some ways getting the approval. And, actually, there was a moment today at the meeting where he said, kind of laying out goals for his presidency, he said, "To me, it would be a great achievement if I could come back to this room two years from now and be told by this group that I did a good job."

REID: Do you get the sense that Donald Trump understands what the proper relationship is between the president and the press? Does he understand the First Amendment? Because it does seem at least if you just go by his tweets and that`s pretty much all you can do, because he doesn`t do press conferences, that he thinks the media is supposed to be nice to him and to say nice things about him and to write just verbatim whatever he says without commentary.

Is that the way he came across to you in the meeting?

GRYNBAUM: I think what`s fascinating about the president-elect is that his attitude toward the media is sometimes contingent on the audience he`s speaking to. So, certainly at his rallies, when he`s whipping up the crowd to jeer at journalists, when people are chanting negative things about cable news networks, that was different from our session today where he said, I have great respect for "The Times". He called "The Times" an American jewel, a world jewel. That was one of his parting words at the end of the conversation.

And I think for those of us, there were editors and reporters in the room, about 25 of us, you know, we came in not knowing just how contentious this would be and the Trump that we got today was more of the sales kind of a guy, putting on a term with us.

REID: You mentioned treating the media as a prop. And that`s something a lot of reporters have written about realizing at some point that they were there to be mocked by the crowd. They were there to be jeered at by the crowd. They were really a prop in his show.

How does the media avoid becoming a prop? I think there`s a lot of concern among people out there in the world that Donald Trump is just going to continue to sort of use the media for his own devices and there won`t be the tough kind of coverage that his obvious various conflict would call for?

GRYNBAUM: I think it`s a critical question, as we move in to this new administration. You know, one key thing is that "The Times" insisted on this interview being on the record. And I would encourage your viewers to check out our website by tomorrow morning there should be a full transcript available of the conversation. So, everyone will have a chance to read the president-elect`s words.

I do think that Donald Trump just in attacking the media the way he does wants to create a chilling effect, essentially in some subtle manner warning reporters that if they are too harsh on him, if they are too aggressive, that there will be some kind of consequence. And it`s going to be up to the Washington press corps to American journalism in general to be courageous and to kind of move past any doubts they may have and perform their role in the democracy.

REID: You know, one of the questions I get a lot and go around and people have a lot of critiques of the media, one of them is, why isn`t there this daily drumbeat of a demand for a press conference, why suddenly after all this time, "The New York Times" get the sit-down, but he hasn`t had a press conferences since last summer, why isn`t the media demanding it?

GRYNBAUM: I think there are a lot of people, reporters, who are upset it and some people who have kept a count, up clock I guess of how many days it`s been since Trump is -- if you remember early on in the campaign, he`d come out every day and answer questions in a freewheeling way. It seems like his advisers maybe tamped that down after a while.

But I think Americans should expect their president to be willing to come out there to speak on the record to the public and give a full accounting of his views. And, by the way, YouTube video like the one that Donald Trump put out this week is kind of a one-way street, right?

REID: Yes.

GRYNBAUM: It`s kind of a way for him to put out his message without coming under any scrutiny. That`s problematic.

REID: Yes, it`s very problematic. Well, hopefully, the media will continue to keep the pressure on.

Michael Grynbaum, thank you very much. It`s really great to meet you. Thank you for being here.

GRYNBAUM: Thanks for having me.

REID: All right. Correspondent from "The New York Times" -- I really appreciate you being here tonight.

All right. OK. Much more to come on this bizarre news day, including why the president-elect doesn`t think certain rules apply to him and why many Democrats are cheering a judge out of Wisconsin.

Stay with us.


REID: Right around this time last night, at 9:14 p.m., the soon-to-be president of the United States tweeted out the following, quote, "Prior to the election, it was well-known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal."

The story on why it is a big deal and not just because the crooked media say so, is next.


REID: It would be quite an understatement to say that 2016 has been a learning experience for most Americans, and I`m no exception. For example, before today, who among us was familiar with Article I, Second IX of the U.S. Constitution?

It is Emoluments Clause. And it reads as follows, quote, "No person holding any office of profit or trust shall without the consent of Congress accept any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any king, prince or foreign state", unquote.

