The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/27/2016

Guests: Steve Eder, Joe Cirincione, Jamie Harrison

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 27, 2016 Guest: Steve Eder, Joe Cirincione, Jamie Harrison

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with my friend Ari Melber, in for Rachel.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Good evening. Thank you, Chris.

And thanks to you at home for joining with us this hour. Rachel has the night.

Now, hopefully, you`re lucky enough to coming off a nice long holiday weekend right now. Maybe you visited some family, or if you`re a real hero, hosted some family. Maybe you went on a trip, maybe you engaged in some cherished holiday tradition, just like President-elect Donald Trump does.

For 20 years, Donald Trump has spent the holiday at his golf club in Palm Beach, Florida, and this year, it`s no different, although it`s a little different for the residents of Palm Beach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Along with Trump`s visits will come the road closures and tightened security. Each time the president-elect lands, there will be some delays in the sky and on the ground around his Mar-a-Lago estate. The Coast Guard is restricting boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway and on the ocean.

Traffic will also be restricted if he decides to leave the property.

During the five or so days that Trump was here for thanksgiving, PBSO racked up a bill of about a quarter of a million dollars. The sheriff tells us that he is looking to recuperate that money from the feds, but one thing is for sure, it is likely that this price tag for this vacation will be much larger since he`ll be here through at least the 1st of the year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Presidents and president-elect`s doing have a way of inconveniencing people wherever they go, which is not to say the plenty folks in Palm Beach aren`t thrilled to have the president-elect of the U.S., calling their town his home.

But this isn`t the first time Donald Trump has inconvenienced the city of Palm Beach. The first time was at least a decade ago, and had to do with a flag pole, a really, really big flag pole.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: The town says Trump also never got a permit, never filed for landmark approval and is breaking setback rules. Code enforcement claims Trump had three months to file for a permanent but chose not to. So, Thursday, they had no choice but to start fining him.

Trump has filed a $25 million lawsuit against the town, claiming it`s singling out Mar-a-Lago while ignoring other big flags. The town says if there are other violators, they`ll look into it. But right now, this fight is with Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, eventually, we can tell you, Donald Trump was owing Palm Beach $125,000 in fines in that issue and then, he and the city did settle the suit. Palm Beach agreed to waive the fines and Trump agreed that his club would make a donation to a veterans charity, which is a nice thing.

Now, you`d think that would be the end of the story, except as maybe an amusing anecdote about Trump`s hair-trigger litigiousness. But then less than two months before Election Day this year, "The Washington Post`s" David Fahrenthold discovered Trump never donated that money to those charities at all. Instead something called the Trump Foundation made those donations and the Trump Foundation gives new meaning to OPP, other people`s property, because it`s funded almost entirely with other people`s money.

Right around the time that Trump was embroiled in this lawsuit against Palm Beach over the height of that flag pole, he was transforming the Trump Foundation, quote, "into something rarely seen in the world of philanthropy, a name-branded foundation whose namesake provides none of its money." So, Donald Trump solicits donations from wealthy people for the foundation, then doles that money out under his own name, which would be a weird and pretty misleading way to run a foundation even if all that money was genuinely going to charity.

But if that money is being used to settle Donald Trump`s own personal business legal problems, that itself is illegal. That can be called self- dealing, and Trump used his foundation to do things like that again and again. It was the time a man who won a charity at a Trump golf course sued Trump for refusing to pay out a promised million dollar prize. They also settled. Trump agreeing to donate $158,000 to a charity of the man`s choice. That donation, which was a legal settlement Trump was required to pay, also ended up coming out of the Trump Foundation coffers. Other people`s money.

Charitable foundations are also legally barred from making political contributions but Trump used his to give 25,000 to the re-election campaign of Florida`s attorney general who at the time was considering whether to investigate Trump University. The Trump Organization always insists this was all the result of a cascade of clerical error, though the foundation did, we want to note, pay the IRS a penalty for violating tax law on the issue.

And then there are the paintings. You may remember these from the campaign. Two paintings of Donald Trump himself, one going six feet tall that Donald Trump bought using, yes, money from the charitable foundation. Now, on top of all the obvious crassness of using other people`s money donated to charity to buy pictures of yourself, at least one of those paintings has been found decorating a wall at one of Trump`s commercial properties which tax experts say, duh, you are definitely not allowed to do with a charitable purchase.

