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Trump to NYT: Dems invented Russia investigation Transcript 12/28/17 The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Merika Coleman, William Barber, Carmen Yulin Cruz

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 28, 2017 Guest: Merika Coleman, William Barber, Carmen Yulin Cruz

TIM MILLER: If you look at the election, it`s Dubuque, Iowa, and Scranton, Pennsylvania. And so, sure, there is old-line Republicans, as well. But I`m talking about the trends on where the party is going.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Yes, it`s a fair point, although a lot of people haven`t abandoned the party yet. We`ll see. Tim Miller and Charlie Sykes, thank you.

That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Joy Reid, in for Rachel.

Good evening, Joy.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Thank you very much, Chris. Have a great evening. Appreciate you.

HAYES: You too.

REID: All right. And we do have some breaking news right off the top here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. Rachel is off tonight. She will be back in the New Year.

But Donald Trump has given an impromptu interview with Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times." I have that interview right in front of me. I`m going to read you just a little bit of it. He didn`t make new news. He made some reassertion, but it`s very interesting.

Right off the top it says here that Donald Trump said Thursday that he believes Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, will treat him fairly contradicting some members of his party who have waged a week`s long campaign to discredit Mr. Mueller and the continuing inquiry during an impromptu 30-minute interview with "The New York Times" at his golf club. The president did not demand an end to the Russia investigation swirling around his administration but insisted 16 times that there has been no collusion discovered by the inquiry.

Quote: It makes the country look very bad and puts the country in a very bad position, Trump said of the investigation. So, the answer, it`s worked out, the sooner it`s worked out, the better it is for the country.

Just a little bit more, asked whether he would order the Justice Department to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s emails, Trump appeared to remain focused on the Russia investigation and he said the following: I have the absolute right, he said, to do what I want to do with the Justice Department, he said. Echoing blames by his supporters that as president, he has the power to open or end an investigation but for purposes of hopefully thinking I`m going to be treated fairly, I stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

And I believe Michael Schmidt is on the phone with us. He`s one of the reporters who broke that story just a few minutes ago.

Michael, thanks for joining us.


REID: Just a couple of interesting points because I`m racing through this article. This seemed to be an impromptu interview. How did you guys -- is this something you formally worked out with the White House or did you just run into him on the golf course?

SCHMIDT: Well, I was at the club today where he plays. I had been brought there and we were eating lunch and he was sitting next to us. I had spoken to him before over the summer and he was very excited to talk about the tax bill that he had just passed. And I said, well, if you`re going to talk about it, why don`t we talk about it on the record? And I was able to interview him.

REID: And you, according to this piece as published now in "The New York Times" for those tuning in, Trump gave the interview at the grill room at Trump International Golf Club after he ate lunch with his playing partners, including his son Eric and a pro-golfer Jim Herman. There were no aides present for the interview. The president sat alone with a "New York Times" reporter at a large round table as club members chatted and ate lunch nearby.

A few times, members and friends, including long time supporter Christopher Reddy who is president and chief executive of Newsmax, a conservative web and TV company, came by to speak with Trump as well.

At any point, did aides break in to maybe help Trump out with some talking points, or did you have him all to himself?

SCHMIDT: No, there weren`t many aides around. It was just him. He had played golf with his son. He really enjoyed being around the club there because a lot of supporters that are members. He spent a lot of time talking to them. And just sort of -- he was kind of hanging out there and we just happened to be there to see him.

And, you know, he`s very -- he`s someone that really likes to engage. You see it when he`s leaving the White House. He often stops and will speak with members of the media as he`s getting on the plane.

And, you know, he feels aggrieved in part by the Russia investigation and, on the other hand, he really wants to tout the things that he`s done this year, especially the tax bill, which he had not really had many successes at all this year, legislatively, but that really gave it to him.

So, he believes he`s the best -- he`s his best salesman and he wants to tell his story. You know, I think if you can get him, you can get him.

REID: And he did say here as sort of bragging, that he`s saying -- disputing reports that suggested he doesn`t have a detailed understanding of the tax legislation. I know the details of taxes better than anybody, better than the greatest CPA, I know the details of health care better than anybody. That`s typical Trump speak.