Shorter Emoluments Clause, no U.S. official can profit from other countries, period, end of sentence.

It turns out that the Founding Fathers who were emerging from a monarchy were worried about the dangers of economic perks being given to U.S. officials by foreign governments. Until recently, this very idea as it applies to the president was relatively unexplored territory. But not anymore.

Our soon-to-be president is a businessman, something lots of Americans have claimed they`ve always wanted in a president. But in Trump`s case, with lots of vested interests in foreign countries and while Donald Trump says he will be handing his company over to his kids to run in a so-called blind trust, leaders are already getting down to business.

For example, in just the last week, we`ve learned that Donald Trump has been taking meetings with business partners from India who are planning on building a Trump-branded tower in Mumbai. His new D.C. hotel has also hosted a bunch of foreign diplomats, a hotel Mr. Trump leases from the federal government. The General Services Administration, to be exact. Even reportedly raffling off stays at other Trump properties around the world.

We know that even before the U.S. election, the president of the Philippines named a new special trade envoy to the U.S. and it just happens to be a real estate mogul who is building a Trump Tower in, you guessed it, the Philippines.

We know that Donald Trump who had been fighting to keep a wind farm from his golf course in Scotland brought it up to Nigel Farage, a sitting member of the British parliament, and the leader of the U.K.`s pro-Brexit UKID party and we know this because Trump said he brought it up, telling "The New York Times" that today.

And it`s these kinds of stories, these kinds of obvious conflicts of interest that cause a story like the one out of Argentina to quickly gain traction.

This weekend, two well-known and well-respected journalists reported that Donald Trump during his congratulatory phone call with the president of Argentina asked for help to get permits for a Trump building in Buenos Aires.

Now, both the president-elect and the president of Argentina deny that it happened, and the lack of pushback from the journalistic question makes the story seem less solid. But these kinds of confrontations and these kinds of conflicts are not figments of our imagination. They`re real, they`re happening. Whatever went on between Trump and the leader of Argentina, he do know that his daughter, Ivanka Trump, that woman who`s expected to run his company while he`s in the White House, you know, to prevent the appearance of impropriety, we know that Ivanka Trump was on that call, just like she was in the meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe, a meeting that was kept private from the press.

We`re in uncharted territory here and it`s a big deal. I mean, just ask everyone`s favorite liberal rag, "The New York Post," whose editorial board came out this weekend and said, this is a problem and even appearing to monetize the presidency would be outrageous.

Donald Trump, for his part, disagrees. He`s been tweeting that the American people knew he had these business interests when he was running and now, it`s just a crooked media making it into a big deal. And he told "The New York Times" today, quote, "The law is totally on my side. The president can`t have a conflict of interest."

Where have we heard that before?


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.


REID: Ah, him.

The truth is there is no president for a Donald Trump presidency. We`ve never had a president running a multinational business, that we know very little about where his kids are involved in his transition but also set to run his company when he gets to the White House. We`ve never seen anything like this, and we`re being forced to search long neglected corners of the Constitution and learned about forgotten niche clauses and something called emoluments because of it.

So, how do we know the difference between what is inappropriate and impolitic, and what`s unconstitutional?

Well, the first step is to ask an expert, and joining us now is Richard Painter, who is chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush.

All right. Mr. Painter, thank you so much for being here.


REID: So we`ve never had a president that has this many foreign entanglements, although we don`t know all of them because Trump never released his tax returns. But how do you draw the line between something that just looks bad and something that could actually violate the Emoluments Clause?

PAINTER: Well, you look at the language of the emoluments clause itself. It has a fancy name and some people would say obscure, but it`s a pretty simple rule, that a person holding a position of trust with the United States government may not accept gifts and payments from foreign governments. And that`s a rule that really should be quite obvious. We do not want our elected official or anyone working for the United States government taking money from foreign governments.

So, we fought the war of independence to get away from foreign domination and the last thing the founders would have wanted would have been for a powerful monarchies to be able to back door money into members of Congress or the White House or anywhere else in order to in effect buy our government. So, it`s really a quite simple rule and quite intuitive. And we`ve not had a president that I can recall in recent memory who was taking gifts from foreign governments in excess of those permitted by Congress and the Emoluments Clause does allow Congress to make exceptions and -- but those are for gifts up to $385.