Now, you don`t have to take my word for any this, that Donald Trump was self-dealing with the foundation. You don`t even have to take "The Washington Post`s" word for it or all the tax experts that have been consulted. All you have to do is take the word of the charity itself, the Donald Trump Foundation. Just take their word.

We`ll show you on the screen in the box here. They basically copped to it in the new tax filings. On this box, you can see it, the IRS tells you just check here if you engaged in self-dealing. Yes. The foundation checked yes.

Now, there`s news about this foundation that Donald Trump apparently hoped you would miss because he used what we kind of think of as the mother of all news dump days to drop it. Christmas Eve. That`s the evening that Trump chose to make the unusual announcement here that he says he will dissolve the foundation, quote, "to avoid any appearance of conflict," adding that he`s "very proud of the fact that the foundation has operated essentially no cost for decades with 100 percent of the money going to charity," end quote.

Now, we can tell you tonight that percent figure is false. It`s not true as many who have covered the foundation have shown. Recall, the foundation paid the IRS that fine for an illegal political donation and has admitted to self-dealing. Now, all of that would have been enough to provide a poetically messy end to the messy and misleading saga of the entire Trump Foundation, but, folks, there`s a little bit more.

The foundation is still in so much hot water that it can`t legally shut down anyway, that`s according to the top cop in New York where Trump`s foundation and businesses are, of course, headquartered. The Trump Foundation is currently still under investigation by the New York attorney general and almost immediately after the president-elect announced his sort of unilateral plan to close it, the A.G.`s office said, actually, he`s not allowed to do that under the law until their investigation is complete.

So, Donald Trump cannot complete even this tiny gesture towards resolving his conflicts of interest. And let`s be clear, this is a very tiny gesture. No doubt the Trump Foundation is concerned about good governance, or good philanthropy, but it doesn`t get near the president-elect`s financial entanglements. It`s the president-elect`s for-profit businesses that are the biggest problem there.

That was the point Rachel was trying to drive home when she interviewed Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway last week, that as long as Trump remains the owner of his businesses and companies, people have a very easy way to put money directly into the pocket of the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, TRMS: So, government of Azerbaijan, they rent out Trump hotel suites at the Trump Hotel in Washington. The president-elect makes money from that. When his building project gets green-lit by the government in Buenos Aires, he makes money from that.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP COUNSELOR: Well, the corporation does.

MADDOW: Yes, he`s the primary owner of his corporation. So, he`s -- it`s money for him. Anybody who wants to, any foreign country, anyone, can now -- they now have the option basically to pay money to the American president by doing favors for this business that he owns.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: -- it`s still corruption, right?

CONWAY: It`s not corruption. That is not corruption. It`s a hotel room.

MADDOW: But if you want to give money to the president, the American president, we have never had a way to do that before. No foreign government has had a way to do that before. The American people, special interests haven`t had a way to funnel money to the American president right now.

CONWAY: No one is funneling money to him.

MADDOW: No, but you can through his businesses as long as he still has an ownership stake in it.

CONWAY: He said he won`t be involved in his businesses when he takes the oath of office.

MADDOW: But he will still benefit from their financial bottom line. And so, anybody who affects that is in effect paying the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, Donald Trump may have had his own self-interested reasons for ending his charity, which is a charitable term for something that hadn`t given out any of his actual money in the last years, but it does gesture towards one way these messy things do get resolved, they get ended. Ending the foundation will in the long run draw a line in the sand. And ending Donald Trump`s ownership and benefits from his companies would also draw a line.

It would protect him and, more importantly, the United States from undue influence. Is he considering doing to his business holdings what he did to the foundation and drawing that line?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Is he going to give up ownership in his business?

CONWAY: He said he will do whatever is necessary to comply with the law and the --

MADDOW: He`s never said he`s going to give up ownership. Are you making news here?

CONWAY: No, I didn`t say that. I said he`ll do whatever is necessary to comply with the law.

MADDOW: But as long as he owns it, any benefit to his business goes to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Joining us now is Steve Eder, an investigator reporter for "The New York Times" who has been covering Trump`s issues with the foundation.

Good evening to you.

A lot there. What does shuttering the foundation if and when that`s allowed under New York law, what does that achieve?

STEVE EDER, NEW YORK TIMES INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: It`s a couple of things. One, it`s the obvious thing that you got. You know, a soon to be sitting president with the foundation and the considerations that go into who can donate to that? How do you resolve those issues? You dissolve it.