I want to go back to the Mueller investigation. Very interested in this, 16 times essentially saying that he does believe that Mueller is fair. There`s been a pretty concerted effort by conservative media to paint Bob Mueller as on a witch hunt to take down the president and to even attack the FBI.

You write here in this piece that Trump repeated his assertion that Democrats invented the Russia allegations as a hoax, a ruse, an excuse for losing an election, and claims that everybody knows that his associates did not collude with the Russians.

When he says everybody knows that, who do you think he`s referring to?

SCHMIDT: Well, I think he`s trying to say, look, it`s widely known that he`s trying to say from his perspective, it`s widely known that there was no collusion and he`s trying to make that argument. And he cited in our conversations and statements made by Democrats that said they haven`t found evidence of collusion and he believes that if he can nail home that point, that there was no collusion, then, you know, this will all go away.

I don`t know if that`s necessarily true, but that`s his point on that.

REID: Interesting that he also tried to distance himself between himself and Paul Manafort who, of course, we all know was indicted in October, saying of him who he called a very nice man and an honorable person, that he had spent more time working for other candidates and presidents and for him -- just to read for our viewers who are just tuning.

Paul only worked for me a few months, Trump said. Paul worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, worked for Bob Dole, worked for other Republicans far longer than he worked for me. Were you talking about Paul as many years before I had heard of him? He worked for me 2 1/2, three months.

Isn`t it the case however that Paul Manafort was a partner of Roger Stone and that these guys have known Donald Trump a long, long time? He doesn`t just meet Paul Manafort, did he?

SCHMIDT: No, he`s trying to put distance between himself and Manafort several times. This is sort of a new attempt. I never heard him say this construction before, where he sort of gets into the fact that Manafort had worked for these previous administrations.

And, look, he spent much more time working for other Republicans much more time than he worked for me, which I never heard him say before. But he -- what he wants to do is he wants to put distance between himself, he doesn`t want to offend Manafort, so he always says that Manafort is -- you know, he says, oh, Manafort is a good guy, an honorable man and stuff, and then he tries to push him as faraway as possible.

The interesting question which we didn`t get to, what will he do with Mike Flynn? How will he put the distance between himself and Flynn who now is cooperating with the government?

REID: Did he mention Flynn at all during your interview?

SCHMIDT: We didn`t really get into Flynn. Sometimes it can be difficult with the president. The president can jump from topic to topic very quickly and as an interview is trying to interview him, it can be challenging.

REID: Yes, and he also does have certain things he does seem to return to over and over and over again. The question of Jeff Sessions who still seems to be irking him, the fact that Jeff Sessions recused himself in the Russia investigation, he appears to have gone back down that road again. Can you explain to us his thoughts on that?

SCHMIDT: Yes. I mean, he sort of repeated what he has said on this, where he is very disappointed that Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, that he believes that was a mistake, and he blames Mueller for the fact that Sessions was -- I`m sorry. He blames Sessions for the fact that Mueller was appointed. He thinks that if Sessions had maintained control and not recused, then Mueller wouldn`t exist and he pins that directly on Sessions.

And there`s a long-standing expectation from administration officials and people around Sessions that as the Russia investigation heats up, he will really go after Sessions. His criticism of Sessions, they were not that strong. I`ve seen him be much harsher about Sessions.

REID: Yes, absolutely.

Well, Michael Schmidt, good get from "The New York Times", a reporter who just interviewed Donald Trump at his golf club in Florida. Congrats on the scoop and thanks for joining us.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

REID: All right. Thank you very much.

Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Michigan.

All right. Barbara, I want to talk to you about this interview as well, for some fascinating stuff.

One piece in the interview is this part about Jeff Sessions we were talking about Michael Smith about. Donald Trump and I`ll read this just for the viewers. Donald Trump said, it`s too bad that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. Trump said he did not directly answer a question about whether he thought that Eric Holder, President Barack Obama`s first attorney general, was more loyal than Sessions had been.

And he said the following. I don`t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this, holder protected President Obama, totally protected him. And added, when you look at the things that they did and Holder protected the president, and I have great respect for that, I`ll be honest.

Is that a -- basic understanding of the job of the attorney general to protect the president of the United States? What could he be possibly be talking about with Eric Holder?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: No, Joy, I think you`re dead on there, that protecting the president is absolutely not the job of the attorney general. The attorney general`s job is to defend the Constitution of the United States and to serve the American people. And so to say he was loyal or protecting the president, I admire that, really is a fundamental misunderstanding of the appropriate role of the attorney general.