So, the problem we have here with President-elect Trump is that there could be a lot of money coming in from foreign governments into his business empire. If he doesn`t take prompt steps to make sure that none of that money gets into the Trump Organization. It could be money from the Bank of China which extends loans to some of the Trump entities I understand. There may be other foreign -- government-owned banks. I don`t know of their relationships with sovereign wealth funds, but that needs to be looked at.

REID: Yes.

PAINTER: And then, of course, the issue of people checking into the hotel or diplomats and billing foreign governments and then, you know, vying for the most expensive suite to impress the president of the unite. This is clearly not permitted.

REID: Let me stop you on that, because we`ve also never had a president whose name could be theoretically plastered on hotels and condos and golf courses all over the world, including in countries where we have pressing national interests. We have Donald Trump meeting with these business partners of his in India to build a hotel in Mumbai. And you have other properties where he doesn`t own the property but he leases his name. He gets a direct payment for this hotel going up.

How would that kind of a conflict be sorted out short of Trump divesting himself of those properties and taking his name down?

PAINTER: Well, when I was the chief ethics lawyer in the Bush White House, I recall that we wouldn`t even let people put President Bush`s name on a public school until he left office much less a commercial enterprise.

I know this is a different situation because the president-elect has his name on a lot of these buildings, but that needs to be changed. His interest in these buildings needs to be sold through an initial public offering or otherwise and his name taken off the building.

If you have building all over the world with the president`s name on them, those are sitting ducks for terrorist attacks. There`s lots of risks associated with that.

REID: Yes.

PAINTER: Raise the question of who going to pay for the security for all these Trump installations?

REID: And what does it say to you that Donald Trump sort of freely admitted that he talked to Nigel Farage of not putting wind farms in front of his golf course in Scotland.

PAINTER: Well, this is the problem. If you have a discussion as a United States government official, whether you`re president or anybody else about official United States government business, such as diplomacy with the European Union or with another country, and then you start bringing up personal favors that you want, these discussions can gravitate toward a quid pro quo type of request or understanding, and that would violate the bribery clauses, the statutes, and that`s a criminal offense.

And the president can violate the bribery laws, then so can anybody else. And that`s a very bad situation. So, you do not discuss personal business at the same time you discuss United States government business.

REID: Yes, and certainly don`t brag about it afterwards.

Richard Painter, former White House --

PAINTER: Not a good idea.

REID: Not a good idea.

Former White House ethnics lawyer under George W. Bush -- thank you so much, sir. Really appreciate your time.

PAINTER: Thank you.

REID: All right. And still ahead, the Republican governor of one state who apparently can`t believe that voters don`t want him to leave them anymore. That is next.


REID: Despite the many predictions that Donald Trump`s presence atop the Republican ticket would result in a surge of split ticket voting where voters cast a vote for a party at top of the ticket and another down ballot, in 2016, that turned out not to be the case very much at all.

A rare exception is North Carolina. There, Donald Trump the state by at least three points even as voters appeared to reject their Republican governor. Appeared because two full weeks after Election Day, the incumbent Governor Pat McCrory is refusing to concede. McCrory currently trails Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper by over 6,000 votes, a deficit that has only grown since election night.

Remember, this is a state where, for the past few years, Democrats and a coalition of civil rights groups have been engaged in a pitched battle with the McCrory administration over a host of issues, including discriminatory voter ID law, anti-LGBT legislation, the cutting of the social safety net, and McCrory`s refusal to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, hurting some rural hospitals.

And while those demonstrations labeled Moral Mondays in the Forward Together Movement seem to have energized and convinced voters to reject the governor, Pat McCrory is refusing to go. Instead, he`s challenging the vote count in over half of the state`s 100 counties alleging, you guessed it, voter fraud -- allegations that have so far been rejected by county boards that have looked into the claims.

This morning, the state`s two largest newspapers weighed in. "The Raleigh News and Observer" said that the failed vote challenges show it`s time for McCrory to concede while "The Charlotte Observer" opined, the biggest threat to North Carolina election integrity? So far, it`s McCrory.