And then you are the issues of the bank baggage, of all the issues that came up during the campaign, the concerns about where the money went and the ongoing -- so by dissolving it, you in a way, you can put an end to some of that. That`s the mission, I guess.

MELBER: Would anyone have ever known much about the weird way the foundation ran, which is the most charitable way to put it, the paintings, the use of other people`s money, had he not gotten as far as he did in the presidential race?

EDER: It certainly became a key issue. We had the Clinton foundation on one side that we were examining, and the Trump foundation on the other side. Two very different things, but it was the kind of thing that did certainly brought a lot of headlines and a lot of intrigue and questions, and part of the vetting that went on, you know, deep into the presidential campaign.

MELBER: Right. And what did that vetting find? I mean, it`s fair to say this foundation didn`t do normal charitable works. It had a lot of things that seem to overlap with his self-interests, which would have been fine for a business to do or a PAC, a lot of rich people set up PACs where instead of trying to pretend they`re doing charity, they say we have a political agenda. Then you can donate to all the attorneys general you want.

EDER: Sure, there are all sorts of questions that came up. The New York attorney general was looking at it. It was, you know, sort of a fraught situation that, you know, exposed all sorts of questions and concerns about the way that this thing operated and how Donald Trump allowed it to operate.

MELBER: Do you think that there is any corollary with what`s going on with the foundation to the larger question of conflicts of interest, because there`s a public storyline that we heard from Trump and his advisers, that they can do whatever they want, he told "The New York Times," legally, I can run my business and the country if I so choose. And then there`s a suggestion and your paper`s reporting suggests this as well as others, that off the record, they`re actually worried this could consume a good bulk of his first term if they don`t figure out some lines.

EDER: Conflicts are certainly a huge part of the discussion right now as we look forward to this presidency in days. I mean, it`s a big part of what we`re discussing. But, you know, one of the things that we have seen, "The New York Times" reported over the weekend was the idea of an overseer type person that will be in there. Experts say that`s probably not enough. But it`s certainly a big part of the conversation right now.

MELBER: Yes, does an overseer mean anything if they`re still reporting it to the family?

EDER: Well, that`s I guess one of those things that will be seen, the experts are skeptical. But I think we`re going to see this really playing out in the bright lights.

MELBER: All right. Steve Eder, investigative reporter for "The New York Times" -- thank you for joining tonight.

Still ahead, the president-elect`s apparent penchant for making policy via, yes, Twitter -- well, it`s taken a strange turn recently. That and much more still to come.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: As we all know, the president-elect is a pretty prolific tweeter, but today, he has chosen to tweet just one thing. Quote, "President Obama campaigned hard and personally in the very important swing states and lost. The voters wanted to make America great again."

Now, with all respect to all involved, the race is long over and President Obama wasn`t even in it. But to also be fair, Trump isn`t the only one here re-debating this election. As the old saying goes, one man`s tweet is another man`s podcast. And President Obama stirring up this competition with his thoughts on November, Trump and Clinton, in a new podcast interview. That story is ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: During the Cold War, the United States military stockpiled hundreds and hundreds of nuclear missiles in the open fields of places like North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming, because the most efficient way to fling a nuclear missile is not to fling it east over the Atlantic and Europe or west over the Pacific but rather north.

The U.S. government built hundreds of hardened underground missile silos in those open fields. In places like North Dakota, these were huge silos to house nuclear missiles and then launch them at even a moment`s notice. The missiles were kept in what`s called hair trigger alert so that if the Soviet Union suddenly launched hundreds of thousands of their nuclear missiles at our nuclear missiles, our nuclear missiles could launch before they were destroyed. That`s why it was always called Mutually Assured Destruction.

The Cold War is over now, thankfully, but the U.S. still does have hundreds of nuclear missiles on that hair trigger alert. They`re staffed and maintained 24 hours a day by highly trained military personnel. At the same time as all this, at least the next 24 days, the U.S. has a president working to reduce the need for those missiles, to reduce nuclear proliferation around the world. Nuclear weapons have only been used, of course, twice in warfare, two U.S. strikes against Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan, killing tens of thousands of Japanese citizens.

Since then, thankfully, no one has used them in combat. And in May, President Obama made an unprecedented visit to Hiroshima where he talked about the importance of pursuing a world without these nuclear stockpiles.