REID: Yes, not to mention the fact that it`s not clear what he`s even talking about there. I mean, let`s go to the other part of this that I thought was another interesting quote. Donald Trump said -- I`m presuming he`s talking about the firing of Jim Comey, but this also has implications for what could happen to Bob Mueller.

He said the following: I have the absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department, he said, echoing claims by his supporters that as president has the power to open and end an investigation. Another quote: But for purposes of hopefully thinking I`m going to be treated fairly, I`ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

What does that tell you about his attitude toward Bob Mueller and whether or not he believes that he can fire him if he wants to?

MCQUADE: Yes. Well, it sounds like he believes that he can and that he can do whatever he wants, but that he believes at least for now, it`s better to be hands off. You know, the norms of the Justice Department for decades has been that the president and partisan politicians are hands off of the Justice Department so that we can ensure its independence and that it`s working free from any kind of partisan politics.

Now, that`s just a norm. And so, the president does have the ability to suggest priorities and maybe even investigations, but I would suggest that when it comes to an investigation about him or his own administration that to shut down an investigation like that could amount to obstruction of justice, in the same way the president has the absolute power to grant pardons or appoint judges. If he did so in exchange for a bribe, I think everyone would agree that is an abuse of that power.

Similarly, to shut down an investigation that might implicate him or others close to him, I think others would also agree would be an abuse of power.

REID: And just to be clear, just for the American people, for those listening today, does the attorney general or anyone in the Justice Department have any obligation to exhibit loyalty toward the president of the United States or to protect him from possible legal liability?

MCQUADE: Absolutely not. In fact, just the opposite. Their commitment is to the Constitution and to the people.

I remember when I first became U.S. attorney and we had a gathering at the White House with President Obama and others, and he told us to always remember that our loyalty was not to him, but to the American people and the Constitution.

I think all of us took that obligation seriously. I think Jeff Sessions takes it seriously. In fact, you can question a lot of the things that he`s done and a lot of decisions he`s made, but I think he made the absolute right decision when he recused himself from the investigation. It is textbook out of the recusal policy of the Justice Department and the appointment of the special counsel was also textbook because of the implications of a conflict of interest that required someone with independence whose job is not dependent on the president of the United States.

REID: Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, thank you so much. Really appreciate you being here.

MCQUADE: Thanks, Joy.

REID: Thank you.

And joining us now is NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Michael Beschloss, it`s always great to see you, but especially now --


REID: Thank you. That we have so many Nixonian quotes to work with in this interview that Michael Schmidt and "The New York Times" got with Donald Trump. Let`s go in order.

Donald Trump claiming about Bob Mueller, that he has the absolute right, he says, I have the absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department. Could that be more Nixonian?

BESCHLOSS: Actually, it goes way beyond Nixon. Nixon never would have said something like that as president, nor would any other modern president, and that`s why I think what he said was ominous, bordering on shocking because you have this president making this claim that he could do whatever he wants with the Justice Department.

No other modern president would agree with that. He goes on to say he has the right to open or end an investigation. Well, guess what investigation he`s alluding to? And the other thing he says is that for purposes of -- this is almost his quote. For purposes of hopefully that I`m to be treated well, I have stayed uninvolved, referring to the Mueller investigation.

What he`s telling us, let`s listen to this very carefully, is there is a serious chance that if he feels he`s not being treated fairly, he will not be uninvolved, and he may try to shut down this investigation.

REID: You know --

BESCHLOSS: I think this is a real warning.

REID: Yes, I think what`s interesting is that he does refute what has become the mantra among conservative media and also a lot of Republican lawmakers that Mueller is somehow inherently biased, that he`s running a witch hunt. Did he defend Mueller`s honor and integrity? It is an interesting tack to take. What does it tell you?

BESCHLOSS: It tells me the game I think he is playing is that he is saying, well, I`m expecting Mueller to conduct a fair investigation, and then suddenly, he will discover things that will convince him that the investigation, in his mind, is not fair. He will be shocked and he will respond by saying, well, I can do whatever I want with the Justice Department. That includes shutting down investigations.