Still, despite this, today, Governor McCrory officially requested a statewide recount which he`s entitled to if the difference as expected ends up being less than 10,000 votes.

Due to numerous challenges by the McCrory campaign, those results originally scheduled for this Friday are now expected some time next week. But most independent observers believe Democrat Roy Cooper`s lead would be very statistically hard to overcome.

Roy Cooper has declared victory and has begun choosing members of his transition team. He accuses McCrory of doing everything he can to undermine the election.


ROY COOPER (D), NC GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We have won this race for governor. The people of North Carolina have made clear that they want a change of leadership in the governor`s office. Governor McCrory is doing everything he can to undermine the results of this election and the will of the people, but we won`t let him. We came out ahead on Election Day and our margin of victory has only grown since then.


REID: Beyond the uncertainty caused by a statewide recount, one that most independent say is unlikely to change the result, allies of the governor have also not ruled out using an obscure state law that allows a close and disputed election to be decided by the Republican controlled legislature. And add to that, talk of Republicans potentially convening a special session to pack the state`s Supreme Court with two extra Republican justices after the election of an African-American judge on November 8th, tipped the court`s balance to the left.

All of this has many North Carolinians crying foul, and some accusing Governor McCrory of trying to steal the election.

Tonight, demonstrators have gathered outside the governor`s mansion, calling on him to concede. Judging by today`s action, there seems little chance of McCrory doing that any time soon.

Oh, Carolina. Watch this space.


MADDOW: New York`s LaGuardia Airport kind of got its start as a publicity stunt. New York City`s mayor at the time, Fiorello La Guardia, threw a tantrum on a flight home from Pittsburgh. He refused to get off the plane because even though his ticket listed his destination as New York, the plane had landed in Newark, New Jersey, the closest commercial airport at the time.

So, Mayor La Guardia, he threw a good old fashioned fit. He held a press conference calling for an airport closer to Manhattan. And you know what? It worked.

A few years after throwing that tantrum, New York City and Mayor La Guardia got their airport. In fact, within just a few short years, it became the world`s busiest airport. At the time, it was revolutionary.

People used to actually pay a dime to watch planes take off and land. Now, I doubt anyone is that excited about LaGuardia airport anymore, but back then, it was one of the U.S. government`s great infrastructure successful stories, just like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam.

This country has a long history of big, exciting infrastructure projects that capture the public`s imagination, and that`s why this got some people really excited when they heard it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We will rebuild our roads, our bridges, our tunnels, highways, airports, schools, hospitals. We will rebuild our country, and we`re going to put a lot of people to work.

Our roads are bad, our schools are bad, our highways, our tunnels, our bridges, our bridges are falling down. You see those reports. They`re dangerous, many of them. So, we`re going to get our infrastructure taken care of.

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We`re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.


REID: Now, whether or not you like Donald Trump, that kind of rhetoric appeals to lots of people. Even people you would never expect to back a Trump policy, people like Senator Bernie Sanders.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), VERMONT: I hope he`ll rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and I look forward to working with him if he chooses to do that and create millions of decent paying jobs.


REID: Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued this statement after the election, quote, "As President-elect Trump indicated, investing in infrastructure is an important priority of his. We can work together to quickly pass a robust infrastructure jobs bill."

But now, those same political leaders are slamming on the brakes, because the soon-to-be president`s trillion dollar infrastructure plan is starting to look like a big tax cut for big contractors.

As "The New York Times`" Paul Krugman writes, quote, "It`s not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much needed projects which would be the straightforward obvious thing to do. Instead, Trump`s plan would have private investors do the work both of raising money and building the project with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in."

And the man who helped implement President Obama`s infrastructure initiative, he also says the Trump plan is not really an infrastructure plan, so much as it is a tax cut for utility industry and construction sector investors. He writes, quote, "I`ve got a simple message for Democrats who are embracing President-elect Donald Trump`s infrastructure plan: Don`t do it. It`s a trap."

And joining us now is Ron Klain, the White House aide who put President Obama`s stimulus plan into action.

All right, Mr. Klain. Thank you so much for being with us tonight.