Today, that gesture was returned by Prime Minister Abe who left a wreath at memorial for 2,000 U.S. service members who were killed in those attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wars can end. The most bitter of adversaries can become the strongest of allies. The fruits of peace always outweigh the plunder of war. This is the enduring truth of this hallowed harbor. It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, on the one hand, the U.S. has a president you see there working on the delicate multi-year effort to reduce nuclear nonproliferation through soft powered diplomacy and hard powered treaties. And on the other hand, the U.S. has a president-elect mocking the U.N. as a, quote, "club" and tapping out potentially new nuclear policy on Twitter. Quote, "The U.S. must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes," he wrote, which is a scary enough thing for the president-elect to say weeks before he takes office.

Even scarier as it becomes clear that the higher echelons of the incoming Trump administration cannot really explain why he wrote that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The American position on nuclear weapons worldwide for a very long time now, not just as a partisan matter but over multiple presidents is that we are trying to lead the way in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. He`s saying we`re going to expand our nuclear capability.

CONWAY: He`s not necessarily saying that.

MADDOW: He did. He did literally say we need to expand our nuclear capability.

CONWAY: And what he`s saying is we need to expand our nuclear capability - - really our readiness or our nuclear capability to be ready for those also have nuclear weapons.

MADDOW: What I`m trying to get is that a lot of people are like hiding under the bed right now, because he doesn`t -- it doesn`t seem like he knows what he`s talking about on this issue --

CONWAY: That`s not fair. That`s not fair.

MADDOW: Well, then, how can you make policy on Twitter and then say he`s not making policy?

CONWAY: He`s not making policy on Twitter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: He`s not making policy on Twitter.

Incoming White House counsel Kellyanne Conway does have a point she needs to share there, as you saw with Rachel, that Trump`s words about new policy weren`t really about new policy. And maybe it`s just part of her job to buy Trump time after he tests out his thoughts or slogans or whatever on Twitter. But Trump himself doubled down on the very next day on this issue, saying he meant what he said and this is adding to MSNBC`s Mika Brzezinski, quote, "Let it be an arms race, we`ll outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all", end quote.

An arms race. Now, it`s not clear if Donald Trump realizes that an arms race is exactly what the U.S. avoids in the nuclear arena, a basic premise shared by everyone from Reagan to Obama because for one thing, the U.S. is already one of the top two leaders in that race, meaning we don`t need to taunt people into catching up with us, pretty basic. And for another, the biggest threat from nuclear weapons isn`t the difference between having a 100 and 101, it`s the different between having zero and one.

That`s why Obama`s worked so hard to prevent new nuclear powers from surfacing like Iran. Now, Trump seems to be implying a very different approach whether he realizes it or not.

Now, joining me now is Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation that advocates for disarmament.

Thanks for being here.

And for those of you who don`t follow nuclear nonproliferation all the time, generally, how different is what Donald Trump is saying here from presidents have done in the sort of Cold War, post-World War II era?

JOE CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND PRESIDENT: Night and day. In 24 days, Donald Trump will take control of the American nuclear arsenal. This is by far the most destructive, the most capable death machine on the planet. He will be able to launch at his order one or 1,000 nuclear warheads almost as easily as he now tweets.

No one can reprimand him. No one can pull those missiles back once launched. There is no self-destruct mechanism.

So, it`s extremely important that the president understand what`s at stake here. Every word that he says and now every tweet that he makes matters. So, when he had those words last week, it`s not clear that he understood what he meant. His handlers certainly didn`t understand what he meant, nor did our adversaries nor did our allies.

This is why still a week later, we`re still talking about this, why it`s still sending tremors throughout the global national security architecture.

MELBER: What do our adversaries think then, in your view of this?

CIRINCIONE: They`re afraid that he`s about to overturn four decades of bipartisan cooperation, Republicans and Democrats, as you said, who have been steadily reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. We`re down from about 60,000, 65,000 nuclear weapons during the height of the Cold War down to about 15,000 weapons now.

The U.S. and Russia have 95 percent of them. So, we`re the big guys. And what we do matters. If Putin and Trump are now both talking about strengthening and expanding, as Trump said, their arsenals, that`s a signal to the other guys to start their engines. What`s China going to do? What`s India going to do? What`s Pakistan going to do?

That`s what`s so worrying about what Donald Trump is saying. If he`s talking about a new arms race, it`s just not us that will be racing, it`s all the eight, nine if you include North Korea, nuclear nations in the world.