You were talking about Nixon, Joy. That`s the kind of thing Richard Nixon would never have dared say in public.

REID: Yes. And, you know, speaking of Nixon, this is fascinating to me only because if you`ve ever watched the documentary "Get Me Roger Stone" or any documentaries about Donald Trump, it is clear that the firm that used to have both Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, they know Donald Trump and have known him for a long time. He was seen as sort of a pet project, a better version of Nixon that Roger Stone thought he could mold into a charismatic version of Nixon to essentially run the same playbook.

Because you have so many similarities between the water break in and the break in of the DNC, although one is digital, what do you make of the idea Donald Trump is trying to suggest and pass off on the American people that he barely knows Roger Stone`s business partner Paul Manafort?

BESCHLOSS: Well, I guess he may feel that there is a sucker born every minute because there`s ample evidence to the contrary. And I think that`s the reason why we should take what he says pretty seriously, especially what he said tonight, because when Donald Trump says something like, you know, I have the absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department, he`s not just giving us rhetoric. He is telling us something that is very important.

REID: And what would be the implications for the Constitution if Donald Trump were to, as you said, suddenly discover that there is gambling going on in this house and --

BESCHLOSS: And finds the investigation unfair.

REID: Exactly. And fires Bob Mueller?

BESCHLOSS: I always draw back from using the word -- the phrase constitutional crisis. I think it is overused. But I think that would be a case in which there really would be a constitutional crisis in that I think we cannot predict what the course of events would be there.

But at that point I think if he tries to do that, that will be something that, speaking about Nixon, will make the Saturday Night Massacre of October 1973 look like peanuts.

REID: Yes, if ever you need a presidential historian, this would have been the night, and we are so lucky to have you.

BESCHLOSS: OK, thank you.

REID: Thank you.

BESCHLOSS: Be well. Happy New Year, Joy.

REID: Happy New Year to you.


REID: NBC presidential historian, yes, Michael Beschloss, so appreciate you. Thank you.

All right. So, much more, we have lots to get to tonight ton this surprisingly busy news night. Stay with us.


REID: OK. Just when you thought the whole Roy Moore saga was behind us, it turns out it never really went away. Even today, the day that Alabama certified the special election results, showing that Doug Jones had won the special election, to become the first Democrat in Alabama in 25 years to sit in the United States Senate, Roy Moore still had to be the star of the show.

Late last night, Moore filed a complaint in Alabama circuit court to try and delay the certification of the election results. He claimed that he was the victim of voter fraud, lots and lots of voter fraud, he complained about the, quote, anomalous unexplained higher turnout in Jefferson County where 43 percent of the population is black. He cited a so-called elections expert who claims that the probability that the official election results in Alabama were accurate is, quote, less than one in 50 billion. That same expert also happens to be a well known JFK assassination conspiracy theorist.

In any case, today, the circuit court judge threw out Roy Moore`s complaint, not on any basis of the crazy claims, claims that have been thoroughly debunked by Alabama secretary of state who happened to support Roy Moore in the election. No. The complaint was thrown out because Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, filed his complaint in the wrong court. columnist Kyle Whitmire gave the business on that fun fact today, writing that quote: There is irony here we can`t whistle past. The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court lost his election court battle because the court where he filed his lawsuit didn`t have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

Whitmire later writes, quote, I`ve heard a lot of people saying Moore should have conceded the election because carrying on like this was not good for Alabama. To the contrary, this was great for the state. Alabama needed to see who Moore was and now, it`s witnessed that long pathetic display.

A source tells NBC News today that Moore has yet to determine whether he will try again to contest the results, presumably, he`ll be sure to find the right court next time.

Meanwhile, Doug Jones transition team is measuring the drapes. They released a statement today on the certification of the new election results and made sure to include Doug Jones` new title in bold title senator-elect, just to be clear. At the very least, Roy Moore`s long strange good-bye for the last few weeks has made fun political theater if anything about an accused (INAUDIBLE), it can be called fun.

I guess the mall jokes kind of write themselves, though. But in this election in Alabama, is it an anomaly or a portend of things to come for both Democrats and Republicans and not just in Alabama, but throughout the South?

Joining us now is Alabama state representative and assistant minority leader, Merika Coleman, from Birmingham.