Explain to us what you meant by "stay away, it`s a trap."

RON KLAIN, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ADVISOR: Well, it is a trap, Joy, because it`s not really an infrastructure plan. It`s a plan to give huge tax breaks to investors in the construction industry, the utility industry. And here`s the thing, it doesn`t do anything to fix our municipal water systems, to fix roads, to fix bridges that don`t charge a toll, to do the work we need to do.

Instead, it`s a tax break for investors in for-profit projects and a huge tax break for contractors, huge handout to contractors who, to get that money, don`t have to create a single new job. It`s a bad idea. It`s just a bad tax scheme and Democrats should stay away from it.

REID: So, let`s go through it. Unpack this just a little bit.


REID: Let`s say you give a big contractor a bunch of money, $100 million for private projects, what`s to stop them if they wanted to build high speed rail or bridge or a road? Couldn`t they just do that and use the tax credit to pay themselves back?

KLAIN: Well, sure, I mean, I think there are a couple of problems with the Trump plan. First of all, there`s no requirement that these go to new projects. So, people could just build the things they planned to build anyway and pocket the money. And so, that means we won`t get any new projects. We`re not going to get any new jobs. Secondly, there`s no requirement that any jobs be created out of it.

And third, you know, the biggest infrastructure needs we have in this country isn`t for-profit projects like pipelines or utility upgrades, the biggest needs we have are our crumbling water systems, our crumbling roads, our bridges. And this does nothing for those. It only helps for-profit projects. Some of those projects are good, but most of them because they`re for-profit will happen anyway. It`s just a tax break to make those projects more profitable for their investors.

REID: You know, Ron, one thing I`ve never understood because, you know, Eisenhower, of course, built the great highway system. There were some problematic parts to it but he did do it. And you used to have a Republican-Democratic consensus that building things in the country was a good idea.

Why it is then that Republicans seem to reject the idea of publicly funded infrastructure? We saw high speed rail when President Obama presented the money, states like Florida said, "No thanks, we don`t want it." Why is that?

KLAIN: You know, Joy, I just simply have this polarization where a lot of Republicans have become so anti-government, so anti-public sector that they just act reflexively against it. It`s unfortunate.

You`re absolutely right. The idea of building great national infrastructure projects is a partisan idea. After all, the biggest one we`ve ever had was named after Herbert Hoover, the most conservative Republican president we`ve ever had because the dam in Nevada was started on President Hoover`s watch, finished under President Eisenhower.

So, there`s no reason why this has to be partisan. But I think what we`re seeing here with Donald Trump is a different kind of thing. It`s an effort to funnel tax breaks to allies of Mr. Trump`s. In fact, we don`t know if some of his companies will benefit from them. We`ve never seen his tax returns. We don`t know what investments he has, maybe he himself would benefit from these tax breaks he`s proposing.

It`s no more an infrastructure plan than the guy who`d be in the red suit at the end of the Macy`s Day parade is a Santa Claus. It`s just a fake.

REID: Wow. And what would be if somebody wanted to propose a smart way to rebuild infrastructure? What will be the best way to fund it?

KLAIN: Well, you know, I think that Hillary Clinton had a great plan in her campaign. It was a plan to actually impose taxes on the wealthiest Americans and use those funds to rebuild our cities and rebuild our infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges. You know, that is the thing. Businesses succeed in America because they`re connected to a vibrant working infrastructure.

And so, it`s not wrong to say maybe we should ask those some of those who have done very well over the past eight years to pay a little more in taxes to help fund these projects that increase everyone`s prosperity. That was her plan. Mr. Krugman, Professor Krugman`s proposed borrowing money to do that.

But we really have to invest directly in project, really invest in roads, in bridges, and, water systems, not some tax scheme for private projects that would probably go forward anyway.

REID: Well, former White House aide to President Obama, thank you for being here and explaining all this. Thanks.

KLAIN: Thanks, Joy.

REID: All right. And still ahead, a major decision that could dramatically improve Democrats electoral chances.

We`ll be right back.