MELBER: Yes, you`re putting your finger on this specifically, which is the difference between tone, whether it sounds punitively tough to say, let`s race, or let`s build, or strategy and capacity, who is actually in this race? Does he know the number of countries? Is he talking to them or is he talking to nonnuclear countries and saying, come on in, the water`s warm?

CIRINCIONE: Yes. So, there`s two things here. One as you pointed out in that excellence, we still have weapons under a Cold War posture. We still have weapons on hair trigger alert.

President Obama said when he came into office he was going to end that practice. He did not.

But what that means is that Donald Trump can launch a weapon within four minutes of an order to do so. Why? Why would you give any person that authority?

So, President Obama still has 24 days to correct that mistake. He could stand down U.S. nuclear weapons.

MELBER: And your organization to that end is circulating as sort of a public petition on that, right? It says take off trigger alert so it would take days or hours rather than a matter of minutes. Why hasn`t Obama done that if you say that was something he originally been open to?

CIRINCIONE: That`s right. We have a petition at change.org to do exactly that. And we`re gathering hundreds of signatures every day.

The trouble is the military has been resistant to this. The nuclear bureaucracy and the Pentagon has been resistant to this. Obama has tended to be a consensus president, so he wanted everybody to go along with it

But this is a moment where consensus in the country, outside the Beltway, would be Mr. President, stand down these weapons. It doesn`t stop Donald Trump from firing them. It just stops him from firing them quickly. It would take hours or days, give you time for some deliberation, give you time for consultation.

Right now, he doesn`t have to talk to anybody. He could just give the order and the missiles fly.

MELBER: Right. That`s one of the moments you just said that if a couple months ago, someone heard on television, oh, Donald Trump can launch thousands of nuclear weapons or hundreds within four minutes, they`d think they were in a movie. This is real life.

Joe Cirincione, thanks for sharing some of your expertise with us.

CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Ari. Despite everything I said, happy New Year.

MELBER: Yes, let`s all have a happy New Year. Appreciate your time very much.

What do I want to tell you about next? Well, President Obama says he would have won had he been able to run against Donald Trump. This is a topic, as I mentioned, that he`s bringing up, which itself is kind of politically interesting. The only problem is he wasn`t able to run against Mr. Trump.

President Obama does have, though, something more practical -- advice for Democrats on how to win again when he`s not on the ballot. That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: The time for silence and patience is long gone. We`re calling on the leadership of the House to bring common sense gun control legislation to the House floor. Give us a vote. Let us vote. We came here to do our job. We came here to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Congressman John Lewis there on the House floor. That was back in June.

Now, shortly after that speech, Congressman Lewis and other House Democrats sat down on the floor of the House chamber. You may remember this. They said they wouldn`t leave until they got that vote on gun legislation.

And then, just as people were getting wind of what was happening, just as people started tuning in to C-Span to see something different, the cameras cut out. Recess.

Republicans said that the House was in recess. More importantly, that meant the chamber would have its cameras go dark and so they wouldn`t broadcast a thing.

But luckily for those opposition protesters who were all Democrats in this instance, their message still got out from the House floor. For more than 25 hours, they continued their protest and it was actually seen because they themselves live-streamed it on these new apps that allow these kind of broadcasts straight from anyone`s smartphone. Namely apps like Facebook and Periscope.

Then, C-Span did something interesting, they started airing the video feeds coming from those House members on the floor because the actual cameras had been shut off. Now, pictures of the sit-in started to flood social media, Senate colleagues like Senator Elizabeth Warren went over to join in solidarity. Those photos went viral.

House Republicans tried to shut it down but the demonstration took on a life of its own. There were spontaneous demonstrations then outside Capitol Hill that night in support of what was going on on the House floor that those people outside only knew about from those floor videos.

Now, in the end, that particular instance was considered pretty effective at getting attention. They didn`t ultimately get that instant vote they were asking for on the gun bill. But as they marched out of the Capitol more than 25 hours after the protests began, those Democrats were greeted by something members of Congress do not see all that often outside the place where they do business, a crowd of spontaneously cheering supporters of people psyched and enthused and even inspired by something that happened on the floor of Congress.

Now, the reason all this is interesting right now is because today, there`s an update on this whole story. Today, we learn that the House Republicans are proposing rules that would further punish members of Congress who shoot video or take any photos on the floor of the chamber. The new policy would even fine members up to $2,500 for the offense money that would be taken out of the member`s salary directly.

The proposal by many is seen as a pretty much direct response to the protests from June and the prospects of those protests reappearing. But if history is any sort of guide and House Republicans would realize they`re trying to shut down a protest in the Internet age usually only garners it more attention.