Representative Coleman, great to see you.

STATE REP. MERIKA COLEMAN (D), ALABAMA: Great to be here, Joy.

REID: OK. So, let`s take a look at Doug Jones` map. He won by essentially winning what`s called the Black Belt, all of the parts of Alabama where African-Americans live, including the county where Selma happens to reside. Do you think the fact of that, the fact that African- Americans formed so much of his base, I think 56 percent of Doug Jones voters, just Doug Jones voters were African-American, do you suspect that is why Roy Moore is so dubious of the result?

COLEMAN: Oh, sure. Roy Moore actually gave out the rally call to white supremacists when he, you know, said there was some type of voter impropriety. Historically in this country, when there is a high voter turnout, there has been that charge and the Republican secretary of state has just said that that`s just not the case.

So, we`re excited. Jefferson County is one of the counties that he cited. We were higher than the average of the rest of the state. And it`s really a slap in the face that Roy Moore would make these allegations to the people who went on the ground, knocked on doors, and encouraged people to go out to vote.

REID: A lot of people don`t realize Alabama only went solid Republican in terms of the state legislature in 2010 --

COLEMAN: In 2010.

REID: -- when Barack Obama was president. Right.

So, with all of the Senate seats back up again in 2018, is there a possibility that this momentum that Doug Jones used to win could actually change the composition of the Senate in Alabama?

COLEMAN: One hundred percent. In Alabama, the state legislature, nationwide, with the U.S. Senate, and Congress, there is this blue wave, this progressive wave that has gone across this country. No more are people just looking at their U.S. Senate races per state. They are looking at the impact that these people are going to make across this country.

So, you know, there are some other states that are in play that I may actively get involved in from the state of Alabama. Other people may actively get involved. We`ve got to make sure that we elect progressive people in the statehouses across this country but also in U.S. Congress

REID: Well, speaking about that, the African-American population in Alabama 26.8 percent, it`s very high. Mississippi is even higher, like 37 percent. Is the idea here that in states with high African-American populations, even if they`re deeply red states like Alabama, that if you just mobilize enough of those voters, plus 30 percent of the white vote, can that be replicated or was it frankly because Roy Moore was just somebody so objectionable?

COLEMAN: Well, of course, Roy Moore was a train wreck of a candidate. You know, for someone to talk about how times were better during slavery, of course, that issue is one of those issues that mobilized black voters.

But in addition, there are lots of issues that African Americans and communities of color care about, kitchen sink issues, health care, education, when you talk to us about the issues that we care about, we get out and vote.

REID: Yes --

COLEMAN: You know, again, it`s a slap in the face to Birmingham when people marched in the streets of Birmingham so the rest of the country can have the right to vote, to say that there was some kind of cheating going on here in Jefferson County.

REID: Yes, absolutely. Alabama State Representative Merika Coleman, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

COLEMAN: Thank you.

REID: Thank you.

And much more to come here tonight. Stay with us.


REID: -- a lot of controversial people for judgeships around the country. The latest is a guy named Thomas Farr. He`s up for a seat in U.S. district court for North Carolina`s eastern district. But he started his career as counsel for North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, who a former leader named him Jim Crow, senior.

Thomas Farr defended the senator`s thinly veiled voter suppression campaign in 1990, in which the Helms team sent out postcards with incorrect voting and registration information to African-American voters. But we didn`t really know or hear about any of this until after Farr had gotten through committee and was well on his way to Senate confirmation.

The Trump administration has been very successful in pushing through controversial nominations like Farr`s with almost no scrutiny. In just his first six months in office, Trump picked 27 lower court judges, more than twice as many as Presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush and Clinton combined. And his nominees are remarkable for another reason as well, because by and large, they`re far younger than the picks of previous presidents. Meaning they`ll sit on the bench longer and have a role in shaping American law in society for a long, long time to come.

And joining us now is reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the Repairers of the Breach and architect of the Moral Monday`s Movement. He`s also the author of a new op-ed on just this very subject.

Reverend Barber, always good to talk to you.


REID: How are you doing? Happy New Year.

Let`s start with your op-ed that you wrote on this nomination of Thomas Farr in "The New York Times" and it reads: A straight line runs from the racial polarization inflamed for decades by Mr. Helms and his political machine to the re-emergence of violent white supremacists in the past year in places like Charlottesville, Virginia.