REID: Over the course of the presidential race, there`s been a lot of really eyebrow raising reporting going on -- Mr. Trump`s charitable foundation and its sometimes questionable practices. But I`m telling you, today`s news will make you do a heck of a lot more than just raise your eyebrows.

"The Washington Post`s" David Fahrenthold reports that the Trump Foundation has admitted to the IRS that it violated a legal prohibition against self- dealing, which bars non-profit leaders from using their charities money to help themselves, their business, or their families.

This reporting is pretty stunning. The brilliant journalist behind will be a guest on "THE LAST WORD" tonight. You don`t want to miss it.


REID: We`ve officially reached the part of the Obama presidency where he`s officially doing the last of everything. He returned yesterday from his final trip abroad. Tomorrow, he will pardon the final turkey of his presidency.

A president gets eight years at best. This one is leaving with the highest approval ratings of any president since his first year in office, and the highs of any president since when Bill Clinton left office in 2000.

And we have some idea what he wants to do with that popularity after he leaves the White House. It turns out one thing President Obama wants to do is work on what`s become a generational challenge for his Democratic Party. He wants to work on congressional redistributing. He wants to undo the partisan advantage created under Republican control of the states that makes it easier to elect Republicans to Congress than Democrats.

That starts with trying to flip state legislatures from red to blue, because state legislatures are in charge of drawing the districts, both for their own local seat and for Congress. The idea of the new Democratic project is to get Democrats in the best possible position by the time congressional seats are drawn again after the 2020 census.

This was the news before the Trump campaign, that Obama as an ex-president would take on congressional redistricting by first taking on Republican control of the state. Since we got that news, the project has only become more challenging.

In the November election, Republicans won complete control of the legislatures in 32 states, up two from the year before and their most ever. For Democrats, changing this already daunting reality got harder not easier.

But now, Democrats have a possible game changer. It comes in the form of a federal court ruling on Wisconsin. The federal district court in Wisconsin looked at the state assembly districts drawn by Wisconsin`s new Republican majority after the 2010 census. Republicans have been getting around half of the votes but awarded two-thirds of the seats. So, just half of the votes earn them two-thirds of the seats due to gerrymandering.

The court found that the way Wisconsin Republicans drew their assembly districts was not just an accident of geography or the result of the usual partisan strategery, it was unfair and legally problematic.

The court said the gerrymandering, quote, "did in fact prevent Wisconsin Democrats from being able to translate their votes into seats as effectively as Wisconsin Republicans."

The court said Wisconsin Democratic voters have suffered a personal injury to their equal protection right and the court declared what Wisconsin Republicans had done unconstitutional.

The case is now on a fast track to the U.S. Supreme Court. If this lower court ruling holds, it could up-end partisan redistricting around the country. So, this is a very, very big deal.

Joining us is Robert Barnes, who covers the Supreme Court for "The Washington Post" and who`s been reporting on this case.

All right. Mr. Barnes, thank you so much for being here tonight.


REID: So, explain to us first just the specifics of this ruling. What in the view of the court did the Wisconsin legislature do wrong?

BARNES: Well, there are a couple of ways that you can reapportion people and put them into districts and there`s a thing called packing and there`s a thing called cracking. Packing means you put all of the members of one party or one race into a few districts, so that they`re not voting in other district, and another way is to spread out their influence over many districts so that they`re in the a big enough proportion of the vote to actually win the district.

And the judges in this case said that the Republican legislature in Wisconsin had made it too difficult. They had spread out Democrats or put them too much in districts together to really let their overall statewide strength translate into seats in the legislature.

REID: And if this case is upheld, what would that mean or what could it mean for the rest of the country?

BARNES: Well, it`s really important, because the Supreme Court looks at state legislative districts and reapportionment plans all the time to make sure there`s no racial gerrymandering. They have said that that`s unconstitutional. But they`ve never been able to find a way to say if partisan gerrymandering goes too far, if it`s political, sometimes they say "to the victor goes the spoils." Everyone expects that the party in control is going to make it a little easier for their members to get elected. In this case, the courts said they went too far. And if the Supreme Court agrees with that, it could really change the way states have to do their redistricting.

REID: Let`s talk about what would happen if this were to go to a Supreme Court that`s still as it is now, which is 4-4. And if the court were to split right down the middle down that partisan line, what would happen?