As for Democrats, maybe there`s a lesson to be learned, too, about fighting back now that they are in a clear minority if the people against you are trying to literally ban your strategy, it might be a sign your strategy is pretty effective.

And we have more tonight on the Democrats` plans for fighting back in the Trump era, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Every new incoming president gets to choose who will make up their cabinet, who will head up the 15 executive departments like Treasury and Defense. Plus, those seven positions of cabinet rank like White House chief of staff or U.N. ambassador.

A new president, of course, generally fill all those slots. That`s the executive branch.

The tradition is different when it comes to filling the judicial branch where the president only fills vacancies that were left over by the previous administration. Through most U.S. history, those vacancies were caused by a pretty usual process, the naming of new people, unexpected deaths, the hearing process. Even when President George W. Bush left office, 54 judicial vacancies were left to his successor President Obama to fill.

But thanks to Senate Republicans, Trump will enter office with over 100 judicial vacancies to fill. That is double, of course, Bush`s amount. Plus, the biggest vacancy of them all, the Supreme Court seat left by late justice Antonin Scalia, now, one of the longest running vacancies in American history.

And if this were a history lesson, it`s not a history of the executive or judicial branch, although it involves them. The president has submitted his nominations for the Supreme Court and other judicial vacancies. What has changed here is obviously, the Republican Senate under Mitch McConnell.

Mitch McConnell has frozen judicial nominees and famously refused for the first time in history to even hold a hearing to consider or look like the Senate was considering Barack Obama`s nominee for the Supreme Court Merrick Garland.

Now, Republicans are writing to reap the rewards of that unusual or at least unprecedented strategy. Depending on how you see it, this was either an unprincipled, unprecedented power grab of the worst kind, or maybe it was just the shrewd politics that has come to define the last few years, a necessary tactical move.

Well, in that new interview with his former adviser, David Axelrod, President Obama said that as a matter of politics, McConnell`s tactics worked.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitch McConnell`s insight, which I`ve said just from a pure tactical perspective, was pretty smart and well-executed, the degree of discipline that he was able to impose on his caucus was impressive. His insight was that we just have to say no to that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: We just have to say no. And that was smart and well executed is one way to put it.

President Obama might be looking for ways to avoid any notes of sour grapes as he turns the over his desk to Donald Trump. But other Democrats and liberals see this obstruction very differently and they`re right now arguing that Republicans should actually be forced to pay a price for it, otherwise, liberals warn, that rewarding the tactic will only further normalize it. An unusually scathing Christmas Day editorial, for example, "The New York Times" said basically the Republicans Supreme Court maneuver was a robbery, a crime that can only be put right by the nomination of a centrist to the bench.

Former Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy, who`s been through his share of his fights on this, called the Garland blockade, quote, "The most outrageous act of obstruction and irresponsibility he`s seen in," count them up, "42 years in the Senate."

Other Democrats want some kind of leveling up here, advocating that Trump`s picks be given the full, quote, "Garland treatment".

Senator Dianne Feinstein in particular says, quote, "What goes around comes around." But does it?

Republicans are readying to stack the courts with conservative Heritage Foundation approved picks, not the kind of consensus candidates they demanded on President Obama. And it is a real question whether Democrats in Washington, as well as whomever takes over the DNC extract a price for that obstruction or simply turn the other cheek to invite another beating?

Joining us now is Jamie Harrison, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and more importantly the reason he`s with us tonight, he`s currently running to be the chair of the DNC.

Thanks for joining tonight.

What is your view of how to handle that strategic question I just discussed?

JAMIE HARRISON, SC DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR: Well, first of all, happy holidays, Ari. It`s good seeing you again.

Listen, I believe in this philosophy. You go the a lot of five and ten stores that are still left in s South Carolina and you usually see signs that say, "touch it, break it, own it." Well, the Republicans have touched this government, they broke it under President Obama and now they own it. And now, you know, retribution is at play.

We cannot allow Donald Trump and the Republicans to ramrod into this government these folks who want to bring us back to a bygone era as it relates to so many that we all enjoy.

We see what`s going on in North Carolina right now in terms of rolling back on right. And I expect similar things to happen in our federal government.

MELBER: So what should your party do with regard to Trump`s Supreme Court nominee?