If you could explain.

BARBER: Well, first of all, Joy, we have to come to a point in this country, we recognize white nationalism and white supremacy is not just Charlottesville. It is not just somebody just running over somebody in a crowd that is violent as that is. White nationalism and white supremacist is about policy and Farr has been at the center of almost every place where white supremacy and white nationalism has tried to work itself into the law. And we have to understand that.

I mentioned some time ago that many of these statutes put up were not put up after the civil war, they were put in homage to policy driven racism of the early 1900s to changing of the law. And Farr has been surgical at being a part of that kind of racist connection to the law. In fact, I`m very concerned about all of these appointees. I think we need to dig deep into what their connections are.

For instance, Farr is connected historically to the Pioneer Fund that was founded in 1937. Listen at what it said it wants: to pursue the betterment for those deemed to be descendant predominantly from white persons who settled in the original 13 states prior to the adoption of the Constitution.

This is the kind of historical connection that this man has and others have had that have supported him.

REID: You know, if justice or on the federal level which African Americans and people of color have turned to when state-based justice has failed them, it`s a one-two prong thing, the other prong of it is this course of the Justice Department and the current attorney general, Jefferson Sessions, has rolled back -- he`s rolled back a program that essentially tried to discourage local courts from jailing people because they didn`t have the money to bail themselves out. He`s now rolled that back.

What do you make of that?

BARBER: Well, you know, when I see these things, I think about the scriptures in Amos, for instance, that says, woe unto those who create injustice in the court and kick the needy when they`re down.

Whether it`s Farr or whether it`s Sessions, they are operating out of a white southern strategist mindset that has been promoted since 1968. It is very anti-our deepest religious values. It is the Trump, Sessions and he wants to be Farr part of that administration. It is Thom Tillis and Burr who blocked, for instance, in Farr`s case, they blocked two qualified black women, one a Supreme Court justice from even getting a hearing.

Now, you have Sessions attacking the poor, talking about debtor arrest, which Charles Dickens spoke against in the 1830s. I mean, this is very troubling. But we have to understand not only is it anti-the good news, not only is it more like the Grinch that stole Christmas and the Christ of Christmas, it is connected to this, this, this white supremacist mind-set that links moral poverty and moral failure particularly black, brown persons as the gateway to undermine public support.

Here`s hit on it though.

REID: Right.

BARBER: It also means, Joy, that the majority of the people who will be hurt will be white, white women and children. We fear, for instance, Roy Moore. But Sessions is from Alabama, too. In policy, he`s no different than Roy Moore.

REID: Wow.

BARBER: And that`s something that we should understand, in policy, in policy.

REID: Yes, absolutely. Well, the Reverend Dr. William Barber who is a man behind the Moral Monday Movement, and also the restart of the Poor People`s Campaign, thank you so much. Happy New Year to you.

BARBER: Thank you. Take care.

REID: Thank you.

And I want to take a minute right now to spare a thought for the family of Erica Garner. She`s the daughter of Eric Garner who died literally at the hands of a New York City police officer in 2014 following the application of a choke hold. Since then Ms. Garner has transformed her personal tragedy into a sustained and committed campaign for activism and social justice.

But right now her fight is once again personal. At just 27 years old, she suffered a heart attack on Saturday and has been in a coma ever since. And despite some dire headlines this morning, reported that she`d been declared brain dead, Ms. Garner`s family is still holding out hope that she will recover.

We`ll be right back.


REID: Plenty more news ahead on the show tonight in case you`re just joining us. The big story coming out right as we went on air, Donald Trump making news about the Russia investigation in a new interview with "The New York Times" this evening, saying it makes the U.S., quote, look very bad.

Donald Trump also saying in the interview that he believes Robert Mueller will treat him fairly. On the subject of Robert Mueller`s investigation, Trump saying, quote, I have the absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department. He said, echoing claims by his supporters, that as president he has the power to open or end an investigation, quote, but for purposes of hopefully thinking I`m going to be treated fairly, I have stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

Trump also repeated his assertion that Democrats invented the Russia allegations as a, quote, hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election. Trump also discussed his indicted former campaign chairman whom he called a nice and honorable man, while taking steps to distance himself from him, saying, quote, Paul only worked for me for a few months. Paul worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, worked for Bob Dole, worked for many Republicans for far longer than he worked for me and you`re talking about what Paul was many years ago before I ever heard of him. He worked for me for what was it, 3 1/2 months?