BARNES: Well, the court has to pass judgment one way or the other or else leaves this standard in place. So, it could be just for this standard, but, you know, the real key character in this is Justice Anthony Kennedy. He, in the past, has said, has not been able to find a test for partisan gerrymandering that he thinks works. But on the other hand, he has said that he thinks this could be a big enough problem that it actually harms the First Amendment rights of members of one party.

REID: And does the court have to find that the legislatures have the specific intent of packing either people of color or Democrats in districts or excluding them or just the result that that happened?

BARNES: No, it has to look at the result. You know, that was an important thing in this study. It`s -- they didn`t, the judges in this case didn`t really assign blame in a way, and they, but they did say that the system worked against Democrats in the state.

I should point out, it was Democrats in this case that were the losers, but there are challenges around the country that aim at this problem many one from Maryland says that the Democratic leadership in Maryland did this with congressional districts in a way to hurt Republican chances.

REID: And is there, can you foresee a team when you have one of these rulings be broad enough the way that the gay marriage rulings changed marriage laws nationwide where we could se see non-partisanship, non- gerrymandered districts nationwide?

BARNES: I think that the court would always say that there is some role of politics in this. But certainly, they would have to abide by different standards than they do now.

There is a movement out there to take this power away from state legislature. Voters have done it in several states and given this to an independent commission rather than allowing the legislature to do it. That also seems to be a growing trend in those states where it`s allowed.

REID: Yes, absolutely. In Florida, people fought it tooth and fail, but it did pass in a referendum.

Robert Barnes who covers the Supreme Court for "The Washington Post" -- thank you, sir, very much.

BARNES: My pleasure. Thank you.

REID: All right. So, about those last things that President Obama is the midst of doing, from the look of his face last year, the presidential turkey pardoning is something Mr. Obama is going to miss. But the president did something else today for the final time, which he`s likely to miss even more than letting a turkey go free. That`s next.


REID: The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation`s highest civilian honor. It can be given to almost anyone, artists, public servants, religious leaders, humanitarian. It`s completely up to the president.

And during President Obama`s two terms, he`s placed a lot of Presidential Medals of Freedom on a lot of people, 114, to be exact. He`s given out more Presidential Medals of Freedom than any other president since it started in the Truman administration.

President Obama has also honored women and people of color at a higher rate than any other president.

And the ceremony is not just an excuse for the president to get to hang out with their favorite actors or rock stars, although that`s certainly is one of the perks. Who the president chooses can be pretty revealing. It`s a real marker of what they want their legacy to be.

Today, President exercised that privilege one last time. He honored 21 individuals today for their contributions to the country, legends like Robert de Niro, Bill and Melinda Gates, Vin Scully, Cicely Tyson. It`s an incredible group of Americans who all shared the stage today with the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bruce Springsteen has been carrying the rest of us on his journey, asking us all, what is the work for us to do in our short time here.

I am the president. He is the boss.


The project that Maya Lin designed for her class earned her a B plus, and a permanent place in American history.


So all of you B-plus students out there.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has changed the way we think about monuments but also about how we think about sacrifice and patriotism and ourselves.

There is a reason you call somebody the Michael Jordan of. Michael Jordan of neurosurgery or the Michael Jordan of rabbis or the Michael Jordan of outrigger canoeing.

Ellen DeGeneres has a way of making you laugh about some thing rather than at someone. It`s easy to forget now when we`ve come so far, where now marriage is equal under the law, just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages, almost 20 years ago.

These are folks who have helped make me who I am and think about my presidency. And what also makes it special is this is America. And it`s useful when you think about this incredible collection of people to realize that this is what makes us the greatest nation on earth.


REID: And you know what? Even after all that practice, 114 medals later, sometimes there are some unforeseen obstacles, like feeling like the short guy in the room for the first time in your life, or having to compete with Diana Ross`s notoriously, fabulous do.

And that`s it for us tonight. Rachel will be back tomorrow.

And I will see you this weekend on my show, "A.M. JOY" at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

And now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD". Ari Melber is sitting in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ari. Have we stoke your Obama nostalgia sufficiently, sir?