HARRISON: It`s time to roll up the sleeves and fight back. You know, there are so many of us that when the Republicans took control in both the House and the Senate who just begging the Senate Democrats to filibuster, and I`m not just talking about the filibuster where they`ll pull a bill from the floor and continue on with legislation, we`re talking about bringing out the cots, making sure that people are there late at night and stopping everything in its tracks.

That`s what people are looking for right now. We have to remember, there were more than 3 million more people who voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. And so, in essence, the majority of the American people want what Hillary Clinton was fighting for in terms of policies and rights.

So, we can`t afford --

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Right. You talk about the 3 million, that goes to political strategy with folks saying, gosh, Hillary Clinton had the mandate, had the edge, and there was some kind of execution problem in getting some of the people out in the most important states and spending the money in the right way.

Take a listen to President Obama on the ground game also in that David Axelrod interview.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: Part of what we have to do to rebuild is to be there, and that means organizing, that means caring about state parties, it means caring about local race, state boards or school boards and city councils and state legislative races, and not thinking that somehow just a great set of progressive policies that we present to "The New York Times" editorial board will win the day.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, candidly, Jaime, you`re not the candidate in the DNC race who is closest to President Obama. Are you running more as the state party or grassroots candidate then?

HARRISON: I am. I`m running for 57 -- I know we got 50 states, but we got six territories the our Democrats abroad. I`m running for all of them.

Our problem, Ari, was, you know, we sort of got drunk off the fact that we were able to elect President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and we forgot how we were actually able to do that, how we took back control of Congress in `06, and that was with Howard Dean`s 50-state strategy.

We stopped investing in state parties. As a result the party infrastructure was broken. That`s how Republicans now control 33 of 50 governorships. That`s why they control 69 of 99 statehouses and we`ve lost over a thousand or almost a thousand Democrats in state legislatures over the past eight years.

We have to go back to that strategy and rebuild state parties. It is essential to our success. We can`t be the Democratic national presidential committee. The DNC is more than just the presidency. It`s about the down ballot folks who have arguably even more of an impact on the day-to-day lives of people than the person that sits in 1600 Pennsylvania.

MELBER: Jamie Harrison, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and as we mentioned, the candidate for the DNC leadership post. I appreciate your time tonight.

HARRISON: Thank you, Ari. Thank you.

MELBER: Happy holidays.

Now still ahead, remembering Carrie Fisher in her own words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: All right. Still ahead I`m one with the force, the force is with me. If you`ve seen the new "Star Wars," you know what I mean. Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The highlighter not the problem. I keep the highlighter here because if you put two highlighters together it makes a lightsaber.

That`s not a prop. It`s my lightsaber.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: Carrie, you`re starring in "Star Wars," and this is your first starring role.

CARRIE FISHER, ACTRESS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And the critics say it`s going to be the movie of the year, Carrie.

FISHER: I hope so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Everybody knows who Princess Leia is, and as a result, everybody knows who Carrie Fisher was.

That is what it means to be a Hollywood icon, to have a role that not only defines your career, but in many ways defines film or cinema and even defines characters that hadn`t been written yet. Princess Leia, when you think about it, has become kind of a shorthand for the damsel who refuses to be in distress, who refuses to be saved or use as any kind of prop for another male character`s heroics.

Princess Leia was Carrie Fisher, not the other way around. And that`s easy to forget. There are three things that kept Carrie Fisher famous and relevant for so many years, if she would sometimes insist otherwise.

First, she played a part in one of the biggest film franchises of all time. Second, she led a dramatic, even scandalous, dangerous and definitively Hollywood life. And third, she was funny and brutally honest about that life, both in her interviews and in her writing.

And we all know there is a pretty fitting tradition when someone this famous dies, when somebody who meant so much to so many of us, including those of us who grew up on "Star Wars," which is basically all of us for several decades, people roll out those clips of their best appearances, and you try to get in big names to then talk about them -- which is worthwhile.

But there`s another thing here that nobody talked about Carrie Fisher quite like Carrie Fisher. And almost all of Carrie Fisher`s interviews began with Princess Leia and then they start moving around to her public struggles, discussion of addiction, mental illness, and the trappings and vicissitudes of Hollywood life.

Inevitably, though, through all that darkness, what always shine through was the force that made her so famous and so loved -- her sharp wit, her unflinching honesty, her presence. Princess Leia will live forever. Decades from now, we think new generations of "Star Wars" fans will be rooting for her and, of course, falling for her.

Carrie Fisher died today at the age of 60, and we are all going to miss her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: You have said that in fact you had a drug addiction at one point in your life.