That`s all in a new interview tonight. Much more ahead. Stay with us.


REID: -- 100 days since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, 100 days is a long time, and yet tonight more than a million Americans are still living in darkness. Living through what is now the longest black out in American history.

Officially about 30 percent of the island is without power tonight, but the real number could be much higher. On Christmas Eve, the Army Corps of Engineers conceded that the official number is, quote, misleading because it does not reflect how much electricity is actually reaching customers and reaching homes.

And there is reason to believe that many of the 3-1/2 million Americans living in Puerto Rico will be forced to live in the dark for a long time to come. The original plan was to have 95 percent of the power back on by Christmas. The new game plan is to have power fully restored by May, which will mean eight months of darkness.

But even that might be ambitious. "The Daily Beast" has reported that nearly 100 days in, Puerto Rico still doesn`t have enough supplies to rebuild their power grid. Of the 52,000 power lines needed, fewer than 10,000 have arrived.

At this pace, all the necessary supplies to restore power won`t arrive until March. And without supplies, linemen are roaming the streets of Puerto Rico without much to do. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that`s because Puerto Rico is competing for supplies with Texas and Florida, whose electrical grids were also hit by hurricanes, but whose residents, we should point out, are not living in the dark.

"New York Magazine" published an opus on life in Puerto Rico after the storm, full of heart-stopping details. Stories of medical staff forced to pump air into a patient`s lungs by hand when the generators failed, wedding halls being turned into makeshift intensive care units, and the surreal consequence when millions of people are suddenly forced to live in the dark. Hospitals that are, quote, seeing more fractures, wrists, shoulders, hips as people try to acclimate to darkness on the road and in their homes, broken bones from stumbling around in the dark is now a part of life in Puerto Rico. Desperation has become more than a state of mind. It`s a lethal force.

The governor has ordered a review of the official death toll, but now because of how desperate things have become, one of the categories that government officials consider when evaluating whether a death is storm- related is suicide. And as we`ve said on this show before, the death toll is no longer a function of the storm, but a function of the botched recovery from the storm. Just this week, we were reminded just how inept it has been when we learned that 50,000 pounds of food originally destined for Puerto Rico has been sitting in a FEMA warehouse in Jacksonville, Florida.

When asked why those 50,000 pounds of food never made it, a FEMA spokesman said, quote, it wasn`t clear why the food was never sent to Puerto Rico.

Joining us now from Puerto Rico is Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan.

Good evening, mayor.

I want to start where we just ended, with this idea that food that is destined for Puerto Rico is still not getting to the people of the island. What is the situation now regarding whether people in Puerto Rico are getting enough to eat?

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Well, first of all, thank you for the opportunity and happy holidays to everybody.

It`s very important people know that there are various degrees of destructiveness of the botched effort. In San Juan, things are getting somewhat better. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. But as you move away from the metropolitan area, still things are very touch and go.

FEMA has began to turn back its aid of food and water because it has said that it wants the private sector, the regular economy, to take on where it has left off. The problem with that is we continue to put on standard operating procedures onto Puerto Rico without taking notice of the reality of Puerto Rico. For example, unemployment is up.

You have just mentioned the power situation. And even those that have power, my parents got their power back last Friday, and they didn`t have power since Irma. The world stops counting since Maria, but a lot of people here have not had any power since Irma. And even then, it`s on and off. It`s very unstable.

And as you have mentioned, something I have brought to light very, very many weeks ago, and I was criticized for it. It isn`t the same thing as generating electricity. There is no way of saying where it`s going and if it`s getting to the places that it`s supposed to be getting.

There are towns in Puerto Rico where bridges have totally collapsed or roads have totally collapsed and where people still are in much need of food and water. Water is still under a health advisory and you either have to boil it or you have to ensure that you have the filtration system for your water. And situations are still life-threatening situations.

Is it a little better than it was in September 20th? Of course. Is it where it`s supposed to be? No, it`s not where it`s supposed to be. We seem to be going from crisis to crisis.

Our next crisis is going to be people losing their homes because they don`t have jobs or they have lost a lot of income in September, October, and November, and they won`t be able to pay for their mortgages.

Of course, you know that we have had more than 217,000 people just go into the Florida region. About -- it`s estimated that close to half a million Puerto Ricans would have left Puerto Rico by the end of January. And this does not only deplete our resources, our human power, but it also depletes the economic base of Puerto Rico.

So, the botched effort has been insensible, has been manmade, and has been Trump administration made.

REID: You know, we all know that the president of the United States spent a lot of time attacking you for your really desperate cries for the federal government to do its job and to help Puerto Rico. At this stage, we`ve just seen a big tax bill go through. The governor of Puerto Rico, Governor Rossello has actually been critical of the fact Puerto Rico didn`t get much out of that tax bill.

Is Puerto Rico receiving enough financial aid to do the things like get the grid back up, to go into these remote areas where they don`t have power? Is there enough actual financial aid coming in

CRUZ: No, there isn`t. Actually, the Trump administration criticized our debt and then increased our debt by $4.9 billion of a loan that was given to Puerto Rico. And people must think in the United States that the Puerto Rican government already received that money. Well, we haven`t received one cent of that money. So, it cannot be put to use.

I spent about a week in the United States telling people, telling the American people not only was this tax bill bad for the United States and for its citizens, especially the middle class, but it was going to obliterate the Puerto Rican economy. It imposed a 20 percent import tax on goods and services coming from Puerto Rico into the United States which wasn`t there before. It also imposed a 12.5 percent intellectual property tax which wasn`t there before.

And now, the last bill that was passed by Congress, the $81 billion bill, does not have any earmark for anyone. It doesn`t earmark anything for Texas, for Florida, for California, or for Puerto Rico. And it puts the power of distribution of the moneys in approximately 100 agencies. So, there will be a frenzy of people trying to bid desperately in order to get resources and, of course, Puerto Rico is at a disadvantage.

So, no, we are not getting the money that we need. But even more than the money that we need, we are not getting the support. You mentioned we don`t have enough of the electrical poles that are needed to put our electricity back on. But we are forced to rebuild our electrical grid just as it was before.

So, what`s going to happen when global warming keeps doing its thing and we keep getting much and more stronger storms and hurricanes? It`s all going to go, you know, back to where we started. So, it is very important that we get a waiver on the act. And Senator Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Luis Gutierrez and Lydia Velasquez (ph) I`ve worked closely in the government and introduce a bill for the transformation of Puerto Rico.

It`s also very important that we have input and power to say where we want things to get done. Right now fiscal control board that makes it evident that Puerto Rico`s political status is a colonial political status, controls anything and everything that would come to Puerto Rico. And they have added their names to the group of people that are not doing a good job and they`re not doing right by the Puerto Rican people.

REID: Well, it is not a good report card, but Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, I appreciate you being here. I hope the country does better by you. Thank you so much.

And still ahead, we have some very important people to tell you about. Stay with us.


REID: Wow, for an end of the year holiday week there should was a lot of news going on tonight. So, two things to let you know. First, right after the show, "THE LAST WORD" will be here live with the latest fallout from "The New York Times" interview with Donald Trump. The interview where he says he has, quote, the absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department, a quote NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss told us is something even Richard Nixon never said. So, that`s coming up live next.

Second thing to know is that tomorrow night here 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Rachel will take an in-depth look at the Trump-Russia dossier. Now, if you missed Rachel`s report the first time, you`ll want to tune in for that tomorrow night for that at 9:00 p.m.

But before all of that, if you`re watching the show, you probably realize that Rachel is one of the hardest working people in the business. But even as hard working as Rachel she cannot do it alone. We want to take a moment to thank the rest of the folks here who help out every night. And who I have had the privilege of working with this week. Take it away.

(MUSIC) REID: You`ve got to dig that funky Christmas music. It`s sort of groovy, right? That was good. I love that. That was terrific.

All right. That does it for us tonight. See now you`re in the festive move. We`ll see you this weekend on "A.M. JOY". And Rachel will be back here next year, which is only a few days. All right. Happy New Year.

And now, it is time for the last hosted tonight by my pal Ari Melber.

Ari, did you dig that -- did you dig that groovy music?




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