FISHER: Uh-hmm.

INTERVIEWER: What -- can you give me the range of drugs you took? Did you just take prescriptives or did you take cocaine or --

FISHER: Everything.

INTERVIEWER: Everything. What does everything mean?

FISHER: I took, prescription drugs were my preference, I took hallucinogenics. I took, you know, cocaine. I took pretty much the gamut.

INTERVIEWER: You wrote some in "Wired", which is the book about John Belushi`s life, who, of course, died of a drug overdose eventually. It was said in that book that John could get you to take almost any kind of drug. Didn`t his death scare me?

FISHER: Yes, absolutely. I was really convinced that he -- that everyone, he had convinced me to believe that everyone had overreacted, and he was sort of OK, because he did survive a long time at a level when most people don`t.

INTERVIEWER: Was that a catalyst in helping you?

FISHER: No.

INTERVIEWER: It didn`t help.

FISHER: You know, all the things are supposed to, that`s why I said, I talked about this stuff, but it`s like I`d love to say, you know, I was watching the show and I saw Liz Taylor talk about her problem and I really realized, when John died, I thought, well, John took heroin. Of course, he died. You just tell yourself that you are different.

INTERVIEWER: And what made you finally quit taking drugs?

FISHER: I was in an emergency room. That`s a strong indicator that your life isn`t working.

This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You`re my only hope.

I`m a member of the imperial senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.

DARTH VADER: You are part of the rebel alliance and a traitor. Take her away.

INTERVIEWER: You write of your marriages. And one that got my is your marriage to a Hollywood agent named Brian Lourd, who left you for another man.

FISHER: He did? You`re kidding.

INTERVIEWER: That`s what I read. Yes.

FISHER: Oh, my God, that must have been really upsetting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is this?

FISHER: They called this Little Chechnya, so pretty and real, four murders per capita than Detroit. Try not to write when you`re living here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that guy carrying a gun?

FISHER: Don`t worry, he`s not a cop.

You do not have to stay there. It`s a different country. They can`t extradite you for failing to pay child support. It`s not a war crime. It`s just a foreign baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not a foreign baby. It`s my baby. Your grandson.

FISHER: I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MELBER: We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: OK. It is time for the best new thing in the world today. And this one is all about a glimmer of hope, although it doesn`t begin that way. When they handed out the Pulitzer Prizes last year for the best work in newspaper journalism, one of them went to a reporter who isn`t in the news business anymore. He done that awesome reporting in California and then left the newspaper for a gig in public relations because he couldn`t live on that newspaper salary.

He wasn`t alone. A winner for a different category in South Carolina also turned in an excellent Pulitzer Prize level work. She too left for another job, and the day she got the news that her project had won a Pulitzer, she had to go running back to the newsroom to celebrate with what were her former colleagues.

Now, for all of my working life, the newspaper business has basically been in a type of decline business-wise. For every reporter or editor who leaves for a better paying or somewhat happier gig, others are handed a cardboard box and shown the door in mass layoffs. The chart tells the story.

Newspapers have just three quarters of the resources now that they had when Jimmy Carter was president. And we are about to get a president who is more complex to cover than Carter, a president who not only hates the press, he says so, who not only openly attacks the press at mass rallies, as well as on his, quote, "beautiful Twitter", but who hasn`t held a press conference since July.

And beyond the limits of tweets, this is not a president who makes it easy to keep up with what is going on inside his administration or what is coming. Excellent reporting is never easy and is often risky in multiple ways. As a business, it is literally risky.

So, over these past elections, some of the best reporting especially on presidential politics and now the president-elect was done by "The Washington Post". Their newsroom is a ten-minute walk from the White House. They cover politics with a backyard zeal. It`s worked, we can tell, because today, "The Post" says they`re hiring five dozen more journalists. The jobs are spread across video, print and online, one team focusing on what they call deep dives in a hurry, it`s the kind of coverage we`re going to need as citizens for the next four years and beyond.

When the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, bought "The Post" a few years ago, no one knew what was going to happen. But for bucking the trend of those shrinking newsrooms, for offering a glimmer of hope that coverage will get better and excellence will be rewarded with jobs, "The Washington Post" help wanted sign is the best new thing in the world today, and I think it`s fair to say, as Rachel says, wherever you live, please subscribe to your local paper. Most of them don`t have a billionaire owner. They need you.

That`s our show. We`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

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